In the first of these blogs on paddling skills we will look at the forward paddling stroke.
Before taking your first stroke on the water it is important to set up the kayak as this can aid or hinder good forward paddling. This is achieved by adjusting the back and footrests or foot plate. Your backrest should support you so you are sitting up straight and not slouching. The footrest/footplate should be adjusted so when sitting the in the kayak, with you back in contact with the backrest and knees under the thigh braces, the ball of your foot should be comfortably touching the footrest/footplate. This will enable you to engage your lower body muscles to share the load of forward paddling and be more efficient.
Once on the water check you are holding your paddle correctly –
Are you hands equidistant from each paddle blade?
Are your hands roughly shoulder width apart – check this by holding paddle above your head in a comfortable position which feels natural.
The angle of the paddle shaft should be around 45-60 degrees as you look forward. Paddlers with a higher paddling angle such as I do can keep the paddle closer to the side of the kayak as it passes down the side. This aids keeping the kayak going straight. Paddling with a low paddle angle tends to place the paddle blade further from the side of the kayak, becoming more of a turning stroke. There are however occasions where a low paddle angle is an advantage, such as in shallow water where to the full length of the blade cannot be put below the surface or where wind speed is high and affects the paddle if held high.
Do not think of each stroke as using only one arm only . As the lower ‘pulling’ arm is engaged, the upper ‘pushing’ arm should be punched forward, sharing the load of the stroke, using opposing muscles. This is more efficient, helping you to paddle for longer and further.
The start of the stroke is the ‘catch’ where the paddle is planted in the water around where you toes are. The paddle should enter the water with minimal disturbance to the water and little splash. Basic symmetrical paddles have a disadvantage here as they do not cut into the water as cleanly as asymmetrical paddles.
The ‘catch’ phase of forward paddling generates the most power in the stroke as it is slightly pulling the water down and so lifting the front of the kayak before becoming vertical in the water in the next phase of the stroke – the ‘pull.
As the paddle blade is drawn back it enters the ‘pull’ phase where passes by your knees and up to your hips. From here it enters the ‘recovery’ phase.
Recovery of the paddle happens as the blade passes the hips and starts to lift water to the surface which is inefficient.
All these phases should be linked together to become coordinated and one continuous motion.
So back to those feet under the deck. When paddling well, your upper body will rotate from side to side, engaging your torso muscles, thighs and those feet on the footrest/footplate. An extreme example of body rotation can be seen in marathon or sprint paddlers who paddle very differently to most of us – they swing the paddle way past where we normally end our stroke, but this is partly due to the narrow shape of their kayak and leg positioning that allows them to rotate so far.
A good exercise I promote is to try paddling with your feet OFF the footrest/footplate – your legs become disengaged from a contact point and it is more difficult to use body rotation, without something to push against. So now try pushing down with your toes each time you take a stroke – left stroke uses left toes and vice versa. It will improve your paddling, especially when trying to generate a lot of power or speed.
Good forward paddling is often overlooked and if bad habits are not nipped in the bud early, can become ingrained bad technique that is more difficult to correct later. Instructors – look at your group, especially the newcomers and help them with these basic checkpoints that will hopefully get them off to a good start.
Happy paddling people.