High vs. Low Angle

In a recent thread, people recommended a high angle stroke. That addressed a specific issue (“Paddling in a straight line”), but my question is more general.

I get the impression that people favor a high angle stroke in general. Is the low angle stroke dead?

I don’t normally paddle with what I would call a high angle attack. I find that my shoulders get more tired that way. But it is certainly what I use for those 100-yard sprints back to the landing for boasting rights.

It’s not a real low angle either.

I guess I’m just wishy-washy and seek that compromised middle ground.


for longer distances
low angle makes more sense (to me, anyway). Also, in high winds a low angle is more efficient.

For after work paddles of a few hours, or when fighting a current, or to just keep up with faster paddlers, then high angle will move you faster. I’m not sure if that’s because you’re forced to use your torso more fully.

It also depends on the paddle you use. I have one for each type of paddle but find the low angle paddle is more forgiving of a high angle stroke.


It’s not dead.

there is no right way or wrong way …
The only truly wrong way to paddle is one that will cause you harm. One size does not fit all!

There’s a sliding scale of effectiveness for every individual, and that takes into consideration everything from personal physique, flexibility and physical fitness to paddle length and blade shape and kayak design.

We all adapt our most effective paddling style to suit the wind and water conditions we find ourselves in. Everybody’s most effective stroke will be slightly different.

you need to fine-tune every paddling movement to maximize effectiveness. To do that you should focus on the application of your stroke, the impact on the water, the amount of energy you need to apply to achieve the required result.

Experiment to maximize the movement of the kayak while minimizing the disturbance to the water, and minimizing the effort you make.

We are all different shapes and sizes, and we have a huge variety of equipment to choose from. We have to learn to process the information and fine-tune from inside, rather than to try to fit into the same mold as ‘everyone’ else.

high angle seems

– Last Updated: Apr-23-06 5:04 PM EST –

to help me keep my upper hand from arcing down toward the opposite beam as I push the stroke across. Doing so would be bad form since you're then scooping and lifting UP water toward the stern. As I become more tired though, the tendency is to get sloppy with the strokes, My arms lower, my pushing hand starts dropping to the water and I find myself starting to arm paddle long, wide, sweeping strokes which are inappropriate for straight line travel.

Ideally, you want to sit upright, maybe leaning slightly forward and push your hand parallel to the horizon. This forces your torso to twist. Nothing bugs me more than to see someone leaning back and arm paddling. I have to fight back the urge to paddle up and tell them they are doing it all wrong. But that would be rude. Not everybody out there gives a hoot about the most efficient paddling form.

High angle is result, not goal.
You will find the fastest, most efficient paddlers have high angle strokes. They are not making a conscious decision to use a high angle stroke. Rather, the high angle is a product of good forward stroke technique. This is a stroke that begins with the blade entering close to the hull by your toes, then taking a natural path through the water aft and outwards due to torso rotation, not arms pulling. While this is happening the paddler is trying to maintain a blade that is as perpendicular to the water’s surface as possible. This means his upper hand is passing in front of his face as his torso rotates. (Picture paddling with a beach ball held between your arms) If you can picture the moves required to do this, then you will see that a high angled paddle shaft will be the result of, not the primary goal of a high performance forward stroke.

Despite all this gobbly-gook, there are techniques that can incorporate torso muscles and a lower angled shaft. I believe the best Greenland paddlers use torso muscles along with the low angle shaft necessary to immerse their long narrow blades. I use a technique like this with my wing paddle when in very shallow water that will not let me fully immerse the more-vertical blade. Right or wrong, I find myself sometimes using a lower angled paddle when leaning aft into the face of a wave I am running.

Many paddlers also use low angle strokes when aggressively trying to turn their kayaks. More turning torque can be developed with a blade working further away from the boat. This same turning torque is also a reason why a low angle technique is not as efficient as a higher angle. With a low angle technique, a greater portion of each stroke’s energy imparts a turning force rather than forward propulsion.

Whether you use low or high angled stroke, you should endeavor to primarliy use your trunk muscles, not your arms. So no matter what equipment you have, figure out a way to move the boat forward using power from your torso and you will have a huge advantage over 95% of the paddlers out there. If your arms get tired, then you are not paddling efficiently.

Many paddlers really have no way to know
Quite allot of kayaking is easy, but a surprising number of skills are counter-intuitive. This is one of the biggies. Many paddlers have paddles so much longer than they need for their boat and torso/arm length. This forces them into a low angle style regardless of its efficiency. A too long paddle also forces one to use a low angel approach in winds also.

We know that the more vertical the paddle, less angle forward and back, and less away from the boat, the MORE the energy you input to the paddle will actually move the boat forward.

The trick is to get the shortest paddle you can and still get the whole blade in the water.

Then, understand that the muscles of the torso, legs, and hips are more powerful than the triceps, so learn to PUSH with the uppper arm and use the LEVER of the paddle in a moderate high angle to deliver the bulk of the power. It feels as if one is pushing and pulling equally, but the bulk of the work is done by the torso.

Look at racers on open sea trials. That is the technique, a moderate vertical stroke, endurance, speed, efficiency, distribution of effort along many muscles, and use of the bones in the pulling arm not the triceps in the pulling arm, to make it all happen.

Yes this varies for everyone, but this is a great “home base” to experiment from.

High angle
Never really got the low angle thing. I seem to paddle the same be it sea kayaks, surf kayak etc. To me the low angle stroke feels odd, regardless of wind or distance covered. But I think the low stroke is valid for those who enjoy it… I think if you can cover 40 knots in a long day and not be injured or completely shot your stroke is a good one! I’m still working on my stroke after 20 years…

Thanks for the replies
They largely confirm my suspicion. (Note, I wasn’t asking how to paddle.) Most people here favor a high angle stroke.

But I have friends with a low angle stroke. Sean, a surfer at Alder Creek, says that surfers are basically lazy and slip into a low angle stroke whenever conditions allow. His comes complete with plenty of yaw. De gustibus non disputandem est.

When the wind gets nasty

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and folks are at their edge a low angle stroke (with a bit of rearward pitch) can be quite comforting.

Yes of course the optimal solution is an engaged higher angle stroke but comfort can be good some times.

I use both
when I am racing, I use a wing paddle with a high


When I am touring I use a low angle with a touring paddle

My preference is for a low angle which I can do all day long and never get tired. That just won’t get it in a race though.



Feelings are not always facts
You know sometimes feelings are not always the same as facts. For example we feel safe driving a car, but freaked in airplanes, but the probability of death in a car is many times higher.

We feel like it is more relaxed to use a low stroke, but the facts are it is markedly less effective, thus requiring us to go slower and use far more energy getting somewhere. The cause of feeling not so good with a higher angle stroke is the too long paddle, one will never feel right with a higher angle stroke with that paddle.

The reasons for a low stroke are not knowing how to incorporate a relaxed mid angle stroke. The largest error is not the fault of the paddler but the instructor giving the false impression that torso rotation is accomplished by a huge rotation. The aspiring student tries this and gets tired, watches the instructor, who is barely rotating and says, forget this!

If one watches open ocean racers their torsos rotate but only modestly, except in sprinting of course. The trick to endurance, relaxed stroke, and efficiency is their use of the torso to Push the upper hand onto the shaft with its leverage. Try this sometime and you will see that this stroke is so easy as to feel that you are not working hard enough. Now you are cooking.

The low stroke is not dead, it is just less efficient! It was forced on us by wider boats and higher seats and longer paddles. In that scene, a higher angle was indeed more tiring!

I know these ideas are not shared by some, but in the spirit of being open minded, we all, including me, keep learning new ideas that open up new possibilities, including a more efficient forward stroke.

Thanks Evans…great post

So where are the facts ??

I fear that you may be just replacing the opinions that you don’t believe with your own opinions and calling your opinions facts. If what you present as facts are indeed immutable truths then where is the documentation, where is the proof?

There are lots of variations of stroke forms and often these different forms are driven by biomechanical diffferences between various paddlers, paddles, boats & performance goals.

I have my style, you have yours and each poster has yet another unique style. In each case those styles are driven by our unique body atributes and weaknesses, modified by our particular crafts, performance goals, training and experiences. I’ve studied the forwards stroke for some time and while I prefer a vertical stroke for high-effort paddling, my stroke always moderates towards a lower stroke once I’m up to speed and looking to conserve energy.

I’ve come to this accomidation in part because I have weak middle deltoids. My experiance, training and analysis tells me that a vertical stroke is most efficient when power and acceraltion are critical and that a lower (but not flat) stroke is more efficient when energy conservation is the priority.

I’ve still got much to learn as do many of us. Just don’t forget that thinking of opinions as fact is often the very thing that limits our growth. I’ll spend a good long time reexamining every thing that I think I know about paddling because as I grow and gain experience the whole model changes. A wise man once suggested that I avoid absolutisms. In retrospect I was being sophmoric back when I thought there was one and only one “best way”.



Just Like On A Bike

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Are ya sick of the bike talk? Tough. They're very similar. It's a human powered vehicle.

What JackL says is absolutely valid in my experience. A high angle is good at times and a low angle is good at other times.

What Liv2 says is also on target. If you're going forward and you're not hurting, it's a good stroke.

On the bike, you sometimes get your head very, very low to get more aero. It's uncomfortable but you stay there a while for the speed advantage. For comfort you can move your hands around in several different places on the bars. You can move forward or back in the saddle. You can alter your cadence. Serious cyclists don't stay in the exact same position doing the exact same movement all the time. There's no reason why a paddler should.

While I'm at it... all the talk about 'did the paddle come out of the water exactly at the hips?' is just so much crap. In my world what matters is if you got to the bridge first when you raced with your buddy...or if you completed the endurance goal you set for yourself.

Varies even during a tour
I started out paddling a long trip with a moderate angle. As the days wore on, I slightly lowered it for normal paddling. But if I needed to move suddenly, I’d raise it again.

Things change. Adapting to change is good.

Paddling kicked back.
Ah, I love pulling my legs out of the cockpit, hanging them over the side and dangling my feet in the water. Lean way back in the seat (maybe with the PFD behind my back for support), and do a real low stroke with just my arms. (Picture paddling while sprawled out in a recliner.)

Real hard to get a torso twist in when paddling that way. B^)

  • Jasen.

Jed, this is just the limits of internet mail. The only facts are the ones regarding the verticalness of the paddle, and ways each of us can creep up on that. Each post said this is a home base and each of us finds our own way to it. Please don’t read further into it than that. If it sounds that way, my apology, not meant that way. The only strong point am trying to make is that if one does not have a wide boat one can use a shorter paddle, and then one can find their own way to a more vertical stroke that requires less energy. From their each of our limits and strengths applies, that is what I meant by a home base, not trying to substitute some new rigid way! I think you know me better than that, didn’t get weird. Thanks for helping me to clarify, can’t always know how these things sound.

Results not Facts
I would suggest that one observe the results of a forward stroke angle to determine effectiveness. Each time the bow of the boat moves on the horizontal plane (side to side) or on the rolling plane (tilting left and right)or on the vertical plane (bouncing up and down) it causes drag, which in turn reduces effeciency. The quieter one can keep the boat the the less drag that is produced. The lower the angle, the longer the stroke and the more the body shifts forward and back on each stroke the mo0re energy that is wasted. For me a more vertical shaft helps keep the boat quiet and IMHO more efficient.

Never take advice from the person behind you only the person in front.

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