Eight Tips for More Graceful Kayaking

Pad­dling a kayak is hard to do grace­ful­ly. When you stop and think about it, you’re sit­ting in a chair at water lev­el, wind­milling your arms with lit­tle lever­age, and are like­ly afraid of dump­ing your­self into the drink. But pad­dling can also be a grace­ful, effort­less bal­let with the water, and when you see a tru­ly skilled pad­dler danc­ing in their boat, it’s a joy to watch. Whether your play­ground is white­wa­ter rivers, the sea, or calm lakes, here are some tricks to become more flu­id while on the water.

A Farewell to Arms
At first glance, pad­dling seems like an upper-body sport. But that’s the great­est fal­la­cy of pad­dling. All your arms should be doing is hold­ing the pad­dle and putting it in the right posi­tion. The pow­er comes from your legs, push­ing against the bulk­head or foot pegs, and then trig­ger­ing a rota­tion through your hips and core.

Pow­er Position
Just like your mom nagged you: sit up straight. In fact, lean ever so slight­ly for­ward. Keep your hands just a hair wider than shoul­der-width apart, keep a light grip on the pad­dle, put the balls of your feet on the bulk­head or foot pegs, and put your knees under the thigh braces. This gives you the best com­bi­na­tion of pad­dling pow­er and boat con­trol through con­tact with your feet, hips, knees, and butt.

Sep­a­rate Your Upper and Low­er Body
Most boat con­trol hap­pens below the sprayskirt with sub­tle shifts of your weight. Grace­ful pad­dlers can make a kayak turn, go straight, or accelerate—without doing any­thing vis­i­bly dif­fer­ent. The abil­i­ty to move the low­er body in a total­ly dif­fer­ent direc­tion from your tor­so is the biggest aspect of mak­ing a kayak dance. You’ll end up find­ing find a bunch of small mus­cles in your hips, butt and low­er abdomen that you didn’t know you had in the process.

Live on the Edge
Edge your boat with your butt, hips, and knees. Tilt the boat to one side with­out chang­ing what you do with your upper body—again, think of the two as sep­a­rate. Kayaks are designed to be edged: that’s how to carve turns, fer­ry across cur­rents, or coun­ter­act the effects of wind. Big beamy kayaks are hard­er to edge, so while they feel more secure to begin­ners, they don’t per­form as well in the wind or dynam­ic water. Once you learn to roll, your edg­ing will become even more confident—it’s at 360-degree world.

Use Your Trim
Sub­tle body move­ments aren’t just to tilt the kayak side to side. Use shifts in your weight for­ward and back (or fore and aft, if you want to get nau­ti­cal). Sub­tle shifts for­ward will make a kayak turn down cur­rent or upwind, and lean­ing back slightly—as long as you’re not far out of the pow­er posi­tion for long—will make things head up cur­rent or downwind.

Back it Up
Pad­dle back­ward. Turn going back­ward. Go straight going back­ward. Use dif­fer­ent edges and trims going back­ward. Two things will hap­pen. First, you’ll have to use your legs and core to get pow­er, which means you’ll learn to stop using your arms. Sec­ond, you’ll learn the cause and effect of what strokes and edges do. You’ll be con­fused at first, but, once you fig­ure it out you’ll have a blast.

Goof Around
Play! Race around buoys or pil­ings, do slalom cours­es between your bud­dies, retrieve ten­nis balls, invent games, have water fights. You’ll stop wor­ry­ing about what you’re doing and just do it—and that’s when you’ll learn the best. And you’ll have a smile on your face.

Relax
Stay relaxed. Don’t wor­ry about tip­ping over and sim­ply have fun on the water. When you relax, your body stays looser—which makes a cap­size even less like­ly. Look around. Watch the wildlife, joke around with your bud­dies, and enjoy being on the water. Grace­ful pad­dling comes from hav­ing fun.