Now that you’ve learned how to go straight, you need to learn how to turn. And the very first thing you need to learn about turning is how to edge.
While sitting straight up in the kayak with your chest out and your knees properly braced, try lifting one side of your body from your hips pulling up on the corresponding knee and butt cheek. The kayak should tilt laterally. The side that is down is the side you are edging on.
Edge while paddling forward. Don’t forget everything you’ve learned about good forward stroke technique, and make sure you continue edging on the same side no matter which paddle blade is in the water. You should begin to turn.
Hopefully, when you edge, the boat will naturally turn away from the side you’re edging on. That is, if the port side of the boat is down then you’ll turn starboard. You lean the opposite way that you would on a bicycle.
Always edge when you turn, and eventually it will come naturally, the beginner’s confusion about which way to lean will be left far behind. Don’t worry about edging too far, worst case scenario you’ll get to practice your wet exit, and practice is a good thing. The harder you edge, the faster you’ll turn.
All of your turns, no matter the stroke, should include edging, and the way to turn your kayak or make a course adjustment while maintaining as much speed as possible is to turn exclusively through edging.
How does it work?
As best as I understand it, It starts with stern being lower in the water when you’re paddling forward than the bow. This is because the water pushes the boat up when the kayak moves into and over it.
Let’s simplify the hull of the boat and imagine it as a V. The water exerts pressure against the hull on both sides, or both bars of the V. If the V is not pointing straight down, but angled in the water than the pressure against the bottom bar of the V will push up as the water slides underneath. The top bar of the V traps the pressure, pushing the boat to the side.
Since the stern is deeper, this effect is more pronounced there. And turning the stern one way pulls the bow the other.*
Hopefully, your kayak has turned away from the edge. If it hasn’t, then you're not paddling evenly on both sides, your kayak has a flat bottom, you have drag, or you’re in a part of the universe where the laws of physics work differently. Please send me a postcard.
Now try edging while paddling backwards. What happens? Why does this make sense? Do questions like these make you feel like you’re back in high school reading an awful textbook?
*Unless they’re not connected, and then my theory of edging is the least of your problems.