Improving technique often yields more dramatic gains than improving fitness or strength, although all are important if you want to perform at your best.
I view forward stroke technique as a lifetime goal. If you work at it you improve each year. If you don't, you don't. A big torso rotation needs time to learn -- both mentally and physically.
I try to rotate all the way to the bottom of the seat, not only on races but also on expeditions. The longer you sit in the cockpit the more important it is that you have good posture and mechanics, otherwise you are just setting yourself up for discomfort or injury.
The key, IMO, is to learn the fundamentals and then apply them to your physique. We all have physical issues and that might prevent you from making some movements, such as an extreme rotation or lifting the paddle vertically. It's not always easy to find the wisdom to know what limitations you must accept and which ones you can conquer (such as limited or poor motion caused by poor flexibility, strength, etc). I see a lot of paddlers who are very inflexible; a lot of common problems can be addressed by a good stretching or Yoga program.
Club paddles are not a good gauge of technique, IMO. A group will (usually) travel at the rate of the weakest link. Races give a better view of performance, but are distorted, because the goals of a racer are not usually the same as a long-distance paddler. That said, even an expedition paddler can grow tremendously as a paddler through racing, as well as other skill-intense activities like whitewater and surf kayaking.
Classic Freestanding Rack
Pull-Up Strap Handle Kit
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