American Canoe Association logoWhether you are an instructor seeking clarification on stroke technique for certification requirements or a student looking for tips on how to refine your skills, the following descriptions and videos will help give you a clearer visual image.

Instructor Requirements:
Ability to perform “demonstration quality” modeling, i.e., the ability to teach these strokes using a step by step progression, using demonstrations that clearly emphasize the key points to your students.

List of ACA Strokes & Maneuvers

Excerpted from ACA Advanced Strokes and Maneuvers course outline:
Stroke Tips PDF with photos


  1. Forward stroke
  2. Sweep strokes: “Spin Turn” Drill Combine alternating forward and reverse sweeps into a “spin turn.”
  3. Draw strokes Standard (beam) draw & sculling draw
  4. Low brace and High brace
  5. Sculling brace
  6. Reverse stroke

Maneuvers (More videos coming soon)

  1. Stern rudder
  2. Low-brace turn
  3. Bow rudder
  4. Side slip (Hanging draw)

Recoveries and Rolls (More videos coming soon)

  1. 30 Second Cowboy Scramble
  2. Traditional-Style Sweep Roll

Forward “Power” Stroke

 Forward Stroke Keys:

  1. Comfortable extension forward and maintain box
  2. Hands at shoulder height and “in plane”
  3. Drive foot peg on the same side as the stroke
  4. Torso rotation (10 o’clock to 2 o’clock)
  5. Short stroke (early catch in at feet, out at hips)
  6. Relatively high shaft angle (depending on boat, anatomy, paddle length etc.)

Sweep Strokes: “Spin Turn” Drill:

  1. Torso rotation (windup)
  2. Plant blade in at feet just below water
  3. Horizontal shaft angle for maximum extension
  4. In flat water, follow blade with eyes. In rough water, look through turn.
  5. Maintain box & drive w/ on-water peg
  6. Catch, release = bow to stern waterline
  7. More edge = less waterline.

Draw Strokes

Standard Draw

  1. Face your work (rotate torso)
  2. Anchor off water arm across chest
  3. Sight over off-water wrist
  4. Control w/ on-water hand
  5. Extend shaft and pull power face to boat
  6. Blade deep in water
  7. Rotate wrist and slice away for “in-water recovery”

Sculling Draw

  1. Power with torso, not arms
  2. Vertical shaft
  3. Angle leading edge of blade slightly away
  4. Rotate wrist to change leading edge
  5. Short stokes (1-2 ft arc, 6-18 inches out)



  1. Flat shaft angle
  2. Elbow over shaft
  3. Maintain reference grip
  4. Use back face to create “depth charge”
  5. Hip snap “C-to-C” to recovery

High Brace

  1. Flat shaft angle
  2. Elbow under shaft
  3. Slap power face on water
  4. Hip snap “C-to-C” to recovery

Sculling Brace

  1. From high brace position, power face down
  2. Flat shaft angle
  3. Blade at surface, slight climbing blade angle
  4. Control w/ on-water hand
  5. Torso over water
  6. Don’t push down, create lift by pushing blade fore & aft w/ slightly high leading edge

Reverse Stroke

  1. Maintain paddler’s box
  2. Rotate torso and look behind you
  3. Place back face of paddle flat on water
  4. Unwind torso to power the stroke
  5. To correct heading, hold edge longer and finish stroke further toward the bow


Stern Rudder

  1. Establish hull speed!
  2. Blade in water at stern quarter, with back face away from boat
  3. Edge to outside, away from turn: “offside edge.”
  4. Load back face to turn toward blade
  5. Load power face to turn away (technically this is a “stern draw”)


Low-Brace Turn

  1. Establish hull speed!
  2. Initiate turn with sweep stroke and edging to outside of turn
  3. Transition quickly to inside edge
  4. Extend paddle blade, reaching both hands out over the water, and delay contact with the water
  5. Use back face with slightly climbing blade angle, and hold brace (“ride the glide” and do not push forward until recovery)
  6. Recover with hip snap
  7. Transition to forward sweep on the opposite side to continue the turn

Bow Rudder (A.K.A.: “stationary bow draw,” “running bow draw,” and “Duffek.”)

  1. Establish hull speed!
  2. Initiate turn (outside edge & sweep)
  3. Submerge blade near foot
  4. Rotate wrist slightly to open leading edge and load power face, keeping blade as vertical as possible
  5. Control with on-water hand and allow off- water hand to drop to a comfortable fulcrum position
  6. Don’t over-expose power face
  7. Adjust as hull speed decreases
  8. Blend into forward stroke to regain momentum.

View Video of “Sweep Circle Drill,” to see Bow Rudder used in a stroke-blending exercise as seen in Sea Kayaker magazine article, “Messing About in Boats: Stroke Blending and Blade Finesse Drills.”

Side Slip (“stationary” or “running” draw)

  1.  Establish hull speed!
  2.  Rotate to face your work
  3.  Place paddle off hip, with slightly open-faced blade angle
    *(Option A, for beginners) Slice blade from aft quarter forward into place at hip or…
    *(Option B, more advanced) Transition from forward stroke to open-faced blade angle off hip, (as shown in video).
  4. Rotate on-water wrist to keep leading edge angled slightly outward, away from boat.
  5. Search for the sweet spot. Too far forward draws the bow. Too far aft draws the stern.

View Video “Draw Stroke Advanced Maneuvers” to see Side Slips and others as seen in Sea Kayaker magazine article “Guide to Going Sideways: A Sidelong Look at the Drawstroke Family”


Requirements—Demonstrate solid, rough-water technique, emphasizing key points

(* “Teaching knowledge” required of the following 3 techniques. This means that you are comfortable teaching these skills using a step by step progression that emphasizes the key points to your students.)

* PADDLEFLOAT: Keys—maintain hold of boat, keep limb on shaft and weight on float, “bomber” technique (2 minutes or less)

* T-RESCUE: Keys—maneuvers quickly to bow, lifts w/ opposite hand using “cross-armed lift,” solid “pit-to-pit stabilization bow to stern, hang on to paddle and boat, “dry” boat (less than 2 knuckles of water in cockpit), good communication with partner, “bomber” technique (2 minutes or less)

* SLING USE: Keys—efficient use of sling for both paddlefloat and T recovery

30-Second “Scramble” (Cowboy/girl) Recovery

If you think the scramble is a “pool rescue” and not viable in “real” sea conditions: you may want to think again. Check out this “combat” scramble under the Golden Gate Bridge in 15 knots of wind and 4 knots of current, captured by Kim Grandfield of Sunrise Mountain Sports during a recent ACA Level 5: Advanced Open Water instructor certification workshop. Who needs a paddle float? Notice the key sculling brace to maintain stability in rough seas as he puts his feet into the kayak.

Skills Classes: ACA Instructor Certification Workshops

Kayak Rolls

ACA Instructor Certification Requirements:

Level 3: Coastal Kayaking instructor: 1 roll on flat water.
Level 4: Open Water instructor: 3 in a row on flat water to simulate ability to perform a “combat” roll; one of the 3 rolls should be from a non-setup position (not shown in video).

“Traditional” Sweep Rolls with sculling finish for extended support

This slow, easy “sweep roll” is inspired by traditional Greenland technique, focusing on the development of blade finesse.

  1. The hip snap begins early, as the paddle sweeps to the side
  2. The paddle sweeps along the surface, and the head remains in the water until the very end.
  3. As the paddler comes up, the paddle blade is kept on the water and sculled forward for continued support.

List of “Skills Drills” Videos

Videos for Sea Kayaker magazine articles:

  1. “Sweep Circle” Drill: Stroke-blending exercise from Sea Kayaker magazine article: “Messing About In Boats: Blade Finesse for Precision Maneuvering” (See Article)
  2. Draw Stroke Advanced Maneuvers from “Guide to Going Sideways: A Sidelong Look at the Drawstroke Family”

 “Sweep Circle” Drill

From Roger’s Sea Kayaker magazine article. This multi-level, maneuvering/stroke-blending exercise shows how skilled paddlers link a variety of strokes–including forward, sweeps, bow rudders and cross bows–into a single smooth maneuver.

For a more detailed description, see the complete article “Messing About in Boats: Stroke Blending and Blade Finesse for Precision Maneuvering” from the Aug. 2009 issue of Sea Kayaker.

In the next issue, look for the second article in the series: “Guide to Going Sideways: A Sidelong Look at the Drawstroke Family” (Dec. 2009)

Skills Classes: Open Coast Touring Skills and Rock Garden paddling.

Draw Stroke Advanced Maneuvers

From article “Guide to Going Sideways: A Sidelong Look at the Drawstroke Family”:
The Standard and Sculling Draws most kayakers learn in their first few classes are only the beginning…

 “Lurking beyond the sculling draw like stills in the hills, hides a whole family of fancy draw stokes, with more relatives, and more aliases, than a redneck wedding, sporting colorful nicknames like “sideslip,” “Duffek,” and “hanging” draw….”