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There are quite a few variables to consider when you begin to develop your paddling style.  This is a short summary of conversations I’ve had with people new to the sport over the years.

 There are so many choices to make when you’re starting out.  Either you’ve just gotten your new kayak or you’re window shopping and you see the absolutely massive selection of paddles available on the market.  Questions start buzzing through your head. 

What length paddle is right for me and my boat?

What blade size?  Do I need one of these massive blades to go faster?

What shape works best?

I’ve got a yak and a paddle, so how do I make it go?  Or Geez, why am I so tired and why are my arms killing me when the other guys just looked like they were cruising?

This article should help answer a few of those questions, but leave some others open to ponder.
Paddle length – Your paddle should be long enough to get a high angle of attack for your kayak and roughly matched to your size. Keep this in mind. If you paddle a wider yak, you need a longer paddle. I won’t paddle a W/S Ride 135 with anything shorter than 230 cm. Why?  A paddle shorter than 230cm forces me to “rock” side to side to have a high paddle angle.  “Rocking” doesn’t promote efficient paddling.  My favorite paddle is a 230-235cm Adventure Technology FishStix.  This is an ergonomic carbon fiber paddle that I use all the time.  Paddle choice is up to you, just remember to buy the lightest paddle you can afford.

Blade size and shape- Whitewater guys use short WIDE blades. They need to move a lot of water RIGHT NOW to make instant course changes, run upriver, and make rolling easier. Touring blades tend to be longer and narrower. They are also asymmetrical.  You may plan to do a bit of everything in your fishing future, so you may want a Multi-Use paddle.  These have a little bit of everything thrown into the design…Asymmetrical blades, longer blades than a whitewater paddle, wider blades than a touring paddle, and a little heavier construction than a touring paddle.  Multi-purpose paddles are probably the highest sellers on the market.  Every manufacturer makes a few styles.  Bottom line; if you truly can’t decide, pick a light weight Multi-pupose paddle.  Besides, if you stick with kayak fishing for very long, chances are HIGH that you’ll accumulate more than one paddle.

 Symmetrical, Asymmetrical, Cupped or Spooned – Symmetrical blades are shaped the same on both sides of the central axis, so there is no top or bottom.  Asymmetrical blades have a different shape on each side of their central axis.  Asymmetrical blades are longer on the top and shorter on the bottom.  Most people feel that an Asymmetrical Blade reduces twisting on the paddles shaft during your stroke.  Cupped blades are curved along their length.  Cupping a paddle blade makes for a smoother and quieter entry into the water.  In paddling, smooth and quiet means better efficiency.  Spooned blades, well they look like a spoon.  Spooned blades are shaped to create a belly in the middle of the blade.  They can really increase the power in a stroke.  


Fit a paddle to your size.  Grab the paddle with the shaft centered over your head, grip it in a normal paddling grip with both palms facing forward, your upper arms at shoulder height, and your elbows at a 90 degree angle.  Take a look at your self in the mirror and try not to laugh too hard.  You should look like you’re doing a military press with a REALLY LIGHT BAR.  Look at your hand position though.  You should have no less than 1 grip width between your hand and the start of the blade.  Most fitters will tell you that you also should have no more than 2 grip widths between your hand and the start of the blade.

There is such a thing as a paddle that’s too long.  Archimedes said “Give me a lever long enough and strong enough and I can move the world.”  The principle is sound and it applies to paddling.  Your upper hand provides the power for your paddling stroke; your lower hand is a movable fulcrum.  Here’s my bit of caution:  You do not want too long of a lever between your lower hand and the paddle blade because the extra length is working against you.  When the lever is too long you have a teeter totter instead of a powerful lever. 

Paddling Technique

Most newbies jump in a kayak, grab their paddle about waist high and start paddling with their arms.  They’ll climb in the kayak, reach forward, plant the blade, and pull.   Reach forward, plant the blade and pull.  It sounds right doesn’t it?  I mean we are just pulling ourselves through the water; what could be simpler?

When you only pull you are paddling using your biceps.  The biceps is a small and comparatively weak muscle group.  If you want to improve your efficiency follow these tips.

 Push Pull paddling –Instead of just pulling the blade toward your hips, you need to also PUSH forward with your upper hand.  When you push, now you’ve engaged your triceps.  The triceps accounts for 2/3 of the muscle mass of your upper arms.  It goes like this: Reach forward, plant the blade, pull with your lower hand AND push with your upper hand.  The very first time you use the push pull technique, you’ll notice that you can generate a lot more power.  You can paddle faster, farther with less fatigue and a shorter recovery period.  That definitely makes a difference when you move from your 20’s to your 30’s, 40’s, and beyond

Paddle angle and Torso Rotation - Higher is better. The more upright your blade stroke the more you rotate your torso and use the push pull stroke. Using a high angle of attack forces you to use your large muscle groups in your shoulders and torso. This spreads the load over your entire upper body, not just your arms. The result is going farther, faster, and feeling better at the end of the day.
How do you get into the habit of paddling with a high angle of attack and good rotation?  Follow this simple drill.

Get into your yak and pick up your paddle…. Duh, no secret there

Hold your arms straight in front of you and lock your elbows…. Seriously, lock your elbows.  Start paddling, but KEEP YOUR ELBOWS LOCKED!!!!!

Paddle like this for at least 15 minutes.

When you lock your elbows, you have completely taken your arms out of the paddling stroke.  You don’t have any choice but to rotate your upper body.  You will also automatically increase your paddle angle so you can get a longer stroke.


Stroke length – Reach forward to plant the blade beside your ankles, then pull back and exit the blade from the water about even with your hips. If you go much farther, you’ll be trying to pull your yak underwater instead of forward.


Turnover – Develop a good cadence and stick with it. Don’t let your paddle lag between strokes, just keep it moving.  You’ll notice that for covering longer distances that you can reduce the power you put into your stroke, but keep a cadence of 50-60 strokes per minute and sustain this pace fairly easily.  You will very quickly build your endurance if you don’t over tax your muscles.  If you notice your shoulders burning, you need to back off the power a bit.  The burning sensation is the buildup of lactic acid.  If you end your day with a buildup of lactic acid you WILL be sore the next day.

Relax – Your grip that is.  You only need to grasp the paddle enough to keep from dropping it.  You aren’t trying to choke the life out of it.  When you relax your grip, it helps keep the rest of your muscles loose.   When you’re pulling, you want to be pulling with your curled fingers, when pushing, push with your palms.

I hope this helps you cover more water.


About the author:  Tommy Samuels is the owner / operator of Kayak Fish SC, a kayak fishing guide service located in Charleston, SC.  You can email Tommy at TooBusy@KayakFishSC.com


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