keep upper hand parallel?

I’ve been reading up and watching some videos on the basic forward stroke. I think I’ve got a grasp on the main points, like using the large muscles groups instead of just the arms, using torso rotation, legs muscles, etc. However, I’ve a little confused on the position of the upper hand.

As I begin the stroke, my upper hand is between eye and chin level. As the stroke progresses, it moves across my face at a slight downward angle toward the opposite side of the boat. I’ve read that this hand should stay level BUT I’ve seen quite a few videos where it doesn’t. Here, for example:

Don’t worry about it.

– Last Updated: Sep-14-15 10:45 AM EST –

After years of trying very hard to perfect my paddling technique, I've finally come to realize that perfection according to the "experts" isn't comfortable and probably isn't practical for me. I do try to involve the core muscles and torso rotation, but what I'm more concerned with is what I can maintain for hours without straining something while keeping up a nice pace.

I have found that for very long distances, my hands might not get any higher than my chest. Admittedly, this is at a more relaxed pace, but it also conserves energy. When I pick it up a bit, like you, my hands are about eye level; I guess I haven't noticed whether the upper hand stays level. I'll have to check that next time out.

Everybody isn't equally endowed with arm length. I've noticed some paddlers with short arms hold them straight--mine are bent somewhat at the elbows.

So, I think you try the best you can to comply with proper technique, but you probably fall a bit short of perfection when you find your comfort zone.

don’t make it a golf stroke

– Last Updated: Sep-14-15 10:43 AM EST –

What Magooch said. Don't drive yourself nuts trying to match what some stranger in a video says, as long as you have the principles down.

Try for level but
you won’t see a ton of paddlers managing level truly all the way across. If you can keep it from dropping a lot before it has passed your face and your arm is mostly straight you are getting a good result. Doing that requires some torso rotation which is the larger goal anyway.

Looks more low angle

– Last Updated: Sep-14-15 1:44 PM EST –

once the REI guy starts moving.

I learned the high angle stroke based on these two Greg Barton videos:

Plus lots of reading and research. And practice.

Watched a video where KayakVagabond (Greg Stamer) advised to “sight the horizon” during a WaterTribe forward stroke clinic he conducted. I’ve found keeping my head up helps keep my upper hand from dropping.

I like working on technique so I’m always thinking about the components of the forward stroke when I do training paddles at home, and generally pick one component to concentrate on each day.

That “horizon” tip was one of the best things I was ever told.


– Last Updated: Sep-14-15 2:25 PM EST –

Thanks, guys. I will try not to worry about it too much. I would say my hand stays pretty level until it gets towards the midline of the boat, then it angles down a bit. It kind of just feels like this is a natural movement. I'll try to focus on the main things like rotation and not gripping too hard.

Speaking of grip, I've tried opening my fingers on my upper (pushing) hand as I'm paddling. Kind of like I'm waving hi to someone. Seems to work well for me at least.

Just stop there
"my hand stays pretty level until it gets towards the midline of the boat, "

For power strokes you want to end the stroke when the top hand is about at the middle of the boat.

If you go any farther you effort is either:

Lifting water if you have a high-angle stroke


Steering is you have a low-angle stroke.

In either case you aren’t doing much for making the boat move forward.

RE: just stop there
Thanks, I’ll keep that in mind!

REI guy
Is not a very good model. Paddle blade runs long past hip and does bicep curl at exit of the blade. Top hand motion makes a diving diagonal across the front of his body. There’s plenty of DVDs out there with better demonstration.

See you on the water,


The River Connection, Inc.

Hyde Park, NY

Top Hand Moves Past Center With Torso
Rotation. The hand and arm remain fixed allowing the torso to do the work. The boat moves in the direction of force. And as my canoe guru would say: “the purpose of the top hand is to move the bottom hand forward.”

sight the horizon

– Last Updated: Sep-14-15 7:30 PM EST –

Gridly ! Ok point A to point B right foot torso LEVER power stroke left with right body now in action, sight horizon breathe deep reach for the Red Bull left foot forward leg torso rotates right power stroke keep arms level LEVER right power stroke off left foot leg torso..

is this boring or what ? sighting the horizon may 'keep you from dwelling on that'

the idea of parallel exists within the leg to foot to leg to torso to level arm leverages in pulling the boat ahead of the paddle while you sight the horizon !

I'm at a loss to say if 'keeping arms level' produces more power LEVERAGE from torso rotation...pushing with left body on left paddle shaft bringing right paddle against water. But as an average including positions deafintely not level nor using torso nor being remotely aware of the horizon going level is an arm movement forward.

In thruth, the concept of 'level' doesn't develop meaning until you're in the yak holding the paddle shaft. Does it ?

now a word about activating cranial nerves ...

Blunt, but true
Agreed, that video model was…well, awful.

First part is quite ok (the catch, beginning of stroke), but the later portion of the power phase is not even up to the often argued values of the so-called “low” stroke.

What I would call a high work ethic stroke, he is working hard, and by that sensation must be thinking it is good. The latter part of the power only partly translates to moving forward, most is simply wasted effort.

Yes, it is rather true that the best efficiency come from a top hand that maintains height during the power- even for a low angle stroke.

How high that top to keep the top hand is dependent on many things, personal goals certainly one thing, training volume another. Even at the top level of racing, the greats varied (Tim Brabants kept his top hand over his forehead, Ivan Lawler and Knut Holman kept their top hands barely over shoulder level).

One point that isn’t often made is training volume. Technique is fine, but I’ve had most success with students who plan long distance touring by emphasizing proper training volume over the occasional practice of perfect technique.

From my personal experience, my forward stroke style during a two week expedition versus in a race kayak mostly varies by cadence, not form. Doing anything else feels like…too much work.