into the wind, big or small

For making efficient progress directly into a strong wind and head seas, would you choose your large bladed paddle and use powerful strokes, or your smaller blade, perhaps at higher cadence?

Smaller for me
I would want a smaller blade paddle.

It will catch less wind. The larger would wear me out sooner.

Jack L

Smaller for me as well
Even with a single blade (so I don’t have to deal with the paddle catching the wind)I prefer a smaller blade and a higher cadence any time I want to put on the power.

The only thing I like a bigger blade for is whitewater or surf where I’m doing lots of control strokes in aerated water.

Higher cadence
and whatever blade size gets you there. But the most important long term effect of a bad blade choice is shoulder damage. We have a friend who has had to have surgery on both shoulders due to a combination of age and undue love for a really big blade. They now paddle greenland, post-surgeries.

I’m thinking about diminished returns. Cruising in a slower kayak, I know a smaller blade/shorter shaft will prevent me from doing too much work at the diminished returns level. I could also just control this on my own with my cadence, but smaller blades/shorter shaft won’t allow me to apply as much power at the significantly diminished returns level, assuming my cadence rate is limited on the top end also, which isn’t really an assumption.

Then there’s the question of whether my cadence will be slowed down to a level that’s less efficient for me. This could be a case of less blade/length is more.

The interesting thing when involving wind is at what level of power you reach those diminished returns. It’s a lot simpler just dealing with your hull in the water. Kayaks get closer to maximum hull speed, and extra power doesn’t yield much. If applying twice the power only yields a 15% increase in speed, there is more reason to lay off the power a bit. But if you’re not approaching hull speed, and it’s actually the wind you’re fighting, extra applied power that yields very little on a calm flatwater day could perhaps not have diminished returns yet. It could yield quite a bit.

Yes, of course, if you’re not strong enough or have good enough technique to comfortably maintain higher application of power without injury for any reason, you have nothing to consider. Everyone has their own personal strength and stamina limit.

But in a strong wind, where I can use more power without hitting a speed wall, I’m not yet hitting those diminished returns, and I’m strong enough and feel up to applying more power for the distance I’m traveling, I might not want to go to a smaller blade. I might just use something with a little firmer catch and enjoy the challenge.

So if the fight is against the wind and not hull speed efficiency, I can see where perhaps working a little harder than usual could prove worthwhile in terms of travel speed.

just like a bicycle
high gear (large blade) for downhill (downwind) and small blade when going into a wind. I don’t switch paddles as quick as I switch gears on a bike but given enough miles and enough wind I will use one blade for the upwind direction then change paddles for downwind.

my backup paddle is identical to my paddle.

Candence for less wasted effort, shorter stroke and better balance.

Just a few days ago I bought a new paddle–not that I needed it, but it was different and I thought it might be an interesting alternate. I don’t want to mention the brand, but this blade has no spoon, in fact it is slightly negative in that aspect. Thus the catch is very subtle–what there is of it. My first impression was that this thing should be easy on shoulders, arms and everything else. The problem is that it takes more strokes to get the job done, so the wear and tear is essentially the same. However, when you need a quick grab on the water, such as when you’re in a challenging seaway, the catchless paddle is not what I want. The bottom line is this paddle is going back to the shop.

Subsequent to the new paddle test, I happened to encounter a day of paddling in the strongest sustained winds and hairiest waves I’ve ever had to beat back into to get back to my launch site. To say the least it was a slog with a lot of paddling that had nothing to do with cadence. It was grabbing water here and there and skipping a lot of stokes to keep from driving the boat too hard over the peaks and slamming into the oncoming bumps. I generally don’t see the gain in purposely burying the bow in green water, so I let the boat dictate our forward progress. The paddle for this occasion was my Camano and I was so grateful that this was not the day that I chose to test the new paddle.

So, would I choose a higher cadence, less powerful paddle for big waves and wind–not a chance, but neither would I want anything that was different than what I am used to.

Some confusion
in that you mention two factors that may affect paddling in heavy conditions.

My answer to the initial question is that all things being equal I would prefer the smaller blade, heavy conditions or not. I have found that large blades wear the paddler down more than they help move the boat. Though they do provide a lot of surface for bracing, I find that narrower blades do just as well and experienced paddlers just don’t need that much blade to make an effective brace or roll.

The other factor you mention is the shorter shaft, which changes things a bit. If the length of one of the paddles fit my comfort zone and the other did not, I’d use that, despite the size of the blade surface. I feel that a comfortable cadence is more important to comfort than the extra effort required to move the larger blade.


Greenland in the wind
My first day using it, I ran into some unforecasted 30 KN headwinds, about 4 miles from my takeout landing. I was sold on it for windy conditions.

I would use the same paddle, feather it on the return stroke and paddle slower.

I’m with desertdave on this one
A nice Greenland paddle works great against the wind. If you want to use a feathered Euro paddle, use the narrowest blade you can find, like a Wind Swift or a Werner Athena. A wide blade will offer more resistance even when feathered.

Whatever one I’m using
Usually my spare is the same one I have in my hands.

Aleut or Greenland
Think about it: These folks paddled into extreme winds at times. Their paddles evolved to give them the best combination of power and low wind resistance. And that’s exactly what today’s AP or GP will give you.

BTW, the actual amount of square inches of blade in the water with an AP is pretty much equivalent to that of a Euro paddle, I had read. Which means that it gives you more power than you’re expecting.

My limited experience (I use the AP) comparing them is that the EP gives more immediate power on the first stroke or so, but not more after a few strokes than the AP.

Smaller GP
I always take two GPs. One with significantly less surface area for going into headwinds or just to change cadence when I feel like it. Think small chainring.

Agree with GP
Actually a storm GP is even better if you have practiced with it.

I don’t race…so my one size & density
is with me every day. Definitely in between small and large…I go straight-shaft 100% anyways, but more importantly is that my cadence will pick up as more wind hits me…thus I want a paddle with a little flex in the shaft, as I’m not in the gym pumping super heavy weights daily… That flex I want to give me some snap too…fwiw.

No Matter Big or Small
Flat or Wing, the method employed is the same: Zig Zag up wind.


You’re talking about sailing, right?