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Paddling Techniques

I started out as a canoeist, so everything I knew about moving through the water began and ended with the j-stroke. By the time I had a chance to go kayaking, I had been canoeing for years and was not listening very carefully to my friend, Karen, as she tried to explain the differences between the two watercrafts. ‘Yeah, yeah, whatever,’ I thought as I stepped from the shore into the kayak and then goose stepped – in slow motion – into the lake. Most kayaking equipment may look similar to that of canoes, but it acts and reacts slightly differently.

After wringing out my pride, I settled comfortably into one of Karen’s recreational kayaks and realized – for the first time – that the paddle in my boat had two blades. Karen’s paddle also had two blades, but upon closer inspection, I saw that the two paddles were slightly different.  My paddle was a ‘feathered’ style meaning that the blades were slightly offset from one another. Feathered paddles are designed to slice through the water very efficiently, but they need to be twisted to ensure the blades hit the water squarely.

Because she is left-handed, Karen opted for an ‘unfeathered’ paddle. These paddles, because the blades are aligned on the same plane, need to be rotated in order to dig squarely into the water. The best grip for both types of paddles is described as ‘light but firm’ in order to avoid cramping and tendonitis.

Memories of week-long canoe trips prompted me to sit up straight in the kayak to use my body as efficiently as possible and to stave off fatigue. Canoeists tend to favor kneeling on one side of the canoe; kayakers sit in the middle of the watercraft with their feet resting against foot pedals, legs splayed slightly, and back support adjusted for comfort. Ahhh, back support.

To ensure I was holding the paddle in the best position for my body, Karen taught me a neat trick.  “While sitting in the kayak,” she said, “hold your paddle in front of you with each hand about 6” – 12” from the blades. Raise the paddle and rest it on your head. If your hands are positioned correctly, your elbows will form a 90-degree angle. Then make sure your knuckles are lined up with the top edge of the paddle blade and you’re good to go.”

The first few minutes of paddling the kayak felt awkward because it turns out, kayaking technique is different from the canoeing technique. Experienced kayakers know to maintain about 12” – 15” between their bodies and paddles to allow for ‘torso rotation’ when paddling.  Pivoting from the waist allows kayakers to use their bodies and not just their arms. This reduces the back strain associated with paddling canoes. 

For clear paddling instructions watch this video.

My first time kayaking, despite the soggy beginning, was great. Since then, I have had some really amazing adventures in The Crystal Kayak Company’s transparent kayaks. Check out some of the adventures they have been on here.

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