Kayak sweep strokes, 180 deg. or less?

Watching the Roger Schumann video linked by Rookie in her cross bow draw thread, I wondered about sweep strokes. When I first learned them, we were taught to do it like Roger Schumann, paddle catch forward almost up against the kayak, sweep 180 degrees to finish next to stern. We were taught that the greatest turning motion comes at the beginning and end close to the boat.

Years later in an ACA instructor class, the teacher demonstrated sweeps that began either right next to bow or to the stern (reverse sweep) but then traveledi n an arc of, say, only 100 or 120 degrees.

I could see the logic of a shortened sweep stroke: less chance of capsize near the end and much less srain on an aging, less-flexible body – I mean even Roger Schumann doesn’t appear to fully rotate his torso around so shoulders are parallel to boat – he sticks his arm back behind his shoulder a bit at the end, not such a safe position.

My question is: has the prescribed method for doing a sweep stroke changed? Or was the shortened stroke particular to just one older instructor? (He’d been in a wreck a few months before.)

Try it.
What I have found most instructive is to take the time to try various techniques and find out what is most effective. After awhile it all becomes instinctive and you do what is called for without consciously thinking about it. Some of the moves will depend on which boat you’re in and under what conditions.

Less than 180 . . .
Works well for me for my quick-turning kayaks on edge.

But the question is, what would I teach others – the old 180? Or less? Is the 180 sweep old-school? I’ve been paddling long enough to see changes in what people are taught. Heel hook is one example. The consensus can change.

What I have been taught
by multiple different ACA-certified instructors is to carry the sweep through 180 degrees, or nearly that.

Sure there might be instances in which a lesser degree of sweep, or a bow quarter sweep will suffice, but there is no question that the stern draw (last portion of the forward sweep) adds a powerful turning force.

These videos might be old, but that seems to be what is being taught by ACA instructors here:


and here:


There are two ways in which I have seen people get into trouble by carrying the sweep stroke all the way into the stern of the boat. The first is tripping over the paddle blade. It is common to heel the boat toward the paddle side at the initiation of the sweep but it is possible to get the stern skidding so much that if that heel is maintained and the sweeping blade contacts the hull, the kayak might capsize to the paddle side. I have usually taught boaters (both canoe and kayak) to counter-heel the boat during the second portion of the forward sweep.

The second problem comes from watching the sweeping blade all the way in to the stern of the boat. That allows one to get a good feel for exactly when to lift the sweeping blade out of the water. The problem is that in kayaking, the boat tends to follow the head. A forward sweep is done to turn the bow in the direction opposite the sweep, but looking in the opposite direction results in the body countering the turning force.

I did notice a change in instruction for the forward sweep in whitewater over the years. Initially it was taught to watch the blade throughout but in later years it was taught to look into the turn. I have usually suggested that new paddlers practice the forward sweep on flat water watching the blade until the motion becomes muscle memory, and thereafter look into the turn while sweeping.

Nothing Has Changed In The Sweep
The concept of pushing the bow away from the immersed paddle blade and/or also drawing the stern to it (immersed paddle blade) has not changed. Doing the reverse (pushing the stern away from the paddle blade and/or also drawing the bow to it (paddle blade) remains the same too. Very simple easy stroke - nothing complicated. Now go practice.

180 not old school.
It was taught in my L1 in 2014 and I had to demonstrate it in L2 last summer. Rotation 180 degrees in both directions also required in BCU 1* assessment.

I’ve read that following the blade with your eyes also helps you to fully rotate for the stroke.

I think flexibility is pretty important in everyday life so I combine balance and flexibility exercises just to keep all the parts working.

Nigel Foster, in his 'Directional Control" video, suggests that paddlers who have issues with flexibility bring their elbow in next to their hip mid-stroke in the sweep and use the top hand to push the paddle across their body to achieve the rotation. When he demonstrates it in the video, it’s pretty much a full 180 degree rotation.

Thanks, Pblanc and Clydehedlund
Maybe my ACA class instructor taught a shortened sweep stroke because he was unable to complete the rotation around for a full 180. So a one-off, not a change of approach by ACA.

G in Nc

Why Watch The Blade?
It isn’t going anywhere. Only the boat moves! So best to watch it (boat) instead, and make sure it is moving in the desired direction.

Shorter Sweep
(FWIW I am an ACA Instructor) I teach a shorter sweep, maybe 90 degrees or a little more of sweep arc. In my opinion, the most important component to an effective sweep is edging the boat. In order to effectively do that you need the brace of the blade during the power movement. There is essentially no bracing support near the hull, at the start or end of a full 180 degree sweep. For me the catch is at about 40-45 degrees from centerline (a foot or so out from the hull) and the exit is about 45 degrees back (a foot or so from the hull).

I think you may start to see less of the “this is EXACTLY how this stroke is to be done” philosophy and more of a “let’s figure out how to get your boat to move the way you want it” from instructors in the future. At least I hope so.

Helps you rotate more
If you watch the boat, your body automatically will try to face the boat. This reduces the rotation, especially when your paddle is at your stern. By watching blade, it helps you rotate more.

I second that last part

shorter strokes for different folks

– Last Updated: May-31-16 8:50 AM EST –

I joke with folks that I like a little water to go with my rocks- running small creeks that are mostly class II and III. Think of slalom paddling only no gates just rocks instead.
So I'm constantly turning the bow and stern around rocks. Forward momentum isn't usually the issue (since the water is moving pretty quick).

So here's what I've figured out- If you need to turn quickly then get your strokes (or paddle plants) up on the ends of the boat

shallow quick strokes (and paddle plants) are better than slower deeper longer strokes for quick turns in rocky environments

once you get the bow around get ready to get the stern around

you're never going to get full rotation because you're cutting your strokes off at the hip (forward paddling) That's something to practice on the flats with a more straight armed technique

look where you want to go and get your shoulders pointed that way (it works in hockey, skiing, and panning with a video camera as well)- I can't think of a time when I'm actually look at the paddle blade

sit up straight, good posture matters, head and chin up

sweep turns
everyone has their own take on it. find what works for you. I find leaning into the sweep, and pulling the boat with my legs, helps turn faster.

try to avoid dogma

– Last Updated: May-31-16 10:16 AM EST –

You should be able to turn your boat close to 180 degrees using a sweep stroke from bow to stern. That doesn't mean it always has to be a 180 degree stroke: if you don't need to turn 180 degrees it's wasted effort.

The very best paddlers I've seen are those who can link strokes and variations of strokes in conditions, and not necessarily spin a boat 180 degrees on a flat pool of water.

The choice of technique
is a bit dynamic and depends upon how much I want to turn the boat. I use the classic method when trying to change orientation in confined spaces, but most of the time, my sweeps rarely exceed 90 degrees since I don’t need to make that large a course correction.

If teaching, I demonstrate the full range of the sweep and the benefits of leaning the boat toward/away from the sweep. Really responsive boats with hard chines almost never require much more than a lean and sweep to reverse orientation, other boats are much less likely to respond and need the longer sweep.

As with everything, the technique of the paddler, hull, stowage, and water conditions can be major variances as to the effectiveness of a sweep.


makes sense

– Last Updated: May-31-16 1:04 PM EST –

There is no reason that one must stick with just one type of sweep. Here is some advice from Kent Ford regarding the use of different sweep styles depending on the circumstances:




This pertains primarily to whitewater kayaking but I think the same advice can be applied to touring kayaks.

In relatively calm water situations in which a 180 degree turn is desired I see no reason to omit the stern draw portion of the full sweep as it does have a powerful turning effect. But as Kent points out, in swift water or waves carrying the sweep all the way to the stern while leading into the turn with the head and torso can put the shoulder in a precarious position, with the sweep hand well outside of the "paddler's box".

I have found that many kayakers often have relatively poor form stern steering strokes: stern draws and stern pries. I think one of the advantages of practicing the full sweep in safe circumstances is to teach the proper body mechanics for a good form stern draw. Good form stern draws and stern pries are really essential for precise boat control when ferrying or surfing.

Great discussion, thanks to all!
I really appreciate the thoughtful responses. Very helpful to me.