Paddling Technique


I am brand new to paddling, 1 week, and I am trying to work on my paddling technique but I am having a couple of problems that I would like some help with. I am sure both problems are related to each other but I can’t figure it out. First problem: While paddling I tend to constantly turn left. I’ve tried everything I can think of: making sure my paddle strokes are even, ensuring I am sitting level in the boat but I still find myself going left. I can remedy the problem by lowering the skeg in my Tempest 170 but I would like to be able to paddle straight without it. Second problem involves leaning turns. I have no problem leaning to the right and turning left but have a difficult time turning right by leaning left. When I lean to the left, the boat turns left. Any ideas?


it could be a couple of things
first there is a very very very slight possibility that the kayak has a manufacturing flaw and passed QC anyway.

I can think of a few things right off the top of my head that might be causing the issue by themselves or combined with one another. First, I am going to assume you are right handed. If you aren’t then forget everything below. If you are right handed then you are probably favoring your right side by sitting heavier on your right butt cheek. Sitting heavier on one side will edge the kayak (even if you are completely centered in the kayak - in fact, this is how you should be edging). You are probably stronger on your right side which means you are paddling with more effort on the right even without being aware of it. It could also be that the right blade is entering the water fairly perpendicular and staying that way for the stroke on the rightside, but your left blade is entering at an angle or turning to an angle while taking a stroke on the left side. Your hands could also be off center with more of your paddle extending to the right than left.

So, how to fix these things. First make sure your hands are centered and stay centered. Some beginners use the drip rings as a gauge, but drip rings move so don’t use them like that. Second make sure you are sitting evenly on your hip bones. The easiest way to test this out is to sit as heavy as you can on the left butt cheek and see if you that turns you to the right. Make sure your blades are entering more or less perpendicular to the water and staying that way for the entire stroke (this isn’t the most efficient way to paddle, but it works very well for this diagnostic).

Lastly, remember to initiate any turn with a sweep stroke on the opposite side. Side note - kayak turn easier in either direction while on edge.

There is also the slight possibility that you have always been kayaking when the wind is blowing from your left to your right. This probably isn’t the case either, but it could be possible especially if you have only done one way trips.

Sounds like the boat to me
We won a new kayak in a drawing at a race once that did the exact same thing, and there was no doubt in my mind that the boat was built cockeyed.



extremely common.

– Last Updated: Jul-27-08 6:48 AM EST –

I can't tell you how many times I have heard new paddlers saying that there boat wants to turn where they don't want to go. I was one of them. But paddling takes time to be good at it. It is a skill. And you are new and should expect a learning curve.
I suppose it is possible that the boat is deformed but more likely than not the problem is you. Dont take that the wrong way but as a new paddler, your body has no muscle memory for paddling. While it may be a struggle at first, time in the seat will remedy that. I would suggest trying to paddle in a straight line for like a couple hundred miles :) and then come back and tell us if the problem is going away. Right now it may feel like you are paddling equally on both sides and it may feel like you butt is centered in the seat and it may feel like the boat is sitting level on the water but you could be all wrong and not know it. How would you?
When I bought my first sea kayak I paddled it for a few days then tried to return it because I thought it favored one side. i was frustrated and pissed when the shop wouldn't take the boat back and even more upset when the guy told me I needed more time in the seat. Long story short is the guy was right.
There could be a whole host of things that you as a paddler are doing wrong. Subtle body movements that keep your weight slightly off center. Larger muscle groups on one side of your body. Failing to notice weight shifts as your boat begins to turn. I mean as a new paddler I can imagine you are fairly stiff and not super comfortable yet so you are not at all loose at the hips which I think may be very large part of the problem. I can only guess that you are arm paddling with almost no hip rotation and that one arm is stronger than the the other and that while it feels that the problem is in the boat it is a problem with your forward stroke. I would suggest trying to paddle very slowly, in a straight line, and concentrate on not letting the bow get away from you. This will not be easy at first but don't give up.
Do not give up. Do not try to paddle fast. Keep your spine straight and remember that the power and ability to move a sea kayak easily comes from paddling from your hips. Try to mimic the the angle of the paddle shaft with your shoulders and let your torso muscles do all the work, not your elbows. Take shorter strokes. All the power should happen at the beginning of the stroke.
In just a little while you will be whipping across the water straight as an arrow. Just give it a little more time.
More seat time. More seat time. More seat time.
Do not use the skeg to assist you. Save that for windy days after you get the forward stroke down to a science.

the skeg box
on mine was off center… took me a while to figure that out… then realigned the skeg

the keel may be warped

Or is it possible that you are doing something in your paddling? Is each side pulling straight back or is the right side ending out away from the hull? I only ask because you didn’t mention corrective strokes, so you may be doing one without yet realizing it?

Watch Fox news
It’ll turn you to the right for sure.

Tempest 170 and going straight

– Last Updated: Jul-28-08 8:53 AM EST –

Since you say the skeg straightens it, I assume the skeg is fine. Make sure the boat is also straight and with relatively even sides an bottom (e.g. no large dents or concave areas where there should not be any)

As the others said, if one side of *you* is paddling harder, then the boat will turn even if you do not feel a difference in how you paddle on each side. The boat turning is actually a good way to find out if one side of your stroke is better than the other and work to correct it.

The Tempset 170 is somewhat "turny". Depending on how you paddle, it may be advisable to use some skeg with this boat. It is certainly doable without any skeg at all but requires too much attention and extra effort if going straight from point A to point B is your goal. Going straight with a boat like this it is more efficient IMO to use skeg than to compensate with strokes or leans. With better tracking or better responding to leans boats it may not be the case, but I feel it is with this one.

I would ceratinly advocate learning to refine your stroke without the skeg. But for straight line paddling with *this* boat, I see no reason to suffer without at least some skeg (seldom necessary to be fully deployed though).

Skeg or no skeg, once you eliminate the chance that the boat is curved or with overly wavy bottom or sides (by looking at it as the others suggest), then make sure you get yourself into a still water place wtih no wind. Even a little wind or current will affect the boat. Then watch your paddling - the boat is relatively sensitive to both uneven strokes and leaning this way or that way while paddling.

For the leaned turns, make sure you start watching which way it will turn only once you are going absolutely sraight or even make a stroke or two on the side opposite to there you want to turn, to initiate the turn. Once the boat enters a turn, say left, leaning left to counter it and to make it turn right is mostly useless in this boat. Good leaning will help of course to correct direction while paddling, but leaning alone and just gliding will not get you out of a turn you already started, especially if you are moving slow (may work if you are really fast moving, like surfing a wave).

Try this: paddle straight at a moderate pace, then stop paddling and let the boat glide ahead. No skeg. Eventually and pretty soon, the boat will turn either left or right - at that point lean in the opposite direction (with a low brace preapared on that side) to make the turn tighter. If you watch your last couple of strokes before starting your glide, you should reasonably soon notice that you are *never* actually going straight - you are alwyas, at each stroke, trying to alternate b/w a left or right turn (kind of going in a sinusoid curve ahead) and depending on which one you do last, the boat will turn that way once you stop paddling...

brand new to paddling

– Last Updated: Jul-28-08 9:44 AM EST –

95% chance it's technique and 5% the boat.

As mentioned above the Tempest is responsive. That's a good thing as it'll teach you to control it.
The first problem for beginners is breaking down the left/right/left/right cadence to seeing what EACH stroke does.
1. Get a felt pen and with the kayak out of the water and on saw horses mark a spot on the skeg slider that shows the skeg sticking down 2". That should be enough to slow down its responsiveness but not make it too tracky. The range of skeg deployment is huge with at least 50% of slider movement overkill.

2. in a calm area with skeg partially deployed review basic strokes as you've been taught,,,uh oh,,if you haven't taken instruction or seen a video, or read a book. Do it. Self-teaching can work but it kind of depends on the quality of the teacher. If this is something you haven't done before,,,er,,that's your teacher. The water and blade can teach you but you may not be there, more on that below.

(2A)Give the kayak a chance to glide between each stroke and only go a few strokes letting the kayak glide for a few lengths before starting up again. The idea is to break up the reflexive effort left/right/left/right/left/right without any awareness on how the boat responds and what each stroke does. Sure if you want to get somewhere, paddle away, but the goal here is to learn control. You can learn by paddling hours on end but it's not necessary to paddle 10,000 bad strokes to learn two good ones, you can go over the two good ones in the beginning.
(2B)most folks starting off put too much hp in each stroke near middle and the latter part of the stroke. This leads to overcompensation and more turning effort than forward effort.

Which leads to a possible cause for your leftward glide. It's likely that your right hand is gripping hard pulling with a bending elbow at the latter part of the right hand stroke imparting a bit of a leftward turn with every stroke. It doesn't take much. One counter for this is to imagine pushing a little more with the right hand as the left blade works the water. The push will come from behind your right shoulderblade and the effort will come from your left abdominals. This is all a gimmick to get your torso freed up for fluid left/right swiveling. It's called torso rotation but it's really left/right swiveling of your torso on a vertical axis. The amount of swiveling can be slight or huge but what matters is that the power in the water ORIGINATES from that 10-90degree "rotation". I've seen folks with powerful strokes who don't rotate much but it starts low and those who rotate a lot but it's mostly upper torso. But to get an idea on how insane torso rotation can be check out Greg Barton/Chalupskis forward stroke video. That's rotation for racing but he shows it for normal mortals.

Try this, take your right hand blade OUT of the water once the blade goes past 3:00 position(12:00 is bow, 6:00 is stern). Don't bother focusing on the left yet. Just experiment with ONE THING AT A TIME. Until of course you decide on some kind of instruction,book/video/classes to get the fundamentals down and let the blade/water teach you.

Speaking of blade/water teaching you. That is more likely to occur the looser your paddle grip is. The looser you hold the paddle the more immediately the water will make the blade dive/slice around and force you to align your forearms so that gripping doesn't align the blade but the relative angle of your forearms. But you can't get the blade in the water or move it through the water with a loose grip while imparting effort if the arms and shoulders aren't lined up, you can't put the blade in the water or remove it from the water with loose grip if your TORSO isn't in the right position for each of those blade positions.

With this kind of concentration you won't be paddling more than 100yards,,which is ok since you can't paddle straight to begin with anyway.

So, 60% effort ,sitting in the middle of the clock face, right blade goes in at 1pm, effort at 2pm, ease up at 3pm and out at 4pm. Pause, glide , repeat on left side, pause, glide, repeat on right side. If you start swerving left too much,,take the right side blade out sooner. Be aware how much your torso is OR ISN"T rotating left/right. Be aware if your right side blade is dragging too far back with effort.

oh yeah,,,if you're using a feathered blade. Check to see if your left blade is entering the water EXACTLY like the right. 95% of beginners slice the entry of the left stroke losing a substantial POTENTIAL for forward motion, if you lose it on balance the right predominates.

My guess is you simply have a right stroke that is stronger on all aspects, the initial plant, effort and unintended dragging right sweep with the left stroke weak on entry with a late effort like the right.

oh,,in order for the left blade (if feathered) to enter correctly you HAVE TO rotate your torso to the right and release the left hand grip so the entry is clean and correct,,you really can't fake it. You can fake poor entry with unfeathered blades with an inefficient forward stroke and poor torso rotation because the poor technique will at least be a bit symmetrical. With feathered blades, tight grip, inadequate torso rotation leading to inadequate and assymetrical efforts WITH a responsive boat,,,going straight is nearly impossible.

oh,,breathe and have fun.

observation for LeeG
Interesting that you said this…

“in order for the left blade (if feathered) to enter correctly you HAVE TO rotate your torso to the right and release the left hand grip so the entry is clean and correct”

When I am taking a stroke on my left side, I loosen my right hand so that my left hand controls the left blade. At the end of the stroke (when setting up for the right side stroke) I switch (loosen my left and switch the control to the right).

Not trying to argue. I just do things very differently and can appreciate individual styles.


– Last Updated: Jul-28-08 10:36 AM EST –

I have to agree with the majority here---you did say you were a beginner so chances are its probably something you are doing, probably without realizing it.

I'm assuming that you are paddling in calm conditions when the boat goes off course? If not I wouldn't worry about it--its the wind pushing you around--eventually you will learn to make small corrective strokes with each turn of the paddle to correct for wind and waves. If the boat does this in calm conditions, with the skeg up, have an experienced paddler try the boat, if it does the same thing with him or her, then maybe it is the boat(although WS has a high reputation for quality--Ive had a T-170 for almost 5 years now with no problem and the other owners that I know don't have any manufacturing complaints)

If the experienced paddler has no problem, then its you---I would suggest trying a little bit of rudder with your paddle when you complete the forward stroke on your stong side---do this enough and it becomes reflexive and you won't even know you are doing it---and you will go in a straight line without any effort. Also you may be doing a little bit of a sweep without realizing it when you do your forward stroke--have you taken a class in forward strokes and sweeps? If not it might be a good investment.

A couple of things the others have not
said. First, take any bags you have out of the boat. Second, make sure you are sitting straight in the seat. Use your legs and push back. You can train your torso to pull evenly by compenstaing with your legs. If your way off to one side, move your foot down to the next peg. You’ll be straight in no time. Forget about blaming the boat until you’ve tried everything else.

diggy camera?
send me a picture of the hull taken from the stern. I’ll tell you if it’s the boat.


one of them has to release
basically the grip opens up so the wrists can be neutral and any push/pull effort is through a straight and not torqued/twisted wrist. As long as the beginner maintains a tight grip they won’t be able to get the blade far forward and in the right angle to the water.

it’s that obvious?

I know that part - it was a comment
on which hand you opened up compared to which hand I open up.

So when taking a stroke on the right do you release the right hand grip so the blade enters the water cleanly?

It can be
On my Squall, the bend was visible not only from the hull but also from the deck. It got worse as time went on. Being a beginner when I bought it, I never thought to check the alignment but noticed a slight bend the 2nd day I had it. It only affected the tip of the bow then but later it “grew” and made the whole thing a banana. Had comments from other people on how bad it was.

My Tempest (also plastic) has remained straight for the 3 years I’ve had it. That doesn’t mean the OP doesn’t have a warped one, though it could well be his technique that’s causing the pull.

Left - right -:wink:
Interesting you should mention that. I was experimenting with this just this past Saturday, and I think releasing the right hand and gripping with the left on a left stroke makes for a cleaner entry for me (use 60 degree feather myself). That’s with a wing paddle, have not played with this with a regular Euro paddle yet, but it should work there as well I suppose. On a bent shaft that is easier to do as it is on a wing paddle. A little harder on a regular paddpe and/or straight shaft as these paddles tend to be more picky about how they enter the water and are less “self guiding”.

Plus, I pretty much had to do it since my right hand began to tire from girpping the paddle after a while. And I thought releasing the right more often if not at every stroke and only gripping with the left worked pretty well.

the shaft doesn’t rotate in my hand for it to line up as it would on the left but the grip definately opens up

if it ain’t
that obvious it don’tmatter. I have paddled boats that were ‘slightly’ tweaked and they were fine. I have a way of testing that proves positively if the boat ‘pulls’.


Catch on left side
Having taught courses and guided groups of beginners for the past 8 years, I’d say the primary cause of veering is either a) edging the boat from side to side while paddling, or b) a weak catch on the left side. (The three components of any stroke are the catch (starting point), propulsion, and release).

Since you “always veer left” I’m inclined to suspect its your forward stroke. When using a right-hand control feathered paddle, the right blade will enter cleanly, but unless you drop the elbow on your off-water hand as you make the catch on your left, the angle of the blade will tend to shed some of the water, resulting in a less efficient stroke on the left side…hence, you end up turning to the right.

I recommend checking out Ben Lawry’s forward stroke tips on YouTube. has some nice animations, but I’m not in 100% agreement with how they illustrate the stroke.