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

There are a few videos comparing GP vs Euro on YouTube but very credible knowledgeable paddlers.


I use a GP, and my hands def dip into the water a bit. Then again, I even did that with my Euro paddle.

As a lifelong, avid paddler and former whitewater slalom racer, I believe the majority of paddlers who use modern (or “European-style”) paddles have too narrow a grip on the shaft (e.g. their hands are too close together). I have paddled for years with my hands no more than 4-5" tops from the neck of the blade on either side (and no, I don’t use shorter-than-normal paddles).

The reason for doing this is simple: more power in your stroke with less effort. A “side effect” of a wide grip like this is that yes, your hands are often in the water. It’s never been a problem for me. My entire blade is underwater on every stroke (during the main power phase of the stroke). Anything less is (in my opinion) lilydipping and less efficient.

I also believe a wider grip encourages greater use of torso and hip rotation—which is what you should be doing. Narrow grips are far more conducive to using all arms, or “windmilling.” Your power should be coming from the big muscles in your back—not your arms. A wider grip will help!


As a relative newbee in kayaking and being very curious at to what works best for me, I also came to that same conclusion. I like to have my hands fairly wide on my euro paddles. The “paddlers box” with elbows at 90 degrees with the shaft is on the head is a bit narrower then what I usually do. I am between a half hand and a full hand wider (each side) most of the time.

In fact on my Greenland paddles I have a tendency to make the looms a bit wider then some others I see on the market. Not a lot, but about 2" and for my own use I like the shoulder-less style because I hold the roots of the blades and only have my 1st finger and thumb in contact with the loom.
In using the GL paddle it’s also very common to move the hands up and down the length of the paddle in normal use, so the idea of placing your hands at X and Y on a GL paddle is not near as much a focus for proper technique as it is with a Euro Paddle.

I have read your posts here and in other places Shadepine. You sound knowledgeable. I think you for the posts.
Where are you?
I am in the middle of Wyoming.

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This is probably a myth somehow because it has not real relation to actual paddling: nobody paddles with their elbows bent at 90 degrees.

It is also an impractical advice, as I then would need a much longer paddle that would hamper quick steering, bracing and paddling against a severe headwind.

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Hi @szihn - I’m in Oregon! :slight_smile: As with everything, there are a lot of different ways to do things in this sport…but I’ve been a paddling fanatic for decades and feel like I’ve seen and done it all, LOL. So I like to think I have a pretty good perspective on what works.

For me, being a whitewater slalom racer for years had a massive influence on my paddling. IMO racers (whether whitewater or flatwater) have by far the best technique of any paddlers on Earth because they have to. When you train to race, you focus like a laser beam on technique and obsess over every little detail—timing everything to see what works better.

Agreed, but the paddlers box is not for paddling technique. It’s only about hand placement.


Yes but there is no relation to actual paddling. That and the fact that in many cases it just isn’t practical and doesn’t work well makes it dubious in my view.

Maybe it originated from the beginning of recreational paddling when people were using very wide kayaks and long paddles?

@kanoniem, I agree with Steve. Its about placement. Paddle technique is different for everyone. My goal is to use my physical attributes and avoid limitations for efficiency. I believe high angle and low angle have distinct advantages/disadvantages, but each user needs to find out which method works best. I think standard charts to determine paddle length are essentially baseless. Get a cheap paddle and use it until you don’t like how it feels, then use it as a wall hanger, a tomato stake, or a spare paddle. Go buy a better one that’s lighter, stronger, shorter, longer, larger, or smaller blades. Then use it and switch back and forth with the old one. That tells you whether you made a good or bad decision. Then tweek again, and again, and again. Realize that 10 cm is only 3.93 inches, or under 2 inches per side. I increased from 240 cm to 250 cm so I can sit upright, keep my hands shimming the deck, and still keep the blade submerged. I don’t lift the paddle any higher than necessary to keep a high cadence (limits the height the off side blade rises above the water), it increases the grip width to improve the leverage, and opens the rib cage for easier breathing. It doesn’t matter to me what kind of paddle length, blade size, technique, or cadence anyone uses. It deoends on how fast or comfortably you want to paddle based on your physique.

My “learning curve” has been very similar to Jyak’s. I find I like GL and Aleut paddles that are “too long” according to the charts, but I also find when using euro paddles that the shorter length seems easier to use for the forward stroke. However I still find having the extra “reach” of a longer paddle is nice to have in high waves and chop and also is easier to use for corrective strokes in heavy winds (which also seems to run opposite to the usual wisdom I have seen in print)
But at 5’ 6" short, none of the charts I have seen show me the lengths of paddles I have come to prefer. So I must assume the charts are based on averages, not hard science. In any average there are the out-layers. If there were not any there would be no reason to do any mathematical averaging in the 1st place.

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Yes it is about the distance between your hands on the paddle.

Problem is that “paddle over the head with elbows bent at 90 degrees” method for determining hand spacing does not have a relation to the way one actually paddles, as nobody paddles with their elbows bent 90 degrees.
Also many paddlers in reality do not use that kind of handspacing – even when they think they do, as not only I but also others noticed:

And while the “paddle over the head with elbows bent at 90 degrees” measurement is intended for double-bladed paddles, it is often advised for single blade paddles too. Touring canoeist will certainly end up with way too long paddles then if they choose a paddle length that would allow that kind of hand spacing, which will severely hamper their canoeing career if not deciding quickly that single blade paddling is just too much work for them. This is extra support for my suspicion that this “paddle over the head with elbows bent at 90 degrees” measurement is just one of those many mythical misconceptions in the sport of canoeing, just because people continue to repeat such things indiscriminately without seriously examine the objections against it?!

How to properly determine hand spacing and paddle length for double bladed paddles I don’t know, other than to find something that works best for your purpose.

Personnaly I found this an interesting matemathical approach:

You make good points. I wonder if anyone heard about paddling and adjusting your hands until the leverage feels right. My hand placement shifts constantly, depending on conditions - more open when fighting condutions and closer together when not under as much stress.

Admittedly when I started paddling with a double bladed paddle in a kayak, my idea was to adjust my hands until it felt right. But it turned out that after more than 20 years of paddling with a single blade paddle, where you only have to worry about one hands placement, now my hands were all over the place and often not the right place :frowning:
So I decided to put my ‘pride’ away and put some tapes where I think/reckoned my hands should be most of the time without feeling uncomfortable. So far so good – for me.

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I’m surprised by your assessment of placing your hands in the wrong place, but it is a good tip to mark optimum spots. At times my grip becomes uncentered due to unequal pressure from the wind or current deflecting the boat. Right or wrong, that reminds me of the need to adjust paddling strategy. I don’t think there is any wrong way to paddle, unless it leads to blade slippage, oscillating and inefficiency.

I’ve used 1/8th inch auto pinstriping to mark hand placement. Waterproof and even looks like it could be part of the OEM design!