The Glide

The Glide and Boat Speed

We all appreciate a ‘fast’ boat. The following training exercise is suggested to help increase your speed over a day’s paddle.

All our 15’-18’ Greenland style sea kayaks slice our waters at average rates of speed when considering the range of kayaks. Our touring boats are way faster than 6’ whitewater play boats, but slower than a 20’ surf ski. (And I’ll wager Greg Barton could paddle our daily-use sea kayaks at nearly twice our average travel speeds.)

We’re not Greg, but we CAN dramatically improve our overall daily speed by focusing on our glide, the unpowered portion of our travel. When I was rowing crew in high school, the coaches said a dime taped to the bottom of a 4-man would slow our shell a length in a half mile, but any out-of-sync body movements in the boat would stall its glide and slow it even more. When we are cross country skiing, our ‘kick’ is maybe only 2’ but our travel is maybe 6’-8’. In kayaks, our paddle stroke is, at its best, maybe 3’. I want to glide off my stroke as far as reasonable before my next stroke, presuming I’m paddling at somewhere around 40-50 Strokes per Minute, or SPM - unlike Greg’s racing 120-180 SPM.

The secrets to maximizing glide, presuming a strong, clean forward stroke require a clean paddle exit from the water, a constant hull shape in the water (no bobbing or edging), and no harsh stopping or halting movements of any body parts. Everything must keep moving smoothly, without any quick sharp transitions - such as an arm halting, rotation stopping, or leg jerking.


Paddle alongside your paddling partner in flat and calm conditions at a relaxed SPM rate. Your partner agrees to continue stroking at his/her comfortable touring pace. So when you are at an equal relaxed touring speed, drop your stroke rate to ½ your partner's stroke rate: i.e. you only take a Right or Left stroke when they take a Right stroke. You should be able to stay right beside the average touring paddler, although you are now paddling at ½ their stroke rate! You’ll need to work at a very clean paddle exit. All body motions setting up for the next stroke will need to slow down, yet they must remain smooth - without any halting or stopping of your body’s motion. And your power stroke may get crisper and more powerful.

Try it, let me know what you find…this is an exercise to demonstrate glide and help you develop a smooth, strong, repeatable forward stroke.

Tom Bergh, MIKCo, Peaks Island

Posted in Paddling Technique.