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Axe Vale Canoe Club

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Paddling Strokes

Kayak Strokes

You need a surprising array of paddling strokes once you start on the sea or river trips and surfing. Depending on who guides you on the technique there seem to be a variety of ways of performing each stroke as well. However, for the group that recently did the BCU 3 Star Assessment, it was obvious that the assessor was looking for 'very effective' strokes and hence had a particular view on how they should be done; which was not necessarily the way most of us had learnt or become accustomed to doing the strokes.

The most important factor was a good forward posture - on every stroke (forward, backwards, draws, supports, etc.). Leaning backwards in support strokes (even sculling support) was a definite 'fail' at 3*. So you must keep that forward posture and work on your edging... The other lesson was 'get your hanging draw stroke working before you go'.

Before we start we need to define an OPEN blade position and a CLOSED blade position. Start with the paddle vertical in the water, with the front face of the blade nearest to the boat and parallel with the boat's side:

  • An Open position means slightly twist the paddle so the front edge of the blade moves away from the boat. The amount is twist is generally quite small (10-20 degrees). If someone was standing at the bow, they can now see more of the front of the blade, hence if you are travelling forward this catches the water flow and deflects it under the boat.
  • A Closed position means slightly twist the paddle so the back edge of the blade moves away from the boat. The amount is twist is generally quite small (10-20 degrees). If someone was standing at the bow, they can now see more of the back of the blade, hence if you are travelling forward this catches the water flow and deflects it away from the boat.

Forward: Good forward posture - relaxed grip on paddle - use the body muscles by rotating your body trunk (do not just use your arms) - look ahead (do not look right in front of you or at the paddles - look for what is coming further away). If you are a novice paddle gently - paddling too hard just makes you zig-zag and lose control. If you find yourself zig-zagging, see the sweep stokes and stern rudder for how to control it and paddle gently - try to avoid using a braking stoke to regain control, use a forward sweep stoke or rudder.

Backward: Good forward posture still - relaxed grip on paddle - look behind mostly over one shoulder - rotate your body trunk.

Sweep stokes - Turning/Control: Good forward posture - as you sweep rotate your body and face to look in the direction that you are going to turn (not at the bow or paddle). Forward sweep starts near the bow and comes back to the hips. Reverse sweep start as far back as you can (by rotating) and comes forward to the hips.
Note: The sweep stroke has two purposes. A front sweep (from bow to hips) turns the boat, whilst a rear sweep (from hips to stern) controls the direction of travel. So if you are finding that you are zig-zagging use rear-half sweeps (ending up in a Stern Rudder) to get yourself back straight.

Stern Rudder - Turning/Control: Make sure your body is rotated and you are looking where you are turning towards. Do not place the blade too far behind (so you end up leaning backwards) but far enough to get the rudder effect. Similarly do not place the blade as a brake too far forward - it must be vertical and act like a rudder.

Sideways Draws (either J or sculling): Rotate your body and look in where you are trying to go. Both J and sculling stokes are done quite slowly (do not rush).

  • J-Draw - Reach out with paddle as vertical as you can (upper hand near your temple as your head is turned) and paddle blade parallel with the boat (maybe 60cm from the boat side). Pull the blade towards you thereby moving the boat sideways. As the paddle nears the boat, turn the paddle blade through 90 degrees so it slices back through the water back to its starting position. Turn the blade back parallel to the boat and repeat. Be careful not to let the paddle reach the boat's side as it can get trapped and you risk capsizing.
  • Sculling Draw - Possibly harder to master but very effective at moving sideways. Again with paddle as vertical as you can (upper hand near your temple as your head is turned) and paddle blade parallel with the boat (but this time close to the boat's side) . Slice the paddle forwards and backwards parallel to the boat and then slightly open (turn) the face of the blade (only around 10 degrees) as you push forwards. At the forward point, twist the blade so it is slightly closed and then slice it backwards. At the back point of the slice, twist the blade back again so the paddle is slightly open and repeat, slowly!

Support strokes: Low brace, high brace, sculling. All these are done with a forward posture (no leaning back!!). All are done with elbows bent and hands below shoulder height (do not extend your arm/shoulder!!).

  • Low brace uses the back of the paddle and can be either a firm downward push and hip flick back upright, or a forward skim of the paddle blade across the surface and hip flick. Elbows should be bent about 90 degrees and be at your sides.
  • High brace (or low-high brace) uses the front of the paddle on the water with elbows still close to your sides but more bent (120-150 degrees). Firmly push the paddle down on the water surface and hip flick upright. Do not extend your arm/shoulder to be straight!
  • Sculling support uses similar position to the high brace with elbows down low and bent. The front of the paddle is skated forward & back across the surface of the water from near the bow to near perpendicular (NOT to the back of the boat). Keep the stroke slow!

Other turning strokes:

  • Low brace turn - To turn right, start with a sweep stoke on the left-hand side, then lean/edge the boat to the right (by lifting your left knee) and set a low brace position on the right (just resting the back of the blade on the water - just in case). The boat will carve  nice arc to the right - the tightness of the arc is proportional to the amount of lean applied.
  • Bow Rudder - this is not much more than a forward leaning draw stoke with a slightly open blade face. With a good forward posture put the blade in as vertical as you can with the blade parallel with the boat and then open (turn) the blade to catch the water flow. The opposite side hand should be near your forehead, though of course your forehead should be looking where you are turning, so really your upper hand is by your temple.

Moving Draw Strokes: used to move the boat sideways whilst travelling to avoid an obstacle in front (rock, buoy, log,
etc.). Two versions typically - an adaptation of the J-draw stroke and secondly the hanging draw:

  • Moving Sidedraw - basically you just reach out to one side with a near a vertical paddle as you can and pull the paddle towards you - thereby moving the boat towards that side. Instead of completing the J, you turn the paddle to face the back of the boat and complete with the second half of a normal paddle stoke (i.e. just turn it into a paddling stroke and keep paddling). The position relative to your hips that you start and pull at is chosen by practice to pull the boat sideways without turning it - typically this position is near your hips.
  • Hanging Draw - this seems quite difficult to master and needs to be performed linked in with other strokes. To move the boat to the right, start with the first half of a gentle right hand sweep stoke (this will turn the boat slightly left which is counter intuitive but helps). Then, keeping the paddle in the water all the time, raise the paddle shaft vertically with the paddle near your hips, looking right with upper hand near your temple, and slightly open the face of the blade. With luck and practice this will draw the boat sideways to the right (leaving a nice snail-trail of smooth water to your left showing you have slipped to the right). The position of your paddle relative to your hips needs practice to get a sideways movement and not a turn, however the sweep stroke at the start really helps this effect and makes it easier to get the sideways motion.

Other Sources of Help:

 1. Kayak Help - Strokes
 2. Werner paddling tips 
 3. Tips for G2/3 paddlers
 4. Genetic Turning

Open Canoe Strokes

 Open Canoe Strokes - Videos (see the Bill Mason Collection)

Open Canoe strokes and kayak stokes have many things in common and most of the strokes detailed on this page apply to both. Canoes also have special forward strokes and make use of more prys with the paddle. Best source is the books (on the Information  page) or the videos above on the OCA Cinema.

Breaking in and out of Eddies:

There seems to be lots of options but four common ways of breaking in and out of eddies. All of them rely on:

Breaking-in to the faster flowing water with the up-river edge of the kayak lifted to stop it getting snagged by the flowing water (by edging or leaning downstream).

Breaking-out of the flow and into the eddy with the down-stream edge lifted (i.e. leaning upstream).

The bigger the difference in water speed the bigger the lean/edge you need. Imagine having grades of lean from 1 (slight lean/edge) to 5 (big lean, maximum edge) - then slow water needs a (1) and really fast water needs a (5) and medium water needs (2), (3) or (4) lean/edge.

So to Break-in to faster water:

1. Low brace turns - probably best in slow moving water and large eddies. Paddle towards the eddy line at 30-45 degrees upstream and once across the line, do a low brace turn on the downstream side to turn with the flow and head downsteam.

2. Draw stroke turns - probably best in slightly faster moving water and small eddies. Paddle fast towards the eddy line at 30-45 degrees upstream. With the final stroke (on downstream side) reach forward across the eddy line and pull yourself across. Leaving the paddle in the water turn the paddle blade into a draw stroke so it acts like a rudder. The vertical paddle in the water on the downstream side will give you support and turn the bow downstream. The angle on the blade alters the speed of your turn...

3. Just paddle - the first two have the disadvantage that you may loose your speed and in general speed is good in eddy turns. So try just paddling strongly across the eddy line leaning/edging downstream and just keep paddling and you will turn downstream and keep moving. Disadvantage of this method is leaning one way whilst paddling on both sides of the boat - it takes a bit of practice.

4. Start with a Ferry Glide - this is similar to (3) except you start pointing much more upstream and ferry glide out of the eddy as far across the river as you want, then lean downstream and paddle round to turn downstream. This gives you both the speed of (3) and more control about where you are going.

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