Rolling and Feathered Paddle

I have a fairly dependable roll with an unfeathered paddle in calm water. With a feathered paddle, I find I have to fight the paddle to the surface (more resistance), then adjust the paddle so that the outward, sweeping blade is more or less horizontal to the water. If this is done poorly, the paddle will “dive” and the roll may or may not happen.

This makes me wonder (rightly, I’m sure) what my chances are of rolling successfully after an accidental capsize. Any tips/techniques I can try?

I believe part of the solution is relaxing more while underwater (?)

set up deliberately
and observe closely the blade position relative to the water. Wearing goggles or a dive mask may allow you to observe your blade angle during the sweep and make sure it remains flat to the water surface. Do this on while rolling on both sides. “Memorize” the position of your wrists when setting up and sweeping on both sides. The wrist positions may not be exactly mirror image when rolling on the opposite side. Keep doing this until it becomes muscle memory.

Feathered vs. Unfeathered
My $.02 on this is based upon things I’ve seen in both sports and during other situations where stress was high:

As the risk threshold rises, people tend to revert to the behavior they first learned and can execute using muscle memory alone. I used to play water polo with the SJPD since we worked out at the same pool. One of them told me that rookie cops are trained to put their cuffs in a particular position on their belts so that either they, or another officer, can find them easily. He preferred to locate his in a different spot, so he carried two pair, one in “rookie” location and one in his preffered location.

In a heated conflict with a felon, he reached for his cuffs and instinctively grabbed the cuffs in the rookie location and used them. He hadn’t used them in years, but his training took over when the stress threshold reached a certain level. He was kind of surprised by this.

I believe you’ll find the same situation with your paddle. If you need to roll and have learned first with an unfeathered paddle, you will probably have to calm down and think your way through it or your setup may not be correct. I found this to be true with me as well, but my situation is reversed. I learned with a feathered paddle but now paddle with it unfeathered.

I believe it was Dowd’s book that convinced me to switch and I have found that it is a much better way (for me) to paddle. An unfeathered paddle, in strong winds coming from abeam, can catch a lot of air and even be blown from one’s hands (if you hold the paddle as lightly as I do, it will - if you hold it too tightly, you may find the bracing effect of wind under the blade is sufficient to cause a capsize). I switched my paddle in storm conditions (40-50 MPH winds with even strong gusts) due to this and never went back. My roll still suffers, though, and I really have to think through my setup even though I switched many years ago.


^what he said^
…I’d add to that to just paddle unfeathered. However, you can teach yourself to roll with a feathered paddle using pblanc’s advice.

start working on sculling
as in “sculling brace”, then “sculling for support”, then rolling and sculling yourself back up.

It sounds like you essentially have what we call a “pool roll”. A fairly dependable pool often fails in any real conditions where you might capsize. It takes time and practice to get a truly reliable roll.

Most whitewater guys paddle with feathered blades and they have no trouble, so it is all about technique.

I remember that resistance when I was first learning. I can crank my wrists forward and eliminate most of it. That happens automatically these days in the pool and on the river.

You should also be able to feel the orientation of your paddle with your hands so you know when the blades are set for your roll. Good paddles have an oval shape that gives you this feedback. Once, I lost grip with gloves on and my paddle dove, but I quickly reached out to the blade, turned it to be flat with the water, reset my grip and hit the second roll attempt.

Practice all this in the pool or a calm lake. Flip over with the paddle over your head, or in one hand. Basically anything that might happen in real life, so you have to go from unprepared to setup position. If you feel lots of resistance, change the angle of the paddle and see what works for you. You should be able to reduce that resistance substantially through trial and error. More than likely just turning your wrists down will do the trick.

If you can’t feel the paddle orientation, try losing the gloves (use pogies) or upgrade your paddle to something that has a very distinct oval shape in your hands.

I learned to roll with unfeathered paddle. Then switched for one season to 15 degree, and that’s the time I got my “other side” roll, finally. Then next season I switched back to zero feather. I was worried the roll would fall apart, but it didn’t. There was a definite difference; I just practiced till the “new” position became familiar. Of course, 15 degrees is a small amount of feather.

One thing that might have made a big difference was that when I learned the “other side” roll I was working my way up to it using Greenland building blocks. I believe those blocks de-emphasized the paddle enough so that switching between zero and 15 degrees didn’t present a problem.

Rolling with an unfeathered paddle
takes time and a lot of paddling to instinctively know where the blades are. Many euro paddles can find their own balanced position when bracing or rolling by just relaxing your grip and let the paddle find it. When I was learning to roll with a euro paddle one of my inconsistent problems was getting a good bite with the blade, once I figured out to loosen my grip and let the paddle find its best brace my roll became very dependable. Give it a try.

Don’t think it matters

– Last Updated: Oct-20-11 11:27 PM EST –

I'm assuming you're rolling only on your strong side (right side).

Even with feathered paddle, the control hand (right hand) is still gripping the paddle exactly the same way as in an unfeathered paddle. So the leading blade should still be the same.

The only difference is in the left hand grip. But that blade is not functional if your roll is coming up on the right (as most people do).

So no, I don't see why it should be different, unless you're a lefty rolling on teh right side, or a righty rolling on the left side (both are off-side rolls most don't attempt as their first roll).

As for fight the water resistance in getting the paddle to the surface. Unless you feather is 90 degrees, the resistance shouldn't be that significant. And even if it is, it only takes a 1/2 second longer at worst. No biggie to make or break a roll.

some don’t use a control hand
When paddles were commonly feathered to 80 or 90 degrees it was pretty much universal practice to utilize one hand as the control hand, which maintained a firm grip on the shaft, allowing the paddle shaft to rotate in the non-control hand as the control hand wrist was cocked back to position the blade for a stroke on the non-control side.

With many of today’s paddles feathered to 30 degrees or less, not everyone uses the control hand concept anymore. It is quite possible to maintain a symmetrical, intermediate fixed grip with both hands and cocking either wrist back slightly for a stroke on the opposite side.

About that …
Why would one use a 30 degree or 15 degree feather? Lots of WW paddles are like that… Is there any actual benefit to such a small feather angle compared to 0 feather? The only reason I can see is for someone to transition from say 60 degree towards 0 degree and not have to adjust to abruptly…

Feathering isn’t just for wind
One thing many people forget (or are unaware of) is that one of the reasons for feathering is to have the offside blade ready for a brace if you get knocked that way. As I understand it, that’s why WW paddles were originally feathered at 90 degrees, which puts the offside blade flat to the water. But such an extreme feather can cause stress injuries to wrists, so folks started narrowing the angle a bit & found it just as effective to have the blade near a brace angle as at it. Every little bit helps. I started out feathering at 60 degrees ten years ago, and have gradually worked my way down to 30 as my reflexes & muscle memory improved my bracing. 30 degrees might not seem like a lot, but I can sure tell the difference from unfeathered!

The sweep
Try to get an upward climbing angle on the blade for the sweep - just slightly. If you practice that with a dive mask and with your eyes closed, you won’t have the diving blade problem.

Of the three: GP_, unfeathered euro, feathered euro, the FE is the trickiest if you capsize and have to push the paddle around under water to get in position. Try to learn to scull. Once you have that, you can push and pull the paddle and you immediately know the blade position and can adjust your hand position accordingly.

When I was learning with a FE, I used to slide my hand down the shaft and feel the front edge of the blade to get orientation if I lost it.

As others said, why go FE unless you truly believe this has some kind of advantage for you. Don’t go by what you see. Most paddlers have no idea why they use feathered.

Agree, It doesn’t matter

– Last Updated: Oct-21-11 3:02 PM EST –

It does matter that you get the paddle pretty flat on top of the water in a sweep roll, but at least to me, it doesn't matter what, if any feather, you are using.

I was taught (because we found it works for me) to use a "false sweep" right after set up. This is described in the DVD "The Kayak Roll." In the false sweep, you just pat the water to make sure the paddle is flat on top (this corrects for any feather problem) and sweep it back a bit, just as if starting to roll, and then sweep back to setup. This lets you feel the correct angle for sweeping on the surface. Then just sweep back on the same plane as the false sweep.

In my experience, using my sweep roll, a diving paddle is not usually caused by a diving paddle angle. In fact the opposite. Too much of a climbing angle stalls the sweep. you feel the need to pull on the blade, and the blade dives. This is all covered in the DVD. Look for the section on "shedding the resistance."

The false sweep works well for me because it gives me time to relax and feel what I want to do. Give it a try - it might work for you. Although it is usually used as a training aid, it works so well for me that I just use it for real.

I'm not a suitable model, but I video my roll sessions. You can see here how I do that false sweep, and how the blade is on a slightly defending angle. The instructor is Phil DeReimer, who is one of the instructors on the DVD.

My point exactly!
What does 15 degree give you compared to a non-feathered??? I don’t think 15 degree will help with “fast bracing” any more than 0 degree will interfere. I can see 60+ degree being helpful to allow a slightly faster high brace but at the same time it will slow down a low brace, so that whole argument seems a bit off to me…

Low brace left, high brace right NM

Nope. Help me understand…
A typical scenario is right blade in the water, left blade in the air. Assume 90 degree feather to make things simple. Assume right hand control and spooned blades.

The reason for the above scenario (one blade in the water, second blade in the air) is that if you have to brace on the side with the blade in the water, feather does not matter so we do not need to look at that scenario. Plus, most of the time you will have one blade in the water for propulsion or for bracing or for steering.

Variation 1: Assume the blade in the water is in a forward stroke position for this first case. Visualize the blade in the air - it is with the power face up. Now you need to do a high brace on the side with the blade in the air, which as we said is face up and away from the water. How does a say 90 degree feather help with a high brace here? Will you do a high brace with the back of the blade? Or will you turn the blade 180 degrees before you brace?

Variation 1A: Same setup as above, except you need to do a low brace on the left or to just take a forward stroke. How is feather helping here (or not)?

Variation 2: blade in the water (say right side) is parallel to the boat - say in a draw stroke. The blade in the air is with the power face to the rear of the boat. You need to brace on the left. How is this 90 degree feather helpful in this case (or not)?

Variation 2: blade in the water in low brace (say right side). Upper blade in the air with power face to the right. This is about the same scenario as Variation 1 so the answer should be the same here.

Now. Same situations as above, with 15 degree feathered paddle. How do these 15 degrees help the blade in the air be more prepared compared to a 0 feather?

Last variation: no blade in the water, I’m just floating. 50% chance to brace on left or right. How does feather help? Half the time it will help, half the time it will hurt…

So, does feather help with quicker bracing after all?

Feathered Roll
As the one who started the thread (having a real issue) I really want to thank everyone for their comments and suggestions - so many subleties that do make a difference for a roll to happen!

Virtually every reply has given me something to think about and hopefully adopt, at least to the extent that my roll improves. You are all at a level above me, and thanks for the experience and insight.


I guess you have to be there…NM

Pseudo “zen” answers …
… avoiding the answer. Thanks -;(