sore hands

I am somewhat new to kayaking and am struggling with stiff/sore hands. I use a light carbon Werner paddle that is feathered (adjustable and I use 60 degrees). My dominant right hand gets especially stiff - almost certainly from gripping the paddle too tightly. I find that if I relax the hand too much I loose control over the blade in the water. Is this a normal problem for a less experienced paddler? Any tips would be appreciated.

Common beginner problem

– Last Updated: Oct-20-09 10:41 PM EST –

Most likely it's because you're powering your strokes with your arms instead of torso rotation. If you bend your elbow during the stroke, that's a clue that you're probably pulling the blade with your arm, and you have to grip the paddleshaft tightly.

Using proper torso rotation to power the stroke, your arms and hands simply hold the paddle in place while your body pushes it. A couple ways to tell if you're doing it right is if your arm stays straight through the power phase and only bends to lift the blade at the end of the stroke. The other clue is if your shoulder moves backwards with the blade during the power phase.

Best way to learn proper stroke technique is to take a lesson from a qualified instructor. If you can't, go on YouTube and look for videos on forward stroke technique.

This one's a hoot:

In this one, note how the paddler's hands are open a good deal of the time:

Yes always keep elbows bent.

Don’t eat sugar and your joints will be much better.

Your paddle blades are designed to
do the right thing in the water without your needing to control the blade angle during the stroke. When new to kayaking, one does tend to grip too hard as if the paddle blade needed help. Mostly it doesn’t.

Of course you should not eat sugar and always rotate your torso, but I can down pancakes and maple syrup and arm-paddle all day without discomfort, because I have learned to trust my blades.

don’t feather the blades
Unfeather the blades (unless you are paddling in stiff wind) and concentrate on torso rotation.

Amazingly, if you put that blade in the water, loosen your hands so the blade can rotate, and pull, the blade will find its own way. You don’t need to control the angle. I’d guess that maybe you’re having trouble because of the high feather angle. Try it at 30, or 15, or 0 degrees, and keep your hands loose. See if that helps.

Hands and forward stroke

– Last Updated: Oct-22-09 8:23 AM EST –

If you can't open the hand that is opposite the "wet blade" side (the blade that is in the water) on every stroke without dropping it, you need to get some work on your forward stroke. The other hand should be able to lie open if the stroke is being done crrectly.

If you are relying [totally] on the hand to grip the paddle on the wet side, you are probably not rotating and using your torso and upper body correctly.

As to the control hand thing - spend some time reading up on current thought about that. You'll find that many coaches have abandoned the idea of a one-sided control hand for the forward stroke, that the control hand is actually always switching from side to side with the wet blade. In the older idea of control hand, there is a nasty tendency for the one deemed to be that to get really beat up because of all the twisting and stress being placed on it when the opposite blade is in the water. The more extreme of a father you are using, the more likely it is that you are damaging your wrist if your forward stroke involves too much arm paddling.

60 degrees is a lot of feather these days - closer to 45 degrees is what I see a lot of sea kayak coaches I know use. These are paddlers who are much better than I'll ever be.

You are also probably controlling the blade in general rather than letting it tell you the correct blade angle. If you have a good dihedral bladed paddle, you can let it tell you how it needs to go thru the water.

open hand coordination
For now I’m mostly keeping my hands loose, but not open. I need to get more coordinated ;). I was opening my high/pushing hand but noticed I didn’t always fully close it when I was pulling and the result was tugging more on fewer hand muscles making them sore. Eventually I’ll get the timing/muscle memory down, but keeping the hands closed, but loose keeps my hands happy.

not just dihedral
The need to grip non-dihedral paddles more tightly to control flutter is a common misconception. It’s actually the opposite. Flutter is often a symptom of gripping the non-dihedral paddle too tightly. Non-dihedral will actually flutter with bad technique, so if you notice flutter, one of the first things to do is relax your grip. The rest has to do with a good plant of the blade before pulling. It’s hard to tune in the plant with a tight grip on the paddle. If I wanted to make my paddle flutter, a would use a tighter grip and an uneven plant and I could probably make it happen.

I try not to ever really close my hands. My pulling hand has the paddle more hooked with my fingers. But I did notice yesterday morning with the colder temperature and wind that as my fingers got colder, I needed to do more opening and closing of the fingers to avoid soreness. Just something else to remind me that I’m not all that young anymore.

I found loose hands also necessary for keeping straight wrists, which is super important.

Ben Lawry’s class-worth each cent+second

– Last Updated: Oct-21-09 1:01 PM EST –

Took Ben Lawry's forward stroke class (one like in the link above last year around this time of year - excellent class. He had returning students who were taking his class for a second time a year or so after they took the same class with him previously and were thinking of a third time at the end of the second class -;)

The second link however, I'd skip, I think hte guy who's back we're offered to watch is making a hole bunch of things that Ben would probably have corrected -;). But, yes, he's not gripping too tight...

Feathered vs unfeathered
I think I’ve said this before: feathering was developed not to lessen wind resistance, but to provide a flat blade for split-second bracing on the vulnerable offside (the blade not in the water). If you want this advantage, you have to have split-second reflexes, which comes from knowing what blade angle you have. If you have to remember whether you’re paddling feathered vs unfeathered and adjust the blade angle accordingly, you lose that split-second advantage in avoiding a capsize.

That said, with the increase of recreational paddlers, more people are paddling unfeathered these days, or switching back & forth. That’s fine, I just think it’s important to understand the real functionality of feathering before you decide.


– Last Updated: Oct-21-09 1:08 PM EST –

The blade in the water is controlled by the hand that is closer to it. The one in the air only guides the paddle at the proper angle and is pushing forward in the beginning of the stroke. Neither of these two functions require you to tightly grip the paddle with the upper hand, unless conditions get really dicey and there is a chance the wind or water from above can blow the upper blade out of your hand.

Try non-feathered for some time (until it feels natural) and then figure out if you want to go back to feathered. Feathered requires some a-symetry, thus it may be harder to get the stroke right on both sides. Also, if you ever decide to try a greenland paddle, it will be much easier transition if you are already paddling unfeathered (hint - try a lightweight "GP" one of these days -;) ).

with the increase of recreational…
with the increase of recreational paddlers…

If by recreational you mean non-competition/racing paddlers your assertion makes sense.

If you mean less skilled or experienced paddlers then not so much.

The increase in unfeathered paddling I’ve seen is among those more advanced in their training and experience. The increased use of Greenland Paddles has also given impetus to paddling unfeathered.

In my very first class about 10 years ago I was taught to feather my paddle. Somewhere around 4-5 years ago a coach suggested trying paddling unfeathered. Subsequently, a few other coaches also suggested it.

I have been paddling unfeathered (for both sea and white water) for a number of years. My roll and bracing is more reliable on both sides than it was when I paddled feathered.

I won’t proselytize for paddling unfeathered. I will note that many very good, skilled and experienced paddlers choose to paddle unfeathered. Just as many (and probably all racers) paddle feathered.

Try a smaller shaft diameter
A smaller diameter shaft will be less strain on the hands and wrists. Not knowing what you have, perhaps you could give this a try. More than likely you are probably just not quite conditioned yet. Try to start your paddles a little slower to warm up the muscles and tendons before paddling hard. It’s a like the weekend warrior who helps someone split wood by hand. The hands, wrists and forearms will be sore.

try a canoe paddle
thats where its at

brit technique will fix it!
Stick out, or raise your pinky, like you’re drinking tea. Now paddle… no way you can grip that paddle too tight with your pinky out like that.

You may laugh, but it works.

Eventually your hands will learn a light grip on the paddle. After that your hands will stay almost open when you paddle. But first try the pinky thing.

Wear tacky gloves and you won’t need to grip the paddle so tightly. I love the cheap hardware-store gloves that have rubber on the palm and nylon on top. They cost about $4. There is a heavier version that works well in cold weather (not waterproof, though, so I always take 2 pairs in the fall, in case one gets wet). Later than fall you need waterproof.

Chronic problem for me
I’m an open boater and my upper/grip hand always gets sore after a long day on the water. Doctor says its tendonitis. He suggested rest, ice and Ibuprophen – I do the ice and Ibuprophen.

No one mentioned it yet, so I will.
Are you trying to go too fast.

Go slower, which will translate to being more relaxed which will translate to a nice easy grip, which might solve your problem.

You can go faster once you have a more relaxed stroke.



Remember that ibuprofen and other
NSAIDs like Aleve can significantly delay healing. Use when pain is interfering with activities of daily living, but avoid otherwise. Your doc may have missed 15 years of research findings that are readily available.