Sweep Stroke

Forward and reverse sweep strokes are used to turn the kayak. These strokes are very effective when stationary and you can also adapt them to change course while on the move.


Forward sweep

  • Maintain your normal hand position on the paddle.
  • Rotate your torso so you can plant the working blade as far forward as possible.
  • Fully immerse the working blade, then take it smoothly through a wide arc from the bow to the stern, using a combination of torso rotation and a straight (slightly relaxed) working arm.
  • The hand of the non-working arm, positioned mid torso, acts as a fulcrum. Keep it in the same position relative to your body throughout the stroke (see Tips if you have limited torso rotation). 
  • Press your foot on the working side firmly against the foot brace to maximise the power transfer.
  • Your knee on the working side will be bent at the start of the stroke. Straighten it progressively.
  • Keep the working blade fully immersed throughout the stroke.  

Reverse sweep

  • This is basically the reverse of the forward sweep.
  • In this stroke, rotate your torso so you can plant the working blade as far back as possible.
  • Use the back of the blade. Do not change your hand position. 
  • It is counter-productive to push with your foot on the same side as the stroke when reverse sweeping.


  • If you have limited torso rotation that prevents you from finishing the stroke near the stern, protect your working-side shoulder by dropping the elbow of your working arm to your hip, and straighten the non-working arm across the kayak.
  • In the learning stage, watch the blade through the water but ultimately perform the stroke with the head facing the direction of the turn. This allows greater torso rotation at the set-up.
  • Hold an edge throughout the stroke for a tighter turn.
  • When used with an edged kayak, maintain a slightly 'climbing' blade throughout the stroke for support.
  • If feeling unsteady while edging, use a light skimming stroke with the back of the blade (roll your knuckles down) when returning to the set-up position.
  • Alternate the stroke with a reverse sweep stroke on the opposite side to turn your kayak around in more confined spaces (e.g. narrow creeks, rock gardens and sea caves).
  • Use the prevailing wind to improve the efficiency of the turn.
  • Time the stroke to coincide with wave crests passing underneath the centre of the kayak (i.e. when the bow and stern are out of the water).
  • Move your hands up the paddle so that the working blade is further extended. This provides more leverage for the turn. 


  • Failing to unwind the torso during the stroke can expose the shoulder on the working side to undue stress. To help prevent this, drop your elbow to your hip once you have reached the limit of your torso rotation.
  • If you rely on your arms to power the stroke, you are likely to become fatigued.


Common mistakes

These include:

  • The working blade not being fully immersed.
  • 'Thrashing' with the arms, which means you are not powering the stroke with your big muscles.
  • Not having the paddle angle low enough to achieve a wide arc.
  • Not achieving a full arc because the start and finish of the stroke are too far away from the kayak.
  • Not maintaining an edge in between strokes.

Practice Drills

  • Take time to count the strokes required to turn your kayak a half circle (180°) and compare the results when:
    1. performed on different sides (and work on lowering the count on the weaker side)
    2. performed in different conditions (across the full spectrum of your comfort levels).
  • Note the tightness of your turning circle as you increase the level of edge you apply.