The Forward Stroke & Sweep

Paddling basics to keep your Florida kayaking trip moving in the right direction

Florida kayaking trips for beginners

If you’re just starting to learn the ropes of Florida kayaking, you may be wondering how to keep your boat moving forward. After all, a kayak is not as simple to steer as your typical rowboat—without fixed oars, a stroke on either side of your kayak can turn it one way, the other way or no way at all.

When you’re starting out, there are a few strokes you’ll need to master that will help you maneuver and keep your kayak moving straight. Though taking a beginner’s kayaking course will be the best way to master essential kayaking skills, learning a few basic strokes will help you have more fun and take each kayak excursion further.

The Forward Stroke

Of all the kayaking strokes you perform, the forward stroke will be by far the most common. The forward stroke is what keeps you moving forward quickly, as the name suggests, but it isn’t all about the way you paddle—your body will play a very important role as well.

  1. Lean forward, bending at the waist, and put the blade of your paddle in the water at a comfortable extension. By gripping the shaft near the blade, leverage will be working for you.
  2. In a smooth motion, bring the blade parallel to the kayak’s waterline to complete the stroke.
  3. Rotate the paddle to its opposite side, sliding your slip hand. Repeat the process of the stroke on this side.

Executing these strokes properly will keep you moving forward, ideally in a straight line. Because of the imbalance created by handedness, you may need some practice to create strokes of equal power on both sides of the kayak, but this is a skill that will come with time.

When imbalanced strokes leave you drifting in one direction, you can cross over and stroke on the other side to correct your direction, or execute a:

Sweep Stroke

The angle of your arms in this stroke will be very similar to that of the low brace, but the wrist of your control hand should be turned to let the power face of the blade come in contact with the water. Reach forward and out, stroking in an arc that makes up most of a half-circle. Sweeping like this will turn you in the opposite direction without sacrificing your momentum. For a variation on this technique, you can try a:

Reverse Sweep

Much as its name implies, this sweep has the opposite effect of your typical sweep stroke. If you sweep from stern to bow on one side of the kayak, your boat will turn in that direction. This technique is also useful if you need to make a 90-degree turn—just forward sweep on one side followed by a reverse sweep on the other side to turn to port or starboard.

When you’re just getting started with kayaking in Florida, the first challenge is to simply get moving. If you find yourself having trouble learning the forward stroke, sweep stroke or reverse sweep on your own, remember: a quick start course or strokes and maneuvers course will give you a hands-on way to learn everything you need to know.


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