Kayaks are human powered craft; they are steered, propelled and balanced by the operator. Just like any craft the efficiency of that craft depends entirely on how well the locomotion apparatus operates. On a kayak that is you. Therefore the better you are at controlling your kayak the more efficient you will be in using energy and time spent on the water. Most of the time a sloppy paddle stroke is fine until conditions get bad or you have to cover a great distance then the proper paddle technique may make the difference between you getting home and not getting home. The techniques listed here are the minimum that you should master.
It is important to have good posture in your kayak. You should sit up in your kayak instead of leaning back or reclining. Good posture allows you to make all of your paddling strokes as powerful as possible. Always keep your feet resting firmly against the feet rests as this anchors your body to the kayak and allows you to get the most out of your strokes.
Forward Stroke: This should be the first stroke that is learned, moving your kayak forward seems easy and often perfecting this stroke is over looked by many however, as you might imagine, this is the most important stroke that you can learn. Depending on where you're going to be kayaking, how long and how far you intend to travel, good forward paddling may end up saving you a lot of time, effort, and muscle strain.
The entry point of your paddle should be as close to your feet as possible, so reach as far forward as you can before inserting the paddle into the water. You should twist your torso to reach this point. Then as you move your stroke to the rear you will untwist your torso which coils your torso in the other direction and sets up the next stroke on the opposite side. You should also work on relaxing your grip on the kayak paddle, as well, as this will make it easier for you to sustain your paddling pace. The easiest way to do this is to hold your paddle with the ok sign between your thumb and index finger with your other fingers just lightly resting on the shaft.
The most effective and efficient forward stroke is one that is planted deep and is as close to the kayak as possible as drawn backwards. If you follow this advice, and work on strengthening the parts of your body that fatigue quickest while paddling, then you'll find that you’re forward paddling will improve.
Sweep Stroke (for turning): One of the best strokes for turning your kayak is the sweep stroke. This stroke will turn your kayak much more effectively than just stroking forwards on one side then backwards on the other. Since it is a turning move, you should be working on getting the power of the move right, and find out just how far it is capable of turning your kayak after just one forward sweep stroke. Therefore, you should start out learning the forward sweep stroke while your kayak is sitting still. You should be able to turn your kayak in circles relatively easily using this stroke. After you've learned the techniques that you need in order to do the forward sweep stroke, you should work on doing it while you are actually moving. After all, that is when you are more likely to need this move.
You should also consider that you will need more practice with the forward sweep stroke while moving than you would otherwise. With the extra practice, you'll be able to figure out just how strongly you have to paddle in order to turn your kayak as far as you want to.
The forward sweep stroke is similar to regular forward paddling in that the paddle should enter the water near your feet. However, it is different in that instead of paddling straight back, you should sweep the paddle out away from the kayak in a wide arc that creates a “C” in the water, it goes out away from the kayak near the bow then as you pull backwards it turns in towards the back of your kayak. This should turn your kayak - but make sure that you pull the paddle blade out of the water before you hit the back of your kayak.
Once you learn the forward sweep stroke, you'll find that your ability to turn your kayak is improved immensely. If you reverse this stroke by inserting your paddle behind you and move through the stroke going forward while sitting in place you will be performing the reverse sweep stroke.
Draw Strokes (for pulling close): Sometimes you may want to slide your kayak sideways. The draw stroke is an effective method of pulling your kayak to the side without turning. Once you've learned how to paddle forward and in reverse, you may want to learn the draw stroke. This stroke is also called "pulling" the kayak, and will help the kayak to move from side to side. This stroke is also somewhat more difficult than the regular forward and reverse strokes, so you may need to take some extra time to learn it.
This stroke is primarily useful for avoiding obstacles, though it is also useful for people who do whitewater kayaking so that they can make sure their kayak is properly lined up with the rapids.
First, you will need to turn your body a little bit toward the place you are planning on moving the kayak towards. Then, you should raise the arm that is farther away from that side of the kayak. You should reach as far away from your kayak as you can and put the paddle blade into the water. Then, pull the paddle closer to your kayak (you should be aiming somewhere between your hips and thighs.
You should keep in mind that when you are doing the draw stroke, you want to keep the kayak paddle as vertical as possible. That way, you will not be losing any power in the draw stroke.
Make sure that you also pull your paddle out of the water before you hit the kayak, as otherwise you may do some damage either to the kayak or to the paddle you are using. If you are noticing that the draw stroke is not working properly for you, then you should adjust your technique as needed until the kayak is pulling entirely in the direction that you want it to.
Reverse Forward Stroke (for stopping): Stopping your kayak suddenly requires practice as well. When you are kayaking, stopping is one of the important things that you can learn. While it is not always obvious as to why you will need this move, you should keep in mind that situations at sea can change rather rapidly. This is also the case in rivers or lakes. Also, since you are close to the water's surface, it is not always easy to see obstacles from far away.
Stopping suddenly requires that you know how to reverse paddle, since chances are good that if you need to stop suddenly to avoid some sort of obstacle, you will need to back away from it as well.
The stopping stroke, also known as the emergency stop can keep you from running into obstacles like tree stumps, rocks, and other Paddlers. Therefore, you should definitely work on and learn this move before you go on any long kayaking expeditions.
When stopping, you should use the back side of your paddle blade like you would when you reverse paddle. Then, you should move your paddle forward with quick, short strokes. This will stop the kayak. If you're worried about the kayak turning from side to side, you can counteract this by using short strokes on either side of your kayak.
If you need extra help learning the emergency stop in your kayak, there are plenty of different kayak classes that will teach stopping as well as several other kayaking techniques. Once you learn the emergency stop, you'll be that much better prepared to deal with the dangers that will pop up when you're kayaking.
Low Brace (keep from capsizing): The low brace is used to avoid capsizing when you feel the kayak beginning to tip. To do this stroke you pull the paddle in close to your belly on the deck, and then stick your elbows out straight and high on each side. Depending on what side you’re tipping, put the back side of the blade flat against the water. Pushing your paddle down will provide the support needed and keep you from tipping further. When you first begin to practice this stroke you will actually want to slap the water with your paddle and continue to push it down. Once you get the hang of this stroke you will be able to perform it without actually slapping the water. While using this stroke you will use your hips to bring the kayak back under your body, while the blade keeps you steady.
These are just a few simple strokes that will not only make your time on the water more enjoyable, they will increase your range, ability to maneuver quickly and help you when things get rough out there. Stay safe and fish hard.