Types of Kayaking Strokes

Different Kayak Strokes for Different Kayak Folks

Portrait of smiling woman kayaking in ocean
Portrait of smiling woman kayaking in ocean. Hero Images/Getty Images

Being able to efficiently get your kayak from point a to point b is more than just utilitarian, it is elegant.  Boat control is everything in kayaking and the more strokes one knows how to perform, the more effective the kayaker will be in getting where they want to go and enjoy the process of doing so.

At their core, kayaking strokes have the same basic parts and should always be performed while maintaining the paddler's box.  The list of six kayaking strokes found below are the first ones that kayakers should learn and are the prerequisites to learning the more advanced kayaking strokes.

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The Forward Kayak Stroke

Kayaking Forward Stroke
A kayaker demonstrates a low angle forward kayaking stroke. Photo © by George E. Sayour

The forward stroke is the first kayak stroke that paddlers should learn.  While most people who pick up a kayak paddle assume they are doing the forward stroke correctly, they most likely are not.  That is because, unless they take a lesson, beginning kayakers always move the paddle with their arms rather than by rotating their torso.  The basis for all other kayak strokes is found in one's ability to be able to correctly do the kayaking forward stroke.

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The Kayak Back Stroke

Kayaker Back Stroke
This kayaker demonstrates the back stroke. Photo © by George E. Sayour

Some of you might be thinking why a person would want to learn how to kayak backward.  Well, it does happen in tight quarters or in finding the quickest method of getting to a flipped kayaker or simply when one has overshot their target that being able to kayak backward is a necessary maneuver to know.

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The Kayak Draw Stroke

Kayak instructor
ACA Kayak Instructor Karen K. Knight demonstrates the kayak draw stroke. Photo © by George E. Sayour

The kayaking draw stroke is one of the "coolest" strokes out there.  If you really want to impress your friends learn how to "draw" your kayak one way or the other.  Practically speaking the draw stroke will move the kayak sideways which is a big help when you want to come alongside another kayak or pull in closer to a dock that you are next to.

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The Kayaking Forward Sweep Stroke

The forward sweep stroke can be used to make a turn, adjust course, or spin the kayak.  It is the only other stroke in this list that can be done while the kayak is underway. 

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The Kayaking Reverse Sweep Stroke

The reverse sweep stroke can be used to turn the kayak around. It can also be performed while paddling backward.

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The Kayaking Spin Manuever

While not a stroke per se, the kayaking spin maneuver uses a combination of forwarding sweep and reverse sweep strokes.  Taken together these strokes will spin the kayak in place.  This is a handy maneuver to know for when you need to turn your kayak around.