How to do the Kayak Forward Sweep Stroke

There are times when paddling is underway in a kayak when you will want to make a correction to your heading. There are other times when you are stationary in a kayak and you will want to turn the kayak to one side or another. The Forward Sweep Stroke is the perfect stroke to accomplish either of these maneuvers.

Following are the steps on how to execute a forward sweep stroke on the right side of your kayak. This same technique can obviously be performed on the left by making the necessary adjustments to the instructions.

Difficulty: Average

Time Required: 5-10 minutes of practice each time

Here’s How:

1. Hold the Paddle Properly

The forward sweep stroke can only be executed properly and ergonomically correctly as long as you are holding your paddle properly. Your hands should be about shoulder-width apart, the paddle should be facing the right direction and oriented properly.

2. Maintain Proper Posture in the Kayak

You should maintain an aggressive, yet comfortable, position in the kayak. Sit upright or ever-so-slightly forward with your back against the backrest, your legs securely in the thigh braces, and the balls of your feet against the foot supports. Be sure to set up your kayak properly to support you in this position.

3. Rotate Your Body

To take a forward sweep stroke on the right side, rotate your torso counter-clockwise so that the right paddle blade is forward. Be sure to maintain the paddler’s box. This is the step that is often performed incorrectly. The key to it is the torso rotation, not arm motion.

4. The Catch Phase of the Forward Sweep Stroke:

Place the forward paddle blade in the water near the feet and toward the “tip” of the kayak. The blade should be inserted into the water with little disturbance. The face of the blade should be perpendicular to the direction of the pull.

5. The Power Phase of the Forward Sweep Stroke:

With the blade in the water, rotate the torso so as to pull the blade through the water in an arc, first away from the bow of the kayak and then back toward the stern of the kayak. Keep the top hand level throughout the rotation at about eye level. Again, the stroke is powered by the rotation of the torso and not by pulling and pushing with the arms.

6. Stroke Length

Continue the stroke all the way to the stern of the kayak. The length of the forward sweep stroke is simply “tip to tip.” The blade enters toward the front tip of the kayak and is removed near the rear tip.

7. The Recovery Phase of the Forward Sweep Stroke

As soon as the stroke is over snap the blade out of the water. Your paddle should be set up for a forward stroke on the left side of the boat. Continue the rotation of your torso to obtain maximum reach on the left side of the boat.


  • The nature of this stroke makes it easy for the paddler to violate the paddler’s box by reaching out as the paddle arcs away from the kayak. Don’t do that. Be sure to keep the paddler’s box throughout the stroke and to use the torso to drive the stroke.
  • It helps to be able to do a properly executed forward stroke to understand the torso rotation before trying it on the forward sweep stroke.
  • There are a number of different design features to consider when buying a paddle. Make sure you buy and use the right length and thickness paddle.
  • Don’t hold the paddle too tightly, even with your control grip. This will cause fatigue and possibly undue long-term stress.