In this article we are going to look at the top five simple strokes that will get you out and paddling your sit on top this summer.

• Blade – our paddles have two blades, they are ends that go in the water.
• Shaft – the paddle, the bit you hold, which connects the two blades.
• Leading hand/arm – the one closest to the blade that is providing the power.
• Power face – the concave side of the paddle blade which normally faces us when paddling.
• Back face – the convex side of the paddle blade which normally faces away from us whilst paddling.

We are going to break each stroke down in to the three key areas:

• Catch – how you prepare the paddle and your body before putting it in the water.
• Power – what you do with the paddle in the water and your body to create movement.
• Recovery – how you remove the paddle from the water and prepare for the next stroke.

Forward paddling

Forward paddling is what most paddlers do more than anything else whilst on the water so it is important to get it right. The majority of the power in the forward stroke comes from the core, the muscles around your stomach and back, rather than just the shoulders or arms.
Having an efficient forward stroke will allow you to paddle further for longer.

Catch – the body is rotated, or wound, so that the shoulders face the opposite side of the boat from where the paddle will go, the paddle blade is as far forward as the paddler can reach without leaning forward, the leading arm is straight and the other arm is bent.

Power – the blade is dropped cleanly into the water and immediately the body is unwound to start the paddle moving, the leading arm starts to pull and the bent arm starts to push as the body comes to a neutral position. The power is being transferred into the boat by pushing with the foot on the same side as the paddle stroke.

Recovery – the body continues to rotate until the shoulders are facing the side of the boat the stroke started on, the blade is lifted out of the water as it comes past the hip. The opposite paddle is lowered to the water ready to enter the ‘catch’ phase on the other side.

Top tip: The closer you can keep the submerged blade to the side of the boat, what’s known as a vertical stroke as the shaft is almost vertical, the more efficient the stroke will be at moving you forward.

Reverse paddling

Being able to paddle your sit on top backwards will allow you to explore small places like caves and rock gardens safe in the knowledge that you’ll be able to get out again. It is also useful for getting off the beach after lunch without turning your boat around! This stroke is almost literally the opposite of forward paddling.

Catch – the body is rotated, or wound, so that the shoulders are facing the same side of the boat as where the paddle will go, the paddle blade is as far back as practical, the leading arm is bent.

Power – the blade is dropped cleanly into the water and immediately the body is unwound to start the paddle moving, the leading arm starts to push as the body comes to a neutral position. The power is being transferred into the boat by pushing with either foot. Note that we do not need to rotate the paddle around for this stroke, we simply use the back face of the paddle.

Recovery – the body continues to rotate until the shoulders are facing the opposite side of the boat from where the stroke started, the blade is lifted out of the water as it comes past the knee. The opposite paddle is lowered to the water ready to enter the ‘catch’ phase on the other side.

Top Tip: Look behind you at least every few strokes, you need to make sure you aren’t going to hit anything and you are going where you want. Looking over your shoulder at the ‘catch’ of each stroke will help get your body fully rotated.

Turning stroke

The turning stroke, or sweep stroke, is a really simple and effective way of turning your boat to face the way you want to go. It is very similar to the forward paddle stroke with a couple key differences.

Catch – exactly the same as forward paddling. The body is rotated, or wound, so that the shoulders face the opposite side of the boat from where the paddle will go, the paddle blade is as far forward as the paddler can reach without leaning forward, the leading arm is straight and the other arm is bent.

Power – similar to forward. The blade is dropped cleanly into the water and immediately the body is unwound to start the paddle moving, the leading arm starts to pull and the bent arm starts to push as the body comes to a neutral position. The aim is to get the paddle blade as far away from the boat as possible, following a wide arc, the further the blade from the boat the more effective the turn. The power is being transferred into the boat by pushing with the foot on the same side as the paddle stroke.

Recovery – the body continues to rotate until the shoulders are facing the side of the boat the stroke started on, the blade is lifted out of the water as the leading hand comes past the hip. The opposite paddle is lowered to the water ready to enter the ‘catch’ phase on the other side. What happens next will depend on what you want to achieve, if you have turned the boat sufficiently then move on to the catch phase of your next stroke. If you have not turned the boat as far as you wanted simply repeat the process again. Longer kayaks will require more strokes to turn, especially on windy days.

Top Tip: The turning stroke works just as well, sometimes even better, in reverse and follows the same principles as the reverse paddle stroke – give it a go!

Side stroke

The side stroke, or draw stroke, is as the name suggests used for moving your boat sideways. It can be great for getting alongside, or away from, things like pontoons, stationary boats or other paddlers.

Catch – the body is turned to face the direction you want to go, the leading arm is extended as far out from the boat as you can reach, the other arm should be just above eye height.

Power – the blade is dropped cleanly in to the water and the boat is pulled towards the blade by the leading arm. Some steering can be achieved by altering where the blade reaches the boat, somewhere between knee and hip will normally allow you to move in a straight line.

Recovery – before the blade reaches the boat slice the leading arm back slightly to remove the blade from the water and return to the ‘catch’ position for the next stroke if needed.

Top Tip: It is possible to use what’s known as a sliced recovery to keep your blade in the water, at the end of the stroke rotate your wrist forward 90 degrees to allow you to slice the blade back to the ‘catch’ position.

Low support stroke

The low support stroke, or low brace, is used to stop you capsizing or falling out of the boat if it’s knocked off balance. There is a chance of falling out or capsizing when practicing this so make sure you have a friend around to give you a hand if needed.

Catch – the leading arm should be bent 90 degrees at the elbow and the elbow should be directly above the wrist, this is really important to avoid shoulder damage. It is the back face of the paddle which comes in contact with the water first in this stroke.

Power – as the boat approaches it’s capsize point push down with the leading arm, keeping the blade as flat as possible on the water. At the same time try to shift your weight in the opposite direction to help right the boat.

Recovery – the paddle blade will have sunk a few inches into the water, to recover it rotate your leading wrist back 90 degrees to cleanly slice the blade out of the water.

Top Tip: The power phase of this stroke should definitely be a push, the stroke is occasionally called a ‘slap for support’, slapping the water isn’t as effective and could really damage your shoulder.

Author’s note:

In the photo’s you’ll see I’m paddling the fantastic FeelFree Moken 14, which is fitted with a rudder. I’ve deliberately not used the rudder because not everyone has one on their sit on top. If you do have a rudder I’d encourage you to practice the strokes with and without the rudder. Rudders are notoriously fickle and do break from time to time so it’s always worth having other skills to fall back on.

Mark McKerral has been paddling and sailing on the Scottish west coast since he was 12. He owns Paddle Lochaber, a BCU approved paddlesport provider. Mark holds BCU coaching and leadership awards across all disciplines. Check out more from Mark and his team at Paddle Lochaber