kayak basics: tips for river & ocean
The kayakist has fewer strokes to master than
the canoeist. Because he/she has a paddle blade immediately available
on both sides of the boat, there is no need for the J-stroke,
the cross-bow, or the pry. On the other hand, the kayakist has
to be bracing continuously to stabilize this tippy craft. Each
of the turning strokes requires a heavy lean to achieve max efficiency
because the kayak is designed to turn most easily when on its
side. Although disconcerting initially, this technique is quickly
learned. The kayakist literally "wears" his boat from
the waist down. You gotta lean on the paddle with your upper
body while controlling the lean of the boat with your knees,
feet, and hips.
The kayak paddle itself presents a problem
alien to the canoeist. Because the blades are feathered and there
is no grip as with a canoe paddle, basic paddle handling differs.
Hold the shaft with your hands about shoulder width apart and
your thumbs pointing toward each other. One hand firmly grips
the shaft at all times and controls the blade angle for all strokes.
This is the fixed hand. There are no special problems when paddling
on the fixed side. For strokes on the opposite side, rotate the
paddle shaft 90 degrees by loosening the grip of the nonfixed
hand and dropping the wrist of the fixed hand down so the shaft
is above the forearm. At the end of the stroke, loosen the grip
with the nonfixed hand and rotate the shaft back to the initial
position with the fixed hand.
The forward paddle stroke is done with the
shaft at a 45 degree angle to the water. With the upper hand
at shoulder height, push out with the upper hand as if throwing
a punch while pulling back with the lower hand. To backpaddle,
just reverse this action using the opposite face of the blade.
Backpaddling is much easier in a kayak than in a canoe. In order
to maintain a straight course, the kayakist may have to do an
occasional sweep on one side while paddling "straight"
on the other. In the sweep stroke, move the paddle in a wide
arc from the bow to the stern while leaning the boat to the paddle
In the draw stroke, extend the paddle out
as far as possible and lean on it. As the boat is drawn toward
the paddle, gradually shift the lean of the kayak back to a vertical
position. This lean enables you to obtain a greater extension
from the boat resulting in a more powerful stroke. A draw stroke
followed by a forward paddle stroke is essentially the same as
the solo-canoeist's inverted C-stroke.