top of page
Boat set up COMING SOON


Kayaking is a highly technical sport that requires a combination of fitness, strength, balance and technique. The areas are interrelated – it can be difficult to paddle with good technique if you’re not strong in certain positions.  It can be difficult to maintain good technique over a race or training session if you’re not fit or strong.

This section focuses on the principles of technique as taught by Canoe Racing NZ


1. Set up

Although the paddling motion is continuous, we believe that a good kayak stroke begins with a good set up. Setting up in the correct position makes it easier to execute the rest of the stroke.

Elements of a correct set up:

  • The tip of the front blade is just above the water with the paddle angle between 45-50 degrees

  • The front hand is directly in front of the shoulder and at or below shoulder height

  • The top hand elbow is at 90 degrees and the hand is around head height

  • Shoulder blades are back and down with elbows pointing towards the water

  • The hips and shoulders are fully rotated

  • The feet are well connected with the footrest – the foot of the leg that is pushed down is pressing into the footplate, and the other foot is pulling against the pull bar

Download our Principles of Technique guide for more information 

Paddler NZ Set Up Technique 2.png

2. Catch

The catch occurs when the paddle enters the water. Both arms push down though the paddle shaft and the blade creates a “lock” or “grip” in the water. The top hand guides the paddle into the water without pushing forward or across the body.

Elements of a good catch

  • Shoulder blades are back and down with elbows pointing towards the water

  • The catch is made with two hands through downward pressure along the paddle shaft – the top hand remains in a similar position relative to the shoulder and head and does not push forward, up or across the body (the purpose of this is to keep a high pivot point – see below)

  • The leg drive and body rotation begin a split-second before the paddle touches the water

  • The angle of the paddle fully submerged is around 60 degrees from a side-on and front-on view

Download our Principles of Technique guide for more information 

Paddler NZ Catch Technique.png


This drive phase begins once the blade is fully submerged and has a solid grip.

Elements of a good drive phase

  • The arms continue to exert downward pressure through the paddle shaft (but not downwards motion)

  • The legs and hips lead the movement, with pressure on the footplate throughout the entire drive phase

  • The top hand locks the blade, rather than pushing forward, with minimal change in elbow angle

  • The paddler “hangs” on the paddle - the lower arm works to transfer the body-leg rotation to the paddle

  • Weight shifts towards the drive side with each stroke - the drive-side hip presses down and the trunk remains upright and does not “crunch” downwards onto the hip.

  • The other foot pulls against the pull bar or footstrap to bring the non-drive hip forward

  • The paddle blade angle should be square to the boat for as long as possible to maximise grip and avoid slippage

  • The paddle should travel gradually outwards from the boat as the paddler’s body rotates, approximately at the same angle as the boat’s bow wake

Download our Principles of Technique guide for more information 

Paddler NZ Drive Technique.png


The exit begins when the paddle moves into a negative angle. The exit is made by lifting the paddle lightly out of the water, led by the knuckles of the bottom hand. The elbow should remain pointing towards the water.

Elements of a good exit

  • The paddle exits the water before the bottom hand passes the paddler’s hip

  • The exit is led by the hand, rather than by the shoulder or elbow

  • Minimal water is lifted by the paddle

  • The top hand remains between shoulder- and eye height

  • The weight stays down on the pulling side (this is only possible if the exit is early enough and the paddler doesn’t keep pulling with the paddle in a negative angle)

  • The leg drive and body rotation continue through the exit until the new set-up phase

Download our Principles of Technique guide for more information  

Paddler NZ Exit Technique.png
Principles of Technique

Want to improve power, speed and efficiency?

Download our Principles of Technique handbook.

24 pages of the latest kayak technique advice from Canoe Racing NZ.

Paddler NZ Principles of Technique PDF.png

Technique drills

the drills the pros do

Download our Technique Drills handbook.

20 pages of technique drills from Canoe Racing NZ.

Paddler NZ Technique Drills PDF.png

How is your Balance? 

To have good technique, you will also need to work on your balance. Learn about the importance of balance and watch the drills.

Shop Paddler Store

bottom of page