10 Essential Kayaking Techniques for Beginners

Kayaking techniques for beginners

So, you’re looking to get out on the open water and enjoy the tranquil but very invigorating sport of kayaking.


If you’re simply starting out and looking to learn the basics, you’ve come to the right place!

Here I will demonstrate the top 10 kayaking techniques for beginners that will certainly turn you from amateur to a professional kayaker in no time at all!

So stick with me through each step and we’ll have you gliding across the water effortlessly.


Depending on what type of kayak you have, whether it be an open-top kayak or a kayak you fit into, you will see foot slots.

In an open-top kayak, it’s easy to place your foot up or down the slots to get the desired fit for your legs, although with a kayak you fit into you will see foot pegs.

To get the desired fit for your legs, simply pull the braces up towards you or push away from you and lock it in place.

Always make sure to keep your legs bent with knees slightly raised.


We need to make sure that we have the correct placement of our hands on the paddle to get the best stroke in the water.

Now, when holding the paddle, place both hands just over shoulder width apart – this allows for optimum power of your stroke and still feels comfortable.

By having your hands too close together towards the middle, you will lose all power as your strength isn’t aimed towards the paddles.

Having your hands too far apart, will certainly give a powerful stroke through the water but you will tire out very quick.

An easy way to figure out where to place your hands is by resting the middle of the paddle on your head so it balances and place your hands so that your elbows form a 90-degree angle.


An easy way to know that you have the paddle the right way each time you stroke through the water is to simply mark the side of each blade that curls towards you with a permanent marker.

This allows you not to get mixed up and keeps you’re paddling running smoothly and effortlessly!


Posture is everything here!

When in the kayak, sit up straight, relax your shoulders and make sure your hips are pushed right back into the seat. Don’t lay back as you lose structure and the paddling can become more difficult and may even result in the kayak capsizing.

Place your feet onto the foot pegs/slots and keep your knees close together so that your lower body is firm and strong.

Kayaking looks like it’s all in the arms, I mean it is to a certain extent – although the real power comes from the core, torso and legs. Having a good posture, allows the torso to rotate better and makes paddling much easier.

Being able to maintain a good solid structure between your core and legs will help to propel you forward.

Why not have a look to see how good kayaking is for exercise?


When holding the paddle, simply relax your grip with fingers slightly spread out. Try making an ‘O’ shape around the paddle just like holding the handles of a bike.

If you start squeezing the shaft of the paddle, you will start to tire out your hands and arms and will need to take frequent breaks.


On your first stroke, wind up and rotate your torso as you dip the paddle into the water with one hand close to the kayak and your other hand between shoulder and head height.

Make sure the paddle is in the water as far towards the front of the kayak, also known as the bow.


Now, the blade of the paddle has cut the waters surface, start to rotate your torso by activating the core muscles. Press your foot into the slot/peg on the side you are stroking – this will generate more power, provide greater support and propel you further.

Push the blade the whole way back through the water till you get to your hips.

It’s important to remember that the most power comes from the very start of the stroke, this is where the larger core muscles are active compared to pushing with the sole power of the smaller muscles in the arms.

Here the blade is also at its best angle to push against the water and direct the kayak forward.


Once you lift the blade out of the water from your first stroke, start to turn your torso the opposite direction now and lean slightly forward to the hull and extend your other arm – during this time, the arm that you used for your first stroke it still rising at a 90 degree angle until it gets to shoulder height.

Then dip the blade back into the water, cut through, engage the core and press your legs into the pegs.

Easy – now your gliding through the water like a sharks fin!

Why not check out this helpful video on proper technique also


So, after we have perfected the paddling technique, it’s time to get some speed on it.

To paddle faster and really propel yourself forward, you need to make sure that your core is constantly engaged through each entire stroke.

Keep the legs slightly bent and even dig the knees into the top of the inside of the kayak – this is for closed top only!

Now, try to reduce the kayak from rocking so much. The way a kayak usually rocks is with the use of the feet and how hard they are pressing against the foot pegs on each stroke.

Think of the foot pegs like the clutch in a car, on each stroke try to be as gentle as you can in letting off the pressure of each foot peg and then ease the pressure back onto the next foot peg ever so slightly.

This will reduce the rocking of the kayak and reduce drag – which is obviously bad for speed!


If you ever get into the position where your kayak capsizes (which is bound to happen at some stage, so you’re best learning it) one thing not to do it panic!

Getting out of a kayak is very simple actually once you relax and take it step by step – this is called a wet exit.

So if you’re paddling along and out of nowhere a freak wave hits the side your kayak and you flip.

  • Step One

Try to keep your head above water, with a life jacket on and an air pocket within the hull, the kayak will still be able float on its side for a few seconds.

  • Step Two 

Go under the water and realign your body so it basically looks like your kayaking upside down.

  • Step Three

Push off the outer rim of the cockpit with your hands and use the pressure against your hands and the kayak to slide your legs out of the hull, you will basically do a forward roll as you come out.

When exiting, try resist the urge to lean back, as when you lean back you push your hips into the seat therefore pushing your knees against the hull and makes it more difficult to exit.

  • Step Four

Simply come up to the surface and try to keep one hand on the side of the kayak.

These kayaking techniques will surely help any beginner take to the water with confidence and be able to kayak with greater power and less effort.

Just remember that the perfect stroke is a continuous motion with both arms raised, rotating the torso, engaging the core and gently pressing against the foot pegs to reduce rocking

Make sure to always practice caution when out on the water, have a look at the RNLI’s website for further information.

Now, its time to put this all into practice!

Any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.

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