Catch vs. forward reach vs. draw width

Which of these is more important for paddling efficiency? Commenting on my review of my Little Wing (see “Any other Little Wing paddlers out there”), Kocho said that “21” is huge at the catch width”. Kocho, at 6’4” height with long arms, claims that his catch width on his Sonoma 13.5 is only 16-17”, and that catch width is an important factor in paddling efficiency. Greyak seemed to agree that Little Wings would be inefficient to paddle because of their wide catch width. At first, several of us, including myself, did not understand what they were talking about since the LW 12.5 is only 20” at the cockpit, and that is the width at which I assumed I placed my paddle in the water. I then surmised that Kocho was very tall and reaching far forward to plant his paddle in the narrower tapered area of his Sonoma. The 13.5-foot Sonoma is too small for Kocho which results in problems such as not being able to use the foot pegs and weather-cocking which he admits in his review of his Sonoma, but that is for another thread. Possibly overextending Kocho’s reasoning, a tall paddler with long arms could achieve an even narrower catch width (maybe only 2-3”) by paddling far forward on a Perception Swifty or an Old Towne Otter (both 9.5’ long), but these kayaks 30”beam would result in a wider “paddle draw width”.

For the purposes of this discussion I am assuming that Kocho is defining “catch width” as the width of the boat at the point where the paddle blade gets a good “catch” or purchase on the water. Kocho’s post caused me some concern about my purchase of the LW 12.5, because, although I do not particularly like its shape (I prefer the shape of Greenland-style boats such as the CD Suka), one reason that I bought the LW 12.5 was of what I assumed was its reduced “paddle draw width”, which I define as the path that the paddle blade follows as it moves through the stroke in the water. As a short person (5’3”) with proportionally short arms (about 18” shoulder to wrist without torso rotation; about a 30” reach with maximum rotation) I saw the Little Wing kayaks as a possible solution to my constantly hitting my paddle or my knuckles on the deck of most kayaks during paddle strokes. I am happy report that in practice I found that the LW 12.5 works well for me. I no longer have to hold the paddle higher and reach wider than I would like in order to avoid hitting the deck; in this regard the LW 12.5 is the most comfortable kayak that I have ever paddled, and feels the most efficient to me as the “paddle draw width” stays the same throughout the entire stroke. The boat, which is narrowest at the cockpit (20”) does not flare out over the length of the cockpit and, therefore, the paddler does not need to sweep the paddle away from the boat as it is drawn back, but can devote full power to moving the boat forward and maintaining directional stability (tracking, which I have described as “light” in the LW 12.5). I have use a Werner Shuna, 210-cm shaft, and have a high-angle stroke.

I also believe that Kocho and others may be confusing “catch width” with what I will call “reach width”, defined as the width of the boat at the some point farther towards the bow than catch width where the kayak is much narrower, but the paddle is not in the water. I could be mistaken, but Kocho may be mistaken when he thinks he achieves a 16-17” catch width in his Sonoma 13.5; certainly, paddlers of average or smaller proportions could not achieve a 16-17” catch in this kayak. I watched a popular kayak instruction video last night, “Performance Sea Kayaking”, that features Jeff Cooper, Ken Fink, and Olympic Gold medalist Greg Barton among many other world class paddlers. They were demonstrating the forward stroke, so they were to some extent exaggerating keeping their arms straight out and reaching far forward for their strokes to narrow areas of their kayaks while their paddles were in the air. But, every one of them got a good ‘catch’ on the water at only about an inch or two (at most) forward of the front of their cockpit coaming. It looked to me like they were paddling mainly symmetrical kayaks (neither Swede form not fish form) of about 22-23-inches width. Therefore their catch widths were at best maybe 20-21-inches and the path of their paddle strokes only got wider from that point rearward. With the Little Wing kayaks there is no advantage to reaching far forward to reduce catch width, but the “paddle draw width” does not increase during the stroke. My cockpit beam is 20”, Warren makes another model with a 19.5” beam. To me, this seems like a very efficient way to paddle in theory, and in practice, it sure feels that way.

Of course, I could be entirely wrong about this as I am no expert on kayak design. I am sure I will get a number of comments on this post. This is a great forum; by contrast the Sea Kayaker Magazine forum is quite boring.

details, details. :slight_smile:
“I am happy report that in practice I found that the LW 12.5 works well for me. I no longer have to hold the paddle higher and reach wider than I would like in order to avoid hitting the deck; in this regard the LW 12.5 is the most comfortable kayak that I have ever paddled, and feels the most efficient to me as the “paddle draw width” stays the same throughout the entire stroke.”

IMO this part says it all. The rest is just theory, and more useful for internet banter than for paddling efficiency. :slight_smile:

I will say that personally, my paddle doesn’t stay right next to the boat, even with a high-angle stroke. Keeping my “power circle” of my upper-body fairly unchanged, and rotating my torso through the stroke means that my catch is right next to the boat, but the exit is nearly a foot outboard from my hip. So the width at the cockpit doesn’t really affect my stroke. Maybe that’s not the case for a truly vertical stroke, as used by some racers though.

Sounds reasonable
I think your comfort in the boat is partly due to the wasp-waist of the hull, and partly due to the rolled sheer which keeps the hull/deck joint away from your knuckles. On an Epic GPX, the sheer is eased by racing-boat-style cutaways to make up for the large width. I think the actual width dimension (whatever it’s called) has to be combined with the deck shape to be meaningful.

I don’t sweat the path of the paddle through the water much, but the closer to the centerline the blade is during the stroke, the less yawing moment you get. If you really wanted to go fast you’d be using a wing paddle, anyway. They require a flare out to the side during the stroke in order to function. I use a GP mostly, and pay little attention to it - I let it go where it likes, and that usually isn’t straight back.

Bottom line, if your boat feels comfortable and efficient, enjoy it. I hope to try a Little Wing at some point this summer, I’ll be interested to see how it goes. For some reason, I actually find the shape attractive, maybe it’s my aeronautical background.

I’ve read, and found in practice, that you can benefit from the wing stroke even when using a euro blade. I’m sure there are plenty folks here that can, and will, go into much more detail on this but the stroke is planted as far forward and as close to the boat(or center-line) as you can without rocking forward. Once the blade is completely submerged you pull back with body rotation keeping your lower arm mostly straight which will naturally have the blade slicing away from the boat slightly throughout the stroke. So, like someone mentioned above, you end the stroke fairly far away from the boat right as your hand reached your hip. So basically if you are using that stroke the Little wing is exactly the wrong shape.

But really, if you like your boat and it makes you happy, be happy! It is a very interesting looking boat that appears to have an almost artwork like finish and fit. The design has some interesting aspects to it but I don’t think absolute paddling efficiency would be one of its high points.


Holy Moly…
I guess I simplify the process and just paddle from point A to B. This much analysis would lead me to try another hobby…

Catch is not a point - it is a phase
It starts somewhere above and ahead of the feet and transitions into the power phase somewhere mid-shin.

If you rotate yor body, you reach farther forward but at some point you begin to hit the side of the boat. So, a narrower boat allows you to reach further, thus extending your power phase.

This is much more important for active and fast paddling than for recreational or leisurely paddling. I would not worry too much about it, unless you actually feel you need to paddle in a way that the boat restricts you.

See if Epic’s web site still sells their forward stroke video for $6 delivered (the DVD is more). Or find Ben Lawry’s forwardvstroke DVD…

Please, keep in mind I’m rather new to the sport - don’t take my word too seriously - I just might be implying something that’s not right for you. Give it a few months, take a class from a good instructor, watch others, practice, then decide for yourself…

…get some real coaching

– Last Updated: Apr-17-09 11:12 AM EST –

...but not coaching coming from an ACA/BCU instructors (they need to get coaching too :-) they are pretty good at doing fancy strokes and rolls, but their "forward stroke" really sucks!

...get some real coaching from an ex-Olympian athlete or high performance coach -even if you are not interested in racing. Paddling is a lot of fun when you can paddle faster, longer without getting tired.

DVD's are not good enough because you cannot feel what they are feeling when the paddle is in the water. There is no feedback, so it is very common to think we are doing the right thing... when we are not. I have them all, plus countless hours of forward stroke videos from elite athletes. However, the best videos are the ones of oneself: on the water, and with coaching supervision in the Jon boat because when I watch those videos I knows "what and how" I was feeling the water; thus, it is easy to incorporate the coach feedback.

Just a side note: 99% of the experienced recreational/touring paddlers that you would see on the water: think that their forward stroke is is pretty good, but only 1 out of 50 of those paddlers have a decent one.

The problem: the kayak forward stroke is very "counter-intuitive" it is not like rowing; thus, if someone did not start paddling at a very young age under the supervision of an experience coach, he/she might end up developing a faulty form -very hard to unlearned.

PS: don't get pissed here, just trying to point you in the right direction. Sometimes, we need to hear, what we don't want to hear. You put a lot of effort trying to understand what you were doing, and that is good! -most people won't!

No Problem Iceman
Thanks for the suggestion. I have no plans to enter any races, but would like to maximize my paddling efficiency. I think a video of oneself is a great idea. I was on the water yesterday, and tried to pay attention to my paddle catch. At least with the paddle that I mistakenly took with me, my 220 cm Little Dipper, and with my high angle stroke, I was getting a catch about 4-6 inches ahead of the cockpit, where my boat is wider. Four conclusions:

  1. I was wrong in assuming that my catch, like the experts in the DVD that I watched, was always only about 1-2 inches ahead of the cockpit coaming. And I have very short arms.
  2. The expert instuctors were using a low angle touring stroke and planting their paddles about 1-ft from the sides of their boats (I watched the video again this morining).
  3. I need to use much shorter paddle with my LW 12.5 as my paddle blade was buried deep in the water. I have a 210-cm Shuna, but I could use a 205, maybe a 200 or less, maybe a whitwater paddle with this boat.
  4. The ability to keep my paddle close to the boat during the entire stroke really helped keep the LW on track and minimze yaw. As I noted, the LW has very ‘light’ tracking and the conditions were windy with choppy water.

Paddle length

– Last Updated: Apr-17-09 11:56 AM EST –

That's a real tough issue to get an agreement about. If you plan to change your paddle for some reason, try to get an adjustable length one from 200 ro 205 up to 215 or so and experiment to figure how long really works for you. "Best" paddle length will change with conditions and as you change the way you paddle, so be prepared to adjust down the road.

And to some of the other points - a close stroke near the hull indeed helps with yaw and straight tracking (and yes, agreed, one should not use a wing paddle this way). But it inevitably requires shortening your stroke, thus loosing some of the time you can be powering forward and trade that for higher cadence, if you are to maintain an efficient paddle position in the water. Most folks who I see using a close to the boat stroke for the entire stroke use very little body rotation and take the paddle out of the water way too far out, thus not only loosing efficiency but also using a good deal too much arm strength vs. core strength for this.

And yes, I've seen this done by some very experienced and certified instructors or paddlers with many years on the water. They are strong and they go fast and they can do things I can't, but that does not mean they are right ;). Some of the other instructors I've had the chance to either work with or watch and in whom I trust a little more, since they have racing or other competitive experience, paddle differently, with very little arm used, lots of core body used, and generally the paddle goes out more to the side than purely to the back.

The paddle used matters a lot too. Wing - you plant close and exit away. With a Euro or a GP/Aleut - you can do that too. Or you can pull back in a more parallel fashion - both trajectories work pretty well with a number of paddles (with the exception of parallel pull with a wing, which does not work well). But you need to adjust elements of your stroke to make each trajectory efficient and some paddles are better suited for certain types of paddling so there is no one right answer.

And lastly, do not take anything you hear from us and especially from me as the "golden rule" - try it until you understand it for yourself and either accept it or dump it. There are so many combinations of boat-paddler-paddle-conditions-way of paddling, that any specific advice will be good in some case and bad in others -;)

forward stroke
can you come at this from the other. If one has a reasonably narrow boat, the right length paddle and patience, can the boat and paddle teach the paddler. I guess what I mean is will the correct stroke develope after time with perceived effeciency.

This thread has an almost" golf like tecnique" sense to it. I have seen some players get so lost in the weeds that they lose their natural swing.

I do reserve the right to be totally wrong in this.

forward stroke

– Last Updated: Apr-18-09 10:47 AM EST –

poleplant wrote: "can you come at this from the other. If one has a reasonably narrow boat, the right length paddle and patience, can the boat and paddle teach the paddler. I guess what I mean is will the correct stroke develope after time with perceived effeciency."

IMHO the answer is NO. I think the forward stroke is one of the most misunderstood, over looked, and counter intuitive strokes out there. Self teaching will usually result in improper or poor technique at best and may take years to undo ( if it can be overcome at all ).

"PERFECT practice makes perfect", otherwise you're just re-enforcing bad habits. It's very difficult to have "perfect" technique and practice it perfectly without some very good coaching. Bad habits creep into just about everyone's technique. Without a good coach correcting you it's almost impossible to avoid IMHO.

So what do you do. Earlier in this thread, someone wrote about the very low percentage of paddlers who have a good forward stroke. That's probably right, but most of us will never have the advantage of an Olympic coach or become a top notch racer. Most of us just want to be a good recreational paddler. I think that trying to understand the forward stroke and be as efficient as possible is enough for the vast majority of us. We can still concentrate on things like having a good catch without any splash, having a quiet boat without any bobbing - wobbling or yaw, good posture, body rotation, etc., etc.. In other word, just do the best you can and enjoy paddling.

I applaud everyone in this thread so far. I think discussions like this are helpful to most of us. Thanks!

Interesting stuff …
…here, and I relate to most of what is being stated except for the effects of having a more “parallel” stroke with a wing paddle. Maybe it is the type of wing used. I use a Turbo that seems to have very little, if any, twist, at least on the trailing edge. I have developed a good torso rotation and yet seem to do pretty well with putting the paddle at a very high angle and keeping it there throughout most of my stroke. I use a pretty short paddle, and bend my elbow pretty much when my hand reaches my hip, using my elbow bend mostly to get the blade up and out for my next stroke. In fact, sometimes, when I’m really hauling downwind, it seems like this type of stroke is the only way to “keep up with the boat”, so to say. It is almost like an OC stroke. I do sometimes sweep my stroke out more to the side when I run a higher cadience w/a quick flip of the wrist to facilitate bringing the paddle out of the water further out to the side, and it does almost seem to appear to move forward in the water! Seems to be a good quick sprint technique, maybe? But I seem to get a better speed at a longer stretch with the slightly slower-slightly longer-higher angle throughout the stroke technique. (And less energy seems to be wasted with the boat going a little side to side… yaw?) I just can’t seem to keep up that higher cadience with the wrist flip that long! (maybe I need a smaller wing blade to facilitate …what’s it called…paddle or blade spin?) I don’t seem to notice any loss of catch with the blade planted in the bow wake…there isn’t that much turbulence; I’m running Rapiers with a full size Turbo!

I guess I’m gonna have to get out the techno-gadgets like Eric recommends and find out what’s what!