Side-to-side on Forward stroke

In Brent Reitz’ article “The Five Immutable Rules of the Kayak Forward Stroke,” he says to “watch out for an exaggerated side-to-side rocking motion in your boat, which actually slows you down by making the boat bob up and down. If this is happening, you need to ‘quiet’ your lower body.”

I don’t have a racing boat - or even a lightweight boat - but I do want to go fast. (I do plan to upgrade my boat as soon as financially feasible.) I don’t have a rotating seat either. When I rotate my torso and push my feet, my boat moves side to side. Looking at the bow, it just looks like it’s tracking left then right, which I figure is normal. I can’t tell whether the boat is actually “rocking.” It feels like I’m going faster that way - even feels like I’m in a good groove, and everything feels just right - but I figure the pros know a heck of a lot more than I do. Is this considered “rocking,” and if so, how do I keep this from happening when I rotate and push my feet?

Thanks in advance!

No, your boat should be going straight
it sounds to me that you are rotating way too much. Your lower body shouldn’t be rotating

Where did you get the idea of a rotating seat ?

Racing canoes have a sliding seat for trimming the boat, but racing kayaks have fixed seats.

Also when you are pumping off the foot brace, I hope you are pumping on the same side as the blade is going into the water.

Jack L

I think
it’s impossible to track completely straight when you alternate strokes on each side. Physics just prevents it. That little left/right wiggle is normal. An efficient forward stroke will just minimize this.

My guess is that the author is talking about slight “edging” that occurs if you reach for your toes too severely. I used to do this before I relaxed my stroke a bit and got less aggressive and more “artful” about it. If you try very hard to catch too far forward you will naturally lift your opposite leg which causes the undesired edge. Doing this on both sides will constantly change your waterline, losing efficiency. Relaxing at the hips would help prevent this.

Just a guess…

I think …
…what he is saying is not the bow turning a little side to side but keeping the boat “quiet” along the lateral axis “rocking”. Has nothing to do with rotation just try to keep the boat level. I have seen this when the paddler is getting tired.


– Last Updated: Sep-06-16 9:24 PM EST –

Or video 'forward paddling' advice from experts. Use the advice as specific on the water excercises ie practice.

Jack's foot advice is basic. Balance from that side foot chine turn counter balances force applied thru paddle pull.

Also well written, the hull is pulled past paddle not paddle forcing hull forward.

when I take out my ww

– Last Updated: Sep-05-16 9:14 AM EST –

kayak I purposefully over rotate when I first get in the boat, zigzagging a bit, finding the edges- kind of like an indy car racer breaking in the tires. I don't know if it is the right or the wrong thing to do, it just feels right as a warm up exercise before settling in to paddling. I want the boat to purposefully "bob" a bit when starting out, just part of my paddling "ritual".

I realize the purpose and boat type are different for the author and efficient forward paddling is their goal.

Other times I focus on keeping my body more still, making sure my hands don't cross the center axis of the boat, focusing on posture, sitting erect and cutting the rotation short. That's my version of more efficient paddling in the flats. It feels a little robotic. I tend to be a "slumper" so I try to practice that at least once every time I go out.

Perhaps some veer is okay- think about "hit and switch" canoers who are aggressively forward paddling but ultimately your talking about something else- individual stroke efficiency versus course deviation in a canoe.

minimize yaw
by keeping stroke well forward of your torso

the bobbing along the keel line… alternatively one side of the boat being lower than the other is caused by butt pressure alternating cheeks… Or in canoes knee pressure alternating . This all can happen with the paddler unaware

I get it by alternating pressure on the foot pegs

You need to understand the difference between yaw and roll (rocking). The diagram at should help.

You are describing “yaw” (left to right movement of the bow while the kayak stays “flat” on the water).

Some yaw is unavoidable, but good technique and hull characteristics will reduce it.

What Reitz means by rocking is “roll”, where the kayak leans over to the left and right about its long axis. This will indeed slow your progress if extreme.

For very narrow racing kayaks it’s often taught that the leg drive should cause the kayak to lean slightly toward the stroke side due to the leg drive.

Another common fault, rather than rotating, some kayakers try to gain speed by lunging their torso forward, in a ineffectual attempt to generate speed. This often causes the kayak to bounce up and down (pitch slightly forward and then upwards) which is another speed killer.

A good kayaker can achieve both a strong, powerful stroke and keep the kayak running “quietly” on the water.

Strong rotation should not cause excessive yaw. Rotation should happen all the way down to your sit bones in the seat (like you are sitting on a phonograph turntable). Rotating seats are legal for K1. That said, for anything other than flatwater you would need a way to lock out the rotation, to deal with conditions.

Greg Stamer

Butt shift & reaching
Thanks for all of the great input! I think this side-to-side “lift” has to do with foot pressure on the blade in the water side, releasing the foot pressure on the “off” side, and shifting my butt balance as I rotate.

Advice sounds consistent on the reach issue: Don’t reach too far forward. I can change that one easily.

For the rotation thing, I’m not sure what to do; it sounds like I’m getting almost opposite advice. I’ve tried to lessen my weight shifting as I rotate - but then I have trouble rotating. Should I only rotate my upper body, say, waist up? I thought I was supposed to rotate all the way down to the seat.

Thanks again! Looking forward to hearing more!

rotate all the way down to the seat

– Last Updated: Sep-06-16 10:47 AM EST –

Barton on hip rotation and leg drive: .
I recommend you get a copy of the Barton and Chalupsky Forward stroke video, and get a session with a good coach. That can save you years of struggling.

Epic has some good free technique videos on their website at

If your kayak allows for it, you should be rotating all the way down to your butt bones on the seat. A good mental image is to think that you are on a turntable and you are rotating in place. This gives you maximum leg drive and power.

When you push on the footboard with your stroke side foot and leg, say, on the right side, your right-side hip moves backward and your left side hip moves forward. Note that doing this doesn't cause you to push hard into the backband or seat, it causes your butt to rotate on the seat.

Rotating seats are still pretty rare but many racers wax the seat pan or place two plastic bags in the seat to augment this "butt rotation" on flatwater. Neither is a good idea if you paddle in rough conditions as you will be sliding all over the place as you you try to brace.

I like a strap or pull-bar on my footboards so that I can push with one foot and pull with the other to add power. This also makes a hull with low intitial stability, such as a K1, feel much more stable and controllable, in my experience.

During rotation some coaches talk about putting weight on the butt cheek on the side of the stroke, and then alternating to the other side, but this is very subtle. If you are aggressively leaning from side to side, and causing the kayak to rock, then you are overdoing it and need to make your motion more "quiet".


good ex for your autoliths …

foot pressure is, as the otoliths n systems, perhaps counterintuitive. Foot IS for me as I forget n waver back into normal walking innervation.

Occurs now that a video overview of Olympic single paddler sprints is instructive n possibly some training video on utube.

Here with hull eddies dragging friction onto the hull with every deviation from straight ahead aligned with paddle pressure there’s a parallel with cycling.

Turning a bicycle or motorcycle effectively requires muscle knowledge not conscious thought-musculature of ‘counter steering.’ CS IS correct applied physics to turning the bicycle system. CS turns the cycle without scrubbing tire contact (hull eddies) on the asphalt…reducing forward speed.

Fairly quantifiable Energy losses in not CS over distance are enormous against available energy.

That short fat hull …

good stuff

Use a smooth hard seat
Molded fiberglass with gelcoat doesn’t hinder rotation, unless you wear sticky-surfaced clothing. Wetsuits with smooth, uncovered neoprene on the outside (think triathlon suits) will stick to gelcoat surfaces.

I have removed the padded cloth seat cover on a borrowed kayak, allowing my drysuit to glide on the bare plastic seatpan. Much better!

You’re a tough gal, pikabike
Last time I paddled any distance on a smooth hard seat (Epic V7), I wound up with a numb derrière.

Getting 45 degrees of rotation is something I’ve been working on all summer, plus keeping my arms straighter, etc., etc, etc. I think my technique visited Hades over the winter and stayed there.

Definitely rotate all the way down to the seat. It’s like a lot of athletic endeavors. It will start off awkward and clumsy. With enough focused practice and repetitions, you’ll be using your legs to help rotate your hips, getting that lower body strength transferred to the paddle, and you’ll make it look conditioned, coordinated, and smooth.

I like the advice above about not pushing with your legs to create pressure against the backrest. I started off doing too much of that. It’s easy enough to figure that pressure against a backrest hinders rotation. But just as important, it serves no productive purpose. I think of it as using my legs only to the extent that it’s facilitating my hip rotation. Over the years, I’ve figured out how to use less leg pressure, but rotate my hips more. Just a coordination and conditioning thing. The second piece of that for me is that legs are strong, and I can only get so much rotation from my legs and hips. So I want to utilize 100% of that leg-initiated rotation. I cannot over-rotate using my legs alone, so I have no reason to not use 100% of that motion if I’m really trying to crank it out.

I’ll often here people say if they rotate with their hips, they’ll over-rotate, and the paddle recovery will be too far back. I advocate using your strongest muscles first, to the best of your ability. My focus is legs and lower torso 100%, upper torso to finish the stroke, and focus on limiting shoulders and arms out of the “pull” phase of the forward stroke. In other words, if your recovery is too far back, focus on eliminating arm and shoulder.

Focusing on speed is very much an athletic endeavor. I don’t know too many people who are rigid with their forward stroke mechanics on more easy-going paddles. But when the goin gets tough, there seem to be big differences in ability between those who put focus on racing technique and those who do not. I think it’s great that you’re really digging in. I’m no polished racer, but I certainly appreciate the heck out of what racing technique attempts to teach me. It’s really fun, challenging, and practical stuff.

Seat contours matter

– Last Updated: Sep-06-16 7:22 PM EST –

My NDK small seat is comfy no matter what.

My wave ski's thin layer of minicell makes my butt get slightly numb spots after about an hour.

I used to sit comfortably for long stretches on an old wooden kitchen chair, which I used as an office chair. But the present kitchen chair, which has a flat wood bottom covered with closed-cell foam, makes me uncomfortable after less than an hour.

It's hard to tell what will be comfortable after prolonged sitting.

And yeah, technique suffers after a long layoff.

I’ve Gone Full Circle On This Trying All

– Last Updated: Sep-06-16 9:24 PM EST –

sorts of methods: plastic bags, slippery shorts, slippery polished cockpit, etc. But locking my glutes in the cockpit worked best for me. Even a swivel seat is locked, where it's connected in the cockpit. The swivel seat is usually padded too. All it does is position you in a more advantageous stroke position with glutes remaining locked in. Even the paddle's feather angle will impact performance too.

Recently, outrigger paddlers and SUP paddlers have switch over from torso rotation to using body weight instead and there's no push off with the legs. Some use a combination of both strokes, and overall, performance has improved.

Just curious
You don’t mention the length or width of your boat. I used to have the same issue whenever I rented a yak under 14ft in length, or a paddle that was too long. Bought a 17ft plus boat, and a 210 cm paddle, now the yawing moment is no longer an issue. Tim

Boat length
My boat is 12 feet long. I’m not getting movement bow to stern, just left to right. I can definitely feel my weight shifting from one cheek to the other, so I know that’s at least some of the problem, but I can’t seem to rotate without the weight shift. Frustrating.

That is the problem

– Last Updated: Sep-08-16 12:21 PM EST –

You identified it. The short boats are much more susceptble to yaw, but lateral rocking happens with any length boat if one butt cheek is weighted more heavily than the other. I had to fix this problem myself. There was no magic bullet that I can remember.

Go for shorter outings and focus on technique until the new and improved body mechanics replaces the old. Best to do this practice by yourself; group paddles are not a great place to work on technique unless it is a class.