Is dipping your hand in the water on foreward strokes poor form?

Hi, relatively new kayaker here. Been curious about this for the last couple of weeks.
During each pull in the power phase, I tend to just dip part of my hand in the water. I like the repeatable touchstone when cruising on the flat, but am curious if this is a sign of a flaw in mechanics.
I’m not dropping my upper hand or anything to make this happen. I have a fairly wide grip on the paddle, though not wider than shoulders plus upper arms, and a pretty aggressive high angle stroke. Do long arms and a narrow boat just lend itself to this kind of thing?

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If you’re using a Greenland paddle it’s good form. That’s what I was taught, anyway.


Agree. Bill Bremer of Lumpy Paddles told me to use the entire blade, since I paid for it. A super guy who dropped out the paddling scene for some unknown reasons

I agree with Rex and Rookie as far as GL and Aluet paddle are concerned. Euro paddles are used differently and the high angle stroke use with the larger and shorter Euro paddles has a different for then the traditional GL and Alaskan strokes. There are a few intricacies in using GL and Aleut paddles that are not obvious but are important to their use. 1st is that a GL paddle is buried in the water all the way to your hand but that part of the stroke is done with very little power. Just enough to get the blade 100% in the water. THEN you apply the power. The power stroke starts when the blade is about even with your thigh 3" behind you knee and continues all the way to the rear as you rotate your torso from butt to shoulders. The exit is done as part of the catch on the other side.

In contrast the euro blade needs also to get 100% underwater, but that immersion is only 1/2 or sometimes less than 1/2 the depth of the GL paddle. Power is applied with the perfect euro stroke as soon as the blade is under the water and continues until it’s just past the hip and then is cut out as part of the catch on the other side. Hence the use of shorter overall length in most Euro paddles. Having a euro blade 2" under the water or 12" under the water makes no difference to the amount of Square Inches of available thrust. But because a GL or Aleut paddle is “all blade” getting it all in the water up to you hand is vital to getting the best thrust from each stroke.

Watch these videos. The may help you.

And for GL paddling;


With a Euro paddle, unless you are holding the paddle all the way down at the blade, you might need a longer paddle for maximum efficiency. You just want the entire blade, no more and no less, in the water or the majority of a properly executed forward stroke, while also not hitting the boat. Most people hold a paddle several inches above where the blade of a Euro paddle begins.

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Shoulders + upper arms with elbows at 90 deg is standard grip geometry. If your’te keeping your torso reasonably straight and centered over the keel line, then paddle length is suspect.
What is the width of your boat and how long is the paddle you’re using?

I’m 6’4 and mostly torso and arms, currently paddling a 220cm Manta Ray with a Fathom at 22” wide. Actually thinking about going down to a 215 or less because I definitely dip a lot of that length in the water. One of the reasons I’m asking is because I will be investing in a quality paddle soon, and want to make sure I’m honing in on the right dimensions.
Having an athletic background, I really enjoy focusing on technique and efficiency to get power and stamina. I recently subscribed to sea kayaking online, and have been trying to double check form. Upper body rotation seems on point, and the paddler’s box is intact.

That’s about where I’m at. I’m holding my 220cm a good 4 inches or so above the start of the blade.

Thanks, I’ve watched most of these. I’m paddling euro currently, and have room to spare on the shaft, so no awkward choking up like on a baseball bat. That said, I love the idea of crafting my own Greenland out of a 2x4 soon for the sake of experiment.

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My experience is not vast like some other paddlers who can post and chime in here, but what I have learned I’ll share.

The physics involved in hydrodynamic understanding is old and not mysterious. What is odd is that the basic principal is often overlooks in these kind of discussions. Why that is…I can’t even guess.

The foundation to movement at any given speed is always power to drag ratio. The discussion most often goes to gear and equipment, but having “better gear” that is too large for the person using it does not improve performance but does the exact opposite. That’s why there are small ladies out there who have lighter kayaks and smaller paddles that can out run most men. They are not stronger. They are more efficient.
If the whole package is the kayak, the paddler, the weight of all clothing and gear carried, and the weight of the paddle itself, and if a 120 pound paddler who can give equal thrust of energy to overcome the same ratio of drag, the speed will be the same as a larger more powerful man with a larger paddle in a larger boat if the power to drag ratio is the same. If said woman can give even a small amount more power vs drag, she’ll be faster, all other factors being equal.

So that thrust is given in (A) amount of available resistance to the face of the blades, (B) speed of the arcing blade through the water (C) cadence of arcs per minute. (D) overall length of the arc, called duration of thrust.

(A) is a matter of blade design alone.

(B) (C) an d (D) are a blends of mathematical measurements and paddler ability.

A shorter overall length is a shorter lever and the closer your hand is to the blade the easier you can overcome the resistance that blade has in water, but the less time it will be in the water because a short lever simply has a smaller arc then a longer lever. So a shorter paddle is easier to use at a higher cadence then a longer paddle, but a longer paddle is thrusting for a longer period of time then a shorter paddle.

All that is to say the endurance and strength of the paddler is THE biggest factor. Not the shape or weight of the paddle and blades. As Jyak told me a few years ago. “If you put snow shovel blades on a 10 foot pole and were strong enough to do 80 strokes per minute, you’d break every kayak record for speed the 1st time you used it. But no man is strong enough to do that.”

So setting the blades 1" closer to your hands (the real difference between a 220CM and a 215 CM) will have some effect, but if that effect helps or harms you, only you can tell. That’s the problem with all this; good paddles are expensive and to do a real study you’d probably need to have various sizes of about 20 different blades and 15 difference lengths and the focus of your 40+ hour as week job for years would be testing the recording the results.

Add to this that only one aspect of kayaking is being addressed here. That being top speeds and average speeds over long distances and periods of time (endurance) What is not being addressed is all the other factors of paddle use, falling into the categories of maneuvering bracing, rolling and sculling.

In my limited experience, I am now of the opinion that a longer overall length is better for a longer “reach” which translates directly into leverage farther from the “hub of the wheel” so for bracing in high waves and big chop, and for faster more dynamic turns, a longer paddle beats a short one especially over long hours on the water.

But that’s just me. I have a friend (also named Steve) who is my height and has an arm span the same as I do, but is 130 pounds and I am 189 pounds. I use a longer paddle then he does just because the length of my paddle wears him out too much. He simply is not strong enough to use that long a lever for 8-12 hours a day. So I made him a paddle that is a full foot shorter then what I use and he can use it for long days and not be spent at days end. 1 foot shorter would only be a problem if he wanted to race me, but we don’t do that. He has a faster kayak and he can match me stroke for stroke when we go out for day trips together, and so our speeds are equal. When he used my paddle the first 2 trips together he was about “used up” in 4-5 hours. So for him, the answer was a shorter paddle.

Anyway…my bottom line is that all this is interesting to many paddlers and in the pursuit of “the best” we all get differing opinions, but “the best” truly can’t be predicted from one paddler to another because the 1 factor that is always different is the power and endurance of the kayak’s engine.

Which is the paddler, not the paddle

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Like you I have a high agressive stroke and my hans dip in the water on most strokes. I have found that this paddling style gives me more power in my strokes, as a group leader for many years this type of stroke has worked well to retrieve stragglers and still being able to lead my group. If it works well for you then that is all that I think matters.

I don’t see how dragging several inches of paddle shaft through the water would add to speed or efficiency, plus more of the stroke would be an arc rather than having the blade perpendicular to the water when using hip rotation.

But, as other have said, if it works for you, that is all that matters.


I have somewhat narrower shoulders and longer arms than average for my height and I have noticed the same thing when paddling some kayaks. I’m a novice paddler FWIW.

I’ve noticed that my blade angle rises when I paddle faster or more aggressively. In a wider kayak, it leads to hitting my hands on the boat. In narrow touring and sea kayaks, it leads to dipping my hands in the water. I have to narrow my grip to avoid it, and a narrower grip seems to mean more work for the arms, back, and chest, and less from the core and legs. So unless it’s making my hands cold, I don’t mind touching the water when I’m paddling hard.

@rstevens15 has a point about burying the shaft though. If your hands are touching the water and there’s 4 inches more of shaft down to the blade, you might be more efficient with a 210cm.

For me it’s just bury the blade below the surface. Pull in next to the hull very perpendicular. Longer shaft means your top hand will be higher to accomplish that. Higher you reach less power you have , and it will be more tiring. In my 21" wide sea kayaks I find a euro paddle length of 205 is plenty long.

Someone here years ago turned me on to this fact. The dealer sold me a 215 Ikelos probably because it was on the wall in stock. Looked and found a used 205 Ikelos it’s like night and day. I have a 205-215 Celtic 750 which is great. I was thinking of getting just a new shaft 200-210 because the blades pop off as it’s a 4 PC. paddle. I’m 6’ tall so a bit longer maybe better for you . Try a 210 5 CM is a big difference.

The position of your hands relative to the water is determined by your anthropometry for a given correct technique. The distance between your hands is fixed by your “paddlers box”. Your top hand should not be awkwardly high. Therefore if you have long arms and a high angle stroke you will put your hand in the water. Regarding the excess shaft length, in addition to looking at how much shaft is buried at mid stoke, look at how much is buried at catch. If there is shaft in the water at your catch you likely will be happier with a shorter shaft because your recovery will be cleaner without all that extra lifting to get the blade out of the water. Also note that paddle lengths translate poorly across models because correct length is defined by shaft length (enough to bury the blade) while length is reported as overall length. A low angle style paddle with longer narrower blades needs a greater overall length to achieve the same shaft length. Caveat: I know a lot about human anatomy and a little about ergonomics but not all that much about paddling.


I think I’m going to differ here a little bit. When I read this, I was scratching my head about why some of the stuff I saw would matter. This morning when I was out paddling, it came to mind. And I realized that the level that my hand was above the water at the catch - reaching forward with my blade completely submerged, didn’t really have much reason to change. Then I pulled up some K1 competition with the fastest of the fastest paddlers, just to confirm that at the highest level, the blade starts right against the hull, and then moves away as the kayak is pushed past. This is the paddlers box. The angle of your arms in relation to your chest (and back) forms the box. When you rotate and maintain the paddlers box, the blade slices outward from the hull.
It actually wouldn’t make any difference if I’m using a 190 cm paddle or a 230 cm paddle, it isn’t going to force me to move my hand closer to the water than my hand was at the plant. So I’m going to suggest that it’s not really about the equipment. Which then brings us back to your actual question. Is dipping your hand in the water on forward strokes poor form? I’m guessing that you’re presently convinced and determined that keeping the blade right next to the hull is most efficient. I’m guessing that this is leading to your pretty aggressive high angle stroke. Maybe like a battle between a double blade paddle and a single blade stroke. I think a person would have to see it to make any suggestions. But the length of your arms - anthropometry - will determine how far forward you personally can reach for the catch. I think all of us can dunk our hands under water hanging straight down at our side. I know I just did. So I think that’s likely largely irrelevant, and I think paddle length is irrelevant within reasonable choices. But it’s a very good question worth exploring. Your hand is at a given distance above the water at the catch. As you move your kayak past the planted blade, and your blade remains right against the side of the kayak, with your arm remaining straight in terms of elbow bend, your hand ends up in the water. Or your planted blade can stay straight against the side of the kayak, and you can let your elbow give way to keep your hand above the water. Or you can allow the planted blade to slice outward from the side of the kayak as you move the kayak past it while maintaining the padders box - angles betweeen chest, arm, and arm remain fairly unchanged looking down from above. This is more about ergonomics. Watching a K1 competition suggests that to be as powerful as humans have figured out to this point possible with a double blade paddle, allowing the blade to slice away from the kayak as you move past the planted blade is as good as anyone has done for pure sprint speed. So then you can question given whatever paddling style, is keeping the blade right next to the kayak throughout a stroke really important to efficiency, or do the ergonomics between person/paddle/kayak reveal otherwise?
My imagination still just brings me back to a battle between a double blade paddle and a single blade stroke. Somewhat caught in the middle where things may not be being optimized.

I paddle all winter and wouldn’t want the habit of my hand in the water during each stroke.

Good point. Perhaps it’s not an either/or question. From the perspective of pure physics, there’s no doubt in my mind that keeping only the paddle blade submerged and vertical, while keeping the stroke as close to the keel line (and parallel to it) as possible maximizes theoretical efficiency. But we’re all built differently and so are our boats. Is it possible that for some combinations of paddler anatomy and boat design, the theoretically most efficient stroke may not be so in practice?

As a GL paddler user it is inescapable. I have a pair of Hestra waterproof mittens that I wear.

Yes – except for the idea of “keeping the stroke parallel to the keel line”.
As a single blade paddler now using a double blade paddle, I have noticed that there is no net advantage of paddling the same way.

  1. my stroke rate lowers too much when paddling with a double blade paddle the way I used to do with my single blade paddle.
  2. the blade shape of my double blade paddle doesn’t work well when paddling really vertical as I used to do with a single blade paddle. I get the most resistance when moving outward a bit (like most racing paddlers do especially with wing blades.)
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