The key to great kayaking is getting out there and enjoying what you are doing and experiencing. Practicing some basic skills always helps to do this.
The Forward Stroke
The foundational skill in sea kayaking is the forward stroke. Every time you paddle, you need to be working on the forward stroke. If you consciously work on this basic part of kayaking, your skill and enjoyment will increase. Here's how:
The Right Sea Kayak Paddle Size is Important
Paddle blades come in several sizes: which size to use depends on the paddling conditions. Narrower blades cut through the wind better, but they lose speed. Mid-size paddles are good for most paddling conditions. They catch a good amount of water for good power and can usually be adjusted, or feathered, to deal with wind. Wider blades catch a lot of water and can increase speed considerably. The down side of wider blades is that they use a lot more energy and can catch the wind and unseat the inexperienced paddler.
The first step is to get the right paddle for your activity. If you paddle more and longer journeys, then a lighter paddle is important. A mid-range and narrow combination of paddles-mid-range for most paddling, narrow as a spare set and for windy conditions, is usually a good way to go.
At Seakayakers and Friends we have mid size paddles to suit most paddlers for our short haul trips.
Good, upright seating position is critical for sea kayaking
If you are slouching in the seat of your kayak, you are not getting maximum movement or power. Sit up straight, with a slightly forward lean to be efficient. This just becomes habit if you continue to work on being conscious of how you are sitting while paddling your sea kayak.
Use a relaxed grip when holding the sea kayak paddle
Holding a paddle with a death grip is tiring. Loosen your grip on your paddle. Hold it just tightly enough to prevent slippage and to maintain good movement. This helps you relax in your paddling motion, which also slows down fatigue, letting you paddle longer and more efficiently. Much of the key here is to just relax. Sometimes the conditions get rough and scary, but working on relaxing usually helps with stability and certainly helps with efficiency while sea kayaking.
Sea kayaking with body rotation increases stamina and reduces muscle fatigue
Use the upper part of your body to paddle, not your arms. We have large muscle groups in our upper bodies (torso). By using these large muscle groups predominately, we give ourselves more power and more stamina for paddling longer. If your shoulders are rotating, most likely your body is as well. Try practicing with rotating shoulders. If you are having trouble keeping a good rhythm and flow, put your rudder or skeg down to take the work to maintain good tracking out of the equation.
Teach yourself good forward stroke technique and paddle without rudder or skeg later. Don't try to power your strokes as far back as you can. Stroke smoothly and rhythmically, and pull your paddle out of the water beside your hip.
KEEP YOUR ARMS LOW.
Lifting your hands above your shoulder level when paddling effectively elevates your centre of gravity and makes you much less balanced. If you paddle with your hands higher than your shoulders you have a much greater chance of capsizing. The wind will also have a much stronger effect on your balance as the paddle acts like a long handled lever and can easily tip you over with little force if you are off balance.
In double kayaks, paddle together.
Most of our trips have double kayaks as they are generally easier for the beginner to use. When paddling with another person, the secret of balance and efficiency is to paddle at the same time. This can only be achieved by the person sitting in the stern of the kayak. He / she is the only person who can see when the other person is paddling (DUH!).
So the person in the stern paddles watched the bow paddler and keeps in time. The bow paddler sets the rhythm and timing for both paddlers. Remember to be considerate paddle mates.
More paddle strokes while kayaking means faster travel.
Your speed comes from how many times your paddle is in the water. Increase your paddle rate without the power pull at the end. Taking your paddle out of the water at the hip helps increase your paddling rate and increases your stability.
These are very simple techniques that anyone can do.
The key to getting a good forward paddling stoke is to continue to work on it on every trip, no matter how long the trip is. By following these simple suggestions, and trying to be conscious of how you are paddling, you will improve your sea kayaking skills, become a better paddler, and enjoy your trips even more.
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