Setting up paddle for right hand person

Greetings from Hertfordshire in England :wave:

I’m just getting into paddling and have bought a kayak (Wilderness Systems Tarpon 100) and an adjustable paddle ( The paddle can be rotated to adjust the feather, which I’ve read about and mostly understand, although for now I am using no feathering while I just get used to my kayak and paddling about in the canal where I live.

But what I am struggling to understand fully is the difference between setting up a paddle for a right hand or left handed person. I am right handed. Is there something in particular I need to be doing to ensure that my paddle is correctly set for this? Or is this only a consideration when the paddle is feathered?

I know this is a total beginner question but hopefully someone can clearly explain this to me!

Thanks in advance :slight_smile:

For people with an old school belief in the idea of a control hand (as in only on one side), the feather is opposite for a right handed person than for a leftie. Since I don’t paddle with much if any feather - my WW paddle is 12 degrees and that always felt good - I would have to go down and look at it to be sure of the setup for a right handed feather.

The thing with a feathered paddle is that it tends to involve some rotation of one wrist. Probably many arguments for efficiency out there with paddling technique gurus. But my wrists have never been overly fond of that. The 12 degrees in the H2O paddle seems to match whatever happens naturally since my right side is a bit stronger and in some part of the rotation maybe a bit stiffer than the left.

The bottom line is that you need to get a good bite in the water with the blade. The angle to do that can be achieved with torso rotation as well as feathering. For most folks who are not speed demons the diff is not crucial.

I feather because I was taught to years ago. In a strong wind there is some benefit but I know many paddlers who don’t.
More important is your paddle stroke. Hopefully in your reading you have come across pulling the paddle vs pushing it. It is not intuitive but pushing in the power phase is much easier on your body than pulling.
Pulling is mostly done with your arms. Pushing is done with your abs, legs, and the rest of your upper body.
If that is confusing, keep reading. I haven’t finished my coffee and may be babbling.

Since you are new to paddling, seek out your local British Canoeing (BC) instructor. Some may still refer to it as BCU (the old name/acronym). An introductory course will teach you about your question and lots more that you haven’t even thought about yet. Welcome to paddling.

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The modern mindset is to use no feather. While it may offer some performance and wind resistance advantage basically no one I know paddles feathered.
Being new as you say, fathering is not something I would worry about. I’d just leave it at zero.


I started in whitewater kayaking, where you use a high angle stroke, and for that reason a feathered paddle using one hand as a control hand results in less flexing the wrist. As you raise your control hand higher (keeping your control wrist straight) your arm rotates the paddle shaft through your loose grip on your non-control hand. If the blades weren’t feathered, the non-control blade surface would be angled toward the kayak.

When paddling with a low angle stroke, feather has less of an effect.

When the paddle is horizontal across the boat, and the control blade (right for right-handers) is perpendicular to the water, a feather would have the non-control (left) blade’s top edge forward of the bottom edge.

For flat water paddling, I look at feathering as personal preference. The primary thing to watch for is if your wrists start hurting, as the rotation of your hands could be causing that.

As with Sing, I go with what i first used - i my case non-feathered.

Most white water and surf kayakers do seem to run feathered. I think this is not for wind benefit, but for breaking through water benefit. A feathered blade would be less likely to catch water as you smash through a wave, so less likely for your paddle shaft to be smashed back into your face.

Racers also generally use feathered wing paddles. At the extreme performance levels, I think there may be some benefit to feathering.

Experiment and use whatever you determine to work best.

With an unfeathered paddle the set up for right handed and left handed individuals is the same. In the early days of whitewater kayaking in the US paddle design followed what had become the norm in European whitewater kayak slalom which was a large degree of offset of 80 or even 90 degrees. Although the rationale for this design has often been attributed to reduction of wind resistance, that really doesn’t wash. With a headwind a high degree of feather is beneficial. With a side wind it is distinctly detrimental. Paddles with 80-90 degrees of offset were actually designed that way so as to reduce the chances of a gate touch by the high blade during slalom racing.

Having a considerable degree of feather is sometimes useful when trying to break through standing waves in whitewater or paddling out through ocean beach break as a more horizontal attitude of the upper blade will better knife through water. But paddles with a high degree of offset really don’t have much advantage these days for most paddlers. But many of us still own those types of paddles and have become accustomed to using them.

For a paddle with a lot of offset it is the norm to designate one hand to be the “control hand” which maintains a tight grip on the paddle. This is almost always the right hand for a right-handed individual. A left-handed individual may use the left hand as a control hand, but many left-handed individuals learned to use their right hands as control hands. That is because right hand control paddles with fixed offset were much more commonly available than left hand control paddles. If an individual lost or broke their paddle a right hand control paddle was much more likely to be available than the opposite.

If you use a control hand then the paddle shaft should be allowed to rotate freely through the non-control hand as the non-control blade is positioned for the plant, then the non-control hand grips the shaft as the blade is planted and the stroke is taken. Maintaining a fixed grip with the opposite control hand will require a considerable degree of dorsiflexion of the control hand wrist, which can a problem for some. If you plan to use your paddle with a dedicated control hand, grip the paddle shaft with your right hand with the right blade in the proper vertical orientation to take a stroke. If the opposite blade’s power face faces upward, the paddle is set up for right hand control. If it faces downward, the paddle is set up for left hand control.

Over the years the degree of offset of most paddles used by whitewater paddlers at least became less and less, first to 60 degrees of offset, then to 45 degrees, and now often less still. With these lesser degrees of offset it is often unnecessary to designate a control hand. The paddle is simply gripped in a symmetrical fashion with both hands and both wrists rotate slightly as strokes are taken on alternating sides of the boat. A lot of people, including myself, find that having a small degree of offset of maybe 15 degrees actually allows the wrists to remain straighter during alternate strokes than with a unfeathered paddle, so you might try this.

Wow, thank you so much for all the replies, you’ve all been very helpful! I definitely have a better understanding of it all now :slight_smile:

@string I actually know what you mean, basically using your core muscles instead of wearing your arms out pulling the paddle, and it’s something I’ve been practising this week. As you say, it’s not the most intuitive method but I figure if I keep consciously making myself do it, it’ll become habit.

@kayakhank, thanks yes I’ve actually joined the BCU and am in the process of joining a local canoe club where they have instructors.

Once again, thank you to everyone who replied!

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Just like a left-handed monkey wrench.
You are over thinking paddles.

You are overthinking the paddle, as most are right handed by default.

I feather to thirty degrees because I am faster that way. I was a nine time state champ in kayak marathon.

That thirty degree feather can do strange things in a crosswind, if you use a wing paddle.

Out of curiosity, do you use a dedicated control hand or maintain a continuous, intermediate grip with both hands?

The Epic has an oval grip for the right hand, so it might be stronger on the control side. I never thought about it, I just tried to keep getting faster. I do try to keep and even rhythm with both sides. Speed is as much a dance as it is power lifting.

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Generally speaking, most paddles shafts have an oval grip for the right hand (if the shaft has an oval grip at all).

My wife is right-handed and I am left handed and both of our paddles are feathered the same way, what some would say is feathered for a right-handed person. I personally don’t know why one way or the other would be set up for a L or R-handed person. I can tell you that I find it totally weird and difficult to try to paddle with an unfeathered paddle, darn muscle memory.

I believe that the benefit of feathering has to do with wrist angle, nothing to do with paddle angle in the wind.

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Many two piece take-apart paddles can be set up either right hand or left hand control and often with variable degrees of offset.

With feathered one-piece paddles right hand and left hand control paddles are very distinctly different. Paddles with offset blades used with a dedicated control hand require the wrist of the control hand to be dorsiflexed backward as the non-control paddle blade is brought into the correct orientation to take a stroke. So for a right hand control paddle as the right blade takes a forward stroke the left sided blade will be oriented either completely horizontally (for a 90 degree offset) or obliquely at some angle to the vertical that corresponds to the degree of offset, but in either case with the power face inclined toward the sky. Then as the right wrist is dorsiflexed the left paddle blade becomes aligned vertically.

For a left hand control paddle the orientation of the two blades is reversed. It would be very difficult to use the left hand as a control hand with a right hand control paddle, and vice verse.

That’s not my experience. I’m right handed and use a paddle with 30° feather. My control wrist (right) remains straight on both right and left strokes. I use a high stroke angle. When I go to take a normal forward stroke on the left, I raise my right hand up, flexing at the elbow and keeping my right wrist straight. This causes the paddle shaft to rotate in my loose left hand such that the left blade is properly oriented. Both left and right wrists remain straight.

For a right stroke, I allow the shaft to twist in my left hand, and as I lower my right hand the right blade is properly oriented with out wrist flexing.

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As I said in an earlier post, feathered paddles with a mild degree of offset may allow the wrist to remain straighter than it is when using a non-feathered paddle and may therefore be easier on the wrist.

Try paddling with a paddle with an 80 degree offset. It requires a fairly significant amount of dorsiflexion of the control hand wrist.

Yep, it depends on the individual’s paddling style. The OP has an adjustable paddle, so within the limits of its presets (most 2 piece paddles have presets) they can experiment.

Okay, the original question finally sunk in.

Lay your right hand paddle down on the ground with the shaft facing forward. Line up the left hand paddle with the right hand paddle.

Twisting the bottom of the paddle towards your right will set up a right hand dominate feather.

Turning the top of the paddle to your left makes a left hand dominate feather.

Yes, paddling style will determine the optimal degree of offset. As you pointed out, as one hand rises the opposite blade naturally rotates with the power face rotating toward the paddler.

With a very high angle stroke in a narrow kayak, a high degree of offset can be used, up to around 60 degrees or so, while still keeping the wrists straight. With a lower angle stroke, somewhat less offset will be optimal for reducing stress on the wrists. For whitewater, where more sweeps and braces are commonly used, an intermediate degree of offset of around 45 degrees often provides the best compromise.

Here is a decent video describing one way of determining optimal offset to allow for neutral wrist position depending on paddling styles. Note that when demonstrating offset the narrator is setting his blade feather in a right hand control orientation.

For most people, some degree of offset will usually allow a more neutral wrist position than an unfeathered paddle will.

I still paddle with an 80 degree offset paddle because when I began whitewater kayaking that was pretty much the norm. My favorite paddle has that offset, I am used to it, and I can use it without undue stress on the wrists. But if I was starting out now I would choose a lesser degree of offset.