Canoe vs kayak… which is which?

A kayak is a craft that is paddled with a twin-bladed paddle, while the paddler is in a seated position.  The paddler typically has a spraydeck around the waist to keep water out of the vessel, but that is not necessary the case.

In the case of K1, K2 and K4 racing kayaks, the K stands for “Kayak” and the 1, 2 and 4 stands for the number of paddlers that the kayak was designed for.

Recreational kayaks general don’t have a number to show how many paddlers it can take, although single and tandem kayaks are both very popular.


A canoe is paddled with a single-bladed paddle, which has a T-grip on the other end of the shaft, and the paddler typically kneels down in the canoe.

In the case of C1 and C2 racing canoes, the C stands for “Canoe” and the 1 and 2 stands for the number of paddlers the canoe was designed for.

Open canoes generally don’t have a number to show how many paddlers it can take, as it depends largely on what the canoe is being used for. The same open canoe could be used to carry a family of 4, or to do a solo multiday expedition.


In South Africa, it is common for paddlers to talk about racing kayaks as “canoes”. In fact, most racing kayak clubs are called “canoe clubs”, which doesn’t help to put the record straight.

Forward stroke technique with a wing paddle

I recently presented a strokes clinic for the younger paddlers at our local paddling club (Likkewaan Canoe Club). This article is based on the points I covered during the clinic, dealing specifically with the forward stroke technique with a wing paddle.

Young crowd
Explaining wing paddling technique to the next generation of paddlers

To understand the anatomy and purpose of a wing paddle, and to help you decided what kind of wing paddle to buy, have a look here.

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Anatomy and purpose of a wing paddle

Why use a paddle with wing blades?

Racers as well as recreational paddlers often think that wing paddles are “better” than other types of paddles. Let me correct this misconception right away. Wing blades are only better at doing a forward stroke, and only if the forward stroke is done with good technique. For all the other strokes one can do with a paddle (bow rudder, stern rudder, draw, low brace, high brace, boof, etc) the wing blade is pretty useless.

This means that wing paddles should only be used in conditions and with craft that allow you to make full use of the benefits of a wing paddle, and where other paddling strokes are not really required. Forget about using wing paddles with a whitewater kayak or with a wide, stable recreational kayak or sit-on-top. If your kayak is made for speed in a straight line, like a racing kayak, surfski or touring kayak, and if it is used primarily on flat water or on the open ocean, a wing paddle might be the right choice.

Fast boat = wing paddle
Using a wing paddle with my surfski

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