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  • Doug Hershman

Mastering Kayak Hand Position for Optimal Paddling

Updated: Apr 1

Don't let anyone tell you what's right and wrong when it comes to your kayak hand position on your paddle. The most important thing to remember with hand position is that you feel comfortable with where your hands are at. If you feel like your hands are too wide, or too close together, then by all means, adjust them .

Back in the day, kayak instructors use instruct their students to place their hands 4 to 8 inches up from the blade of the paddle. But with longer paddles on the market, that rule no longer applies. As a general rule of thumb, your hands should be slightly wider than your shoulder width and evenly spaced along the shaft of the paddle.

If you hold your paddle straight out in front of you, the rounded portion or the concave portion of the paddle should be facing you. If there are any branding words on the paddle, you can usually read the words right side up when the paddle is in the correct position.

With our rental kayaks we use the light weight Harmony Drifter Paddle. During instruction we tell the students they should be able to read the word "harmony" at all times while they are paddling. I had a young lady who paddled the entire trip with her paddle upside down. She said she could still read the word "harmony" the whole time. I said "yes, but what I meant was right side up not upside down". We both got a kick out of that and every time I see her, I reminder to have the paddle in the right position.

Your knuckles should line up with the top of your blades when they are in a standard position. Your thumbs should wrap comfortably around the shaft of the paddle. Your hands should always remain in the same position so if you held it out in front of you, you could wave with both hands. I tell my students to hold onto the paddle as if their hands were glued to it. The only exception to this is if you have advanced enough in your paddling and have learned how to paddle with your paddle blades in an offset position.

Also, you should never spin or rotate the paddle in your hands to use a certain side of the blade for a particular stroke. For our back strokes and our reverse sweeps, we use the back face or the convex side of the paddle. For our forward strokes and forward sweeps we use the power face, or the concave side of the blade.

If you are still unsure and our renting a kayak from us, please make sure to ask our staff. They will be happy to give you a quick reminder or explain things in more detail. Also remember, nothing beats having a formal lesson. We are only 45 minutes from Cleveland and offer classes a couple of times per month. For more details check out

Doug Hershman

Breakaway Excursions



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