What are the basic types of paddle strokes?

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When you’re just starting out with kayaking, there are a number of different techniques you should learn about in order to ensure that you get the best experience possible. This includes understanding the basic types of paddle strokes to get you moving efficiently on the water.

You may think, how hard can paddling be? Surely it is just a matter of popping your paddle in the water and pulling yourself along? In fact, there are different types of strokes which make a difference when it comes to the type of water you’re paddling in, what kind of kayak you have and your level of ability.

With decades of experience under our (life) belts, the team at Cambridge Kayaks often help beginners get to grips with different kayaks for sale to ensure that they get one which suits their abilities perfectly. As part of this, it’s important that beginners understand the basic types of paddle strokes, and in our latest blog post, our experts will be sharing their top paddling tips.

What are the main types of strokes?

For beginners, we suggest sticking to the four main types of strokes: forward stroke, reverse stroke, sweep stroke, and draw stroke. Each of these strokes has a different technique and can be used for different bodies of water, or in different situations.


Forward stroke

This is probably the most basic stroke and does what it says on the tin! Much like swimming, a forward stroke propels the kayak forward and can help get you moving from a stationary position or help build up speed whilst you’re on the move. This simple technique makes use of the power in your arms and hips – all you need to do is place one end of the paddle in the water near your toes, before pulling it back towards your hip. As you pull the blade out of the water, turn your body so that the other side goes into the water, and repeat this again and again. This movement helps to create a propelling action as you cut through the water.

Reverse stroke

You may have guessed that this stroke takes you in the opposite direction to the forward stroke, propelling the kayak backwards. This is another straightforward movement – you simply have to reverse the steps for the forward stroke.

Sweep stroke

When you have to make a turn, the sweep stroke is the paddle that you need to use. You can use a sweep stroke to turn forwards or backwards. To turn forwards, place your paddle by your toes in the water. This should be placed against the bow or the front of the kayak. Pull the paddle back in a half moon shape towards the stern of the vessel before rotating your torso. This should start to create a turning momentum.

If you need to turn backwards, simply reverse the above steps.

Draw stroke

Draw strokes enable you to move the kayak sideways. You should place your paddle in the water in the direction you want to head. Then turn your body in the same direction – remember that you should keep both your hands over the water. Then pull the paddle to draw the kayak towards the blade.