Paddle Length

What paddle length would most kayak racers recommend for the most powerful catch and stroke? Assuming you get a paddle that’s fit to your size. Is it best overall for the reach and catch to go shorter? Would less of a reach shorten your most powerful stage and give you less performance and speed or is it all in the cadence and blade submersion?

Maximizing Dynamic Lift
Assuming you have a telescopic shaft that can be adjusted up or down 10 cm at half cm increments, I would spend a few hours experimenting with different settings in order to exploit the dynamic lift effect way up front.

Racing paddle length
A longer paddle makes the catch easier (easier to bury), but can hinder the exit (paddle may go too deep), while a shorter paddle does just the opposite. Paddle length depends on many factors including your posture, seat height, paddling style and more. For racing, it’s hard to beat an adjustable length wing. While a one-piece paddle is lighter, I often adjust mine due to differences between boats, after adding a seat pad, etc.

Ideally your paddle blade will be buried fully at the catch and stay fully buried (without going too deep) until the exit. Good wing technique, where you allow the blade to flare away from the hull, will help with this.

Epic has a “paddle-wizard” at that may help to get you in the ballpark.

Greg Stamer

it can change
The longer I have used my wing the shorter I prefer my paddle. I started way out at 218 now I’m more comfortable around 213. Which according to the sizing charts is very short for me. As my form, consistency, and comfort in the paddling position increase the short the paddle needs to be. My reach and catch has improved by increasing my flexibility not paddle length.

Also adjustable paddles are great because you can change for conditions.

Ryan L.

Lateral or Parallel?
The wing paddle stroke today is to go parallel rather than lateral. This is what high school racers are being taught today. Like in swimming, where the long established S-Stroke is being abandoned in favor of the I-Pull. The same is happening in kayak racing.

Do you have any references about this (e.g. among top coaches or top kayakers, articles, etc)?

All the coaching I have been exposed to (and given) is that the wing is optimized to take advantage of a “lateral” stroke (blade starts at bow and exits approximately 12-18" from the side of the kayak), it does so naturally due to high pressure that builds up under the curved blade lip. A lateral stroke is also the natural byproduct of strong torso rotation.

The old (pre-wing) “parallel” stroke was primarily an arm-paddling technique.

Having said that, if you have any information, I’m always interested in new stroke techniques and theories.

Greg Stamer

Martin Nissen Canted Paddle Article
At should be of interest to you, especially about what NASA Scientist Al Bowers has to say about “sprinters:”

Canted with GP
Thanks for the link, Martin is a friend of mine. Yes, I’m certainly famililar with canting a Greenland-style paddle and have promoted that technique heavily since my first trip to Greenland in 2000 ( That said, even with a (canted) Greenland paddle I allow the paddle to move laterally away from bow during the power phase.

Greg Stamer

Martin’s quote
left this off the previous message…

In his article Martin wrote: “One stumbling point on which wing paddle users cannot agree is the stroke. Early use of wings emphasized the lateral motion, which was thought necessary for the production of lift. More recent developments by sprinters emphasize the paddle moving straight back with little lateral motion.”

I will correspond with Martin about that. That article is several years old and I don’t know any top Olympic level K-1 sprint athletes winning races that are not using a lateral stroke with their wing, and coaches such as Imre Kemecsey still teach a lateral stroke.

That said, I’m happy to be proven wrong, I’d rather have a better stroke than to be “right”. Science theory often seems to lag behind practical application when it comes to sports like swimming and kayaking.

Greg Stamer

Age is also a Factor in Paddle Length
Yes, you’re are right about flexability, for as a solo outrigger paddler, I start out with a 56" length paddle at the beginning of the season, and as my flexability improves, I’m back to using my trusty 51" length paddle.

And on a surfski, I find that I’ve gone from a 223 cm first generation wing of 22 years ago to now a 210 cm newer generation wing.

Curious as well
I first have to say, that I have coached junior sprint athletes…and/or junior sprint coaches…off and on for about 14 years.

When I was a relatively new coach, another coach told me that the current thinking was to promote a parallel stroke path. That was about 12 years ago.

My observation of currently available vids of international athletes appears to support the lateral motion.

Also very old, but interesting is this paper from Ross Sanders-

Again, very old, but rather than conjecture it has this amazing element called “n=”. Also known as sample size! The top performers in the study clearly used a more lateral path than lower performers.

I liked your comment about science theory lagging behind practical application! The story of the development of the wing paddle is a case in point. Many pre-wing athletes were using a slight lateral motion, coaches reprimanded them and insisted on a parallel motion. When asked why they did this, the athletes said they didn’t know the reason why, but it did make the boat go faster. And so a couple of Swedes tried to figure out why they did this, and developed the wing paddle to mimic what the athletes were doing by manipulation. Google “patent 4737126”, read the entire original description. Very interesting!

The Bow Moves Away From Paddle
Back in the days of first generation wings (where the tip of the blade was narrow like an airplane wing), I thought the blade was seeking “still water” as it carved out? You couldn’t pull straight back on it or else you’d flip over. However, it is actually the kayak that moves away from the paddle as demonstrated by the bow crafting side to side on each stroke.

And speed, and resistance
When using a sprint boat for 500m or 1000m, my paddle length used to be 220. Two things changed that. One was getting older. The other was using real data. The use of a GPS in conjunction with a heart rate monitor has been amazing.

For a 500m, I went to 218, for 1000m, 216cm. For marathons, 215cm.

Then I sold my Cleaver-x, and only competed once every year or so, in fast sea kayaks.

In those boats, I could reach a top speed using best using 214cm-215cm. But for a sustained one hour race pace of 6-6.5kn, that length was noticeably more effort. 212cm, for my fitness and technique, has proved to be the most efficient length.

Reggie Backband
I have had one on my CD Sirocco for several years. Nice to adjust. Seems like backbands are more like lounge chairs nowadays. This is compact but effective. Play with it…

wind stroke.

– Last Updated: Sep-09-11 8:08 AM EST –

Wing stroke.

I can't figure out what you guys are talking about parallel stroke. I tried a parallel stroke instead of the usual slight lateral path that the wing wants to go. After a few hours messing around yesterday, I almost flipped twice when not paying attention and the paddle just fluttered back the rest of the time. So I think I'm just going to stick to the way it wants to paddle.

Ryan L.

It’s Tricky and Awkward at First
But after awhile you’ll get the hang of it. I personally use the stroke 50% of the time when I want to cover a lot of ocean real fast. Most of time when I’m taking it easy, I paddle laterally. I give you credit for trying and at least giving it a shot. The key is the catch, way up front, where most of the action takes place. Start off laterally, then switch consciously to a straight back stroke, and you’ll feel the boat accelerate ahead. Plant the paddle with the top arm, which is almost touching the ear. Use the bottom arm to set and maintain the angle of attack. Main thing is to experiment.