Perfect Your Paddling Technique: Kayaking, Canoeing, and Paddleboarding

Perfect Your Paddling Technique: Kayaking, Canoeing, and Paddleboarding

What is the differences between Kayaking, Canoeing, and Paddleboarding Paddles?

In short, kayaking paddles are double bladed, canoeing paddles are single bladed where switch sides every few strokes, paddleboarding paddles are single bladed but longer and the blade is angled slightly for efficiency when standing.

Kayaking Paddles: Recognizable by their double-bladed design, kayaking paddles range in length from 210 to 260 cm, depending on the user’s height and the width of the kayak. These paddles often have feathered blades—meaning the blades are set at an angle to each other—to reduce wind resistance and lessen wrist fatigue.

Canoeing Paddles: Contrasting the double-bladed kayak paddle, canoe paddles are single-bladed with a T or pear-shaped grip at the end. They tend to be shorter than kayak paddles, usually about 150 cm, but the precise length depends on the paddler’s torso length and the width of the canoe. The paddle blade’s shape can vary, with flat, square designs for general paddling, and rounded or tapered blades for specific strokes or whitewater canoeing.

Paddleboarding Paddles: Sharing the single-blade design with canoeing paddles but with an added twist—paddleboarding paddles are considerably longer, ranging from 170 to 220 cm, to accommodate the standing position of paddleboarders. The blade is often teardrop-shaped for maximum water catch, and the paddle itself is built with a slight angle, or “elbow,” in the shaft to allow for a more effective stroke and increased stability on the water.

Paddleboarding technique

Paddling Techniques: Kayaking, Canoeing, and Paddleboarding

A strong, efficient stroke in all these sports involves a deep, clean catch in the water and a powerful pull-through.

Kayaking:

Technique emphasizes torso rotation and core engagement. The ‘forward stroke’ is the bread-and-butter of kayak propulsion and is about body rotation. Plant the blade in the water by your feet and use torso rotation to power the stroke, pulling the paddle back towards your hip. Lift it out and repeat on the other side. Aim for a fluid rhythm. The ‘sweep stroke’ is to turn your kayak while stationary or moving. The technique involves a wide sweeping motion with your paddle across the water. To execute, extend the paddle out front, fully submerging the blade, and sweep it in a wide arc until it reaches the back of the kayak. Repeat on the opposite side to maintain a straight course.

Tip: Engage your core and rotate your torso with each stroke. This engagement, rather than just using arm strength, is essential for a powerful stroke.

Sweep stroke technique kayaking

Check out our complete guide to sea kayaking, best beginner lessons and popular hire points.

Canoeing:

The ‘J-stroke’ helps maintain a straight course, combining a forward stroke with a hook-like motion to offset natural turning tendency. The ‘draw stroke’ pulls the canoe sideways. Hold your paddle vertically, submerge the blade near the canoe, then pull it towards you. Rotate the paddle to glide it back through the water, ready for the next draw. The ‘pry stroke’ is the draw stroke’s counterpart, pushing the boat away from the paddle side. Start with the paddle blade in the water, resting against the canoe side. Push the paddle away from the canoe, leveraging it against the edge.

Tip: Master the ‘J-stroke’. It’s a way to correct your course with each paddle stroke, minimizing the need to switch sides.

Stand-up Paddleboarding:

Stand-up paddling focuses on balance and long, sweeping strokes. Paddlers reach forward with their paddle, pull it through the water to their ankle, and lift it out, keeping their balance by engaging core muscles.

Tip: once you gain in confidence, gently tilt the board in the water towards the side you are paddling on to minimise the turning you get from each stroke, minimizing the need to switch sides.

Which muscles do paddlesports use?

Kayaking predominantly works the upper body, including the arms, shoulders, and core, but the legs also play a role in stabilization. Canoeing shares many of the same demands but involves more asymmetric loading due to the single-sided paddle strokes. Paddleboarding, meanwhile, serves as a full-body workout, particularly challenging the core and lower body due to the balance required when standing. All three can be a great workout, especially if you are paddling at high intensity or for a long time.

Kayaking is a great workout

Image by Albrecht Fietz; Dimitris Vetsikas

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Max
Co-founder and Chief Adventurer

I am Max, the co-founder and CEO of adventuro. We are on a mission to help you get into the sports you have always wanted to try, or develop in the sports you love, exploring new skills and locations. We do this by partnering with the best instructors, guides, and activity centres to get a great spread from beginner all the way to instructor training.

For too long, it has been way to confusing to find your next steps, or even to know where to start when getting into adventure sports. I am an experienced and/or qualified paraglider, skydiver, scuba diver, freediver, power boat driver, snowboarder, kitesurfer, kayaker, mountain biker, surfer, dirt biker, wakeboarder, and sailor.

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