To feather or not to feather? That is the question. I’ve always rented kayaks up until a few weeks ago when I bought my own. I believe that most of those paddles were unfeathered. These past couple week, I’ve been using my adjustable paddle with the angle set to zero. I did try various settings, from 15 to 60 and they all feel a bit odd (probably since I’m used to zero).

I’ve read a lot about this online and it seems there’s no “right” answer. It seems to me that feathering just creates more work with each stroke because you have to constantly twist the blade so it is at the right orientation when it grabs the water. Also, I’m thinking of trying a Greenland paddle at some point, so maybe I should just stick with zero?

sounds like you’ve got it
There is no correct answer. Feather angle may be determined in part by your stroke angle, I know mine is. I generally use a higher angle stroke and like you, found that an unfeathered paddle requires no wrist rotation, which is what I was taught to strive for in adjusting the feather angle. Feather angle can also help you in strong winds by keeping the offside blade parallel to the wind direction.

Whatever works for you

– Last Updated: Sep-11-15 10:54 AM EST –

Double bladed paddles with feathered blades originated in the European slalom racing circuit. These paddles had a high degree of feather, typically 80-90 degree offset. The offset of the high blade made gate touches less likely than for non-feathered blades.

Whitewater kayaking in North America largely evolved from European slalom racing and that included boat and paddle design. Early whitewater kayaks used in the US were either direct copies of slalom boats or designed to resemble them. They tended to be long and narrow.

Whitewater paddles followed suit with 80 or 90 degrees of feather common.

Using a feathered paddle with a lot of offset requires one to maintain a continuous grip with the "control hand" and allow the paddle shaft to rotate loosely in the non-control hand when setting the angle to plant the blade. This becomes very natural after a while. I still usually use a paddle with 80 degree offset blades when kayaking whitewater. But just because you can get used to using a feathered paddle with a lot of offset does not mean you should.

The wind resistance argument really doesn't hold up. For any given degree of offset from zero to 90 degrees there will be a wind direction that puts the feathered paddle at a disadvantage. The worst wind direction for a feathered paddle with a high degree of offset is from abeam where the wind can create quite a bit of force on the high, offset blade that tends to want to push the in-water blade either away from the boat or into it.

The only other argument in favor of a feathered paddle is that a high degree of feather makes it easier to slice the recovering paddle blade forward through big waves when necessary.

As time has passed whitewater paddlers have mainly gone to lesser and lesser degrees of offset, initially from 80-90 degrees to 45-60 degrees, to 30-45 degrees and now paddles with 15 degrees or less of offset are quite common.

There really aren't any strong arguments in favor of feathered paddles for people who are not slalom racers. For myself, I find that using a paddle with 12-15 degrees of offset is more comfortable than using an unfeathered paddle. With that little offset one does not need to use a control hand but can maintain a fixed grip with both hands. I find that a little offset places the wrist of the hand controlling the recovering blade in a somewhat more comfortable position. But you might be different.

second no one bets answer
I second that there is no one best answer. Whatever you are comfortable with.

Until you get to rolling or bracing, changing feathers to try different things is fine. When you get to rolling and bracing (where instinctual knowledge of the position of each blade is important), it would take someone with better awareness than I to be able to change feathers and still do them well.

I’ll use both
I prefer unfeathered as I know my blade is always in the brace position on both sides.

However, if I face a long paddle into a strong headwind I sometimes feather it to reduce the effort to swing the fat paddle face forward. That’s adds a little nervousness to the trip as I hope when I need a quick brace, the blade is in the right orientation.

that was really good. thanks
I never knew how feathering came to be so common, practically the norm for euro paddles.

Actually the argument…
for feathering that I have heard is that the correct feather means you don’t have to twist the paddle around for a clean entry into the water. And I have messed around with very slight degrees of feathering, like 15 to 20 degrees, and indeed found that the angle represents what happens if I leave a paddle loosely set in the middle so it can twist around some as I paddle.

That said, I paddle mostly unfeathered despite the efficiency arguments from some. I should note that speed is not my most important paddling goal, except for short bursts to get across a channel or whatever. Partly I am concerned that I would not be able to acclimate to the angle change in rolling between the two sides. Having both sides is something I have to retrieve, but my recall is that a highly feathered paddle was decidedly not helpful when I was getting my left side.

I’m retarded


no images of unfeathered?

Good info so far - my own experience…

– Last Updated: Sep-11-15 2:03 PM EST –

Good info in the thread so far. My own experience is that around 60-70 degree feather angle does make a noticeable difference in reducing the wind resistance paddling upwind against stiff winds vs. 0 feather. When you have to slug it for an hour or more upwind, that adds-up very noticeably. And I am not talking racing, just fitness/recreational paddling for fun. For fast kayak/surfski racing I do not know a single person who does not feather significantly - every little thing counts there.

Still, I paddle at 0 degree offset, since the time I picked-up Greenland paddles a few years ago. I paddled 65 degree or so for the first few years and it felt great too. But with the 0 degree Greenland paddles I found it difficult to switch between them and feathered paddles, so I chose unfeathered. Nowadays I do white water, flat water, and surfski paddling, and other than the abovementioned upwind paddling, 0 feather seems great to me.

The argument that an offset paddle will present a large area against the most vulnerable direction, from the side, is certainly valid. One needs to make the tradeoff themselves about which is more important for them.

I can switch between feathered and unfeathered and for forward stroke it seems to be fine. But my automatic bracing fails on the non-control side when I occasionally switch to feathered from my usual 0 degree offset. Just this Labor Day weekend I did it on my surfski paddling upwind and it works well vs. the non-feathered, after the first few minutes I get used to it enough to not pay attention to it in a straight line. But my non-control hand does not perform as well with the feathered paddle when I have to do something other than paddle forward, as my control hand since I've lost the automatic reflexes that are required with a feathered paddle that I once had... I now have my reflexes tuned to a non-feathered paddle...

Oh sure
A highly feathered paddle is advantageous in a strong headwind, and if I had an adjustable take apart paddle and faced a long slog into the wind, I would feather it.

My point is that the wind is not always blowing from ahead, and for those with one piece feathered paddles there will be plenty of times when the wind would have less tendency to catch an unfeathered one.

I agree with Celia that for me a small amount of offset, somewhere around 10-15 degrees, will allow the paddle to be used without torquing the wrists.

Reflexes certainly do tune in.
I’ve done 60 degree feather from the start, for whatever reasons some New England folks were giving me in the beginning of my paddling. I hopped in someone else’s sea kayak recently to paddle it up the beach for them. The wind, waves, and longshore current had carried them a long way down, and they were struggling some to paddle back through the breaking waves and current of the surf zone. It was a non-feathered blade, and I would imagine I looked as ridiculous as I felt. Some of the ugliest entries for strokes and maneuvers I’ve witnessed, let alone performed myself. Flat out loud slaps sometimes, followed up by strange out-of-balance lunges this way and that. I really had to concentrate on modifying the behavior of my upper arm, and there was nothing pretty about it. Muscle memory is quite tuned into my feather angle at this point. But I got the job done, with a big smile on my face.

The lower hand is entirely intuitive. That hand and arm are in the exact same position regardless of the offset of the off-side blade. That goes whether planting the blade for a forward stroke, bracing, or rolling. It’s the muscle memory of the opposite arm that got in my way.

You may or may not notice that I say the position of the opposite arm, and not wrist. The wrist stays straight.

I’m not at a disadvantage for rolling or bracing or any such thing. I’m sure one could try to argue about it, but I’m really not at a disadvantage with a feathered blade in those things. The active blade in relation to the active hand do exactly the same thing. If you can allow one hand to absolutely lead the other, you have no issues. But it seems my arms are sort of tuned into working in concert with one another more than being led by one another. As above, my experience with a non-feathered paddle would equate to a non-feathered paddlers experience with an experimental use of a feathered one. I’m sure I could work through that quirk in no time. My anecdote does nothing to exemplify the superiority of one over the other.

When asked, I suggest that people use what feels best to them, and I say most just stick with unfeathered blades. Why do I stick with feathered? In my experience, the most difficult situations for forward progress are against wind, waves, and breaking through surf zones. I believe the single most important determining factor for determining my sea kayaking limits is the level of conditions in which I am still able to make meaningful progress. A feather offers its biggest advantage in my perception of my most difficult situation - the thing that defines my ending-point of proficiency. So I simply choose mitigating my difficulties into a wind over mitigating difficulties of something like a beam wind catching the upper blade. And paddling through waves, the blade slicing through the upper part of a wave instead of catching it is nice.

Being able to constantly switch feather up and adjust would be nice. But my muscle memory, as I recently experienced, is incredibly reliable without thought. Blade angle control gets pretty tuned in. So I’ve been happy sticking with that deeply engrained muscle memory developed around a consistent paddle orientation. I haven’t figured there’s anything definitively right or wrong about it. It’s just what I’ve done with it personally.

I haven’t looked for Freya

– Last Updated: Sep-11-15 7:42 PM EST –

naked.....does Freya feather or not ?

wuhwuhwuhwuh .......

feathering is soooooo far off my skill level.

shall I take up French Art 1806-1830 as a hobby or not....something like that.

When sea kayaking
I’ve found paddling in a headwind it to be a very rare event. Short of deploying a sea anchor (drogue), I’m not certain how one would be able to continue paddling into a strong headwind. But yes, should that happen, a feathered paddle has some advantages.

Most often, the winds here vary in direction rather significantly. Though the prevailing winds are generally from a single direction, there is still sufficient gusting and variation, even on open water (probably from the effects of coastal mountains) to pretty much guarantee that a feathered paddle at 90 degrees will catch air and try to sail out of your hand.

So, a small degree of feather may be of some use, but since I have now conditioned myself to brace, roll, and generally boat-handle with an unfeathered paddle, that is the way I keep things.

I have yet to be in a situation where paddling with a 0 offset created any problem worse than brief moments of extra effort, though I have been in several where a feathered paddle wanted to escape from my grasp (I don’t grip the paddle, I cradle it in partially closed hands - claw fashion). Because of this, I’ve had feathered paddles completely blown out of one hand in high beam winds (30 MPH+). In those same conditions, I’ve seen those that grip their feathered paddles (generally at or near 90 degrees) tightly capsize when the wind catches beneath the exposed blade. This should not happen with a small degree of feather, but I am now so well conditioned to the straight paddle, that I doubt I’ll ever go back.

So go with what works for you, as others point out. As you gain proficiency with using the paddle for all those things (bracing, rolls, rudder, ect.) involved in boat handling, you become more and more dependent upon having the paddle at the configuration in which you learned those skills. I really had to adjust, for example, to relearn (mostly my roll) when I switched to an unfeathered paddle.


No onesizefitsall answer
I started with zero, did that for years, and then switched for one year to 15 deg feather (and got my other-side roll during this period). I also tried 30 deg feather but did not like it. Next I waited till after months of no paddling in the Colorado winter. When spring arrived, I tried both ways to see which felt more natural. Verdict was easy: for me, zero feather still felt better. I switched back to it and haven’t looked back since.

Bodies vary; paddling styles vary. You need to decide for yourself, without the BS that tends to festoon this debate.

60-70 degree as well
I started with feathering and can’t imagine not but I guess it’s what you find comfortable and stick with. I don’t think I could switch back and forth between one or the other either without suffering some pretty sloppy paddling. My main interest is speed and the feathering seems to make me remember to set up instead of rushing to the catch so it works for me.

The gal who sold me my first boat (a short, wide rec boat) showed me how to feather my first paddle (a long, heavy Carlisle) and told me to paddle that way. Since she also told me that I didn’t need to wear a PFD, just stash it someplace on the boat, I decided to ignore everything she told me and have paddled unfeathered since day one.

It works for me and my theory is if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it.

I stated paddling with old Nordkapp paddle with a 90 feather, honestly I never had any wrist issues (which is the usual complaint about feathering). I still paddle feathered and it feels more natural for my me, unfeathered feels like it put more sideways pressure on my wrists.

You should do whatever feels right for you, but I would suggest you do experiment a bit.

still at zero
The more I paddle, zero feather just feels normal so I guess I’ll stick with that. Maybe it’s because that’s how I started and I’m just accustomed to it. I’m thinking this will probably help things if I ever decide to try a Greenland paddle. I appreciate all the advice!

besides that
how do they keep all those feathers dry?