KAYAKING:THE FORWARD STROKE
Need to develop initially a powerful high angle racing – style stroke that is modified and “dialed down” to an “effortless” low angle touring stroke. Can choose a stroke style that matches the conditions. Common to all techniques is using torso rotation to involve the larger muscles of your back, upright posture, ending the stroke as your hand reaches your hip and a relaxed grip.
The majority of your power should be generated from your center – a spot located an inch or two below your belly button. All body movements happening above deck are secondary to what’s happening below.
The most powerful muscles you can use to propel your kayak across the surface of the water are those of your abdomen and back at the base of your spine. Torso rotation is the most critical aspect in the development of paddling power. When learning, most have to exaggerate the movement to make it fully effective. Using the base of your spine as an anchor point, twist at the torso as if you were winding a dense piece of rubber. An exercise that helps to focus on torso rotation is: Lock both elbows and keep your arms straight. Rest one hand at the front of your cockpit rim. Find a way to move the other hand down to the front of the rim without bending either elbow. You will have to rotate your torso. Next, relax your elbows so they’re not locked, but keep your arms long, and try to get the same feeling in your torso as you paddle forward.
Width of hands: With paddle on head, elbows should be at 75 to 90 degrees. Shoulder width is too close.
Grip relaxed. Hold the paddle loosely in your hands and release the fingers of your top hand during the push phase of the stroke. The top hand can be opened up completely, allowing the shaft to rest between your thumb and forefinger. Or your thumb and forefinger can hold the paddle while the other three fingers are opened up. The bottom hand should also be held with fingers relaxed so that the shaft can pivot in your fingers rather than force your wrist to bend as the angle of the paddle shaft changes during the stroke.
Paddle: Feathered? Personal choice but recommended that you do the same thing all the time as too difficult to change. A feathered paddle is more efficient but requires more wrist action. Feathered is better when paddling into the wind as the upper blade is on edge. It is more difficult to brace when feathered as the blade that is braced is vertical to the surface of the water.
Some tourers prefer a long skinny blade. This puts less stress on your joints. There is less need to feather when in a strong wind with a thin blade.
Straight shaft best as can move hands around.
A paddle length of 200 to 215 cm is best for smaller paddlers (5’5” or less). Taller paddlers should use a length of 210 to 225 cm. With good technique, it’s possible to reach the water with relatively short paddles. Longer paddles are heavier and substantially increase the effort, with minimal increase in power. They will either cause the stroke to sweep well away from the kayak (turning the kayak instead of propelling it forward) or to submerge too deeply in the water, creating drag.
Posture: Vertical or 5-10 degree lean forward from the hips, especially if paddling hard. Don’t bend back. Learn to paddle without a backrest as tend to slouch especially for shorter distances. Going without one promotes better posture and more pronounced trunk rotation. For longer distances, a backrest is a good idea as it lessens the strain on your lower back. The backrest should be adjusted to promote good posture without excessive backward lean.
Head stays still looking forward, rotating trunk only.
Begin with your right shoulder angled forward and your right knee up higher than your left.
Legs: The height difference between your knees will depend on the way your kayak is outfitted and on your paddling intensity. With loose-fitting thigh braces and moderate intensity paddling, your right knee may be 2 to 3 inches higher than your left. At a full sprint in a kayak that allows complete freedom of knee movement, your left leg may be nearly straight with your right knee 8 to 10 inches higher. When touring, your legs should be in contact with the thigh braces, although relaxed. You can then easily grip the deck with your legs should you hit some rough water. On long outings, people move their legs around.
If rotate to the maximum, must use hips and legs and fixed pedals required.
Use your hips for utmost power: rotate you right hip forward as you prepare for the stroke on the right side.
Once the blade is buried, apply pressure with your right foot against the foot peg or rudder pedal. One key to efficient forward paddling is to focus on your feet. Push against the foot pedals as you paddle. This technique is a back saver at the end of a long day of paddling. It is also important if it is necessary to sprint, say, through a surf zone.
As your leg straightens your knee lowers and your left hip is driven forward – trunk rotation is triggered! Get 5 %of rotation from legs, 95% from body. Legs need freedom. Pump legs versus knee control of the boat in less stable conditions. Move foot braces back and forth.
Move the boat efficiently: Don’t move side to side, rock, or bob.
• The Catch: Bury the paddle as quickly as possible – “spearing the fish”. That shoulder is forward with the right arm extended straight. The left hand is approximately at the height of your head, but far enough out to the side that your elbow is bent no more than 90 degrees. “Spear” the paddle into the water by dropping both arms and catching the water close to the side of the boat. Proper paddle placement is as far forward as possible without leaning the torso forward. Bury blade only to the top of the blade. Get entire blade in the water early then don’t go too deep. Pulling before the entire blade is submerged will cause a larger splash and result in less power. Proper timing is achieved by a slight hesitation to allow the blade to become totally buried before unwinding with the torso. To achieve top speed don’t rush your stroke releasing the power of the torso too early. Think about initiating the stroke with the upper hand. Don’t allow the lower hand to take charge until you have the blade buried. Entry (and exit) more with arms and hands than the body. Get paddle 6” ahead and exit 6” earlier.
• The Pull: All the power comes from the major muscle groups, the back, torso and shoulders rotating the body. Push with your right leg (if you are set up to allow leg movement, this will start pivoting your right hip backward on the seat), and pull the blade through the water by rotating your right shoulder back while your left shoulder goes forward. The first part of the power phase is accomplished with body rotation – not by bending your lower waterside arm. The most powerful part of the stroke is early in the power phase as the paddle is approaching vertical and the blade is approaching your knees. Keep the bottom arm straight and pull back with the body.
• Body rotation continues, and the lower arm can begin to bend. Don’t let the paddle submerge below the top of the blade as the paddle moves between your knees and hip – it will take more effort to draw the blade from the water and will slow the boat down. Bend arm only towards the end but never more than 90 degrees. Pull bottom arm and push top arm with the body doing the work. The arms are connectors.
• The left hand should maintain a nearly constant height throughout the push phase. If you are pushing at shoulder height then your hand should remain at that height until the paddle exits the water. Don’t drop arm. Align the joints of the shoulder, elbow and wrist on a flat plane as the arm applies pressure to the blade. If you apply power along an axis that is not flat, your joints are forced to absorb some of the force meant for the blade face This results in power loss as well as potential joint injury. Raising the elbow above the shoulder may injure the rotator cuff. If you let your top hand drop as you push, you’ll perform more of a sweep stroke than a forward stroke. When touring, some keep hands well below shoulder height. This makes it easier for the heart to provide blood to the arm muscles.
• Apply power through pushing with a bent elbow. If your top elbow straightens early in the stroke, it results in a poor paddle angle that pulls up on the water instead of pulling straight back. Pushing with a bent elbow translates the rotational power of the torso to the straight – ahead power you need to move forward. Apply power to the planted blade in a crossing movement rather than the punching movement that seems intuitive. Don’t extend your top arm fully as you approach the end of the crossing movement. Maintain the approximately 90 degree bend between the forearm and the upper arm in your top (pushing) arm throughout the entire movement. Only then straighten this top arm as you proceed to the spearing movement (the catch) on the opposite side. One is better able to gain stroke length by going for the catch with a bent top arm than by punching to full extension with the top hand.
• Cross the centerline with the upper hand to allow good body rotation. When touring, some recommend not crossing the centerline and ending low, near the front of the cockpit.
• Feel the blade’s connection to the water. Pull no more than that connection will allow so that the boat slides forward, rather than the paddle being pulled through the water.
• The paddle can move out away from the boat as the stroke proceeds. It will end up 6 to 10 inches away from the side of the kayak with a conventional paddle and up to 18 inches with a wing paddle. Allowing the paddle to move out away from the kayak will promote better body rotation.
• A high – angle stroke with the top hand pushing at approximately eye level is vest for maximum power and speed. A low – angle style pushing lower than shoulder level is less tiring. Therefore the style height will vary depending on the intensity and duration of your trip. Also keep the hands lower if windy so less exposed to the wind and it is more stable. The low angle style is easier to transfer into a brace stroke, so a lower top hand is preferred for paddling in wind and/or waves. For a good brace stroke, the paddle must become nearly horizontal. With a low angle style, you are halfway there already, so a brace is much easier.
• Use the same force on the paddle throughout the stroke. Practice rotating with the paddle behind the shoulders.
• The Exit: The exit occurs as the blade draws even with the hip. Most of the power in the stroke is gone by then. Pulling back any more pulls the boat down in the water and will decrease the kayak’s speed. If you let the blade travel too far toward the stern, you’ll waste energy by lifting water as you pull it out. The exit is accomplished by lifting the wrist and elbow upward. If only the wrist flips up then the elbow will be bent more than 90 degrees (a no-no), and the arm will not be in a powerful pushing position. Try to exit 6” farther ahead. Let paddle move out from the boat towards the exit. Exit with the blade vertical. At the end of the right side stroke, the right leg is straighter and the right shoulder has rotated back (the left shoulder has rotated forward, ready for the next stroke).