How vertical is vertical?

Both the BCU and ACA call for a vertical paddle shaft for the sideslip, draw strokes and bow rudder. Vertical is 90 degrees.

I thought I was keeping the paddle vertical for the bow rudder, but when viewing my GoPro practice sessions I put my head in my hands and groan.

Through trial and error I’ve learned that for sculling draws and sideslips, the more vertical the paddle the better boat control. It makes sense that would apply for bow rudders but I wonder what degree of vertical would be most efficient (and doable) since the BCU acknowledges: “providers should note that for vertical paddle strokes 90 degrees may be difficult to achieve…"

Difficult? I don’t see how 90 degrees is even possible with the kayak edged to the outside - unless you’ve got octopus arms.

Any tips for vertical paddle practice drills?


How fully are you rotated?
For a really vertical paddle in a bow rudder, most of us not-6-ft-tall types have to have our torso nearly fully rotated 90 degrees. Or as close as you can get. What is your torso angle like?

Depends on what I’m wearing.
Have discovered my cold weather gear doesn’t slide as easily as slippery summer gear.

Do have blue tape marking the 10 and 2 o’clock positions on my kayak as a general reminder, but that’s not 90 degrees. Can get my shoulders parallel to my boat for sculling draw and sideslip, but pretty sure I"m not doing it for the bow rudder.

That’s one practice drill to work on: face your work.

Sideslip/draw yes, bow rudder no
The side slip and draw strokes you want vertical, but bow rudder is not actually vertical.

Draws and side slip both require significant torso rotation to get the vertical shaft.

Bow rudder doesn’t. Left to right should be close to vertical, but not front to back. Your upper hand does come across to the paddle side, so both hands are on the same side. But the lower hand is down by your feet, where upper hand is close to your face, so there is a significant slant to the paddle shafts front to back.

Check Roger Schumann’strong videos at for ACA-correct form.

This one can vary
There are two dimensions here - one is the paddle shaft to the water vertically. The other is the angle of the paddle to the axis of the boat. The video shows the fist at 90 degrees. Bow rudder per BCU can be taught as a bit more vertical than in that video in the second dimension. It’ll work either way, and Rookie talking about facing her work suggests to me that she is working with someone with a BCU background.

The other thing is a matter of arm length and torso height. Once the boat is well up on edge, someone who is 5’3" is going to need more rotation than someone who is of average male height to get the blade sunk into the water and the upper arm fully across the body so the first dimension is 90 degrees.


– Last Updated: Oct-19-16 11:15 AM EST –

I wouldn't worry about the angle; just practice, practice practice and try variables until you find what works for you. There's no points for style and it's results that count.

I watched lots of videos and tried to copy what I thought was right. The result was a lot of near dumps, so I found ways to work the paddle that causes no paddle catches and it gets the job done. With enough practice it's automatic.

"just practice, practice practice "

If one start with the correct posture and movement, one will be practicing the move that works without quite so much of trial and error.


– Last Updated: Oct-19-16 11:05 AM EST –

double post

Tough to find good instruction
locally so I have to rely on reading material, DVDs, and certain website videos. For me, understanding the mechanics is helpful, especially when I’m having difficulty.

ACA and BCU use “vertical” shaft in their bow rudder descriptions which led to my question.

"Rotate wrist slightly to open leading edge of power face, keeping shaft vertical, and allow time for blade to ‘catch.’ Common Problems: Opening power face too much to create a braking force; not keeping paddle vertical.”

Under the bow rudder photo it states: “Shaft vertical, reaching for toes for maximum turning leverage…”

Loss of daylight hours means no going out after work for practice sessions and hoping the weekend weather gods are in a good mood.

Bow ruddering.
If you’re in a relatively short boat, a vertical bow rudder is fine, but still relatively awkward. If you’re looking for a real effective way to bring the bow around, invert the paddle, reach the blade toward the bow and gently lower the blade into the water while adding a turning angle to the blade as needed. If you start the maneuver with the blade placed some distance to the side of the bow, it leaves a bit of room to add a quick bow draw and as long as the blade is in the water, why not finish by completing a forward stroke to regain some of the momentum lost in the turning. For even more efficiency, lean away from the turn.

Feeling of support required.

– Last Updated: Oct-19-16 6:17 PM EST –

On the piece about putting the blade in at your toes vs. putting it in closer in, some of that depends on how well you've mastered applying pressure to the kayak with your body - the other end of the lever. With the typical person, putting the paddle in at your knees will more readily cause you to press your knee against the inside of the kayak - where placing it closer towards the hips doesn't have that effect. As you use it more and more, you figure out how to not extend it so far forward, and still apply the leverage towards your knee.

I also like one of the points that Nigel Foster likes to make. Exactly what you do to perform maneuvers in any variety of conditions will depend to some degree on the kayak that you're paddling. I certainly find that true. But that actually has little to do with the main point I want to make about keeping your paddle vertical - vertical in the other sense - not the angling toward your feet sense.

Can you imagine having your entire paddle on one side of your boat, and edging the opposite direction, with nothing there to support you except some elusive secondary stability? Sure, it's possible. But for most, it's going out on a limb - a chipmunk's sneeze from ending up in the drink.

One of the main things you will feel when your bow rudder becomes very effective is a solid support that you can hang off of to support your strong edging. This is where not having the paddle vertical will cause the stroke to lose effectiveness. The more of an angle your paddle is at going out to the side, the less support you will have, the less edging support, and the less leverage for your turn.

So imagine pulling directly sideways on a vertical paddle towards the face of the blade. There's a lot of resistance there. Now lean the top of the shaft towards you, and still pull sideways - but parallel to the top of the water again - the same direction of force as the first time in relation to the water. Two things happen. You have less resistance, and your blade wants to plane up to the surface of the water.

A vertical blade in a bow rudder allows you to lock in that blade with not only the force of the face being pulled directly perpendicular to the surface of the water, but also the added support of moving through the water with a slightly opened face towards the direction of movement. This produces a lot of support that you can absolutely feel, and feel secure edging away from as you hold onto the paddle.

If you haven't felt that feeling, and the distinct feeling of the level of support fading as your kayak slowly loses speed through the turn, you haven't felt the full leverage of a vertical paddle during a bow rudder. Once you get the blade angle control down in all respects, you will likely find yourself leaning off of the vertical shaft to allow greater degrees of edging and to put additional pressure against the side of the kayak with your inside knee. You just can't get the paddle support and leverage without a vertical paddle.

Hopefully this wording makes enough sense for you to go out and try it. If you haven't tuned in to the support I'm talking about feeling, once you do, a light should go off. And you will fully understand the value/necessity of a vertical shaft when performing bow rudders. It's the difference between performing a bow rudder tentatively, and performing one with conviction.

Good points, Capefear.
Last night I watched Nigel Foster’s “Directional Control” video as well as Vol. I of “Sea Kayak” with Gordon Brown. Paid close attention to the bow rudders and watched them again tonight after reading your comments.

I was surprised that Foster’s first bow rudder uses a 45 degree shaft angle. He next teaches the stroke with a vertical shaft noting it’s more appropriate in wind and waves. He also demonstrates the lack of support when the paddle is not vertical, which goes hand in hand with your comments.

Gordon Brown’s paddle is vertical from the get go but what I found most interesting was his comment that a cross bow rudder is a stronger stroke and uses the entire side of your body rather than just the shoulder.

Yes, your remarks make a lot of sense and I thank you for taking the time to write and explain. I’ve had some good practices where I feel like I’m swinging around on a pole - and some not so good ones. What looks like vertical from my kayak doesn’t look all that vertical when viewed on video - but at least it’s not as low as 45 degrees.

Sometimes moving forward can be work, but learning to do strokes well, and understanding them, is always play.

Another suggestion
Use a GPS to monitor your speed, and then practice different strokes. The GPs doesn’t lie and you can see and feel what works for you.

Try Practicing In A Canoe
These maneuvers using a single blade and kneeling, for a change in routine. Then later return to your kayak and see how it goes?

Thanks. Forerunner has been a benefit,
but sometimes I tend to watch it too much and that keeps my chin down; a habit I’m trying to correct.

While taking a short mental health break from work, found this wonderful advice about focused practice:

The coaching part is more of a challenge than the practice part, but I’ll work something out even if I have to drive upteem miles.

Paddling well seems a lot like baking good bread. For consistent results you must have good technique.

Think freestyle canoe is way cool

– Last Updated: Oct-21-16 3:25 PM EST –

but if I'm going to buy another boat, it's going to be a longer kayak.

I do have a neighbor's canoe stored on my beach for the winter but it has a big dent in the hull and probably weighs 100# or more.

Do think those short somewhat rockered solo canoes are sweet.

Yeah Man
I like the way you think.

On the Other Hand
You go kayaking with a group of people and you notice that no two people are postured or moving exactly alike. Same on the bike.

All You Need Is a Pond
To take those whirling swirling strokes. A kayak doesn’t even come close to the kinesthetic feel you receive from paddling a canoe.