Shoulder, rudders, technique.

Have had chronic but mild rotator cuff discomfort for about 10 years due to egotistical bench pressing. For more than 30 years I have had at least one ruddered boat and one rudderless. I also have a GP, 2 low angle euro paddles, and a wing. Results of my experiments to determine what is easiest on the shoulder for my usual 2 to 3 hr ocean paddle at slightly less than 4 kts average are as follows:

  1. Most beneficial to the shoulder is having the rudder. Over 2 to 3 hrs even occasional steering strokes take a toll, no matter which paddle, and the shoulder aches.

  2. Second most beneficial is technique, especially arms with a non-varying bend during power application, and very especially at the catch. It is at the catch that my shoulder is most vulnerable.

  3. The GP is, by a very slight margin, easier on my shoulder than the low angle Euros, primarily because the catch is more gradual. If I set a short wing length, 208 cm, my wing stroke is better and, to my surprise, causes no extra strain on the shoulder compared to the GP.


I am also noticing the same effects.
I had rotator cuff surgery years ago but my shoulder has never been the same. I was told by the surgeon that my shoulder would feel like it did before the tear. Not true.

But I have noticed that my shoulder aches more after paddling my rudderless kayaks. I can attribute it mostly to using sweep strokes to stay on course. It does not hurt during paddling but hours after paddling. I have tried taking anti inflammatories with limited results. Now i just paddle smarter and not harder as a partial cure. When dealing with weather cocking that could be corrected with a few sweep strokes I just drop the rudder or skeg. I know this will keep me out of the, “I never use a rudder or skeg club,” but that is just something I will have to live with.

I have never understood why anyone would be in the “no rudder” club. Especially those who say they don’t “need” a rudder. No one should need a rudder, but many will find that a rudder increases efficiency by a few percent, so why not? Rudders are very nice, so are skegs, so are boats without rudders.

A deployed skeg might be even harder on your shoulder than no skeg, since it could require stronger sweeps.

im in the
Always use rudder club. Haven’t heard a good reason not to yet.

Ryan L.

Didn’t understand this…
“A deployed skeg might be even harder on your shoulder than no skeg, since it could require stronger sweeps.”

Did you mean to say that turning with a skeg is a problem? Yes, that’s true. But in a normal situation where a skeg is used, is it not always better than no skeg since it, by definition, is needed when it is needed?

I may have just misunderstood the context of the comment.


shoulder, rudders, technique.
If the skeg is deployed the boat will generally be straighter tracking and for straight ahead progress require fewer sweeps/steering strokes, and be easier on the shoulder.

However, if circumstance arise where a quick turn is required, then higher shoulder stress could result due to the skeg.

Skegs and turning
I think the idea that skegs are for tracking or that skegs make boats hard tracking is kind of a mis-conception, that misses the way a skeg is designed to help.

If your boat is tending to turn upwind, or if you need to make downwind turns, lower the skeg a bit more.

If your boat is tending to turn downwind, or if you need to make upwind turns, raise your skeg a bit more.

Skegs aren’t primarily intended to make boats harder-tracking, they’re there to change the trim in wind.

If you’re sweeping a bunch to turn in windy conditions, play around with rudder strokes at the bow and stern. Try doing upwind turns with a bow or stern draw. Then try a downwind turn with a bow or stern draw. I think you’ll find that one really does well turning up wind, and the other really shines turning downwind. You can link these with sweep strokes, and the difference over a sweep alone is impressive.

Try a canoe and soft catch paddles
Probably heresy to a SoCal ocean paddler, but try a single blade craft for the shoulder. A canoe. I’ve had shoulder issues on and off – not serious enough for surgery – and I’ve noticed the problem is a lot less if I single blade on one side rather than the other. It actually helped me become more ambidextrous as a canoeist.

Using a rudder to avoid correction strain with the paddle makes perfect sense to me.

There are many ruddered outrigger canoes in SoCal, which you can single blade on either side or even double blade if you want to. It may be worth a try to borrow one.

I also noticed that soft catch paddles helped my shoulder. Round them off to get rid of edges or even make them rounded points like some Aleuts.

A flexible shaft also helped me. I can’t stand the iron-rigid carbon shafts on some carbon canoe and kayak paddles, but the ZRE flex shaft treats my shoulder and elbow much better. I’m sure there are modern kayak paddles with a variety of shaft flexes.

relating to shoulders
Those strokes work and are my preference but need to be done well (i.e. good upper body rotation where you “face your work”) to avoid shoulder problems. For a person with history of problem shoulders even occasional lapses in good form can be a problem which is a big part of why a rudder helps those folks.

I used to get sore shoulders after long downwind stretches. Working on my form helped a lot but now and then I’ll find myself making a correction without turning my upper body enough. If I had a more serious problem I could see going to a rudder.

As you say, plus …
Lately, my shoulders hurt only if I get sloppy on the technique and I overwork (e.g., paddle hard with poor technique). If I paddle hard with good technique, I just get tired and need to recover over the next day or two.

Last week there was some wind forecasted and I took both my wing paddle and my single-bladed paddle with me and my Epic V10 Sport surf ski. Downwind I used the wing, upwind - the single blade. For similar effort I am about 1 mph slower with the single blade compared to the wing on the ski (5mph vs. 6mph) and of course, can’t reach the same top speed with the single blade as I can with the double. But with the single blade I feel it is easier on the shoulders. Plus it works quite well against the wind (as long as the wind is not as strong to require a double blade to overcome).

The ski is somewhat tippy in very bumpy conditions so there I use 2-blade, but for flat water or mild conditions I like switching. With the single blade I can paddle with lots of rotation (like a one-sided double-blade) or with more of a abdominal crunch or a combination. That uses different muscle groups for a change.

I’ve used the single blade on a short and maneuverable sea kayak, but there it is not fun - too much correction required to go straight without a rudder.

Agree about canoe/single blade
As it happens, in July, I spent 6 days paddling down the Upper Missouri between Coal Banks and Kipps in Montana. My first canoe trip since 10 days in the Boundary Waters perhaps 35 years ago. My wife and daughter and I had one canoe and a kayak. I used the canoe paddle in both. Very easy to get good rotation with the single blade. But I don’t know about a single paddle on the ocean.

The Upper Missouri is quite remote and beautiful, and 2 days would go by without seeing another person or boat. Very remote. We were lucky enough to see a mountain lion. Many eagles.

Rotator cuff
I have found for my 65 year old previously injured right rotator cuff, the smallest Onno wing paddle works best for paddling my faster kayaks any distance

I also use a bent shaft canoe paddle for variation and a Euro wider blade paddles ( Epic active and touring paddles) in the surf and occasionally my Greenland style paddles

However the small ONNO wing(smaller blade than the small Epic wing) loads my shoulder and rotator cuffs the least but still moves my kayaks along well

Patrick Onnos length sizing advice was accurate and I am very happy with his small wing paddle so I sold my Epic Midwing to someone on Paddling. Net for racing

In summary I have found a small wing paddle with a short length and full rotation easier on my shoulders and rotator cuff than my wider Euro paddles for both river and ocean paddling plus the wing gives more stability for my surf skis and surf ski like kayaks

Paddle help
Often toward the end of a half-day paddle I start to experience significant shoulder pain. When it gets bad, I wrap the (nonelastic) paddle leash around the center of the shaft until the paddle is the proper distance from the body and held taught. You then pull and push against that fulcrum point instead of against the shoulder. That reduces the pressure on the shoulder by about 50% and makes a significant difference.

If you wanted something more rigid you could attach a belt to the coaming and wrap it around the paddle shaft, using the holes in the belt to adjust the distance of the paddle to the body.

Some years ago after an injury I made a paddle holder out of PVC pipes and strapped it to the deck. This transferred about 75% if the effort from the injured shoulder to the paddle holder, which served as a fulcrum. It wasn’t very attractive, but it worked very well; in fact I could paddle with one arm. Those who have significant pain can google “adaptive paddling devices” for design ideas. Example:

I used a small-bladed all-carbon Werner Athena paddle, 22 oz., for two years until my shoulder recovered enough to go back to a medium blade. And of course a light kayk will help as well.

Torso rotation can help, but it can also be difficult for paddlers with arthritis in the back as well as shoulders.

A nice shot of cortisone can be a blessing (if you educate yourself about the drawbacks).

In the previous posts, no one seems to
have mentioned leaning and edging as steering methods. When I went from ww kayaks to my Necky Looksha Sport, the first thing I noticed was how responsive it was to just leaning away from the direction I wished to turn.

My uninformed opinion is that, for those of us with a lot of ww kayak experience, a rudder will be very useful in long, all-out sea kayaks, but of little or no use in short, responsive touring kayaks like my Looksha Sport. I took the entire rudder assembly off. For someone with long reach giving a strong sweep, a rudder is just so much drag. Remember also, that if you aren’t going forward relative to the water you’re in, your rudder can’t act effectively. Planned sweeps work, moving or stationary.

Depends on the hull
Once I learned to turn by leaning, I almost never used the rudder on my Old Town Cayuga 146, even in rough water. But my Eddyline Journey, just 6" longer, definitely benefits from the rudder. So length isn’t the only factor.

BUT: It could be a pain to lean the entire day if the wind and current make that necessary. In that case I would definitely want a rudder.

But you’re right in general that leaning is a good way to take pressure off the shoulder.

leaning and shoulder
My non-ruddered boat lean turns beautifully. My ruddered boat is still much easier on my questionable shoulder.

agree on Onno
I also listened to Patrick’s advice and set my small Onno wing to 208. If i maintain a good wing stroke it is very easy on my shoulder, but no more so than my low angle Euros, or the GP.

sweep and rotation?
How much is the shoulder stress of sweep stroke is due to improper technique, I wonder…

Most people who paddled for a while got pretty proficient at forward stroke, using core muscles and such. But it’s probably equally important to engage the core muscles for sweep and other control stroke.

I sometimes found myself being sloppy on control strokes because I usually don’t do them very often and really haven’t practiced enough to have the best technique ingrained in my head & body.

We do millions of forward strokes but 1/1000th of that in sweep strokes. Add to it sweeps are often “thrown in” when “needed”, aka, at random. I suspect a lot of us are using poor forms with doing sweep strokes. Hence the much higher stress on shoulder.

very important
this is part of why a rudder is good if you have an extra bad shoulder issues. When doing a control stroke to your rear you should rotate your body to avoid having the paddle go behind the imaginary line between shoulders. With practice this is mostly easy but sometimes if hurried or surprised you may quickly make such a stroke without rotating. A healthy shoulder will normally manage a small amount of such bad technique but otherwise some may not want the risk which is why a rudder can help those folks avoid more problems.

The other point being made was that corrective strokes take a bit more energy than using a rudder though for me it’s not a big deal compared to other hassles with using rudders or skegs. But if I’m going ten miles with the wind in my rear quarter I’ll be more than happy to drop it.

"Rear quarter"
I don’t really quite understand why so many people single out rear quarter wind as a source of difficulty…

If the boat is trimmed right (or has dropped skeg), there’s no need to do corrective strokes constantly.

Anyway, the principle being, you don’t really want to waste forward strokes anyway. So either by leaning, or by dropping the appropriate amount of skeg, or by deploying the rudder, you can concentrate on forward stroke.

Also, I trust most here knows how to “blend” strokes. You can add that mini-sweep at the bow rather than at the stern, which is less stressful to a compromised shoulder.

Granted, I’m not the best person to talk about shoulder issue. I’m fortunate enough not to have any coming into the sport. And with proper technique, I hope never have any issues with my shoulder.

I’m just having trouble making the link from rear quarter wind to corrective stroke to shoulder issue…