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The forward stroke might not seem complicated, after all, there are plenty of people that
are able to hop in a kayak and paddle it forward on their very first try. This is true, but
whitewater kayaks in particular, can have a bit of a learning curve. The boats are designed to
spin on a dime to navigate complex water. The same characteristic that makes the boats
remarkably agile, also makes them difficult to paddle in a straight line. Beginners quickly
become frustrated with the boats tendency to spin out, meaning you take a stroke on one side
and before you can take the next stroke your boat seems to have a mind of its own, hell bent on
doing infinite pirouettes.
Devoting yourself to the forward stroke is the path forward. I am still working on mine,
and am always look for new tips and tricks to refine my technique and form. It is best to seek
advice from slalom paddlers on this front. They are trained in the proper technique, and they are
always seeking greater efficiency. Remember, just because you are moving forward, does not
mean you have a good forward stroke.
Make sure you butt is placed firmly in the back of the seat and square your shoulders to
the bow. Straighten your spine, push your chest out, and lean forward slightly. You want to
make sure you are holding the paddle properly. Gripping your paddle and placing it on top your
helmet with elbows bent at ninety degrees will get you close to where you want to be. You want
to get the power for your forward stroke from you abdominal muscles, not your forearms. Twist
your torso from side to side, hold your paddle shaft in the vertical position, (perpendicular to the
boat), and reach forward and pull your blade alongside your boat. This is a general description,
and in practice, you will constantly be making slight variations in positioning as you respond to
the water conditions. Think about winding up like a spring and using the energy to power your
boat forward. Finally, do not rock the boat from side to side. The hull of the boat should
generally remain flat in the water in order to maximize efficiency and momentum. Finally, always
look where you want to go.
● The forward stroke might not seem complicated, but if you want to be a student
of the river and hone your skills, it takes a lifetime to refine this skill. Moving
forward does not mean you have mastered the forward stroke.
● Here are some things to think about: seating position, make sure you butt is in
the back of your seat, straighten your spine, square your shoulders to the boat
and lean forward slightly with your chest out.
● Put your paddle on your head and hold your paddle at about ninety degrees, this
will get your roughly to where you want to be.
● You want to get the power out of your abdominal muscles, not your forearms. If
your forearm muscles feel fatigued quickly, you probably want to refine your
technique. Think about winding up like a spring and using this energy to power
your boat forward.
● Keep your paddle shaft as vertical as possible when taking the forward stroke.
● Look where you want to go.
● Do not rock the boat. There should be minimal side to side movement when you
are moving forward.