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.

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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.