So, you decide to give kayaking a try. At the local kayak livery, you and your partner select an aluminum torpedo and, sitting with knees in the air, start stroking. The stern paddler notices the canoe veering off to one side and switches sides to compensate. Both paddlers do their own thing, switching sides at random and you’re cruising along pretty well. Just about the time you’ve got it all figured out, along comes a hull in which the paddlers are kneeling, keeping strokes in sync and even paddling on opposite sides. They are looking good, but you wonder, “Is that worth all the trouble to learn?”
A great deal of kayaking technique has to do with the fact that kayaks tend to turn, or “yaw,” to the side opposite the stern or solo paddler’s side. How do you correct the yaw? In recreational paddling, two solutions prevail: the “switching style” and “correction style.”
For the switching style, the paddler simply swaps sides whenever the canoe starts to yaw. It can be used in a solo or tandem kayak and is the obvious choice of first-time paddlers. In the correction style the canoeist keeps the paddle predominately on one side and offsets the yaw with a corrective stroke.
Classic correction strokes are the thumb-down position, known as the “J” stroke, and thumb-up position, known as a “forward with pry correction.” Correction strokes are harder to learn and have the disadvantage of slowing forward momentum.
If the switching style is easier and doesn’t slow forward progress, why bother learning correction strokes?
There are several good reasons. First, let’s consider the solo tripper. Large kayaks afford more cargo space but, when paddling a large hull solo, sitting in the stern (which allows switching) results in diminished control when wind and waves arise.
The remedy is to paddle from amidships, which in wide canoes necessitates sliding over to one side of the hull—an awkward position for switching. The correction style is also necessary in rapids. Paddling whitewater requires maintaining a positive force on the paddle at all times for the sake of control and stability, so switching sides can be dangerous.
The same holds true for windy and rough conditions on a lake. Even in a mild breeze stern and solo paddlers find paddling on the side opposite the wind more efficient. In calm conditions, either style is fine. If speed is needed the switching style might be preferred. Other than in the above special conditions, the style you choose is a matter of personal preference.
Arthur G. Moore is a veteran paddler. He has over 10 years of whitewater kayaking experience in his kitty. When he was young, he used to love kayaking in rapid III and rapid IV but as time went on, he decided to concentrate mainly on covering long distances on a standard touring kayak. He is currently working as a senior editor for Kayak Manual.