paddle width and fatigue

Let’s consider two scenarios: A single blade paddle, either a wide face or an otter tail, and a double blade paddle, either a Euro or Greenland style. When pulling at the same speed, the larger faced paddle will give more thrust and fatigue the body more. For this reason, the thinner paddle is said to be easier on the paddler. What I don’t understand is that this doesn’t take into consideration the rate of paddling on fatigue. Let’s say I have a wide paddle, but I paddle slowly. I could paddle without fatigue for quite a while, and experience a lack of fatigue comparable to what I’d experience with a thinner paddle. As an added advantage, if needed, I could really pull hard to generate bursts of speed. Any ideas on this?

basic physics for me
If we consider fatigue to be the result of work over time. Work is defined as force applied through a distance. More force or distance equals more work. Power is work divided by time. I use a GP and do find it allows for me good efficiency, less fatigue and hopefully less wear and tear. I also strive to employ whole body and not just arms for propulsion.

paddle fatigue
In my experience. A big bladed paddle offers more power for a single stroke. Like in whitewater when you have time for just one stroke before the rock or the swim happens. Or in big following waves on a lake where a strong stern pry is needed. For racing or flatwater touring no single stroke is that critical and the smaller blade is lighter and shorter (a big difference in fatigue) and has adequate bite to maintain the forward pace. Using the big blade causes more lower arm fatigue for me because I pull harder at a lower tempo to maintain the same speed.

I’m not a hit 'n switch…
paddler and I prefer a larger blade with a lower cadence. Relaxing to me, I make decent time when necessary and I have excellent control when exploring shoreline interests.

From my experience
Each boat has a curved reaction to speed vs effort. As you reach max speed there is a diminishing return for additional effort.

I can reach that speed easily with a narrow paddle. When I use a larger paddle there is a minuscule improvement for a lot more effort.

A lot of that effort gets wasted as paddle flutter.

With a skinnier blades paddle I can outpace the group I paddle with and still be ready to go more at the end. With a larger paddle I’ll lead for awhile then drop back as the paddle starts woopin my butt.

My wife has the same experience but it’s even more noticeable to her.

If you have to do it all with a single stroke then you would want the largest blade you could manage. If you are in it for the distance skinnier paddles rule and are much easier on the body.

torque speed curve
Your body is a motor. Every motor, including your body, has a torque speed curve. Max force/torque that you can apply to the boat will be at zero speed, i.e., with the boat on the beach and the paddle in the sand. On the other hand, you can move the paddle fastest if it just goes through the air, not the water. In either case your efficiency will be zero.

For your particular body, in your particular boat, and at the particular speed you want to go, there will be a most efficient blade size. Either a larger than optimal or a smaller than optimal blade will be most efficient.

There are also several kinds of fatigue. Sometimes you just get overall tired, sometimes you get out of breath, sometimes a particular muscle group builds up lactic acid.

I doubt that any of this is at all helpful.

Not exactly sure
what you meant by your two scenarios. Wide vs. narrow blades generally or either wide or narrow double blade vs. the wide/narrow comparison in a single blade…

I think what matters from a simple propulsive power point of view in a single blade is the number of square inches of the blade rather than how those inches are distributed. A paddle blade might be, oh let’s just say, 6" wide and 24" long (like a beaver or otter tail) or 12" by 12". Both have 144 sq inches of blade but the 12X12 blade would be better suited to shallow water or whitewater situations because the water it is to be used in might not allow the longer narrower blade to be sunk properly.

A longer narrower blade, in my opinion at least, is less “fluttery” if you’re in the habit of doing a lot of underwater recoveries. Over the course of a long day’s paddling that style can save a lot of the energy spent on picking up a paddle above the water’s surface on the recovery part of each stroke. If you’re planning on a long day of paddling in deeper water, as one might on a BWCA trip or similar this is a choice many make. Its slower but it can be done easily for a much longer period of time. It isn’t always a race, after all.

(As an aside, I’ve also found that I like a long narrow blade on sandy rivers where one can’t really always see if the water is getting shallower or deeper as one approaches a sandbar or drop off. That longer blade can be used like a “feeler” to tip the paddler off and thus providing an early warning system which allows thew paddler time to avoid the worst of the shallows.)

I don’t believe the same thinking can be applied when comparing a euro double blade with a greenland double. The number of square inches of blade isn’t even close between the two and to the best of my knowledge underwater recoveries are rarely or never applied as a normal part of double blade paddling. I’ve never seen (though perhaps there are some who do this) a greenland being used in whitewater or other normally shallow water situations where rapid acceleration in shallows might be called for.

If a generality must be made, probably it could be reasonably said that long and narrow blades are generally a little better for distance and deepwater paddling. (And perhaps for paddling in strong winds in the case of a greenland double.) Wider blades might be generally better suited to shallow waters or where quick acceleration could be called for.

I don’t think cadence increases enough
I don’t think any successful blade design would result in such an increase in cadence that the cadence itself became a new source of fatigue. Such a paddle wouldn’t feel right to most people in the first place. Is this conjecture on your part, or have you experienced this?

I haven’t used extremes of blade design, but I have some blades that are bigger than others. With the smaller-blade paddles, I think I tend to use a slightly faster cadence, but it’s nowhere nearly enough of an increase to be tiring in and of itself. If anything, I find the smaller blade to be more relaxing, and I find larger blades to be more tiring, and harder on my body. I wouldn’t have expected this to be the case, but it’s how it actually feels to me. That’s not to say that larger blades don’t have a purpose, as others have already stated, and I often prefer them.

As PJC pointed out, the surface area of old-style (narrow) canoe paddles isn’t less, it’s just that the area is distributed differently. Thus, I’m not sure that they do slip more, and they certainly don’t slip more in direct proportion to decreased width, so I don’t see decreased width by itself leading to a faster cadence. I think that modern, broad-and-short blade designs are more efficient in some ways, such as during entry and exit, and due to the reduction of relative motion between the top and bottom of the blade in the water as the angle changes during the course of the power stroke (geometrically, it makes sense that the upper end of a long blade would contribute less than the rest of the blade, or even hinder the stroke). I think the modern design also contributes to much greater ease of attaining a rapid cadence. Interestingly, many long-distance canoe trippers strive for a shorter power stroke and faster cadence than what a lot of us use, and I don’t think it’s a cause of additional fatigue. The fact that long skinny blades are less appropriate for attaining a rapid cadence may be why those who use those blades generally have a slower cadence, rather than faster, as you seem to suggest it would be.

In the end, I don’t think the analysis can be boiled-down so easily and in compartmental fashion as you suggest. If it could, choosing the best blade wouldn’t be such a subjective thing.

smaller people need smaller area blades
older people find they have to shorten the blade.

The concept of torque has great relevance for canoe blades. The edges of wide paddles can exert a lot of force in turns… or if you have to angle the blade to correct the course of the boat.

Big blades are used in FreeStyle as that is a very low cadence paddling activity and the torque generated through turns needed. Hulls are generally derived from touring hulls not whitewater design.

Faster cadence paddles are light and usually short in case hit and switch is needed. Look at the Zaveral paddles (not the dragon boat or the whitewater paddles) they are somewhat wide, but short and meant to be used at 60 bpm or more.

In water recoveries in themselves are initially tiring as the muscle memory needed to get a clean recovery slice takes time to develop… Also there is quite a friction loss and any wandering of the paddle needs force from the paddler.

What really matters is the flex pattern,

– Last Updated: Sep-06-15 5:21 PM EST –

the ie..."stiffness" of a paddle(blade/shaft)..but of course area(width & LENGTH) plays into it all, but width, alone, isn't as huge an issue as one might think. If you really look at the paddle width doesn't change all by itself. Your canoe's specs determine what kind of blade length and flex. Flex(density/burliness), weight(for your physical attributes) and Length/(depth of blade) have a LOT more importance than a paddle's width. Try to find some of Greg Barton's articles/videos to learn what really matters in a paddle stroke. When one pulls the blade through the water it results in inefficiency in moving the hull forward. The true goal is in planting the blade, without adding in any drag, and pulling the hull up and past the blade's placement without it losing any degreeable amount of water density to diminish the amount of "pull" on the hull. You want to elliminate that splashing of your paddle as it moves "back"...and substitute the paddle and you pulling yourself and the hull FORWARD. A good paddler can make efficient strokes with any width of paddleblade, as long as the other specs match the paddler's physical makeup...and as long as the blade isn't cheaply made....

of assumptions being made in this comparison. First off, A Greenland paddle doesn’t necessarily have less square inches than a Euro paddle. Some Greenland paddles actually have more surface area. Another is that length of the paddles seem to be assume as the same for skinny vs wide blades…not true. and length of the arc either down or out to the side some , makes a difference. Cut or shape of all paddles involve makes a difference as to how, within the stroke, they load. A paddle that loads gently will be easier on the joint whether it is an Euro or a Greenland…paddle entry shape is a very huge thing as far as which set of muscles are engaged and what point. So one might ask…what exactly are you asking about comparing a single blade vs a double blade as far as fatigue? are you doing this question for use with a pack canoe?

Thanks for all the replies. I wasn’t that clear in the original post. I’m not asking about a comparison between single-blade paddles and double-blade paddles. I AM asking about skinny paddles vs fatter paddles. I’m asking about skinny vs. fat paddles in two different scenarios: one involving double-bladed skinny paddles vs. double-bladed fat paddles, and the other one involving single-bladed skinny paddles vs single-bladed fat paddles.

OK then
If I made two paddles {double bladed} a Narrow Greenland Paddle and a short wide Euro style paddle. and made them so that they had the same surface area.

They would have the same amount of purchase on the water. However it would be distributed differently as far as the stroke goes. The narrower paddle would have a narrower entry point and so have less resistance at the catch and have an easier feeling catch . so at the point where you are extended and not yet enacting the rotation and at your weakest position , body wise…it would be easier. the wide paddle would catch abruptly with a suddenness. {these would be extreme examples} however as the paddles are submerged after the initial catch, having the same area…the longer paddle might actually gain in power because of the speed the tip is moving sweeping a longer arc. So to surmise,The short wide paddle would have a more immediate catch with power but the longer paddle would catch up during the stroke. This is one of the reasons that a Greenland paddle tends to be easier on the joints.

To gain easy on the joints with a wide short paddle. Instead of using in a continuous smooth entry / stroke…the paddle must be eased into the water in a gentler manner and then the stroke is continued …a narrow blade {whether Greenland or narrow Euro} , does this by it’s cut. and then even among the narrow blades a tip that is narrowed still more has a more pronounce and noticeable easier catch. you see this design in the Aleutian Paddles and the early {pre 1850’s} style Greenland Paddles.

Hope this make sense {Oh and the obligatory YMMV}

feel free to argue:}

Best Wishes



– Last Updated: Sep-06-15 11:47 PM EST –

is also what makes a Euro paddle a better design for Whitewater and the Greenland style better for touring on the sea. The crossover is in the surf. On large lakes or the ocean , there is plenty of depth to use all of the Greenland paddle so it is not at a disadvantage like it is in rock strewn rivers. in some ways and some surf, the Greenland paddle can actually be an advantage. It is able to reach down and get beyond the foam and get purchase on the green water below .

It is however easier for a company already making Euro paddles to just use the same shaft and change the blade width or cut slightly and then call it a sea kayak paddle...they all work and again YMMV

Best Wishes

Canoe or kayak
Meaning single or double blade, my comments remain the same as above.

For clarification, I assumed narrow paddle = smaller surface area and a wide paddle meant larger surface area. I know this is not necessarily true, it’s just the way I interpreted the OP.

The large surface area paddles at Dick’s sporting goods will not propel your boat any faster than a smaller volumes Aquabound stingray but the wear placed on your body will be significantly less, which equals to more endurance, which over time means more distance covered at a higher rate.

The difference in cadence require to maintain a hulls best speed is minuscule.

Off topic but relating to several people’s comments, I bought a closet pole from the hardware store to pole my canoe with. 2" round and 12, long. I use it while kneeling. When the river gets too deep to touch bottom it makes an amazingly effective paddle even with a skinny curved power face when there is 9 feet of it in the water.

I use it like a double blade, letting it slide through my hands back and forth. I wouldn’t paddle any great distance like that but it will get me to the next shallow part in the river. Before I discovered this I was worried I would be constantly switching back and forth between the pole and a paddle.

troll troll

The stern or midhull discussion runs a parallel route where energy loss pivoting zigzagING cog forms a productive analysis for the individual: are you or not ?

Here, posters refer to wider surfaces for single stroke effects in WW reflecting skill, power.

Dropping down several skill/power levels,

we look at a large surface paddle used into a headwind on a rockered west coast hull.

The large blade asks for precision lest power forward be wasted in power in the wrong direction now asking for more power getting toward CMG

Therefore there are recommends for narrower paddles in windy conditions

This is logical but doesn’t make sense in a discussion maybe only in CMG.

Back to the bridge !

Got it
Ok, I understand now. Thanks. It’s funny, I never would have thought about this except recently I was in a situation where I had a choice between using a then paddle, or not paddling at all. I had assumed that at best, it would be a serious compromise. To my surprise, in this particular situation, it was far easier to paddle with one hand (while fishing with the other) than with the thick paddle I normally use.

slight error
"If I made two paddles {double bladed} a Narrow Greenland Paddle and a short wide Euro style paddle. and made them so that they had the same surface area.

They would have the same amount of purchase on the water."

The “purchase” on the water is proportional to the area times the drag coefficient. Two paddles with the same area but different shapes will have different drag coefficients, hence different purchase.

Greenland technique

– Last Updated: Sep-07-15 12:53 PM EST –

I have only been using the Greenland paddle I made for a few months now. I had previously become comfortable with a Werner Corryvrecken high angle paddle. I had moved up from a Werner Cyprus that just didn't have enough bite for me, as much as I tried to convince myself it did. Before that it was a low angle Werner Camano.

I finally got curious enough to build a Greenland paddle and began researching technique. On thing you will find fairly quickly is people referring to the canted stroke for the Greenland. This technique involves placing the paddle into the water with the blade rotated forward. Then the blade acts like a wing and wants to dive somewhat when you pull it back. You resist that force and realize this paddle can generate considerable power if you desire. But apparently more speed comes with a faster paddling cadence rather than with a more powerful stroke. Like fine tuning most sports, it is about finding the groove.

I also found the simple straight shaft and unfeathered blades allows very subtle paddle edge control. You can dial in as much resistance as you want. As others have mentioned The Greenland can also have considerable surface area.. Mine has more than the Cyprus, about the same as a low angle Camano, and slightly less than the Corryreckon. But the magic is in the canted stroke. Comparing techniques that only look at surface area does not tell the whole story. I like the more elbows-in Greenland technique, and my clear cedar paddle is a joy to hold and is noticeably lighter than my other carbon paddles, which will probably go up for sale soon.

Not slight
You correctly point out the error of the statement, but it is not a slight arror, it is a fundamental misstatement. Paddle performance depends as much on shape (and therefore drag coefficient) as it does on area. That’s the whole topic of hydrodynamics, after all, the interaction of body shape and fluid flow.