The Dark Side

I’ve got a new double blade canoe paddle. It took me 40 years to realize that for open water, this is the way to go for solo paddling. A traditional paddle is best for small streams, but the kayak style is the cat’s meow for lakes. Fast, less-energy expended getting from point A to point B. The only down side is the paddle is long, and has to be broken down to fit inside the boat while using the single blade. Best thing since sliced bread.

If you don’t mind the dripping,
and that some “purists” might pooh-pooh the idea, there’s nothing at all wrong with it. Some unicyclists ride bicycles now and then, too.

Always liked a double blade for just
straight-ahead progress. Though with the right canoe, a bent shaft paddle is highly effective.

I paddled for a long time too
before I realized that for open water a canoe paddle was the only way to go for solo paddling. Fast, less energy expended getting from point A to point B.

No more extra blade up in the wind, no more wet hands, arms, face, short, compact and light. No shoulder pain, hand numbness, blistering from constantly damp skin… no down sides at all with the canoe paddle.

Glad you found something that works for you.

I paddled for a long time too
before I realized that for open water a canoe paddle was the only way to go for solo paddling. Fast, less energy expended getting from point A to point B.

No more extra blade up in the wind, no more wet hands, arms, face, short, compact and light. No shoulder pain, hand numbness, blistering from constantly damp skin… no down sides at all with the canoe paddle.

Glad you found something that works for you.

double blading is old
Recreational canoeing really took off in the 1880s with small boats and double blades.

“Purists” might want to look at history especially that of Adirondack pack canoes.

I keep hearing about wetness. I am not wet yet. Drip rings and a low stroke make a lot of difference.

Double blade for big shallow waters, where a single blade would get stuck in the mud.

Single for most else. Double blading an alder lined creek is really an excercise in use of four letter words.

Why would I spend all this time
and energy in effort to improve my strokes only to take the easy way out?

I hear you though, K. Sit n’ switch puts more water in my boat than double-blading does, but it doesn’t all end up in my lap!

Bent blades work well

– Last Updated: Sep-19-10 3:45 PM EST –

but you still have to have a straight one along for fast water or tight work. At least that's been my preference. I also don't know what this noise is about dripping. The drip guards seem to work well, and besides, switching back and forth with one blade isn't really all that "dry." And my back hurts a lot more from j-stroking than any fatigue from the double blade. I compared them side by side in various conditions, and there is more stress on the body using drag to correct or switching sides than rythmatic double paddling. I'm not saying it's the only way to go, but remember that purists didn't invent the GPS, the waterproof boot, the microwave oven, or Royalex, kevlar, carbon fiber, or anything else thats a standard these days. The esteemed captain must be using a dugout canoe dressed in a loincloth. My wife also says I look terrible in a loincloth.

One thing about the J-Stroke:

– Last Updated: Sep-19-10 4:14 PM EST –

If you describe the correction phase as having drag, you can improve your technique so there is none.

Lots of people use the tail-end of a J-stroke like a rudder, letting it trail behind the boat for about a second or so. A "real" J-stroke comes out of the water virtually as quickly as any other stroke and usually creates no drag. There's just a little sideways push, for just an instant, at the end of the stroke, and that sideways push is "neutral", creating neither forward thrust nor drag. True, even the best J-stroke provides less power than an uncorrected stroke because of the stoppage of forward thrust at the instant of the sideways "flip", but when it comes to all-day paddling efficiency, the stroke can be a lot better than many folks realize.

In actual practice, there will be quite a few individual strokes which act like a rudder when you want more correction, but many people think ruddering is the way a J-stroke is supposed to work every time, and it doesn't need to be that way.

Still drag

– Last Updated: Sep-19-10 4:57 PM EST –

No matter how clean and quick your technique, the J-stroke is a drag producing stroke. Only when the paddle is moving backwards is the stroke enhancing forward motion. Any sideways movement of the paddle is retarding forward movement (i.e. inefficiency). Wind and current confound the J-stroke and produce additional inefficiency. Not that big a deal, but you'll never be able to argue that any single blade method is "efficient" when there are correcting elements to the stroke.

For my experiment, I first measured the movement of the nose of the boat for each technique in calm water, as well as the speed. Then, the next day, I assessed the fatigue of each technique going directly into an 5-8 MPH wind, quartering into the wind, and with a crosswind. I tested against a beavertail and a wide "standard" canoe blade. I came to appreciate the double blade for getting me there faster, with less fatigue in each case. The one situation where I might prefer the single blade in open water is facing white caps, only because the power afforded by a wide, single blade. I certainly prefer the single blade in weedy backwater situations.

Sit and switch puts less water in my
canoe than a 240cm double blade paddle, much less.

Double blade is much wetter for me -
even with drip rings. 240cm is the longest double I’ve tried.

I also get tired faster using a double blade in my canoes than when using a 10oz ZRE bent.

My answer was based on the average…

– Last Updated: Sep-19-10 5:55 PM EST –

... person's J-stroke, because with most people it is correct to say that there is drag in the true sense of the word. Still, my definition of the word "drag" in this discussion seems to be completely different from yours. To me, there is a big difference between "drag" as a process which retards forward motion, and "sideways-directed thrust" which simply lacks any componant which would affect the boat's speed in either a positive or negative way. In that regard, a J-stroke still is not as efficient as an all-power stroke, but only because less than 100 percent of your energy is directed to make the boat go forward, NOT because there is drag which robs the boat of its glide. In short, "drag" and "energy-efficiency" are can be separated from each other in this case.

I believe efficiency can be a complicated thing though. The fact that using a double-blade is easier in some ways is not "news" to most people, but I think an across-the-board comparison between the two methods would vary a lot with the style of boat and the type of trip being done, and especially on whether speed was important. I think that "cheating" a bit with a J-stroke and using the paddle blade like a rudder is actually quite efficient if you don't need to go fast, because when "cheating" that way, virtually no muscle energy is expended during the correction phase, so yes there's some drag, but it is minor and your body is resting at that moment, and I really think there are cases where all-day paddling ability will take less energy that way than with a double. Certainly Verlen Kruger found that a single-blade provided both more speed and efficiency than a double, because he used a rudder (a rudder corrects more efficiently than a paddle blade by virtue of its location - the mechanics of the process are more favorable the farther back the correction force is applied - and if ALL you wanted was energy-efficiency, you would mount a rudder on a boom 10 or 15 feet behind the stern).

I don’t sit-and-switch, but…

– Last Updated: Sep-19-10 5:58 PM EST –

...when I do switch paddling sides, the paddle drips fly foward, missing the boat completely. Perhaps I switch sides pretty fast, but not nearly as fast as the sit-and-switchers do, so I'm sure their paddle drips fly completely free of the boat as well.

Perhaps there is a bit of drag
produced by the J stroke, but, if the forward stroke is done properly and the J is done properly, the drag is minimal. More important the statement that “you’ll never be able to argue that any single blade method is efficient when there are correcting elements to the stroke” implies, in the context of this thread that such inefficiencies don’t exist with double blades. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

When using a double blade, every stroke is a sweep, inducing yaw to the offside. That yaw is countered or corrected by a similar but opposite yaw induced by the next stroke to the new offside. The lower the blade angle, the more yaw that is induced and corrected for by the next stroke. On the point of efficiency, a properly executed forward stroke with a single blade wins, hands down.

I won’t get into the mechanics of a properly executed forward stroke here. The details vary a bit depending upon whether the paddler is seated or kneeling, whether the paddle is straight or bent and whether the stroke is done on one side of the boat with a J or from both sides as with the hit and switch method. No matter which of these variants is applied, if properly done with good form, a greater percentage of the effort applied is used to propel the canoe forward and less to correct than when double blading.

Marc Ornstein

Dogpaddle Canoe Works

Custom Canoe Paddles and Woodstrip Canoes

Me Too
I have also been paddling canoes for about 20 years, mostly fast moving rivers and whitewater but when I want to really get across large unobstructed bodies of water OR paddle upstream,…a kayak paddle as I discovered recently is hands-down more efficeint. Certainly when I am doing rapids, I always use the single-blade. Forget the purists,…if it increases enjoyment on the water and encourages you to be out on the water more often,.GO FOR IT!

Thanks for bringing that up

– Last Updated: Sep-19-10 7:02 PM EST –

I had been trying to think of a way to explain that unecessary yawing of the boat wastes energy even if the paddler is not aware of it for some other paddling-mechanics-related reason, and certainly a properly executed forward stroke (even without correction of any kind) won't cause as much yaw as each stroke with a double-blade (getting a truly vertical stroke never happens with a double-blade in a canoe, at least as far as I've ever seen). It would be difficult to quantify this, and of course it will depend on lots of variables, but sweep strokes are not an efficient application of forward power, even if the strokes on opposite sides do counteract each other and eliminate the need for conscious correction.

One thing I know for sure: I can often tell which canoe-paddlers will be tired at the end of the day and which ones won't be, just by watching their technique, and some paddlers will definitely benefit more from a double-blade than others.

Again, I'm not saying a double blade can't be more efficient, only that I serously doubt that any statement describing the difference between the two methods can be applied to everyone or every situation in the same way. There are a few single-bladers out there, which to me, appear really relaxed and at-ease no matter how far they paddle.

a really good forward stroke
isn’t the easy way out. A really bad forward double blade stroke is another matter.

Those darth vader types spend a lot on forward stroke clinics. Taint that easy.

I guess my double blading is lots better than my sit and switch and shower. Thats the beauty of the canoe…you can propel it with whatever you fancy.

I think we’re confusing terms
The term efficient is being used where the more appropriate term might be effective.

For those who have not truly mastered the forward stroke and perhaps under some conditions even for those have, the double blade may be more effective. The ability to apply nearly constant power with a double blade may get one through a tough spot that he/she couldn’t handle with a single blade. For such conditions the double blade may be more effective. As for more efficient, absolutely not.

Marc Ornstein

Dogpaddle Canoe Works

Custom Canoe Paddles and Woodstrip Canoes

Efficiency defined
When I use the term efficiency,…my purest definition would be; Distance achieved per calorie burned. I am quite certain that the same paddler (even highly capable and expert single-blade canoe paddlers) would travel further per energy exerted with a comparable kayak paddle versus a comparable canoe paddle assuming they were equally versed in both paddle techniques. Thats all I really meant because I have definately experienced a positive difference as far as distance achieved and speed maintained while using the double-blade.