Blade Surface Area: really a factor?

Large bladed kayak paddles are my preference. I like the grip on the water for a higher angle paddling style it just seems more natural for me.

But I notice that, for instance my Werner Shuna vs. the Corryvrecken -- both high angle paddles by design yet the Shuna with a smaller blade--does not seem to make as much difference in fatigue factor as one would think. Whereas the larger paddle blade is clearly faster in a sprint (more water pull), both blades are about the same for distances and moderate speeds. Why? I think the paddler adapts to the size difference of the blades subtly and involuntarily with a varied cadence, pull, and recovery that is appropriate for the particular paddle.

If this is true, a paddler might always consider the larger blade type as it is as good for touring, and better for sprinting, overall. Even a small framed, "weaker" paddler might try to buy a paddle with a larger rather than smaller blade.

Does that make sense? What do you think?

I find just the opposite …
my smaller bladed Cyprus is less tiring than paddling all day with an Ikelos. My shoulders feel a lot better at the end of the day, but maybe it’s just my not so efficient forward stroke. My GP is best of all for long paddles.


Big factor is physical capability
and endurance. If a paddler is in “top shape” for lengthy paddling, and can handle the greater work effort of the larger blade, then the adaption to a smaller blade and workload will seem natural. If a paddler is conditioned to a medium sized blade, and moves to a larger sized blade, the adaption may take some conditioning to feel natural. Then, too, the physical capability has to exist for the larger workload.

I have a wooden bent shaft canoe paddle that had a 9" width, and it’s a top brand name. I never enjoyed paddling with it, because I was actually feeling some aches from it after a couple of miles. This year I looked at it with a jig saw, and cut off 1.5 inches off of the width, maintaining the same lines. I revarnished it, and it is now one of my favorites to use. I will admit that I am over 50, but still in very good shape. I think I am beyond the stage where I could have adjusted to that 9" width for full time use.

I also enjoy using a kayak paddle with low stroke paddling to just maintain cruising speed, and sometimes using a high stroke to pour it on. I mention this because I think it is analogous to your concept of feeling right in adjusting to the paddling effort. It might be the body and mindset adapting to the necessary conditions of the challenge.

So, I am in agreement with you about the concept, although I think physical capabilities can mandate some limitations of workload.

I have noticed a couple of newbies who began to enjoy paddling when they used a smaller blade paddle. It was within their limitations of conditioning, and made their paddling experience positive. They could have been overworked with a larger blade paddle, and consequently turned off to paddling.

Interesting concept, doc. Thanks for making me think about it. Happy paddling!

My philosophy is that you carry one of each. A macho downwind paddle and a meek upwind paddle. Pick and choose as conditions warrant.

(my bike has a triple crank)

I think…

– Last Updated: Nov-04-06 2:16 PM EST –

... you're letting the paddle dictate your performance and color your experience (perfectly normal).

"I think the paddler adapts to the size difference of the blades subtly and involuntarily with a varied cadence, pull, and recovery that is appropriate for the particular paddle."

Yes - this naturally happens. Makes things hard to sort out by feel or intuitively. Question is - can adjusting your technique to make due with whatever size blades lead you to the optimum mechanics and blade size for your style and power? Not likely.

You need to use the mechanics that will deliver your particular power level, over a given distance, the most efficiently. This may not be the mechanics the larger paddle is forcing you to adapt to. The involuntary adaptation you speak of can have another name: inefficiency.

Being inefficient systems to begin with, there's naturally a lot of slop, and a lot of things can work OK for us. Humans rely on this adaptation ability for almost everything we do. It's a good skill/tool, until we start trying to make theories about the resulting compromises to justify them.

I like to carry 2 GPs lately. Both good for long days, but one is 1/4" thinner (and has less blade volume too) and allows same average pace at considerably less effort. If I hadn't verified this with GPS I'd have not believed it possible. The difference is perceived effort is so much I'd have sworn I was going much slower - but no. After a few miles with the skinny one if I switch back the other feels too big and I can tell the extra effort is just churning water). A subtle thing I wouldn't notice otherwise due to the adaptation thing - and both being good paddles. The larger is better in sprints, and I prefer it if conditions pick up to as bite translates to stability/control - but for ticking off miles (at same pace) the smaller rules.

I think it is, but design may be just as
important. Two blades may have the same surface area, but one may have noticeably greater bite and be harder to pull than the other.

blade is a factor relative to cadence…
It’s about finding the right paddle size for you. Currently for sea kayaking I use several greenland style paddles with different blade surface areas, a standard surface area Aquabound, and a big ol’ Epic large wing. Pretty much all the paddles end up pushing my boat at the same speed as clocked by GPS (I paddle solely high angle). However the difference is that my cadence changes to match the paddle. I’m a natural high cadence paddler so it is quite a shift in technique and power output to go from a GP to the large wing. Given my relatively small frame, I actually probably would go faster with smaller paddles and a small wing would probably give me my highest top speeds.

it’s really like a bicycle …
when cycling, you want the pedals to be moving at the same rpm and you change the gear to adjust for conditions.

using a larger blade means you either paddle your boat to maintain a higher speed or you slow down your stroke to pace the speed of your boat, since moving the paddle “through” the water (as opposed to “with” the water) in grossly inefficient.

to summarize: if you’re in a race – or just like to go fast all the time – get a larger paddle. If not, opt for a smaller blade face.

if you’re mostly paddling for a cruising speed why have a blade that’s most effective for a few seconds of sprinting?