Paddle question

I have noticed in the kayaking pictures that I have seen that many people have their paddles offset. Why is this and is it really better than straight? Thanks.

much better. Also, skegs are better than rudders, Tilley hats rule, and everyone should be using a Hennessy hammock! And don’t get me starting about plastic vs. composite or SOT vs. SINK.

That’s called feathering
Do what’s most comfortable for yourself. Offset is feathered, not offset is unfeathered. There is no right way.


(paddles unfeathered)

cuts wind resistance
flcracker is correct that this is one of those issues that gets discussed a lot – often with heat – and never resolved. Everybody has an opinion.

The case for feathering: it reduces wind resistance (against the upper blade). The more the wind is in your face, the more the payoff of feathering.

The case against feathering: it can hurt the wrist of the hand that controls the position of the shaft in the other hand. Another case, for slow-to-catch-on people like me: it’s hard to get used to the feather, and putting the blade into the water at the wrong angle can make it do unpredictable things.

In theory, a 90-degree feather angle reduces wind resistance the most, but it’s the hardest to use, so most people use something in the 55- to 75-degree range. There’s an assertion somewhere out there on the internet that using a feather angle of less than 45 degrees gains you so little against the wind that you might as well not bother. I haven’t verified that.

Many two-piece paddles have some kind of mechanism for adjusting the feather at the joint, either a friction fit for any angle you want, or some number of slots or holes for choosing from a fixed set of angles.

I don’t feather my own paddles. I recommend you choose an offset angle (even zero degrees) and stick with it for a while. Switching back and forth frequently will increase the risk of putting the blade in the water at a bad angle.

– Mark

There are lots of valid arguments both ways. One reason that paddles are offset is that modern recreational paddling evolved from competitive kayaking, where feathering has some advantages. For “normal” recreational paddling, do whatever works best for you.

Whichever You Find Best
I use a 90 degree feather, which is extreme - there’s a technique for using it that involves rolling the shaft with the thumb that saves the wrist. My wife prefers an unfeathered paddle. She feels the wind against the ‘high’ blade going to windward; I feel it on my high blade when running with the wind abeam. It’s really all what you are used to…try various setups, then pick the one that feels best and stick with it.

Personal preference
I paddle feathered and unfeathered, mostly unfeathered now with a Greenland Paddle or a Toksook.

its all in the elbow - not wrist
"The case against feathering: it can hurt the wrist of the hand that controls the position of the shaft in the other hand."

If you use your elbow to control the angle (rather than the wrist) you will be less likely to develop wrist problems due to a feathered blade.


– Last Updated: Sep-11-07 11:21 PM EST –

The only (very small) benefit you get from using a feathered paddle is the reduced wind resistance when paddling into a strong wind. But we don't always paddle into strong breezes, do we? With an unfeathered paddle, what you lose when paddling into the wind you gain when paddling with the wind. I use an unfeathered paddle with a large blade area and I've paddled into some strong, up to 25mph, breezes before. I've never felt like the upper blade was pushing me back. Also if you feel the headwind is really pushing you back, just use a low angle stroke. I strongly feel that using a feathered paddle will unnecessarily predispose you to injury.

Our bodies (not counting internal organs) are symmetrical on both sides. Our forward paddling stroke should be symmetrical on both sides. When people use feathered paddles, they're not doing the same thing on both sides. Here's a quote from a website I came across yesterday, "Feathered paddles provide better forward speed, mainly through better ergonomics and body dynamics." This blew my mind! Better ergonomics and body dynamics?????? Are they smoking crack?? I'm a Physical Therapist - actually I switched to Firefighting, but I still keep my PT license active - and I know that statement is totally incorrect. If you have to flex and extend one wrist with every stroke in order to index the paddle, how can it be ergonomic and how is it better body dynamics? It actually requires your body to do more work.

Our bodies don't like to do isolated movements. If you lift your arm straight up in the air, it's not only your shoulder joint pivoting, your shoulder blade will rotate as well. When you walk, do you first bend the knee, then flex the hip, then extend the knee, then... No, of course not, it all happens as one fluid set of combined motions. When twisting the paddle shaft to index the blades, that motion is not isolated to the wrist. It also combines some elbow and shoulder movements that are not happening on the other side. It's far from ergonomic, is not very good body dynamics, it requires more energy, and is certainly not symmetrical.

After reading posts here for a while, I've heard of paddlers having various wrist, elbow, and shoulder injuries. I'm not saying that if you use an unfeathered paddle you'll never have an injury, but I think that using feathered paddles will certainly increase your risk of overuse injuries.

Also see this post: Eric Nyre explains how the feathered paddle concept began.

Sorry for the long post,

Pedro Almeida

Sorry, but I have to disagree. If you really observe yourself using your elbow to control feather angle (maybe while looking in a mirror) you’ll probably see that you aren’t doing the same thing with both shoulders. You are probably lifting the upper arm on your control side more than you should. Can you say “rotator cuff?” I just wrote another post on this same thread where I discuss some of my thoughts about this subject.

Pedro Almeida

choosing the right feather
One coach asked - why do you feather the paddle?

A lot of answers were provided.

Then he asked - all right, but by how much.

A lot of people were stumped.

His explanation was the following -

At the catch, the unfeathered shaft has to be rotated to have the correct placement of the blade. Or you could feather the blade by that amount and not use your wrist.

A bit easier to do with some paddles :slight_smile:

I paddled a wide double kayak with a long paddle for three years and found feathering awkward the several times I tried it. Was firmly in the non-feathered camp, assumed I would stay that way.

Then I got a hardshell single, and a Camano paddle of typical length for such a boat. One of the first times out I had to paddle a half-mile into a good breeze (10-15 knots). I felt the wind pushing on the paddle. I tried feathering it (60 degrees). It felt like I’d gained half an mph of boat speed immediately. The lessened effort was so obvious to me I wonder how guys who claim there’s minimal benefit can really make that claim. Their headwinds must be different than mine is all I can figure.

The comment about getting it all back on the downwind leg doesn’t hold water either, you get plenty of help from the wind blowing against your boat and body on the downwind leg already, and hull speed effects start to come into play anyway. It’s going upwind where every little bit less effort really makes a difference.

With the narrower boat and paddle adapting to it was not awkward at all, it felt natural very quickly, despite being non-symetrical.

Been in the feathered camp ever since, well into my fourth season. Even have an expensive one-piece feathered paddle.

My 2 cents.


Flatwater racers

– Last Updated: Sep-12-07 6:41 PM EST –

"Our bodies (not counting internal organs) are symmetrical on both sides. Our forward paddling stroke should be symmetrical on both sides. When people use feathered paddles, they're not doing the same thing on both sides."

Feathering is an attempt to address (for a high angle stroke) these things: paddle shaft rotation, minimizing wrist movement (flexion/extention), and maintaining a constant blade position (ie, knowing where the blade is).

Anyway, the -only- asymmetry in feathering is the control hand/non-control (slipping) hand stuff.

The angle of the stroke contributes to the degree of "natural" feather. If you use a high-angle stroke and use a control hand, the feathering allows the offside blade to be planted with no significant wrist flexing. Note that the shaft has to slip in the non-control hand.

The "wind resistance" justification is weak (in my opinion).

What do flatwater/open ocean racers use?

For most people, it doesn't appear to matter what (feathered/unfeathered) is used.

It does take some time to get used to the "control hand" thing.

why do people feather their paddle?
So as to not hurt their wrist.

Why do people NOT feather their paddle?

So as to not hurt their wrist.

The same answer, no matter which question you ask.

But note: racers feather their paddles, and it’s not to complicate things. Given their stroke, only an offset provides for a catch that does NOT hurt the wrist. See Brent Reitz’s “Forward Stroke Clinic” DVD for the wrist/angle anecdote.

Not with correct techique
"You are probably lifting the upper arm on your control side more than you should."

Not with correct technique.

With correct technique, both sides will be very close.

Most people

– Last Updated: Sep-12-07 6:25 PM EST –

Most people use a low angle stroke. Feathering isn't very useful for a low angle stroke. Racers are not "most people".

I am a geek and do video analysis
of my strokes, I also use reference points along my kayak and on my body to make sure my strokes are symmetrical.

My shoulders, elbows, wrists, and hands are almost a mirror copy of each other. In fact my right hand tends to dip a little lower on my right side (meaning that my left is higher). I am working on this, but I don’t think one side moves higher than the other dramatically.

Basically I don’t think of on side, off side, or control hand. I started paddling an unfeathered blade and noticed that one blade did not catch the water cleanly. So I adjusted the angle until both sides caught the water cleanly WITHOUT using my wrists. Once I started using proper torso rotation I had to adjust my angle a slight bit.

So I use a feathered blade to keep my wrists in alignment. I also use it to avoid injury, non-feathered blades hurt my wrists (as do bent shaft paddles). I could re-train to use those types of paddles but there really isn’t a reason.

Please explain feathering in writing,
if anybody can. In 10 years, I have yet to see a

written description of the technique that makes any

sense to would be geeks like me.

I can put my Onno together, and pop it apart, so I

should have enough savvy to feather. Maybe we would

be geeks need to attend a class or buy a dvd to get

the technique and understand it.

Thank you.

feathering is a fancy name
for blade angles that are not inline with each other. Put your paddle together and hold it at one end so that the very tip end of the blade is touching your cheek underneath your dominant eye. the paddle blade touching your cheek should be perpendicular to the ground, assuming you are standing up. Close your non-dominant eye. If the blades line up with each other they are not feathered, if they do line up with are feathered.

Hey Pedro…
As you are a P.T., I was suprised to see you say our bodies are symetrical. Well… they are not actually all that way. My right shoulder has always been lower than my left, and many folks I’ve known over the years have the same situation to some extent, whether they were born that way or through injury. Some people have curvature of the spine to some extent which also throws of your stated body symetry. My doc stated to me once that he has seen quite a few folks with lop-sided bods over his years of practice, and it is fairly common. In a perfect body we are symetrical, but perfect bodies are a rare breed in a lot of instances.