Basic Paddle Skills

PRANZ recommends you take an instructional course to learn the correct techniques (see out list of providers). These notes are intended as a refresher. We recommend you get someone to video you to check your technique.

Forward stroke

  • With arms in the “box position” rotate your torso to reach your paddle level with your toes
  • Plant the paddle fully into the water
  • Unwind your torso until square pull the paddle back and push it forward (foot pressure can assist)
  • Remove the paddle from level with just behind your hips
  • Rotate to plant your paddle for the next stroke

A vertical paddle close to the boat tube gives the most power. A more horizontal paddle gives directional adjustment.
There are “lazy” paddle strokes that can be more efficient over long distance and there may be less efficient strokes for bursts of speed.

A boat can be fully accelerated in a handful of strokes. Practice developing short burst speed as you will need it for exiting eddies and making quick maneuvers. Alternate pressure on footrests helps stroke power.
Practice strokes on flat water. Many clubs have pool nights in the colder months and these are worth the nominal club fees to get alongside experienced paddlers and learn some technique. Obviously some techniques are better suited to hard shells but you’ll work this out especially if you get the club instructors to have a play in a packraft to develop their understanding of how they handle.

Troubleshooting – Video your efforts

Video reveals you are not rotating your torso? Make a conscious effort to rotate your torso.
Paddle not vertical and just scratching the surface? Focus on the catch and get that paddle as vertical as possible and in the water close to the boat before the pull.
Zigzagging your straight lines? Try to get that paddle vertical and pull close to the boat. Try deliberately zigzagging to 45 degrees each side and correcting with the next stroke.


Edge your boat by lifting a knee and tilting from the hip (your body should remain upright). Try paddling in a circle around another boat on flat water using only inside strokes to test your ability to hold an edge. Edging is critical for catching an eddy and breaking back into current.

Arcing with Spin Momentum

You can use the packrafts natural tendency to spin out to carve an arc.

  • Paddle in a straight (cross-current) line until you have momentum
  • Downstream-side strokes only to allow your packraft to carve a nice arc.

Try this on a wide river after eddying back in to the current.

Troubleshooting – Boat turns the opposite way? Maybe your paddle isn’t vertical enough – a flat paddle will oppose the spin (it’s acting like a sweep stroke) so keep a vertical paddle. Not carving? Try getting up some speed and then paddling on one side in a full circle.

Low Brace

Braces are used to gain temporary support to get your boat back under control. Hold your paddle with elbows at right angles to the shaft. Your body, arms and the paddle form a box. You should generally aim to maintain this box as you paddle. Move onto an edge and then slap the back of your paddle to get momentary support from the water surface. Drop your head towards the paddle and lift your low knee. Snap the boat back under you with your hips. Raise your head last. In the whole move your elbows should remain above your hands.

  • Edge and balance at your stability limit
  • Slap the back of the paddle on the water for momentary support
  • Drop your head
  • Snap hips

Troubleshooting – Can’t hold an edge? Practice paddling in a straight line whilst holding an edge. Can’t hip snap? – have a friend support your paddle whilst you edge your boat to the extreme and then with your ear on the supported paddle use the paddle support to hip-snap your boat back under you. You should practice till limited paddle pressure is needed. Kayakers use this as a first step into the roll.

Ferry Glides

Facing upstream at an angle to the current you can cross the river without losing too much ground downstream and enter a gentle eddy across an easy eddy line. If it’s a strong eddy line an S cross (see below) will help you drive through it.
It’s pretty basic, just forward paddle and find the sweet spot in terms of angle to progress across the river.

  • Paddle with boat pointing upstream (say 30 degrees but the angle depends on the current- feel it)
  • Lift your upstream edge (Also Look at your target)
  • Adjust your angle by feel
  • Switch edge as you enter the opposite eddy
  • Plant a stroke in the eddy

Beginner Ferry Glide in easy current

Troubleshooting – pushed back into eddy? Not enough angle. Pushed downstream and capsized? Too much angle (point bow more upstream into the current).

Ferry gliding with a stern draw/ rudder is a more advanced approach

Ferry Glide with a Rudder/ Draw

Sweep Strokes

Sweep strokes are the most common way of changing direction when we start out paddling.
Let’s differentiate between the reverse sweep, a valid stroke to turn a packraft, and the “backstroke” an uncontrolled desperate attempt to stall progress and turn.
Ban the Backstroke – A backstroke slows momentum that you may need to bust through that wave or foam pile. A backstroke turns you side on to the current and gives the river access to the widest profile of your boat to control your direction – many learner wraps on rocks start with backstrokes. There’s a time and place for backstrokes but there is a intuitive response in learners that needs to be eliminated.

Forward Sweep

This sweep stroke can be thought of as a continuum with a forward stroke but the flatter the paddle (parallel to water surface) the more directional impact a stroke has. A sweep stroke is a deliberate wide sweep to turn the boat. Remember RASTA.

  • Rotate forward as far as you can with Arm Straight and place the paddle in the water by your Toes (blade facing outwards)
  • Edge to allow water to pass under the leading edge of the turn (this may seem counter intuitive – the stern leads one sweep the bow the other)
  • Arc your paddle outwards in a sweep around to the stern whilst looking where you intend to go (over the opposite shoulder)
  • Pull the blade out at Ass and let the boat spin or sweep right to the stern

Reverse Sweep

  • Rotate your body fully and plant a paddle at the stern. Look over that paddle/shoulder to where you intend to go
  • Edge to allow water to pass under the leading edge of the turn (this may seem counter intuitive – the stern leads one sweep the bow the other)
  • Unwind your body as your paddle completes and arc to the bow
  • Straighten your arm forwards only once past your knees
  • Pull the paddle from beside your feet and allow the boat to spin.

Troubleshooting – This should be no trouble on flat water try connecting forwards and reverse sweeps to do 360 s for practice. Try a rapid backwards and sweep to quickly regain your direction

Paddling and Maneuvering Backwards

When you are running some easy grade 2 take the opportunity to run a few easy lines backwards. Sometimes this will happen in combat and you will want to be familiar with it. Do these two or three times every paddle. Apparently this is good exercise to keep your shoulders strong as paddlers often develop muscle imbalance.
For this you need lower body / torso / head independence. Keep your head independent and looking at your line (yes it’s tough)

  • Rotate your body fully and plant a paddle at the stern
  • Eyes over your shoulder
  • Unwind your body keeping your paddle close to the boat (this is not a sweep)
  • Straighten your arm forwards only once your shoulders are square
  • Exit the paddle from beside your feet and rotate back to the other side

Choose a calm patch with no sleepers or rocks and take a forward sweep stroke to spin the boat facing downstream

Troubleshooting – Didn’t actually mean to go backwards? pretend you were practicing. Didn’t fool them? tell them you are having trouble with your backwards S cross and ask if they could demo theirs.

Draw Strokes

Packrafts have poorly defined rounded edges and a big flat bottom. So they are great at spinning out and sliding. Draw strokes involve using a vertical paddle like the keel on a sailing boat or fin on a surfboard. The resistance on the blade resists the sliding. But the vertical paddle can also harness the force of the water and be adjusted to change the resistance and to change direction very quickly. That is the basis for draw strokes.

When travelling downstream with momentum place your paddle vertical and out to the side but with the blade parallel to the boat. Tweak the paddle angle with your wrists and feel the effect it has on your progress and direction. Draw strokes are based around these fine adjustments.

Closed and Open Face

A closed face draw has the leading edge of the paddle pointing towards the boat.
An open face draw has the leading edge pointing away from the boat.
Troubleshooting – sliding out? It’s all in the position of the draw. Near the middle of the boat will allow you to glide the draw through a nice arc in a gliding draw. If it is at the Bow it will cause the boat to spin out and stop.

Bow Draws

  • Extend the vertical paddle out to the side level with your toes (this will also edge the boat)
  • Pivot your body to close the gap between your knees and the paddle.

Take three or four strokes to establish momentum first and you will feel it. Once mastered this allows very quick turns. Think of the paddle as anchored and it’s the boat you want to move to the paddle. Continue with a power stroke to straighten up.

Glide Draw

  • Power stroke
  • Draw at the hip and glide on it (used in an S Cross see below)

Stern Draw and Pry
This is placed at the stern and used to glide and draw towards the boat or pry away from the boat.

Slip Stroke
The slip stroke is a draw that can be used for last minute drastic manoeuvres to shift the boat sideways and avoid an obstacle like a rock. It’s like a drastic open face bow draw that morphs into a power stroke.

Hanging Stern Draw

  • Power out of the eddy
  • Edge the boat and allow the current to begin to turn it downstream
  • Arc a wide sweep in the box position rotating shoulders and looking at target
  • Convert the wide sweep stroke into a closed-face stern draw
  • Harvest power on the blade and feel the packraft accelerate

Troubleshooting – No power on the blade? If your stern draw is too far forward you will turn quickly and loose the pressure on the blade. Try to keep the pressure on as far back as possible to carve across the current. Now adjust the draw position for directional control I.e. feather it forward to turn downstream and tweak the blade angle to find pressure. It’s very much by feel. So find an eddy beside a big wide current to practice. Hint – If you do the side sweep and rotate shoulders the sweet spot for the stern draw just arrives by feel.

Dynamic Strokes
Combine the Bow draw with a power stroke. Once you have completed the bow draw continue to move the paddle through a normal forward stroke. Note an off hand C stroke is worth practicing so you are prepared if you ever break a paddle. Take your paddle in half and without changing your hands paddle C strokes on alternating sides of the boat.

Stirring the Pot
Practice taking a stroke and then slicing the paddle through the water back to the starting point by feathering the blade so there is no resistance or forces acting on the blade. Repeat ad infinitum. Linking up draw strokes and power strokes in current requires highly developed blade sensitivity.

Eddy Break Out

The “eddy out” allows you to “break out” of the current into an eddy. The terms are used interchangeably but Eddy out seems like it gives clearer intent. For example, to take a pause mid rapid to size up what follows or to set safety for a following paddle. Speed is a given for eddying. Remember APED.

  • Angle into the eddy (say 45 degrees) on a straight line at speed
  • Position your line to hit the head of the eddy (e.g. just behind the rock)
  • Edge your boat (only when entering the eddy) by leaning into the eddy (e.g. upstream towards the rock) which will start your 180 degree rotation. Eyes upstream.
  • Draw your paddle on the inside of your turn and look back upstream, turn your draw or rudder into a power stroke if you are sliding out.

Troubleshooting – missing the eddy from not hitting it high enough or with enough angle? The solution comes with practice. Sliding out the bottom or other side of the eddy? try to get more edge and really lift the downstream knees as you rotate. Adjust the position of your draw – drastic turns at bow – less spin at hip. With thigh straps its possible to eddy out without a stroke if your edge control is strong and you have a whitewater boat – just lean forward towards the bow as you start to turn.

Eddy Break In

Break back in to the current from an eddy.

  • Angle upstream and take at least three hard forward strokes
  • Cross the eddy line at its head in ferry glide mode
  • Edge the boat leaning downstream and Eyes look where you intend to go
  • Support the boat with a gliding draw, turn it into a power stroke once your boat rotates fully and heads downstream.

Troubleshooting – Capsizing? the most common problem is not having the edge set and supported by the downstream paddle. Go back to ferry gliding for a few eddy exits and work on your angles and edges. Hitting wave trains and capsizing? try to hit the wave train crest wave perpendicular – don’t get caught sideways coming out of the eddy. This will come with practice. Remember ACES

S Cross

This is like connecting two eddy moves but doing it in an s shaped carve.
This is a fluid move from one eddy to the next with the aim of moving across current without losing much ground. It’s really just linking an eddy break in with an eddy break out in one fluid move. To start with get the feel of linking up an eddy in with an eddy out as in the example below. A more advanced move is to use a midstream eddy to slow but not to stop when crossing from one side of the river to the other.

Advanced S Cross with glide, power strokes to maintain momentum, and carving entry to eddy

For a midstream eddy

  • Break out into the eddy with a forward stroke that ends in a stern draw inside the eddy
  • Glide on the draw across the eddy
  • Feather into a power stroke to cross the eddy line
  • Eddy in to the current with a forward stroke that ends in a gliding draw (whilst maintaining the lifted upstream edge)
  • A hanging stern draw will generate cross current momentum if your angle is right


This is a move that is used to stop the boat from plunging bow first at the bottom of steep drops. By landing flat you have less risk of being caught and repeatedly plunged under in the falling water. It works well in packrafts. Typically people fall out at the bottom of drops due to the round shape and buoyancy of packrafts. They can be unpredictable. A boof will give you a platform from which to continue your chosen line.
A boof is a move that leads off a sharper drop and lands the boat flat at the bottom. It’s move that demands technique and timing. Remember SEAL AS

In simple terms try to remember these steps
Speed – Paddle with some speed to the lip. On shallow ledges you will slow down so build up some momentum.
Edge – lift the knee opposite your boof stroke to stop the boat sticking to the water and impeding your take-off
Angle – Pick the line that you want to attain after the drop. Fix your eyes on that destination. Set your angle 15degrees off where you the line you want to land
Lip –Lean forward, plant your paddle close to the boat just over the lip, and take a BIG forward stroke. The power stroke will make you lean back as your hips push the boat into space. It will pull you back onto your line.
Abs – The hard part. Crunch up your abs and lean forward to lift the bow as you fly off the lip, and maintain this until you land in the foam pile. You will hear the “boof” sound if you kept the bow up as you were airborne.
Stroke – reach forward with a power stroke to stabilise and pull you through. As you hit the bottom -take a stroke that drives you into an eddy or straight on – as required. This stroke will be on the opposite side to the power stroke.


The boof is a combination of moves and critical timing each element is described in detail below. It will take practice. Videoing is a great way to evaluate what you are doing. Find a nice small drop 600mm to 1m with a pool
Landing at strange angles? That big stroke off the lip straightens you back onto your desired line so adjust your offset (15 is a guide).
Nose diving? Resist the temptation to lean back. It’s tummy crunch and lean forward.
Stalling and being pulled back into the hole? Don’t land in a low brace position, or leaning back. You want to be going forward not stalling.
Be ready with your first stroke at the bottom, as the river will try and pull you back. Lean right forward, plant your paddle deep and vertical, and give it everything.
Missing the eddy? Plan your strokes to boof on the opposite side to the eddy you want to land in so that your first stroke in the eddy is on the inside of your turn. If you want to get an eddy then plant your paddle on the side that has clean water not fluff or rocks.
Separating from the boat? Well of course you are! You must have thigh braces and a footrest. And abs.

No drops to practice on? You can practice boofs on dry land in your boat. Paddle. Hip thrust. Lean forward/crunch. Paddle stroke on other side. Draw stroke into eddy is optional. You can boof over boulders, sharp drops and even holes. The key thing is to land flat on or just past the foam pile. Boof strokes require planning. Executed well they will get a packraft down the really hard stuff.

Bow dropping? Time the stroke for when your butt is reaching the lip. Lift the boat with your knees as you flick the stroke. If your set up (angle and edge) is good It’s probable the syncing of the stroke and crunch. This will come with practice. Most beginners pull the stroke too early reach over the lip. Pulling too late is equally problematic. Find the sweet spot.

Instinctively leaning back? It’s okay to lean back before the stroke but you must pull your knees up as you take off. If you lean forward before the drop there’s nowhere to lift you knees.