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Exploring the Fundamentals of Paddlesports

Updated: Jan 26, 2021

During the process of learning, there are core elements that the learner will need to grasp before gaining autonomy. In paddlesports, we break these down into 4 key fundamentals that are need to succeed.

Active Posture

Posture is important in many sports, but having active posture might make or break the stroke and your enjoyment. When coaching paddlers, many of the faults in technique will be underpinned by a fundamental. Being able to actively adjust your posture to the situation will make strokes much easier. For instance, in a recreational craft, shifting the weight of the paddler slightly further back, will allow the craft to turn more easily. On the flip side, you may realise that if a paddler (usually in the beginning phase of their learning) is struggling to manoeuvre their craft in a straight line; it may be because their posture is causing the craft to move in a certain direction. This is often down to new paddlers choosing boats that do not fit them and they can sit lopsided in the craft throwing the weight distribution, however, there may also be other underlying factors causing an issue similar to this.


It is important to have all the correct contact points in a kayak.

Among these factors, being properly connected to the craft will have considerable impact on the control of the skills being performed. Kayaks are much easier to connect too; thigh braces, hip pads, footrests, seat; to keep control, the paddler needs to be able to have contact with all of these. Matching your paddler to the perfect craft will make your life much easier. No one wants to be slipping around in their boat, like some sort of bath tub it makes the experience far less enjoyable and the paddler will lose control of the craft. Thus, making their learning experience a memorable one for the wrong reasons. Find them the right match so that they can also fall in love with the sport. Don't forget, most kayaks are adjustable, so match the connectivity to the paddler.

Power Transfer

Now it might look easy to paddle, but to paddle efficiently is the key. A lot of people may think, 'you just need to pull the paddle through the water', but that is not quite right. The paddle acts as an anchor point enabling the paddler to push, pull and drive the craft in the direction of their choosing. Resulting in a more powerful stroke requiring far less effort. This is a typical error when paddlers first start out in play boating.


Once firm foundations have been set in the other fundamental areas, a paddler can begin to think about the feel (feedback) they are receiving from the boat, the water, and the paddle. With this knowledge, they will start to adjust and merge many of their strokes without even knowing. For example, a paddler may merge a bow draw and a forwards stroke to adjust the course the craft is taking. The trick is being able to practise this. Either you, as the coach or as the paddler, can practise (in isolation) different strokes together. Try a bow rudder into a stern rudder; you will even notice that you will need to perform a forwards paddling drive in-between.

What can a coach do?

If it is possible, the coach should encourage the paddler to explore the fundamentals of paddlesports. Questioning and probing is an incredibly power tool. Using question the coach can direct the paddler to look at different elements of the fundamentals. Here are a few examples:

What happens when you lean back? (active posture)

How can you correct this? (feel)

What happens when you take your legs out of the boat? (feel, active posture and connectivity)

What happens when you lean forwards? (power transfer and active posture)

Hold the paddle like this, how does this change your paddling? (power transfer and feel)

Do you push with your feet? Which feet do you push with when paddling? (connectivity)

Some paddlers will be able to answer the questions straight away, without moving; asking questions and getting the paddler to prove if their answer can play a valuable and vital role in learning a skill.

Want to know more? Have a look at our very own coaching book - A Quick Guide to Coaching Paddlesports.

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