blade offset vs not, Euro paddles

as it relates primarily to sea kayaking, surf skis, and other primarily forward paddling kayak activities.

this may have been flogged to death over the years and even in past months, so pardon me for wanting to revisit, for those who find it a yawner.

i’ve gone between paddling with a feathered (offset) blade, to not, to back, to not, and seem to play around with it somewhat. current default is no feather but it depends on what i’m doing.

anyhow there seems to be arguments for either, but recently, i’ve been told that there is a distinct “right way” that is backed by scientific study. i’ve been told that paddling ‘neutral’ or no offset is “damaging” to your wrists, and that there are currently a number of biomechanic studies that demonstrate the inherent biomechanic ergonomics of paddling with an offset blade, completely separate from the efficiency in paddling into wind issue.

if anyone has any insight into this, i’m interested in hearing your perspective.

Ben Lawry

– Last Updated: Mar-23-08 12:03 AM EST –

Ben says he has seen winning racers paddling anywhere from 90 degree to zero feather.

A couple of years ago a coach I know took my Length-Lock Epic and loosened the ferrel. He then paddled to see where the blades set naturally. They ended up barely feathered. I did the same and found the same. I now paddle unfeathered.

Offset is natural outcome…
…of a paddle stroke.

Consider this, if you keep one of your wrists locked and hand gripped to the paddle then when your hand and wrist next to the blade in the water are at their low point they are pointed down. As you lift the paddle to insert the opposite end of the paddle in the water your forearm and locked wrist is pointing slightly up, this by default will cause the shaft to twist.

A high angle stroke will cause more twisting of the paddle shaft than a low angle stroke. Many find 70 to 75 degrees seems “neutral” for a high angle stroke. No offset and your wrists will need to compensate by flexing.


Ben’s observations
wow, that really surprises me, i figured it would be only 70+ in that camp. that he indicates a lot of variation is intriguing.

Try a bunch
The offset varies from paddler to paddler. Derric Hutchinson recommends 90 degrees in a video, I like about 70 + - except on my WW which is much less.

Some of this is sales stuff but it is up to you to find out what you like.

None of it will hurt you, some will be more comfortable.

I would get a split blade (borrow or buy)with an adjustable joint. If you can’t get one of those get electrical tape. Use the factory adjustment as a start then play with the shaft angle securing it with tape until you have your perfect offset for comfort. make that setting more permanent and you have your solution.

Once you have that down you will be hit with Crank Shaft paddles.

have them all
got it covered with 4 paddles, cranks, Epic variable, and others. i’ve always subscribed to experiment and find your own, but with more and more people now saying, there is a right way, and it’s backed by science, i’m trying to get more insight into that. in the 10 years i’ve been kayaking and the 4 i’ve been teaching it, i still remain open to different (especially science backed) takes on feather.

Backed by science?
As far as feather goes, I swear I am hearing less of the idea of a right and wrong feather than than several years ago when we started. But maybe we’re in the wrong circles for that. Off hand I recall that the feather range among coaches we know runs heavily from zero to 45 degrees. Add in those we paddle with and the feather goes up to about 60 degrees.

Somewhere around 60 degrees and above, there seem to be a lot of cheap one piece paddles for sale on EBay.

Bent shaft or not does seem to bring out the ergonomic arguments.

Personally, it seems as though if there is a single most important paddle feature to the stroke it is length. The bent or not shaft and feather seem somewhat secondary to that in their effect on the forward stroke, at least as long as you are upright. But that’s not based on anything scientific.

In essence you are doing the right thing in experimenting with what you like. Forgot all that “proven” or “approved” stuff. If it feels good to you go for it. You have to remember the reason feathering was started in the first place - not to make anyone’s stroke better in calm conditions but to help the blade against the wind. I started at 90 degrees then went to 60 and then to none with actually less problems in the wind than at 90. Now I’m pretty much GP with less problems than any of the above.

only if you have a single control hand
If you alternate control hands with each paddle stroke, you don’t have a natural offset and there is no wrist compensation. I buy the wind argument and the use of offsets to clear slalom gates but I don’t really buy the ergonomic argument for an offset.

that is about my spin.
Lighter strong paddles are the best. The bucks are better spent on good blades that gimmics.

If you have $400.00 or $500.00 to spend go with a light high quality blade and after that start to look at cranks, locks and wonderferrils.

I gave a crank a good try and did not like it. The lady I sold it to is delighter and for my part I was pleased to see some of my money back.

That was a carbon Lendal.

It is often just taste.

Wonderferril is a word copyrighted by me meaning absolutely nothing untill some marketing guru buys it, I am using it to represent well marketed unproven stuff.

why feather came about
Jay, i have a different understanding of why feather came about. i’ve been told by some well informed folk, that it has nothing to do with sea kayaking at all, wind, etc, and comes from slalom kayaking, where there is an advantage to running gates by having a 90 degree offset so that the blade that is in the air is easier to slip past the gates posts, without clipping one and losing points.

My experience is the opposite
Paddle feather increased wrist, tendon problems. I go with 0 degree feather, have had no issues ever since.

I heard that as well
and the wind argument came about in sea kayaking as a rationalization for continuing with the dogma of feathering the paddle.

Do what feels/works best for you, and ignore what others say you should be doing with your paddle blades.

I’d like to see those scientific experiments that prove that using feathered blades is the “right way” to paddle.

Paddlemore found some research (link at the bottom) about WW paddlers and shoulder pain. I haven’t read the whole thing, but I don’t really think it addresses the feathered/unfeathered issue at all. The study is more focused on finding out the differences between shoulder range of motion, strength, capsular laxity/tightness, and muscle activity for the injured/non-injured shoulder. The study didn’t specify mechanism of injury, the test subjects’ individual diagnoses, use of feathered/unfeathered paddles, whether control or off-hand was injured, etc.

Furthermore, all testing was conducted on an ergometer. Looking at the pictures of the paddler on the ergometer, it just doesn’t look right. The two obvious discrepancies I noticed right away are:

  1. Positioning. Look where the feet are positioned, that’s not how you sit in a kayak.
  2. The ergometer doesn’t care what your blade angle is, it has one cable (or line?) attached to the center of the blade tip. On the water, you’d instantly know if your blade wasn’t perpendicular to the direction of pull. On the ergometer, you could paddle with the blade parallel to the direction of pull, and it wouldn’t matter.

    I’m not bashing the author of this dissertation for using an ergometer. It would be a logistical nightmare to reproduce this study in a real kayak on real water. I do, however, question the effectiveness of the ergometer to reproduce a true forward stroke using a feathered paddle.

    This study cited a couple of references that state “Faulty kinematics, particularly significant asymmetry may contribute to the repetitive use injuries seen in kayakers’ shoulders.” These references also “reported that kinematic and force asymmetries occur in healthy kayakers when comparing strokes bilaterally…The paddle blades are not aligned with one another but are offset. In kayak racing the blades are offset by 90°. The motion of the arm used to properly place the offset blade in the water has been hypothesized to contribute to the bilateral asymetry.”

    This is what I’ve been saying all along.

    The study also included a pilot study that did not find a significant asymmetry between one side and the other, but it was performed on the ergometer, not in a real paddling situation that demands proper placement of the blade in the water.

Opportunity knocks
A long time ago bicyclists set up their adjustable bike parts (stem/handlebar height, saddle height/foreaft/tilt, shoe cleat foreaft/angle) using trial and error and common knowledge. Unfortunately the latter was not agreed upon. Sore knees, tight neck/shoulder muscles, aching backs, and pained crotches were common until the cyclist figured out what worked for him or her.

In the early 1980s a bike racer named Bill Farrell devised the first Fit Kit, which allowed cyclists to be observed on their own bikes (made stationary) in a measured way so that adjustments would match their bodies’ natural inclinations.

The idea of using a Epic adjustable paddle (unlocked) to find one person’s natural feather angle sounds like a start on a similar system to identify proper paddling ergonomics.

I just wish it were out there already.

No feather…
I’ve noticed that since I’ve started using a GP, I don’t like any feather in my Euro when I use it.

it would seem
that if there were an ideal feather for each individual, it might change from hand to hand from stroke to stroke. i’ve seen a demonstration where an instructor raises his right forearm to plant the left blade and he shows how the feather chosen makes the blade go in at the correct angle. however, i didn’t ask him how that relates to when the left forearm comes up to plant the right blade, i should have! maybe a constant swivel of the shaft and blade angles would be ‘ideal’…

the reason i bring the whole issue up, is that, while i have the time on the water and experience in playing around with this (more than many), the people who espoused a biomechanically correct way, were very senior paddlers in a professional level, and who are also informed by successful competitive racers, so i have to consider their opinions carefully and in high regard, beyond my own experience.

Control hand

– Last Updated: Mar-24-08 4:23 PM EST –

What this just points out that despite some of this new-age thinking there still is just one control hand for a feathered paddle, for much of the motion anyway.

You may have something with that constantly swiveling joint, it would keep the symmetry folks pretty happy. There's probably other problems with it, though, like it giving less time to relax the grip on the unplanted side.


I got something else out of the study
I agree the ergometer wasn’t the best, but I believe the paddlers were asked to pay attention to their stroke to duplicate their paddling mechanics on the ergometer.

Also, injuries were more common in recreational paddlers with a presumed lower blade angle than ‘elite’ kayakers with an angle of 90 degrees. Also, the asymmetry in the stroke (due to blade angle) did not cause an asymmetry in muscle use or mechanics in ‘elite’ paddlers, but did find a difference in other paddlers.

This leads me to believe there is something else going on, maybe faulty mechanics of using a feathered paddle (?), that cause injury.

I have re-read it a few times and still trying to sort it all out.

If what you say is true…
then feathering is even more of a joke. I’d love to see something in writing on this. It didn’t take me long to realize that feathering doesn’t work in the wind if it’s not directly in your face. Could you imagine and entire sport basing it’s entire discipline of paddle use on the fact that a few people developed it to get through gates. I love it!