How To Hold A Kayak Paddle

Need to know how to hold a kayak paddle? An energy efficient paddling style can save you a lot of sore muscles!

There is a little more to knowing how to hold a kayak paddle than simply where to grab it. It is true that paddling with a double-bladed kayak paddle and making your boat go in a straight line is easier than managing the same task with a single-bladed paddle.  That said, there are a couple of tricks to holding the paddle that can save you some blisters and sore shoulders.

Practice Tools:

  • Double-bladed kayak paddle
  • Kayak
  • Quiet cove, pond or lake to practice on
  1. Slip the paddle under the kayak’s deck cord while you mount the boat.  Most kayaks have these elastic cords for temporarily holding paddles or other items against the hull. Don’t try to mount your boat with a paddle in your hand unless you want a ducking.
  2. Push off and pick up your paddle. If your paddle comes in two parts with a connector at the center, make sure you attach the halves so the blades are perpendicular to one another, so that while one blade is vertical and pulling through the water, the other blade is horizontal to the water so that it doesn’t catch wind as it recovers forward. This alone will save you a lot of work over a long paddle. A flat blade can act as a mini-sail and it’s surprising how much extra work it will cause you on a long trip.
  3. Hold the paddle about shoulder width or a bit further apart – whatever is comfortable. Your knuckles should be on top of the shaft.
  4. Reach forward with the right blade and straighten your right elbow while bending your left. Catch the blade forward and begin to pull by turning your upper torso. At the same time push with your left hand straightening your elbow. Leave the right elbow straight through the stroke.
  5. Apply power through the first half of the stroke, while the blade is pushing water straight back.  Then let the blade glide on out of the water through the last half of the stroke. If you put power on the last half of the stroke, your blade will be lifting water upwards and forcing your boat down in the water.  You’ll be wasting energy and giving yourself blisters to no purpose.
  6. Turn the left blade, which is now forward to catch the water. The right blade will now be horizontal to the water and in position to knife through the air, which is very helpful in a headwind.  Again, cock the right elbow and straighten the left this time. Pull with the whole body, keep the left arm straight while you straighten the right elbow and push with the right hand.
  7. Power through the first half of the stroke and again, let the blade glide on through and up out of the water.  Not lifting all that water by only pulling hard when the blade is pushing water straight back will also save you a great deal of wasted energy.


  1. The straightened lower arm pushes against the paddle shaft only requiring slight muscle engagement to keep the arm straight. The lower hand acts as a fulcrum against which the upper arm pushes the shaft and powers the blade.
  2. If you bend you’re your lower arm, you lose the fulcrum and wind up pushing in both directions at once against the water and the paddle.
  3. The straight lower arm and powering through only the first half of the stroke will help you conserve energy while your less adept paddling buddies are brutalizing their arms and shoulders with inefficient strokes. 
  4. At the end of the day when everyone else is wailing about sore muscles, you will feel a lot better, having spent probably a third less energy going the same distance they did.
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