Effective kayaking is much more than just making simple forward strokes. In fact, once out on the water, you will face a variety of challenges requiring different skills. You will need to have the ability to steer a kayak seamlessly using a paddle. Steering a kayak means directing or controlling its movement and often includes the ability to turn or propel a kayak as necessary.
Opposite side paddling technique
The most commonly used technique for steering and turning kayaks is called opposite side paddling. Opposite side paddling helps to direct, turn or control a kayak by redirecting water around the paddle’s blades. It is usually achieved by making two simple strokes, a forward sweeping stroke and a stern rudder stroke.
To make a forward sweeping stroke, you simply need to reach forward and insert the paddle into the water alongside the hull. By sweeping the paddle blade out and back in a wide arc and then pushing the bow in a direction opposite to that of the sweep, you will make an effective stroke.
When using the opposite side paddling technique to steer the kayak left, you will need to perform the sweeping strokes on the right side of the kayak. Likewise, to turn or steer the kayak to the right, you will need to perform sweeping strokes on the left. While one or two sweeping strokes are quite effective, multiple strokes are often necessary to fully direct a kayak.
Refining your steering technique
When you are just starting out, it is important to master the opposite side paddling technique. Basically, you will only need to place your paddle into the water behind you, keeping it parallel to your kayak. Then to turn left, you will paddle continuously on the right side of the kayak, while to turn right you will need to paddle continually on the left side of the kayak. With more practice, you will be able to direct your kayak with ease in whichever direction you desire.
However, as you improve your mastery of kayak steering, you also will realize that the opposite side technique will often just make the kayak move faster without actually turning it quickly or with minimal effort in the desired direction. For instance, in some situations making forward strokes can accelerate the kayak in an unwanted direction, while trying harder to turn the kayak by paddling on one side may only make the boat move faster, over-shoot and frustrate you.
To avoid such frustrations, it is important to refine your steering technique. You can do this by first learning that the reason for paddling the opposite side is to force the bow toward your desired direction. With this knowledge, you will recognize that steering strokes should be made away from the hull. You also will ensure that the paddle pulls the stern as you make strokes to turn your kayak.
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- Dick’s Pro Tips. (2017). How to Steer a Kayak. Retrieved from https://protips.dickssportinggoods.com/sports-and-activities/water-sports/how-to-steer-a-kayak