Paddle backwards???

Since I can't paddle at the high normal angle for any prolonged period, due to nerve damage, I will soon be obtaining a Greenland style paddle.
On our 1.5 hour paddle today, at one point I commented to Carol about how much easier it seemed to paddle backwards.
Just as an experiment, when we got headed out again, I turned my Aquabound Stingray paddle around so that the larger side of the asymetrical blade surface entered the water first, and I was pulling against the back side of the blade.
I was able to go faster, longer, and with MUCH less effort than when paddling with the "power" side of the blade.
And, I did not experience any of the shoulder discomfort I normally get from paddling.
Of course, most of you were probably aware of this.
For the few who were not ,and are not so settled in their ways to shun experimentation; give it a try!
I know that the increased slippage of the back side of the paddle was what gave me the reduced effort. What was a surprise was the PERFORMANCE!

Couple questions
I must admit I get a little suspicious when someone says something that makes it seem like all the careful experimentation and design that goes into a tool is for naught.

First, I wasn’t aware that asymetrical blades had a “larger” side. The shape may be different on each side of the centerline, but the overall surface area is usually about the same, is it not?

Second, how did you measure your speed and effort? Speed estimation without doing timed runs or using a GPS are pretty worthless, or at least that’s been true of my own experience. Too much about the “feel” of the boat and how it paddles gets in the way of one’s perception of what the speed is. Also, any partners you are paddling with (especially if there’s just one or two) will often alter their speed to match yours without even thinking about it, so it’s no good to compare your speed to them.

My paddling took
. . . a tremendous leap forward when I switched to a much smaller blade. My strokes became more consistent, I had less trouble with elbow tendonitis, and I was about 50% faster at comfortable cruising speed. Interestingly, my sprint speed did not change that much because my strokes were much cleaner with the smaller blade. I suspect the same sort of effect for you by turning the blade over.

I am not a huge believer in improving through better equipment; improvement comes by being a better paddler. Yet, because a friend saw a potential problem for me and let me borrow his paddle, I immediately became a much better paddler because my equipment better suited my strengths and downplayed my weaknesses.

Asking the same question.

– Last Updated: Oct-29-05 10:38 PM EST –

Your comfortable cruising speed is now 50 percent faster? That's huge. For example, if a comfortable cruising speed was 4 mph before (never met a kayaker who couldn't cruise at that speed), you now cruise at 6 mph? You should start racing. Or maybe are you just guessing at that 50 percent speed increase. What do you say?

Careful experamentation is something
we should all try just like him. A lot of new gear and design is just that, “for naught” (you can’t sell the same exact thing the other company sells, can you? You must have your own gimmic. Don’t let them fool you!). Or maybe it’s just naught for him but tis for you.

Get the GP, I think you’ll enjoy it Bob.

Yeah I know it’s "experimentation"
Can’t spell

paddle usage
I don’t see anything relating to 50% faster speed. The gentleman only related difficulty he had using his paddle a specific way and felt (for him) the improvement by reversing the blade.

Due to individual body length or girth, boat size/style, each of us have our own style of using a paddle, boat and the elements around us. By those sharing their observations, this is how we learn from them.

We are all individuals with our own quirks.

The main thing is, get out there and enjoy the great outdoors and don’t put so much importance on your speed, unless you’re in a race. Paddling a boat for me is about enjoyment. Some of the benefits are fresh air, stress relief, a more fit body (working on that), peaceful environment and the company of other paddlers.

Subjective measures
My Aquabound Stingray paddle has area on one side of the shaft that appears to be larger than the area on the other side. I held the paddle so that this “apparently” larger side entered the water first.

Understand that, due to my physical limitation, I am constrained to paddle at a low angle, or pay the price.

I have a GPS, but didn’t use it on this trip.

Effort was easy to feel by reversing the paddle. Of course, paddling with the back side of the blade, with increased slippage “feels” like less effort.

My perception of speed was from visually referring to the shoreline, and to my partner, who paddles at a VERY constant rate.

I make NO claim to having discovered the “next great idea”. I am simply reporting my subjective findings in the hopes that someone else who may also suffer discomfort from the conventional stye of paddling, and may not be able to afford $160-250 or more for a commercially made GP (or have the tools or know-how to make their own) could have another alternative.

And yes, run-on sentences are my forte! :slight_smile:


Cruising speed

– Last Updated: Oct-30-05 12:05 PM EST –

I was with much more maniacal kayakers than myself and had joined them for a 45 mile leg of what they are planning on as a 611 mile trip down the Tennessee River. The brought me along as a rookie and I was a much better paddler at the end of the trip than at the beginning; there is nothing like good instruction, proper equipment, and pain to refine the inefficiencies of the paddling stroke.

I began the trip comfortably cruising at 3 to 3.5 mph in my Sirocco and ended it in the 4.8 to 5.2 range, all speeds were measured by GPS and current was accounted for.

I never imagined that decreasing the surface area (and lightening) my paddle could make such a difference! If you have never tried a smaller paddle, I would encourage you to do so.

The indent feature

– Last Updated: Oct-30-05 2:30 PM EST –

Used properly, the indent feature of this site allows individual responses to anyone within the thread. I should add that I fully agree with all the other stuff you just wrote, and I normally don't have much to say regarding people's paddling methods, except when they really go out on a limb and challenge something that's well established (like the guy who recently said using the sit-and-switch method has no apparent value at all). In particular, I have never questioned the suitability of smaller blades for kayakers who like how they feel/work for the type of boating they do. I was just questioning whether this person's speed improvement was really as great as stated just from using smaller blades.

Also, in the response below, the very person I was "talking" to responds with his answer to my question. He pretty well cleared things up for me.

Got it
Of course, in this example, you can’t ignore the effects of learning a better stroke.

I HAVE used smaller blades, and didn’t like it at all. But then, I am a canoer, not a kayaker. I started solo canoeing using a 230 cm kayak paddle with standard-size blades (a Werner Camano). I was extremely impressed with the way this paddle felt and the way the blade curvature allowed it to enter the water quietly and efficiently, but for horseing a canoe around in tight quarters it was useless, even though I’m an extreme lightweight. Nothing is more frustrating than executing what should be a suitable steering stroke or side-slip stroke that accomplishes virtually nothing at all (granted, this was with a canoe having almost no rocker). I then switched to a 230 cm Mohawk double-blade having a lot more blade area, and suddenly I could make the canoe change directions as I wished, and the boat would also stop and start on command, something wasn’t possible when using the Werner paddle.

I’ve now weened myself from double-blade paddles and marvel at the higher level of control that’s possible with a single. I also have a couple of very maneuverable solo canoes I didn’t have before. Even so, I still prefer a larger blade (a blade which may be fairly average for canoeing). My main paddle has a blade that measures 8.5" x 20", while my “rock basher” that I use in extreme shallows has a blade that’s 6.25" x 19". For normal paddling, the smaller-bladed paddle slips way too much for my tastes; I can’t cruise as easily with it, and compared using the bigger blade, I can’t turn, side-slip, and start/stop worth a darn.

I’ve noticed that all these discussions of small paddle blades refer to kayaking in open to semi-open conditions where sharp turns and quick start/stops are not needed. I wonder if there are any kayakers who paddle in rapids or in tight quarters who see any advantage of using small paddle blades. I also wonder if any of this applies to single-blade paddles, where paddling faster to make up for slippage seems like it would be less efficient since you also need to apply multi-direction forces during most strokes, rather than just being able to crank up the RPMs.

Thanks for the canoe perspective.
I have next to no experience in canoes and very little with kayaks in whitewater.

One of my “concerns” about a smaller surface area paddle was the possible effects on my roll. Happily, I can still roll which, as the instructional videos tell me, shouldn’t really depend on the size of your paddle anyway.

I have noticed, however, that my sweeps aren’t quite as effective. Though I am not a “speed” guy and enjoy the pace and peace of paddling, I do appreciate learning skills and doing something better than I could before. The tradeoff is worth it for me and I never would have even considered it had I not been out with better paddlers.

Why Bob went faster backwards
BMWBob wrote: “I turned my Aquabound Stingray paddle around so that the larger side of the asymetrical blade surface entered the water first, and I was pulling against the back side of the blade. I was able to go faster, longer, and with MUCH less effort than when paddling with the “power” side of the blade.”

Interesting finding! But this may say more about your present forward stroke than about the efficiency of using your blade backwards. Based on what you said, I’d like to know:

(1) Do you bury your blade completely in the catch part of the stroke, or do you (as most paddlers do) “catch” the water with a partially submerged blade and gradually bury the blade as you compete the stroke?

(2) Do you lift your blade from the water as your back hand gets to the hips, or do you continue to sweep further back before lifting?

It would be nice if your were right, and that you and I, and lots of others could become faster, more efficient paddlers by using our paddles backwards. More likely, even bigger gains in efficiency and speed can be gained through refining your technique. I’m guessing that you normally do not fully bury the blade during the catch part of the stroke. By switching and using your aymmetrical paddle backwards and UPSIDE DOWN you are placing the half of the blade with more surface area in the water first – and thus getting more blade in the water at the beginning of the stroke when it matters most. Second, I’m guessing that you are using a long stroke in which the hands sweep past the hips. The lengthwise curve of a euro paddle held in a normal position only accentuates the inefficent lateral movement of the blade at the end of the stroke. On the other hand, by switching and using the paddle backwards, the now reverse curve of the blade probably slightly mitigates this lateral motion.

My suggestion, then, is to experiment with using the paddle both ways – and to focus on burying the blade at the catch part of the stroke and pulling the blade out sooner. Let us know what you find out.

paddling backwards etc
"I am not a huge believer in improving through better equipment; improvement comes by being a better paddler. Yet, because a friend saw a potential problem for me and let me borrow his paddle, I immediately became a much better paddler because my equipment better suited my strengths and downplayed my weaknesses."

The quote above applies to me too. I have rotator cuff tendinitis and tennis elbow. I experimented with UNfeathering my Euro-style paddle and tried a low angle Greenland type stroke, rotating my torso rather than my wrists. Amazing improvement in tolerance by my bad joints, and no discernable loss in paddling efficiency. This has worked so well that I had my new one-piece Euro paddle epoxied unfeathered. The only reason I didn’t switch to a Greenland paddle is that most of my use is with an Adirondack pack canoe, and the GP drips too much water into the boat and on me. Drip rings certainly do help.

More details
It is a pinched nerve condition that I have which prevents me from using a high angle traditional stroke for very long. If I persist in it, I develop what feels like a hard cramp in my (left only) shoulder. Switching to a low angle stroke has all but eliminated this discomfort.

I had been doing the approximate 45 degree insertion angle, which automatically placed a pretty good bit of the paddle surface in the water, though that’s something that I never really concentrated on.

In the conventional stroke, I was carefully observing that I did not carry the stroke beyond my hip and begin either turning the boat, or lifting water at the end of the stroke.

As I have stated, my results were subjective. I have NO desire to reinvent the wheel, and would quite agree that I have room to improve my stroke, as do many of us newbies.

I do ,however, take the greatest delight in challenging “conventional wisdom” when the results obtained thereby differ from my own experience.

Once more, I am NOT claiming any revelation that will revolutionize kayaking. Simply stating the facts of my own experience in the hopes that someone else who suffers joint problems as I do may benefit.


Reinventing the wheel
I understand your reason for posting . Please understand my reason as well: as a paddler still refining my technique and as a teacher of paddling (including occasional doses of conventional wisdom) I am puzzled by your findings and am trying to understand them – in order to add to my own knowledge and to be better able to advise others.

It’s easy to see why using a paddle backwards would decrease resistence (and that’s a good thing in your case). Harder to understand is why it resulted in an increase in speed.

I’m experimenting with smaller
single blades to propell my kayak (I got to be different for some stupid reason). I’m using some short bladed paddles in a King Island shape but few inches shorter. I think I’m going to try a longer narrower version next.

King Island paddle:

In the Greenland paddle community
his findings are on par with what we have discovered. Yeah it doesn’t make sense but it is true to a certain extent.