Refining the Forward Stroke????

I have a few questions about refining my forward stroke. I have watched the Brent Reitz video and read and watched a little bit from Greg Barton. I think that I have a pretty good forward stroke, but have some questions about some things that are giving me problems.

  1. Like another post here on the board I am wondering about what the proper cadence is for efficient paddling. At one end of the spectrum you can achieve a fast cadence but not putting a lot of power into each individual stroke. On the other end of the spectrum you can really “dig in” on each stroke, but at a slow cadence.

  2. I can paddle with no splash or turbulence upon placing the blade in the water, and upon exiting from the water, but sometimes I will notice that after exiting from the water the paddle will create a small “whirlpool” behind where the paddle exited. What does this mean? I would think that it is a sign of some sort of inefficiency in my stroke.

  3. Lastly, I find that I sometimes feel that I am not achieving a good catch on my right blade. I feel like my blade may be canted in the water and not perpendicular to it, making it feel like the paddle is slicing through the water, rather than achieving maximum catch. I have experimented with different feathering. I am left handed but use a right feather or none at all. I only use slight feathering on my adjustable paddle–either 15 or 30 degrees. I often paddle unfeathered which may be most comfortable to me. I always still feel like I have problems with getting a good catch on my right side. I have also tried left feathering on my paddle, but find it very awkward.

    Any assistance or advice would be greatly appreciated.



Forward Stroke
You mention that you can paddle without splash or turbulents but see a small whirlpool behind the blade. A whirlpool is turbulent. I think you can eliminate this simply by refining your exit. At the hips (or more correctly the extent of your torso rotaion)the paddle should slice out to the side cleanly. Practice slicing out with very little grip to understand the mechanics.

In regard to the the cadence and blade placement, consider the following. The blade has the most grip on the water when it is vertical and perpendicular to the boat. In a average stoke this distance is only about 18-24". The idea of spearing the fish, ie reaching forward on the catch places the blade less than vertical initially is far less than efficient but is neccessary when the boat is moving rapidly. This is more of a wind up than a catch. So if the most efficient stroke length is only 24" you can actually get more out of it with good torso rotation and straighter arms because as you rotate with straight arms the blade while still vertical and perpendicular moves diagonally turning the 24" of grip to say 30" or more before the slice. The key is a vertical paddle shaft. Cadence follows as the slice out sets up the following stroke on the other side. Try paddling slowly with nearly straight arms and see if this makes sense.


Have someone video you from a couple of angles & find a seasoned paddler. Good luck!

Just to clarify. The small whirlpools that I refer to happen behind the boat, well after I remove the paddle blade from the water. I get a good clean exit with no splash or noise at all. A second or two after the blade is out of the water I can hear “swirling” water behind me. I have not looked back to see it, only have heard the noise.


I was always under the impression
that the “whirlpool”, or vortices, behind a blade were the result of water on the power face of the blade being piled up on the forward stroke, while a small vacuum was being created behind it. The water thus rushes past the sides to fill the small void behind the blade. Any time you paddle, you are pulling your boat forward. But, because water is fluid, the paddle doesn’t stay in the exact place that you plant it, and it moves a bit. This movement is what causes the vortices. A good catch will result in smaller vortices, as will a stroke with good balance between power and cadence. But unless I am missing something, anything beyond pure lily dipping is going to produce some small vortices. Then again, I haven’t been paddling seriously for very long, and I’m sure my forward stroke could use a lot of improvement.

So maye
the whirlpools are not so much of a bad thing. I have noticed that they generally are worse when I really dig in and pull hard on the paddle.

I just figured that the water swirling like that was a sign of some sort of energy wasted somewhere—energy moving the water rather than the boat. Not sure.

Perhaps this is a sign that I need to speed up my cadence a bit and put a little less muscle into each stroke (which is one of the main things I am trying to determine–proper cadence). I would guess that this is probably also somewhat dependent upon the size of the paddle blade that you are using at the time.


I’m a humble rec paddler, so maybe I’m missing something here… The return stroke on the left is merely the power stroke on the right, right? How much can you “refine” that without screwing up your power stroke? Personally, it sounds too much like work and less like fun to me!

Check Again When You Paddle…

– Last Updated: Jul-06-05 7:56 AM EST –

the exit of the blade in the water always precedes by factions of a second, the entry of the other blade into the water for a stroke. Thus, entry, stroke and exit can be distinct moves and refined.

If you're happy with your stroke already, you need not worry about this. Fast paddlers like to go faster and with more efficiency. That's their notion of fun and thus the ongoing refinement. Other paddlers need not the share this "fun", if they don't want to. :)



– Last Updated: Jul-06-05 8:04 AM EST –

I also have the Brent Reitz video. What I noticed is that as he pulls the paddle back he is fairly parallel to the yak for most of the stroke. Near the end of the stroke, he veers the paddle a little bit away from the yak. I have been trying this and it seems to eliminate a "whirlpool" effect.

Paddle out near the end of the stroke
I haven’t looked at the Reitz video in a while, but I’ve always heard the movement of the paddle outward at the end of the stroke described as almost letting it drift there, unpowered. That’s to make a smoother exit. Otherwise, you’d have to bend your elbow fairly sharply to keep the blade near the boat as it neared the hips and the exit would necessarily be more cramped and therefore not as smooth. At that point you don’t want to be applying power anyway, so there’s no reason to keep the blade near the boat.

That said, I believe (not much actual experience) that the outward motion with a wing or hybrid blade can actually generate forward “lift”, if you apply outward pressure rather than just let it drift.


Thanks David
I’ll look again when the video comes back to me (it’s on loan to a friend) to see if the paddle is drifting or being directed outward.

Hi Matt,
I think most people have a weak and a strong side, and also stretch or turn better to one side. You might want to take note of exactly how forward you’re planting the blade on each side, and where you’re releasing it. Just as most runners are asymmetrical–and sometimes look pretty funny, but don’t even realize it–most paddlers are too. It’s possible that you could fix the unnatural feeling on your right stroke by stretching that side carefully. A video would probably help.

Vortices are completely normal. Wing paddles curl the water up into one large vortex. Regular paddles often make two, unless you’re slicing the blade out of the water. I don’t think they matter much or mean anything. You see giant vortices from Olympic rowing shells, for example. More important to get a splash-free entry than to worry about making vortices.

A wing paddle pulls itself away from the boat naturally (and even capsizes you if you try to keep it close). A regular paddle can be slid outward if you like–one advantage is that it keeps from submerging the blade too far. It also promotes rotation. A Greenland paddle can be effective right next to the boat, since its blade goes all the way to your hand–the hand can touch the water at its deepest entry.


outward movement
Now we are getting somewhere. The outward movement is indeed part of the power phase. As you correctly identified the collapse of the elbow is neccessary to keep paddle next to boat. This collapse eliminates the power from the torso and in most cases sends the paddle backwards beyond the opportune time to slice out. The most important aspect as I said earlier is that this outward path provides a longer period of grip with the blade both vertical and perpendicular to the boat.When you paddle with your arms nearly straight the proper length and cadence of the stroke can be determined by the extent and speed of torso rotation.


wing technique

Many moons ago when watching a Greg Barton clip I noticed his paddle moves well out to the side during his stroke. Soon after seeing this I adopted a modified wing-paddle stroke for my euro paddling.

Basically the paddle is moved out to the side more than back at all. This allows a nearly straight-armed forward stroke driven by my torso rather than any arm. The sensation is to “spear” the water during the catch and “throw” the blade as far as possible out to the side with each stroke. Since the blade is moving away from the boat there is one one vortex and hence no flutter regardless of how much power is applied.

The paddle exits the water of it’s own accord (just before the hip) with no elbow lift at all. I also use a canted euro paddle grip (stolen from my G-style friends) than seems to “grab” more water as the blade is angled to “climb” forward during the stroke as long as the shaft is vertical or nearly so.

Most of this runs afoul of standard ACA or BCU stroke forms but I’ve found that for me it works well. Very fast with minimal perceived effort and no involvement of my biceps or lats other than to stabilize the paddle during the stroke. The stroke feels strange at first but it’s hard to argue with the results. YMMV



Strange that most don’t see this
I’m not sure why so many people think the stroke shape is parallel to the boat and then flipped out to the side. I find it much easier to push the paddle out right from the start and everything else seems to take care of itself.



Wing paddle "Lift"
The intent of the outward movement of a wing paddle is indeed to produce “lift” forward such that a wing paddle can end the stroke forward of it’s original placement.

This combined with torso rotation is partly what makes a wing paddle feel to have so much “bite”


Pushing the blade out – questions

Regarding your technique…

the paddle is moved out to the side more than back at all.

Doesn’t that cause a larger sweep component, that is, induce a yaw or at least sideways pressure on the bow? IOW, I always thought that pulling straight back (with the hips/torso, of course) was a more efficient trajectory for the blade to produce straight forward propulsion.

Or, maybe that’s true – you do get yawing pressure on the bow – but the body mechanics are superior, and outweigh the energy lost to yawing. As you said to me recently, there’s often a tradeoff among efficiencies for the body, paddle and boat.

Another question – where are your hands, and what trajectory do they take as you push the blade out to the side?


One paddler’s stroke . .

First the disclaimer: This description is of my personal forward stroke and while I’m happy to share/discuss components of it with others, I don’t assume that my way is the best or the only way. For many of us, our forward (and other strokes) strokes are refined over time. This description holds for my forward stroke as I understand it today. But remember that everything is subject to change as soon as I find something more effective / efficient. :wink:

the paddle is moved out to the side more than back at all.

Doesn’t that cause a larger sweep component, that is, induce a yaw or at least

sideways pressure on the bow? IOW, I always thought that pulling straight back

(with the hips/torso, of course) was a more efficient trajectory for the blade to

produce straight forward propulsion.

Since the blade is perpendicular to the length of the boat, this is not a sweep stroke. You are quite right in pointing out the potential for yaw increases as the center of effort moves abeam. Pulling straight back (parallel to the boat’s length) is indeed the most boat-efficient forward stroke form.

In my stroke, the paddle starts at the gunwale where any yaw effect is minimal. At slow speeds when there is minimal stabilizing effect at the bow, I reduce effort as the blade moves abeam so that there is less power being applied at the end, (furthest abeam) part of the stroke. During acceleration, I shorten the stroke (increasing the cadence), balancing the yaw to port vs yaw to starboard effects.

As the boat gains speed, the pinning of the bow becomes more prominent so that any tendency to yaw seems to yield minimal effect. Since the paddle exits naturally just before my hips there is no yaw induced by an overly long stroke (no stern draw component) and there is minimal lifting of water (as with a straight-back forward stroke that exits behind the hips).

In this manner I can maintain nearly rigid arms and shoulders, maximizing the effect of torso rotation but lengthening the stroke by moving the paddle abeam. The wing / canted effect also comes into play at speed where I can drive the blade forward (from it’s original placement) with a canted grip. This is just my adaptation towards a preference for body-efficient stroke forms over boat-efficient stroke forms.

Or, maybe that’s true – you do get yawing pressure on the bow – but the body

mechanics are superior, and outweigh the energy lost to yawing. As you said to

me recently, there’s often a tradeoff among efficiencies for the body, paddle and


That’s exactly how I see this. While the straight back stroke form is certainly more efficient in theory, this chevron shaped forward stroke form appears to be more advantageous to me in practical application.

Another question – where are your hands, and what trajectory do they take as

you push the blade out to the side?

I “spear” the water at about 75° (loom angle) to set the paddle for the catch, transition to about 60° during the power phase, drive the power phase with my torso (no arm or shoulder movement), then lift my wet arm as my dry hand passes the centerline of the boat to release the wet blade and set the paddle for the next catch.

Just before the Catch, when the loom is at 75° my higher hand is at eye level and the lower hand at shoulder level. During the Catch both arms moved down to set the blade. At the very start of the Power phase I reduce the loom angle to 60° so that the dry hand is at shoulder level and the wet hand is about even with my sternum. The hands, arms and hence paddle loom angle are held constant during the rest of the Power phase. To Release and set-up for the next Catch, after my dry hand crosses the centerline of the boat, my wet hand goes from sternum level to eye level while the dry hand stays at shoulder level until the next Catch starts.

Throughout all of this my arms range from straight (for the wet arm) during the power phase to bent at about 120° during the set-up for the catch to 160° (for the now dry arm) during the next Power phase. During slower / gentler paddles I lower my hands & arms and reduce the loom angles but otherwise the form remains similar.

Overall the appearance from the bow is that my hands/arms/paddle move side to side while in reality the arms are moving up and down as the torso swings them in arcs around my spine. The paddle tends to take on a windmill / figure-of-eight of motion.

The first thing I saw in Greg Barton’s form, years ago, was his hands moving well past the centerline of the boat (contrary to how I had been taught) and continued out past the opposite side gunwale! I also noticed that his hands, arms and torso did not change orientation relative to his torso during the power phase. All of this ran contrary to what and how I was taught to be “proper form”. The above is my attempt to duplicate his form. Being a world class racer, I assumed he knew a thing or two about the forward stroke. YMMV



Whirlpools . .
. . are a sign that you are pushing water. Not the most efficient way to move a boat forward. Some turbulence is unavoidable but it’s best to minimize it where you can.

Consider reducing power as the blade approaches the surface. This won’t make you go faster but it will waste less energy. YMMV



Hello, Jed : )
If I still used a “Euro” paddle any more, I probably would use it with a wing stroke, as you describe. This stroke works even with a Greenland paddle. I’ve been working hard on my wing stroke (took a class with Oscar Chalupsky; hanging out with racers more). Fascinating business, fine-tuning something that looks so simple at first! Hard to unlearn old habits and learn new ones.

One thing I notice is that when people adopt a more sprint-like stroke, with the upper hand crossing well over midline, there’s some loss of stability–it’s a difficult position to brace from. When I tried paddling an ultra-tippy Tiburon, for example, I couldn’t rotate all the way 'round, for fear of capsize. Over time, with practice, I could hopefully get it.