Here is my video that I just shot and uploaded. Sorry for the poor quality - did not want to spend ages doing it.
This is a quick demonstration of how to use a kayak paddle with a 0-degree offset angle between the blades (0 feather). There is an ongoing debate if 0 degree offset or some other angle is best. I will *not* try to tell you which is best or when to choose which angle. It is up to you! Other than, perhaps, that very small feather angles such as 30 or 15 degree make absolutely no sense whatsoever – they lose the benefits of 0-degree feather and do not have the benefits of higher feather angles such as 60-70 degrees, or even 90 in special cases.
So why this video? There are some silly arguments floating on the web, including from Werner’s FAQ page, that claim that the wrist alignment cannot be properly maintained with a 0 degree feather (i.e., feathered paddles are necessary to maintain proper wrist alignment to the forearm, especially at high-angle paddling style).
See here for the Werner FAQ: http://www.wernerpaddles.com/customer-service/faq that says this:
"When the proper angle of feathering is chosen, your wrists will stay close to a neutral position (in alignment with your forearm), reducing the need to bend your wrist and thus reducing fatigue. During the transition from the right stroke to the left, with your right hand fixed on the shaft remaining in alignment with your forearm, the shaft will twist a certain number of degrees based on your particular style. A low top hand in the low angle style uses a lower degree of offset to support neutral wrist alignment. Suggested 0 to 45. A higher top hand in the high angle style is uses more degree of feathering to keep your wrist neutrally aligned. Suggested 45 to 60."
The above is wrong. You will see for yourself in my video. 0-degree feather works just as well to maintain alignment of wrist to forearm for low and high angle paddling, as does feathered paddles.
The key point is this: to correctly use a 0-feather paddle, the control hand must change from one side to the other during the stroke (while the paddle is in the air). While the paddle is in the water, getting ready to start the next stroke, the angle between the wrists is as much as 90 degrees (while the paddle is 0 degree feather). It is important to note that the angle between the wrists is *not* determined or related to the feather angle on the paddle. You choose a correct anatomic position and that determines the angle between your wrists. The feather angle is irrelevant for this.
Note: this is not an instructional video on proper technique – mine needs work. It simply brings the point that a 0-degree feather works *exactly* the same as far as wrist alignment during the catch, power, and release phases of the stroke, and the only difference is during the setup for the next stroke: there, with 0-feather the control transitions from one hand to the other, while with a high-feather angle paddle the control stays always with the same “control” hand. I started with 65 degree feather many years ago. At some point I made the effort to switch to 0 degree, to benefit from Greenland-style paddles. Yes, it took some time to adapt, but now it feels completely natural: everything is symmetric on both sides – for paddling, bracing, and rolling.
Here is my video that I just shot and uploaded. Sorry for the poor quality - did not want to spend ages doing it.
Nice to meet you, Kocho
After reading that statement in the Werner FAQ, I've paid close attention to my wrists while using my unfeathered paddle. They're straight and aligned. No lateral movement or rotation and the only time one wrist is cocked is when I do a bow rudder. My wrists have never been sore or strained, so I guess I'm doing something right.
I was curious about feathering and tried a slight feather on my left blade last week. Think it was 15 and I did it on the water to see if was as easy to change as claimed (it is).
For me, it was awkward and I found myself slowing down so I could concentrate on rotating the paddle (fighting muscle memory, no doubt). Changed back to my comfortable zero after 10-15 minutes.
What works for each paddler is what counts. But I sure don't understand Werner's blanket statement inferring a zero feather doesn't support wrist alignment.
I now ignore any comments about my use of zero feather paddles. My body tells me what feels best.
The two whitewater paddles I bought both had to be special ordered. Werner makes them standard in 30 deg feather. But at least they WILL make them in other configurations, and quickly, in my case. They have been a great company to deal with.
Yes, I Can Duplicate What You’re Doing
On land, but the moment I’m on the water, in my elite surfski and zero feather wing paddle, I immediately capsize on the first stroke. Even while lilly dipping I’ll end up in the water as soon as I add some ooph to the stroke. Now, this doesn’t happen to me while using a conventional flat blade kayak paddle unfeathered, only the wing.
Yup, change to feather takes practice
For most people changing the feather angle to something other than what they are used to takes some practice. It is not that 0 is less stable than 60 or the other way around - it is that the muscle memory is pretty good and most people can’t be 100% effective when switching feather.
I have no problems with stability on 0 feather on my surfski. But when I switch to 60 degree or so feather, I need to “think” on how I plant my paddle, or I get it wrong and the paddle dives (on my left, non-control side in my case). After half an hour, I get into the rhythm and I can paddle forward very well with the new feather angle. But every now and then a random stroke will still get it “wrong” and disbalance me (that does not happen when I use my familiar 0 feather).
It’s just the switching from one angle to another that’s the issue. Mainly dye to the fact that for 0 feather one has to alternate the control hands at each stroke. And that feels just as counter-intuitive to someone who is used to a single control hand (required on a feathered paddle) as using a single control hand feels to someone who is used to changing the control hand on each stroke (required on non-feathered paddle)…
Greg Barton has a great article on angle
FWIW I think your logic is sound and agree with it.
Minor disagreement on small angles
The 15 degree feather on my whitewater paddle feels extremely comfortable. At times it feels more natural than anything else while still feeling a bit different than zero.
This goes to how well my wrist comes out of a day of paddling. At over 60 yrs old and planning lots of music time still, I could give a darn about the blade efficiency in wind. If I have do to the paddling equivalent of churning uphill in a granny gear, I am OK with that. I am not OK if my wrists feel like I have to take them out of action for a couple of days to play my music.
The discussion about the feathering tends to get overweighted with speed/efficiency arguments, maybe just too many engineers involved. After a healthy number of years paddling, I care more about the physical comfort I experience at a given angle. I suspect I am not the only one.
Funny thing I realized last night.
The only thing I disagree with is that feathered requires a control hand. I was paddling last night, and thought to pay attention. My control hand switches with my feathered paddle basically as yours does with non-feathered. My one hand goes up and loose and positioned for the push. The other hand plants, controlling proper blade position, hooked for the pull.
I actually typically keep a fairly open upper hand with my 60 degree offset, and it is quite important that the upper hand is not gripped on either hand. As I raise one hand, and the other hand takes control for the plant, the shaft rotates just a bit in the loose upper hand before pushing on both sides. I was using a one-piece with oval shaft, and that oval probably helps with this, as the momentarily airborne paddle just seems to rotate itself into my hooked fingers on the plant hand. But I have paddles with oval only on one side, and I don’t notice myself doing anything differently. I’ll have to pay attention again next time with a round shaft. In any case, the moment I paid attention to what I was doing, I realized I couldn’t be using a control hand. I keep my upper hand fairly open on both sides.
But that gets to the funny thing I realized last night. Somewhere along the line, playing in the surf, I noticed I seem to favor low braces on my left side, and high braces on my right. When I notice such things, I usually make a point of practicing to eliminate this, and I have practiced. But a couple times recently, I kind of noted that I was naturally still favoring low brace on the left, high brace on the right. So finally, last night, it hits me that during my left-hand forward stroke, my right blade is in the high brace position. During my right-hand forward stroke, my left blade is in the low brace position.
Turns out I’m more intelligent than I’ve been smart enough to figure out. (Thinking, with utmost respect, of Yogi Berra with that comment.)
feather and wings
I use zero degree feather with my Jantex and Epic wings and my V12 surf ski, without any issue. I still get some peers and instructors telling me that it can’t be done, or can’t be done well.
The muscle memory involved, once you have learned feathered/unfeathered is extremely hard to unlearn and that makes it tough to compare one technique over the other.
I started kayaking feathered (ninety degree), switched to 60 degree feathered, paddled mostly unfeathered for 20 years (Greenland paddle), and tried feathering again when I got into wing blades because of all the voodoo dogma I heard about the need to feather with a wing for proper rotation and reach, and because “everyone else was doing it”. I vastly prefer the symmetry and feel of unfeathered and was happy to find that a wing worked just fine unfeathered. I had no measurable difference in speed with either technique. If someone sees big differences in speed then they are probably much more competent/confident/comfortable with one technique over the other.
I’m often the only person with an unfeathered wing at events. I talked with Oscar Chalupsky and Lee McGregor about this and neither saw an issue with unfeathered. Lee even voiced he thought it was an advantage as it ensured good rotation. During a recent event with Sean Rice, however, Sean felt that feathering was required for a big rotation and expected to see an issue but when we paddled together, my rotation/technique looked fine to him.
I think a competent paddler can make almost any feather/control hand variation work. Each variant has its pros and cons. I’m not a fan of switching feather to match wind conditions because then you lose your reflexive brace (may slice water and capsize). My advise is pick one and focus on technique. Since Greenland-style is my main focus, it’s a no-brainer for me.
Now Try The Same on a Erg
Or indoor paddling machine equipped with a round bar. I would think that the dynamics would change when the blade meets resistance in the form of water instead of fan blades or even dead weight?
FWIW I have a speedstroke erg, normally paddle unfeathered, and the action on the Speedstroke feels completely natural. During the powerphase you “pull” with flat, neutral wrists, unfeathered or feathered, so I’m not sure why you would expect a different result on an erg.
I still think this is a muscle-memory thing. I had a very diffcult time “unlearning” feathered. Unfeathered is actually a much simpler motion IMO.
Feather & Control Hand
Yes, you can (and should, normally) relax your upper hand, no matter the feather angle. But with a feathered paddle you have to have a single "control" hand, no? Say you start with paddle stroke on your right. Right hand is low-pulling, left is high-pushing. Next, the paddle begins to exit the water. You are controlling the shaft with your right hand still. As the paddle rises to near horizontal and fully out of the water, you can now switch the hold from your right hand to your left, and your right hand does not need to be holding tight or control the shaft as the paddle positions and enters the water on the left side. You can have your right hand fully open now, as the left hand is pulling and the right is pushing. However, that does not mean the shaft is rotating in your right hand - it will rotate very little or not at all. If you have the right feather angle for the wrist alignment that corresponds to the paddling angle (high or low angle paddling style), even though you are not holding the shaft with your right hand, the shaft is really not rotating relative to your right wrist - because of the feather angle on the paddle matching where your wrist should be. Exactly as the Werner FAQ says. So far so good. Paddle is now up in the air, ready to move across the kayak to the other side. Your left hand is the control hand at the moment, if you like (or you keep control with the right until you are in position the dip it on the left side. Up to you. During the stroke on the left, again - up to you which hand has "control". Some like the lower hand to have control, some like the upper hand to control the shaft - the shaft is not rotating, it's just which hand is holding it and not letting it rotate during the power phase. As your paddle begins to get near the end of the power phase of the stroke on the left, right blade is still up in the air and the left is still down in the water, now you have to grip again with your right hand and release the grip on your left hand. You have to do that - or your paddle blade on the right will not be perpendicular to the direction of the boat's travel.
Try it, you will see that even though you maybe indeed releasing the grip on the control hand while it is pushing, that hand has to be holding and controlling the rotation of the shaft nearly twice as often vs. the other hand for each full left-right paddle cycle. So, your right wrist is working nearly 2x as much as the left, at a minimum.
So to clarify, with a feathered paddle, you can switch which hand grips between left and right. But you control the position of the shaft only with one hand from as much as 100% of the time (if you do not switch the holding hands) to as little as 2/3 of the time (if you switch as you say you do).
On a feathered paddle, you can't control the shaft equally with both hands - not possible with a feathered paddle. Many people do not ever switch the grip, so they both hold the paddle tight with only one hand and control the shaft position with that same hand. 100% one-hand action in this case.
Just no way around it, as far as I can tell. I might shoot a second segment to the video, showing exactly that.
For people with feathered paddles of the "correct feather angle", per Werner's FAQ) who switch the grip hand from right to left and back during the stroke cycle, the rhythm of the griping-releasing is like this (starting with the paddle in the water on the right, ready to begin the power phase). Let's say the paddle is vertical and that is designated as 0 degree position (out of 360 for the full circle it will eventually make by the tome it comes back to this same starting position).
- Right hand grips, from 0 (shaft vertical on the right side) to 90 degrees (shaft is now horizontal, in the air on the right side)
- Left hand grips, from 90 degrees to 225 degrees (top blade forward, low blade in the water and to the rear, on the left side)
- Right hand grips, for the last part, from 225 to 360 degrees, which brings the paddle back to the starting position, having completed one full circle.
Adding the above: Left hand grips only from 90 to 225 degrees (for a total of 135 degrees). Right hand grips for the remaining up to 360 degrees (225 degrees). In this scenario, the right hand controls the shaft position 225/135=1.7 times as much as the left hand. In other words, right hand has to control the shaft position at least about 2/3 of the time for each full stroke cycle.
If the right hand never lets the left hand control the position of the shaft, as many paddlers practice, then the right hand controls the shaft 100% of the time.
Sorry for the long-winded explanation, but I don't see another way to describe it.
I’m a Pusher rather than a Puller
So the plant is very important to me. Speedstroke has a unit where the seat glides forward and you get to experience the sensation of moving up and past your plant. However, I haven’t figured out a way to create an offset to duplicate a feathered paddle while using it.
Regarding muscle memory, It will take me 10 to 15 minutes to retrain the brain to send the proper signals to all the receptors that should be involved with my stroke, whether feathered or not. In fact, I like to mix it up using an assortment of different paddles, lengths, widths and offsets with or w/o indexing.
Why would offset matter?
I have not used ergos for kayaking, but isn’t the top part of the shaft virtually free of tension and the string is not pulling? So the top half can be at an offset vs. the bottom half? And since the bottom half that is pulling is always oriented forward while under tension, why would an offset or not be an issue? As long as you can orient the strings at an offset, it should work.
retrain the brain
Sure, you can spend a few minutes muddling through when you change your feather and do pretty well. What takes a very long time to change is your reflexive brace (having to respond instantly to a situation and brace without thinking). If your reflex is to feather and you are using unfeathered, you will likely slice the water and capsize when the need arises to brace by instinct and reflex.
That said, even after 20 years of giving up on feathered as my primary technique, my right hand still tries to “take over” as the control hand at times. This is demonstrated in my case by different callous patterns on my hands, and how my paddle tape wears differently on the right and left sides of the shaft.
You may want to look at the modification this fellow did to allow using a feathered blade with his erg. His balance modification is interesting too: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t24O06WV7wQ
They are worth observing. My hands near the lower parts of the thumbs used to have calluses that were in slightly different locations for left and right hands. I consciously worked at tweaking the forward stroke. Now the hands match each other for callus locations, but the lower callus on the right hand is still bigger than its counterpart on the left hand. I take this to mean I should slightly loosen my grip on the right.
Also, though not mentioned in the above threads, I found it is easier to dial in the stroke since I switched to shorter paddles (200cm instead of 205cm, Euro). Switched the WW paddle, too, down to 185cm instead of 191cm. I get better torso rotation now and can even see sharper definition in lower torso muscles that run diagonally.
I think I do get what you’re saying.
With my right hand feather paddle, it’s possible for my right hand to maintain a grip, but not possible for my left hand to maintain a grip.
If I did left hand feather, it would be possible for my left hand to maintain a grip, but not possible for my right hand to maintain a grip.
So you’re saying that this defines one hand as the control hand. The two arms can still make the same motion on either side of the stroke, the active blade can be controlled by the active hand, and the upper hand can be open, but because in transition, one arm initiates twist, and the opposite hand allows twist, we will define that as a control hand.
I can see the logic, until I recognize how that leads people to try using a feathered paddle. The “control hand” is not required to grip the paddle or control the stroke. It’s just a transition thing. It is the arm anatomically positioned to initiate a shaft twist in the other hand no matter which side of the stroke you’re on.
For what I described about myself above, all the shaft twist in my right hand means is that I’m allowing my right arm more freedom as to how it aligns itself with the shaft for the push. I don’t have to maintain a grip and have that be entirely dictated by the shaft position. On the water, a lot of these things become much less deliberate. Your upper arm slices the blade up out of the water around the hip, and the other arm goes forward and down. In this transition, in real life, the control of this shaft rotation is so subtle as to be unnoticeable. So in practice, it’s pretty much the oval shaft getting a subtle flick from my thumb on the right side when I raise my right arm, while the shaft freely rotates on my thumb on the left. When I lift my left arm, I again allow the shaft to freely rotate on my left thumb, and I relax the right thumb and let the oval shaft rotate downward. It’s simply for setup during transition, and has nothing to do with control of the power phase of any stroke, or the hand that needs to be in control of the power phase of any stroke. So if you looked at it in terms of the hand in control while the paddle is engaged with the water and contributing to movement of the kayak, the left hand could be in control of the left blade 100% of the time, and the right hand could be in control of the right blade 100% of the time. The blade is sliced up verticle by the upper arm to free it from the water, and then a twist is initiated by movement of the “control” lower arm, prior to plant. But again, this control is a subtle little twist initiation. When described as right-hand control, I sure didn’t go about that control with appropriate subtlety, and by accounts of wrist problems, not to mention people who just go on with grips and wrist flex because they happen to get away with it, I don’t think most do.
If your body rotation isn’t perfect, if your paddler’s box doesn’t maintain exact angles throughout the stroke at all times, that wrist alignment with your upper hand grip will be imperfect and changing, and this can lead to wrist problems. Allow that shaft some free movement in your upper hand, and all that movement is taken right off of your wrist. This is important whether using feathered or unfeathered.
We might have lost the general audience with this lengthy discussion of a very simple motion, but I’m on-board with what you wrote
Very nice video, thanks!