Kayak Clinic: How to Perfect Your Forward Stroke

On a windy Saturday in April, I attended Ben Lawry's Forward Stroke Kayak Clinic in Wickford, Rhode Island. Although, I have been recreationally paddling for nearly a decade, this year I am planning to take long expedition kayaking trips and do some racing.

I knew my paddling stroke needed tweaking but I didn't realize it was as inefficient as a golfer playing with a broom handle. Watching myself paddle on video during the clinic was horrifying (but utterly helpful). My body was rigid, I was paddling with my shoulders, and worst of all, I'm a paddle-dipper. Only half of my blade was entering the water, propelling me at half-speed. But that would change.

More: White Water Kayaking for Beginners

Lawry's one-day clinic dissected the four crucial phases of a kayak stroke—set up, entry, power phase and exit—breaking each into bite-sized, easily understandable pieces, which has helped me improve and go faster.

"So much of it is about body rotation and paddle placement," says Lawry, a 30-year kayaking veteran, who has taught paddling on four continents, competed on three, and led trips worldwide. "Once you master your technique, your potential is limitless."

More: 4 Tips for Using the Right Kayak

Much like a golf stroke, a powerful forward kayak stroke starts with strong torso rotation to "wind up the stroke." A precise sequence of micro-movements follows and, when executed efficiently, the body's core and legs propel the boat.

Step 1: Set Up

Proficient paddling is core-centric. Rather than using your arms and shoulders, power generates from the core. To engage your core sit upright (no slouching) with weight evenly distributed on sit bones and knees together--don't lock them under the side braces.

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About the Author

Stefani Jackenthal

Stefani Jackenthal is an adventure journalist and elite endurance racer who has competed and reported worldwide. Her articles have appeared in The New York Times, Outside, Conde' Nast Traveler, Marie Claire, Runner's World, Shape, Fitness and Women's Health, among others. Visit her site at www.stefjack.com.

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