Forward Stroke Cadence - An Efficient Forward Stroke for Long Distances by Robert Finlay of Kayak Lake Mead
An efficient forward stroke cadence is not what most paddlers think it is. The content of this article is very simple, but follow along because it has a surprising conclusion for both recreational paddlers and adventure race teams. Watch the video first...
Discounting wind and current, your kayak moves forward because the power in your forward stroke overcomes the friction between kayak and water.
I'll define kayak speed as...your power minus friction.
The hull speed of your kayak is an interesting subject. That subject is beyond the scope of this article. Suffice to say, putting your kayak at its upper end speed takes some technique and skill and to keep it there for an extended time takes technique, skill, and fitness.
I'll define maximum paddle power as...skill + technique + fitness.
But it takes about half the power to keep your kayak at a cruising speed, a speed at about one half to two thirds of your kayak's theoretical top speed.
Let's say you have a kayak that can jam along at 6 knots. That 6 knots will require about 0.2 hp (horse power), but there ain't no horse there, that's you. And it is going to be hard to do for long periods of time.
However, with a little practice and study, you can pull your kayak along at 3.5 to 4 knots all day long. (Pulling is what you are really doing with a forward stroke.) This will require only about 0.1 hp of calories, sweat, Gatorade, and desire.
Most paddlers execute about 500 forward strokes per mile when paddling at cruising speed.
This article will show you how to cruise with about one half the amount of strokes.
Efficient Forward Stroke Cadence by Kayak Lake Mead:
When you impart power to your kayak with one good stroke, you have just overcome friction and your boat is
gliding. As it is gliding...it is slowing down because of friction...and it will continue to slow down...until you add in another forward stroke.
But in 2 or 3 seconds, it is not slowing down that much. In fact, when you put your paddle in the water for another stroke, you just added more friction (a paddle in the water is a brake) unless of course you follow up immediately with power.
The forward stroke cadence most paddlers follow is: catch, compression, lift, repeat.
CATCH: You give the paddle a nice entry into the water.
COMPRESSION: You pull yourself to the blade.
LIFT: You pop the paddle out of the water and prepare for another sequence.
I am suggesting an efficient forward stroke cadence for the goal of moving your kayak at a cruising speed should be: CATCH, COMPRESSION, LIFT, PAUSE, and then repeat.
PAUSE for 2 or 3 seconds. Look at Briana up there in the photo. She is paused. You can see she has just lifted her paddle. Her kayak is gliding. She is waiting 2 or 3 seconds to spear the water for her next catch.
Sidebar for adventure race teams: Pausing for 2 or 3 seconds is an awesome way to maintain a very good
cruising speed. If you are in a heated dual with another team or doing an extended sprint, just pause for 1 second between strokes. You will be resting every stroke and your kayak will not slow down even noticeably.
Here is the catch. There is none. You (probably) along with most other paddlers (definitely) have been doing too many strokes per mile just to keep the boat going at a cruising speed.
Don't take my word for it. Prove it to yourself. Here's how...
Go paddling with a friend. Define a short course, say about 1/4 mile more or less. Position yourself a few yards behind your friend. Both of you paddle at a relaxed cruising speed...
Note: I could have shortened this whole article to the next paragraph.
Now, every time your friend executes one stroke on just the left side...you execute ONE STROKE.
Do this for the short course you defined. E-MAIL ME about this forward stroke cadence if you are not just about in the same relative position as when you started. Turn around, repeat the course in reverse, you paddle at a normal cadence in the front position and let your friend paddle just ONE STROKE for every one of your left strokes. You will get the same result. Your both going to say, WOW!
This waiting for your friends left stroke amounts to pausing for about 2 or 3 seconds. This lets your kayak glide for a moment or two. Hey, your kayak is designed to glide through the water. Your kayak likes to glide through the water. So why don't you let it?
It takes a little practice - NOT TO STROKE. Find something else to do for about 3 seconds (you know like breath and rest) while you wait to apply that next stroke.
When you get out of the habit of constantly stroking, you'll find that each of your strokes become cleaner,
smoother, more elegant...more efficient.
Have fun with this. Practice it. Cruise with it. Develop it. And amaze your friends with your new efficient forward stroke cadence. Adventure race teams...use it!
And always remember:
The primary principle of paddle strokes - when you plant your blade in the water and perform a stroke, your blade doesn't move it is your kayak that moves in relation to the blade.