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Flex can come from the blade, the shaft, or both.
Too little flex and you may begin to feel it in your bands, wrist, and shoulders. When switching to a paddle with less flex, you may notice that the paddle feels stiff and a little bit "dead" in your hands. A stiffer paddle is more efficient and therefore well-suited for anyone looking to get a boost in speed or power.
A moderate amount of flex gives a paddle a lively feel. The paddle provides a crisp little "snap" at the end of the stroke. It can be more forgiving on the joints and is well-suited for long-distance touring.
Too much flex results in a loss of power and efficiency. No one wants to propel their boat with a noodly paddle -- but there are some of these paddles out there. These paddles are usually in the less expensive -- and that is probably their only asset.
I don't know of any manufacturer using a rating system for paddle flex -- but it's a good idea.
I really think it's a personal preference thing. Coming from a road bicycle background; side to side flex in a bike frame is a bad thing. Energy that should be devoted to forward motion is lost. Fore and aft flex absorbs road shock and less forward energy is lost. I ain't no fizzicyst but when your paddle flexes forward and back, very little energy is lost. If it feels good, enjoy it.
Many sports that involve a ""stick"" also involve FLEX
- golf (huge, huge range of variability here)
- baseball (some like aluminum some like wood)
- hockey (material changed thru the years)
- lacrose ( differet flex for different positions)
Kayaking paddles are made of a multitude of materials
Marketing that "Flex" thingy (as ambiguous as it might be)
- might actually be a topic/subject people latch onto
Once you buy a paddle - you're stuck.
Hopefully you had a chance to demo it somewhere.
Maybe a buddy lent you one for a session.
Picking one off the shelf or off the internet is tough
People are unique - no doubt about that.
We all paddle various conditions, weather, etc., etc.
Some days we go hard, some days we cruise, others we float
SIDENOTE - something wonky happened here -
other people had replied below Jerry and now
its gone, lost, invisible, etc.
You make a good point that picking a paddle "off the shelf" is a tough way to know what you are getting. Fortunately, I think if a person pays attention to such things, he can get a fair idea what sort of flex is there before the purchase. I have two "identical" cedar paddles purchased many years apart. The second one was a quick replacement of the first, which is broken (until such time as I take on the rather big project of fixing it). The new one turned out to be MUCH too flexible, but it turns out that the difference is perfectly apparent simply by grasping each paddle the normal way and forcing the tip of the blade against the floor, in a motion similar to pulling the blade through the water (I actually can test the broken paddle this way too because the broken spot only yields in one direction).
In the "old days", a person experienced with high-quality road bikes could get a pretty accurate idea of the flex in a bike's frame by standing alongside it while grasping the seat and handlebars, then pushing sideways on the crank hub with one foot. I bet a person who wants to, could develop a feel for paddle flex in similar fashion.
Someone suggested - grasping each paddle the normal way
and forcing the tip of the blade against the floor...
Doesn't that only test the "blade" at the tip ?
Wouldn't you want to put the entire "flat" area
of the paddle against a pole, column, wood beam, etc.
and see how the shaft flexes as well ?
I'm thinking - Blade Flex - does not equal - Shaft Flex
in fact they are often made of 2 different materials;
further complicating the touchy feely combo thingy.
Usually we submerge the blade a good ways to get some bite
in the water before the push/pull action takes place
Yep, to know more about what's going on, you'd want to do something like that. In the example I gave, it actually was the blade portion which was responsible for "too much flex" in the newer version of those two paddles, and the flex could be seen as well as felt when tested in that way. I suppose in the interest of keeping things simple, one could do the same test I suggested, once pushing against the tip of the blade, once pushing against the base of the blade (thus feeling shaft flex only), and maybe once halfway in-between. That's still pretty crude though, and like the bike-frame example I mentioned, none of it would mean much without the experience to make a good interpretation.
One could devise complex tests that really explain things properly, and in an ideal world the paddle manufacturers would publish the specs. One would still need to experience the use of various paddles to interpret the specs though. Further, in the case of wood paddles, like the cedar ones I mentioned, two "identical" paddles might well have a night-and-day difference between them.