When we first started kayaking, I really didn't know much about the kayak stroke. Eventually I found some great videos online which helped me (Ehow on kayaking), but in actuality, I didn't even know how to hold the paddle! I didn't realize the paddle had an up or down or a forward and backward! I think I must have figured it out by accident and trial and error.
So I decided today to share with you the simple thing that I overlooked: how to hold the paddle.
To begin with, you must figure out where on the paddle to place your hands.
To do this, grasp the paddle and put the center of the paddle on top of your head (I think it helps to do this while looking in a mirror). Your upper arms should be parallel with the paddle and your forearms should be perpendicular to your upper arms and the paddle.
This will show you how wide apart your hands should be on the paddle. (I use the little cut off parts of pool noodles on my paddles to help me remember my hand placement. Also they help the paddles float.)
If you look at your paddle blade, you will notice one side is slightly hollowed out. This is the side which should be facing you as you stroke. (Think of cupping water away.)
Also, on most paddles, the bottom edge of the paddle is cutout and slanted downward toward the tip. The slanted part should always go to the bottom, or toward the surface of the water. This allows for an easier exit of the paddle from the water.
Now that we have our hands in the right place on the paddle, we need to think about how we actually hold the paddle.
With the right hand, the edge of the paddle blade and the knuckles of your hand should be in the same alignment. There are usually different notches on the paddle so that you can make adjustments if necessary. The right hand grip will not change throughout the paddling, regardless of the type of stroke employed.
The left hand grip however, should be very open and relaxed. It is basically making an "OK" sign with your left hand and the paddle fits inside that "OK" sign. That way if the paddle blade needs to be rotated, it is rotated with the left hand.
Having said that, I think the easiest mistake to make when kayaking is to put a death-grip on the paddle. It is very easy to grip the paddle too hard, especially if you begin using too much upper body muscles and not enough core muscles for your stroke. I find I still have to consciously remind myself to relax my hands.