How’s your Forward Stroke?

So just call on me brother, when you need a hand.
We all need somebody to lean on
I just might have a problem that you’d understand
We all need somebody to lean on – bill withers

Wisconsin Gater, photo by me!I’m sure the guys at Sweetwater in Florida would tell me my friendly Alligator here would never bother chasing my kayak, but he certainly encourages me to work on my stroke.

Today my desk is buried under paperwork of all sorts. Projects are piling up as everyone wants to get ready for Christmas. Luckily on occasion, there are experienced paddlers out there willing to share their experiences here at the blog. This week Joshua Teitelbaum in Israel was kind enough to let me reprint some of his thoughts and experiences with learning & improving his forward stroke:

My goal is to paddle four times a week. I usually get to do it, thank God. For about 6 months or so I have been concentrating on paddling for conditioning. I was never particularly athletic, and for years I was one of the slowest paddlers in our club, which has some terrific paddlers where speed is concerned (just ask Nigel, Fiona, or Simon. I believe that this is because we have great instructors and because we paddle often, all year around.) I also hated “exercise” of any kind. But I love to paddle. It is my passion. Once I made the decision to use paddling as conditioning, my forward stroke got a lot better, and so did my conditioning. What helped was a heart monitor, where I could measure my pulse and keep it in the ideal range. Now I am closing in on some of our faster paddlers. It is quite gratifying.

I have many thoughts on the forward stroke. I agree with you on “glide” very much. On long trips it is fantastic, although for conditioning and racing for distances, say, under 15km., it is less useful. We all know about rotation. I try my best to do that as much as possible, but there is a difference between knowing it and actually doing it. The following things have improved my stroke and speed tremendously:

1. Don’t cross the center of the kayak with the upper hand. If you absolutely must, then only for a fist’s worth. I only recently realized that the main reason for this is that it brings the rear blade out of the water at the right place. If you cross the center line, the rear blade emerges too far behind you.

2. I agree with Brent Reitz that one should paddle with bent elbows. This help one rotate more, since you bring the paddle around with your body, not your upper arm.

3. Concentrate (a lot) on using your stomach muscles. This goes together with rotation, and is key. If you don’t feel your stomach muscles a bit, like in a crunch, you are not putting enough energy into rotating, or are not doing it enough.

4. Pull with the lower hand a lot more than you push with the upper hand. Even if you were taught the opposite (which is how it should be for beginners). It is more tiring, but you get used to it. This helps with rotation, and your stomach muscles will tell you so.

5. Stab the water a bit on the catch. I think Reitz mentions this. Stab and pull, stab and pull.

6. I’m still experimenting with high and low angle paddling. Right now, I think I get better rotation with a low angle because I feel it more in my abdomen, but the jury is still out on that.

7. I’m also wondering if one should continue the rotation after the rear blade exits the water, thus leaving your torso “cocked” for the next catch. I think racing kayakers can do this better, since with free knees, they can rotate further. But for now, I only see this as possible if one pauses before the catch. But this is connected to gliding, which I think slows down someone who is trying to race or paddle for conditioning.

I would welcome your feedback (or that of other experience paddlers) on my points, and also if you can point to any sites that deal with paddling for conditioning. As we say in Hebrew, see you on the water (“lehitra’ot `al hamayim!)!

Joshua Teitelbaum is a 4 Star BCU kayaker and paddles with Terra Santa Kayak Expedition Club, Herzliya, Israel.

Thanks Josh!
For folks new to paddling it’s a good idea to pick up a copy of Brent Reitz’s “Forward Stroke” video. Brent’s video is a perfect place to start. Over time you will learn to adapt this “racing” style to your type of paddling. As you’ll notice Josh’s main objective is conditioning which calls for a much stricter racing style than many of us may use for recreational or distance paddling.

Have some experience to share? I’m always looking for guest writers who want share their techiques, experiences, gear preferences, or just want to spin a good yarn. With about 250 people stopping by each day, I’m sure a new “voice” once in awhile is a very good thing. Lord knows I don’t have all the answers!!
All the best!

2 Responses

  1. Ignacio-Wenley Palacios

    Items #4 to #7 were unknown to me. I shall try to feel a light stab when planting the paddle and try as well, to pull more with the lower hand. Thanks for this useful post.
    Btw, congratulations on the new website’s design. It is clean and very easy to read.

  2. derrick

    Hey Wenley, Yeah in my experience #7 is an absolute. Your paddle comes out just before you complete your rotation. Actually the water brings the paddle out at the right spot if you let it.

    #4 is new to me actually. I was taught to NOT use arm muscle at all but to use only torso rotation and let that power translate through your arms which connect you to the paddle but don’t actually apply force. Probobly sounds a bit too “Zen”y. . .

    Thanks on the site. I was getting board. :)