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feathering a paddle

I expect to take a little abuse from this post, but the greenland paddle people may be amused. Anyway think of this:
The main reason given for feathering is wind resistance against the raised end of the paddle. In a light wind, the effect especially with very small amounts of feather is not great. Can you really notice? With larger amounts (less than 90 degrees) and stronger winds, you can probably notice.

The other factor to consider is that the wind produces forces in other directions on a feathered paddle. Going into the wind, the force is upward on one side on the boat, and downward on the other in going into the wind or down wind. With a side wind, the force is forward on one side of the boat, and aft on the other.

Those who feather, tend to look down on those with euro paddles that do not feather as Newbies. Strange, they do not apply that to GP paddlers.

My conclusion is those who feather do it for other reasons. One reason being their wrists are more comfortable at different angles when pushing or pulling, or because they think it makes them look cool.

Harry :)


  • Did it ever occur to you....
    that there might be a few of us that paddle with it feathered because it is more comfortable that way, and could care less what everyone else is doing?

    jack L
  • Options
    that's me
    previously used about 60 degree. A while back I changed to a higher angle paddle and style and thought while I'm at it I would reconsider the whole feather thing partly to maybe make off side rolls easier. Whether because I just got used to feather or whether a high angle stroke prefers a small bit of feather it turned out that 30 degrees just felt right.

    But still for GP the narrower profile changes the whole wind issue a bit making some of the arguments less important.
  • look down upon?
    You might be looked upon as a newbie if you have poor forward stroke, steering strokes or not have a good roll but no one cares what feather angle you use. Many guys I paddle with use with lots of BCU *'s use no feather, others use 30 or 45 deg. Some switch between 45deg ww blade and a greenland or aleutian blade.
    The only debate I ever heard was in surfski paddling and then it's just what can your wrist take vs. advantage.
  • Well Jack,
    That was the first reason I gave for feathering in my conclusion.

  • any looking down
    Will have to be done from behind my nonfeathered paddle.

    Ryan L.
  • I don't agree
    -- Last Updated: Apr-05-13 1:28 PM EST --

    I hear endless reasons and rationalization from both sides. I hear people who went back to unfeathered ridiculing those who paddle feathered.

    to me it's all about the application and options. I have an adjustable so I usually paddle unfeathered, when I go to a strict high-angle stroke I change to feathered. It minimizes wrist rotation for me and my wrists are my vulnerable point.

    The one time I tried a wing, it just didn't feel right unfeathered, again because of wrist rotation.

    I will never tell anyone else they are compensating for flaws when they use a feathered paddle or a bent-shaft paddle; in practice we're all different.

    What I don't get are ww paddles that only have a righthand feather. WW guys must be like golfers.

  • The main reason for feathering
    is wind resistance?

    That's the first time I've heard that. The main reason I have heard is ergonomics.
  • wrist strain / tendonitis
    I am currently paddling unfeathered due to pain in wrist that resolved after I switched to an unfeathered paddle (I use an Aquabound Stingray CF).

    I disregard the wind resistance arguments for feathering as on my return trip, the wind is from the opposite direction. I just bought a sea kayak and high angle paddle (Aquabound Mantaray CF). I will have to play around with feather options again as I get used to this new combination.
  • Options
    Perfect Answer Jack
    That was great Jack.

    For me, I started that way 40 years ago for some unknown reason. It grew to be habit. Now doing it any other way seems awkward. I paddle whitewater and flat and it's the same both ways. The only time I change now is when I am in very strong downwind situations in open water. One time we were making over 4mph going down wind with nothing but our paddles out on the Homossasa River. For this we took the feather out.

    Which way is better? The way that works best for you.
  • .
    Another popular explanation comes from white water slalom - paddle feathered at 90deg allows to clear gates better.
  • with my wing
    I actually do put just a tiny amount of feather, but leave my wrists mostly fixed. I find it lines up my left side better.

    Ryan L.
  • Not exactly
    I don't feather, maybe I'll throw in a slight feather up to 15 degrees once in a while. Nor do I care about anyone's opinion of what I should do here, so I don't have a dog in this fight.

    But to be fair to all sides, wind resistence is not the only argument for feathering. I have heard extremely good paddlers - people who most on this board will never match in a lifetime - argue for feathering because it creates more efficiency. Basically, you get to the power phase more readily. I have seen them paddle and I certainly can't argue they are wrong - or keep up with them.

    People will do what they need to in order to keep their joints safe and get the speed they need. Feather, no feather, bent shaft, straight shaft... as long as the stroke is safe for the person's joints they'll be back to paddle another day. That's really all that matters.
  • another reason for unfeathered
    No on-side or off-side for rolls or braces.

    Also, never have understood the rotation issue. With a feathered paddle the stroke on one side is exactly the same as with an unfeathered. One only has to rotate on the other side. So half the stroke is the same whether feathered or unfeathered and only the other half is different (rotated). I think.
  • 80 - 85 Degree Feather Works Best
    For me when using my Onno Lever Lock Wing to obtain the best angle of attack for propelling my surfski effortlessly and efficiently. This setting allows me to plant the blade with maximum force at the catch and keep it at a straight up and down vertical position until the boat pivots past it.
  • The real reasons
    Feathered paddles and beliefs that feathered paddles are better have been around a long time. No one really knows why they became the norm. What has also been around a long time are justifications that don't make any sense, like the wind argument. One argument for feathered paddles that does make sense is wind resistance based on boat movement (what sailors call apparent wind). If you are racing it makes a difference, especially if you adopt 90 degree feather. If you aren't it is trivial. The main advantage of unfeathered paddles is symmetry. But whatever the case if you are used to a feathered paddle it will take you some time to adjust to an unfeathered paddle. I know since i did that. The reverse is also true. You cannot judge either by going out and paddling around a bit.
  • Try paddling into the wind.
    If you really want to know why you feather your paddle, try paddling straight into, or very close to a very strong wind. It won't take you long to figure it out. I've paddled into winds that would stop you dead if you present a flat blade to the wind. For most mortal beings--myself included--this is only likely to happen on a day when the wind is gusting to high velocity. I don't think I have to explain why.

    That doesn't mean it's the only reason to feather. If you paddle with some feather all the time--fine, but when you're really going to windward in a breeze, you're going to want to present the edge to the wind.
  • 'they do not apply that to GP paddlers'
    I feel like such a fish taking this bait but here goes:

    The GP is canted and just isn't affected by wind the way a euro blade is. Where the GP really shines is in rolling. I'm convinced a great number of paddlers have problems learning to roll on both sides because their euro blades are asymmetrical; feathered.
  • Try paddling with the wind
    at your back or from the side. That is why the wind argument makes no sense. The wind does not always come at you from the front. I have been in side winds that would rip the paddle out of your hand if it was not unfeathered.
  • Ergonomics of feather???
    I see several people here say that the ergonomics of feathered paddles are better.

    Let's for a moment ignore the real positive effects of strong feather in upwind wind or for slalom, or for through the surf use, let's just focus on ergonomics.

    Can anyone tell me why they say any amount of feather is more ergonomic for them compared to non feather? Be specific. And please, don't include reasons such as I'm used to it or others who have stars in their title do it ;)
  • this has been fun
    I put up the OP to see how much discussion I could raise on a question with no wrong answer. It has also been educational. Thanks all.

  • Options
    You have to go back to the 1930s...
    When "canoe" (meaning kayak and canoe) slalom racing was first standardized floating buoys were used instead of hanging gates. A 4 second penalty incurred if the paddler's boat or body touched a buoy. After hanging gates became standard a 2 second penalty was added if a paddle touched a gate. At that point paddlers started using 90 degree offsets to reduce the chances of touching a gate and getting a 2 second penalty. In that context, at that time, a 90 degree offset was "best" and all the top athletes were using that offset. The paddling community forgot about the context and adopted 90 degree offset as the "best" all around offset.

    Wrist injuries were common and people started toying with the idea of less than 90 degree offset. A 1979 of study of Olympic paddlers suggested that 60-65 degrees was "best" for the paddlers studied. However, no extensive research was published to support that claim. Since then there have been almost no studies on the biomechanics, kinematics, aerodynamics, or hydrodynamics of the benefits (or lack of benefits) of offset blade angles. The studies that do exist or case studies of a few paddlers, or have inconclusive results.

    All of the "evidence" is anecdotal and, in my opinion, it is created and applied after the fact to "justify" using different offset angles. Reducing wind resistance and biomechanics are the most commonly stated reasons for feathered paddles, even though there is no evidence to support those statements. In reality, it doesn't matter why people use a feathered paddle, as long as it is safe, effective, efficient, and comfortable for them.
  • Options
    Currently there is a market Catch-22
    Manufacturers make feathered paddles because consumers predominately purchase feathered paddles. Consumers purchase feathered paddles because manufacturers predominately make feathered paddles.

    Over the years the standard feather angles of whitewater paddles have dropped from 90 to 60 to 45 to 30. Currently, most major manufacturers offer 30 degree offset as standard on their whitewater paddles, and some offer other angles as well. Last month Werner made the decision to stop offering 45 offset whitewater paddles as standard (you can still order them as a custom angle). The decision was made because over the span of two weeks this winter Werner's top four retailers (coincidentally) drastically reduced their orders for 45 degree angle whitewater paddles.
  • agreed
    If one is paddling upwind and the wind is so strong that it may rip the paddle from one's hands, one has bigger issues. I've only been there a few times but lowering my stroke usually minimizes the issue.
  • because they are "them", not "you"
  • culture
    Good posts. This becomes cultural: students get into kayaking, take a class, are taught to paddle feathered, grow in experience, become the next generation of teachers and teach their students feathered -- sometimes without questioning fundamental beliefs.

    A year ago I taught a forward paddling class with Ken Fink. During our discussion I mentioned that I used a wing paddle unfeathered and he was simply flabbergasted and shocked. He did not deny my claim and he respects my skills, but the idea that you HAD to feather in order to paddle a wing with a high stroke (to square the non-controlled hand blade) was so ingrained in his mind, that he no longer questioned it.

    I find there are many things that we learn in kayaking 101 that we take as gospel and never question again. For example, when you start to use a GP or a wing you quickly learn to throw away advice that was once commonly taught such as "never let your pushing hand cross the center-line of the kayak". These ingrained beliefs are difficult to shake and cause confusion because often you don't even realize that they are part of your thinking (or muscle memory).

    Challenging ingrained beliefs, either within yourself, or the paddling community, is not easy. Skills become vested, especially among individuals and organizations that teach and certify them, so change is always a messy, turbulent process. Muscle memory doesn't like change, so any change feels awkward and strange for a long time.

    Having said all this, please don't think that I am endorsing unfeathered as "the way". Both feathered and unfeathered have their strengths and weaknesses. A good paddler will understand this and excel with the method they choose.

    Greg Stamer
  • A benefit not listed yet for feathering
    I am a high angle paddler that normally does not feather my large blade paddles. When going straight into a head wind the blades develop a lot of spray when raised. In the summer not a big deal, even welcome on a hot day. In the cold, not fun. Feathering at least 60 degrees cuts the ice building spray a lot.
  • As for the purpose
    of feathering, I agree with bowrudder. The wind resistance thing only works if you're paddling directly into or against the wind. I'm usually not that fortunate.
  • 2nd that
    I truly believe that this is an example of "chicken/egg"
    I taught a class with Ken Fink as well, my experiences are quite similar to yours.

    Here is an article on K4 paddling - http://au.news.yahoo.com/thewest/sport/a/-/other/16543560/awesome-kayak-foursome-do-it-easy/
    reading the article is optional, but a cursory examination of picture is mandatory. Additional attention is suggested for paddle blades out of the water.

    Now, these are world class paddlers, probably even top world paddlers, even though they are from the bottom. Looking at the picture one could assume that all 4 are at the same phase in paddle stroke, since they are a highly synchronized and successful k4 team. It is safe to assume that all of the paddlers for k4 were chosen for their skills and not good looks. Then, attention is quickly drawn to the paddle that looks a little bit different form others - 3rd from the left. After some flight of fancy one could surmise that the blade appears to be at a different angle to the camera than other blades. Now, some angles can be realy strange when a picture is taken with a wide or ultra wide angle lens, but by geometry constraints a very narrow angle, or long focal range lens was used. Hence, the angle of the top blade is different, and not just by a fraction, and that paddler is good enough for a top k4 team.
    Then one says WTF,I guess everything I ever learned on the internet about feather angles must be just plain wrong?
    Oh yeah, just because everyone is doing it, doesn't mean it is the only right thing to do.

  • good point
    An unfeathered wing is a wetter ride. Worth it.

    Ryan L.
  • From a wind resistance standpoint...
    ...feathered paddling has a very limited range of directions where it is advantageous and a much larger range where it is a disadvantage.

    As the original poster pointed out, when paddling into a headwind, a paddle with any feather angle other than 0 or 90 degrees is going to have one blade that tends to rise and the other that dives. This can cause significant control issues, since the forces involved are trying to capsize the paddler. The same is true with a tailwind. With crosswinds, the blades catch wind (especially with 90 degree feather) and are pulled forward or back, depending on the wind direction.

    It may be difficult to paddle unfeathered into a straight headwind, but at least it's consistent and there are no forces on the paddle trying to capsize you.

    As to why many people still start out paddling feathered, it's generally either that they're taught that way or that they're taught the outdated concept that they must have a "control hand" when they paddle. If you're gripping the paddle firmly with one hand, it forces you to use a feathered paddle unless you use a very low stroke. As the paddling angle increase, the paddle naturally twists progressively more during the stroke, even with no wrist rotation.

    If you maintain a loose grip on the paddle with both hands, feathering is unnecessary, regardless of the height of the stroke. That's why Greenland paddles work at any angle; Greenland technique does not use a control hand. The same is true of an unfeathered Euro paddle; as long as you don't use a control hand, it works just fine.

    For some reason, this has been a difficult concept for some feathered paddle devotees to grasp over the years that this debate has been raging. That's probably because using a control hand can be difficult to unlearn once it's become an ingrained habit and until you learn to "let go", unfeathered paddling will not feel right.
  • I started unfeathered but when I
    tried feathering, it was a positive action for my wrists for my style of strokes, body shape, rotation angle, depth I sit in my 'sinks', etc. all which work together to make a pleasant day of paddling. For me!
    All in all, I don't really care what someones style is, nor do I look down on any whose is or use a different style of paddle than I have.
    I paddle because it's what I have a passion for and I hope you do to. Being outside on the water or hiking in the out of doors, away from the noise of the 'idiot' box in my living room and out in nature is my thing.
    We've all grown up in different family cultures. Some good, some not so good, but we're each an individual, different in many ways, but you are you and I am me. Accept each other for that. I have and I've met many fantastic people.
    Spring is definitely very near. Enjoy the season.
  • Options
    Most people have a preferred hand
    The more someone relies on a control hand, and the more dominant their dominant hand is when they paddle, the more asymmetrical their stroke. The reason having a control hand is still around is because people have a dominant hand and it feels natural for that hand to do most of the work.

    There have been a few studies of Olympics level paddlers that looked at power output for each side of the stroke. All the paddlers in the studies were right handed and all had significantly more power output on the right side of the stroke. As you would imagine, there needed to be a counter force to compensate. Most of the paddlers subconsciously modified their stroke asymmetrically to compensate for the more dominant hand. It is not that the concept is hard to grasp with the mind, it is that the concept is easy to grasp with the hand.

    When using a feathered paddle the ergonomics are asymmetrical, it may feel more natural, but it is not balanced. In fact, there is no study that proves an ergonomic advantage to feathered paddles.
  • Options
    that may very well be the case
    Or it could be that people teaching and learning to roll do not bother learning different mechanics (albeit slight ones) for each side. I also think there is a psychological barrier that is created by thinking in terms of on-side/off-side and by most people visualizing and talking about rolling in terms of one side only.
  • Options
    There are not any published studies
    that address the biomechanics or kinematics of a feathered paddle. At least there are none I have found and that is the basis of my Master's Thesis.
  • Options
    non feathered popularity
    -- Last Updated: Apr-07-13 7:44 AM EST --

    Almost all recreational kayakers (recreational boats) use unfeathered simply because feathering is not necessary for them. They are not usually battling high winds nor are they getting high end kayak training prior to buying their boats. These people sometimes advance to more advanced kayakers and a new generation of free thinkers is born. I started with a 90 degree feather (Derek Hutchinson philosophy). I now am mostly GP but sometimes use my unfeathered Euro. Why unfeathered - because I never found any benefit in feathering. Actually I struggled to learn to roll with the feathered paddle.
    Kayaking has grown enormously and shear logic alone dictates that more diverse opinions on paddling philosophy has to emerge. (thank god) I remember being out in very strong winds when I first started and wondering why my feathering was not working but accepted that the feathering was supposed to work when it was most needed - wind in my face. If people find it helps them or feels good twisting a paddle, it's fine by me, but I'll never be convinced there's any advantage to it.

  • Nonfeathered Wing& "Proper" Stroke
    The argument about better vertical planting and stroke with feathered just does not make sense to me... I paddle I unfeathered wing a lot with a surf ski or a regular kayak and there is simply no need to feather in order to get a good stroke.

    I started feathered with a right control hand. It took me quite a while to unlearn, once I started using GP. It is not a quick process to switch. Nowadays I can paddle feathered if I want to and can feel it works very well too and is more efficient for forward paddling due to wind resistance, but I don't feel there is an ergonomic benefit...

    What I don't get is WW paddlers who use 30 or 15 degree offset. I know why (habit and availability, the Catch 22) but it is just ridiculous. Has absolutely no benefit on the water or in the air. Bought a 15 degree WW paddle hoping it would be close enough to 0 but it is not - messes up my roll enough so that I "fixed" it to a proper 0 degree... Much better now -:)
  • video example
    This vid explains it well imho.

  • Paddling into wind
    is a comparatively rare event for me. Most of my paddling is done in winds that are abeam (as, I believe is true for most paddling situations). Winds are varaible and gusts are truly unpredictable, so even when paddling into a headwind, I still paddle without a feather. This is due to experiences I've had while paddling in storm.

    I do not grip my paddle, I rest it cradled in my fingers on the pull and between the thumb and finger on the push phase of the stroke. When paddling in a heavy beam wind, even from the front quarter) a feathered paddle cannot be controlled and can even be blow out of my hands (yeah, I should switch to a greenland paddle, but I'm cheap and don't replace things that aren't broken). When in heavy weather one day in Monterey, my paddle blade continued to catch wind and was blown from my hands. Actually gripping the paddle was worse since whenever the power side of the paddle was in the water, the other end of the blade grabbed enough air that I had to release my grip or capsize. I was effectively performing a high brace on the wind on the wrong side of the boat. Yeah, I could handle it, but it wasn't pleasant. I switched my paddle to unfeathered and that's the way it will stay.

    For me, and the conditions I often paddle, feathering increases the risk of wrist injury as well as capsize.

  • good stuff you guys
    I believe you've explained it precisely.
  • Rolling, Paddles, and Diversity
    -- Last Updated: Apr-07-13 12:46 PM EST --

    The importance of the brace and roll hit home several years ago in my corner of the world. A local WW paddler was in a roll-or-die situation and died. I understand he blew several roll attempts then got caught up in a submerged root ball. I couldn't help but wonder if the guy was using a feathered paddle and if that was a hindrance to his roll. In my opinion the GP shape is the best tool for getting upright. No power face; no up or down, and naturally indexed. If I was going to get into the WW thing I'd make a shorter, wider GP and I WOULD stay or get upright.

    I understand the response to this guy's drowning might be: "He didn't have the right stuff." meaning skills. I'd reply "Maybe. And maybe he was using a lousy tool for the job."

  • Yup, it illustrates my point
  • Nah, for WW the GP is not the best tool
    -- Last Updated: Apr-07-13 3:30 PM EST --

    I started WW with a GP because my roll was not that good and the GP allowed me more of a safety margin at the time. So perhaps, for someone with a shaky roll a GP might be better. It was for me. But I only ventured in easy white water at the time. If I had issues with my roll I would try to avoid roll or die situations by walking around them. But read further - not having to roll (i.e. staying upright) is even more important IMO in those critical situations.

    Today, now that my roll has improved enough to not matter what paddle I use or if it is just half paddle or sometimes no paddle, for White Water use, I find a proper WW paddle to be decidedly superior to a GP. Yes, I see folks use GPs for rock gardening or WW, but for me the GP simply lacks the support you get from a nice wide short paddle. Yes, rolling with a GP might be easy, but going over in the first place is also a lot easier as bracing and support strokes are not as effective, especially in turbulent white water. The GP does not give me quick enough instant response to avoid obstacles or to brace or to draw sideways with power and solid stability like a WW paddle does. Over the last week I took my new GP on my usual WW circuit to test it. While it is great and easy to use in the easy sections, I switched to my AT 2 Flexi (0 offset) for some real play and hard paddling. The foam core AT 2 has just as much buoyancy and being a bent shaft is always easy to index (but rolls fine upside down or left side right too).

    Just like I could but would not want to paddle with my WW paddle on the flats, I won't pickup the GP as my first choice paddle for the rough stuff either.

  • it must be human tendency...
    I agree with you. But it must be human tendency to want to apply one solution to different conditions.
  • True, however...
    ... having a dominant hand and being stronger on one side than the other does not mean that one is going to use a control hand on a kayak paddle. It's really all about the grip, or more precisely, the lack of a grip. It's pretty simple:

    On the pull stroke the fingers hook the shaft/loom of the paddle and the thumb wraps around enough to capture it, but there is no gripping involved. The only tension in the hand is in the fingers hooking the paddle and pulling it rearward.

    On the push stroke, the web between the thumb and forefinger and/or the pads at the base of the finger push the paddle forward. This naturally causes the thumb and fingers to wrap around the paddle, but the hand is relaxed and again, there is no gripping involved.

    This technique works well for most paddling, with the exception of maneuvering/sculling/bracing strokes which do require a grip on the paddle.
  • this is what helped me get my offside
    roll - unfeathering and forgetting about the "control hand".
  • I like This One Out on the Water
    Check out:


    Love that sliding stroke.
  • Greenland Forward Stroke Videos
    The original footage (and more) is on the Qajaq USA website at http://www.qajaqusa.org/Movies/movies.html.

    Greg Stamer
  • I love playing in rock gardens...
    ...and use a GP exclusively, but it is definitely NOT the best tool for it. Particularly when things are tight and shallow, you find yourself at a serious disadvantage, as you can't get enough blade in the water to propel the boat forcefully. It can be frustrating and potentially dangerous. I guess the ideal situation would be to carry one of my old Euro paddles on-deck just for rock-gardens.
  • Modified Design?
    If you made a GP somewhat shorter and widened the blades considerably would you get a nice compromise? The 'zip' for rolling and the 'bite' for quick maneuvers?
  • learned one feathering benefit
    I posted last week that I paddle unfeathered as it doesn't aggravate my wrist; however, this weekend taught me one benefit to feathering.

    I went out on Candlewood Lake on Sunday to heavy wind and enough waves to make it fun (inland surfing anyone?).

    I was trying a new high angle paddle and based on comments here, decided to try it feathered and unfeathered. Since the waves were big enough to tip my kayak, I was regularly bracing. The feathered paddle was always ready for a brace, whereas, unfeathered required a quick correction.

    I am definitely not an expert paddler, but I could immediately see why many flat water paddlers don't see the need to feather, whereas other paddlers sneer at unfeathered use. I can't believe it took me four years to realize this.
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