The Right Paddle for Whitewater

I don’t know squat about whitewater paddling but I do know that rolling up in that environment can be crucial to one’s health and welfare. Wouldn’t a modified Greenland design be a better tool than a Euro for getting upright fast? Maybe wider for more bite? Carbon fiber for banging around?

We had a drowning last year where a guy flipped and got tangled in a submerged root ball. Can’t help but wonder if he had a better tool for getting upright that he might have lived.

We have a few GP users in our club who we hope to introduce to WW sometime this Spring. They are going to have to decide for themselves whether the GP is the thing to use. Certainly it is a surprise to most people how much more difficult rolling can be when the water is turbulent, aerated, and shallow, and you are bouncing off of rocks; common WW conditions.

Never saw a WW paddler with a GP
I know of no particular reason that one couldn’t paddle whitewater with a Greenland paddle, but I have never seen it done in over 25 years.

Greenland paddles, having narrower blades, tend to be a bit longer to give equivalent blade surface, and that doesn’t always work that well in whitewater.

There definitely has been a move toward paddles with much less feather, or no feather, however. Years ago, 80 degree feather paddles were common, then 60 degree feather, now most are 45 degrees or less.

Long, narrow blades wouldn’t be good. Shorter and wider might have plenty of bite and spend less time scraping bottom.

Get an unfeathered WW paddle
Just had to order it,have both Werner and Aquabound unfeathered out in the garage.

Here’s a link to a story of someone who did the Colorado with a GP. Just scroll down a bit.

I use a GP when there’s room, and a euro when there’s rocks.

I watched someone use GP in WW
He used to post here under the handle jarraa. He used a GP in the play park for part of the session. He used Euro, too.

If you can dig up an old post of his, maybe you could e-mail him. If you reach him, I’m sure he’d be happy to give you his thoughts on the GP for WW. He was very enthusiastic about paddling!

The right paddle for WW
WW paddling is about quick bracing, rolling quickly, and controlling (using) the designed in tendency for the boat to turn. A GP is not a good tool for that job. You need a shorter paddle with a wide blade for control and acceleration. I can roll perfectly well with such a paddle. The technique is different but just as reliable. Just relax.

One possible problem
I don’t paddle with GP but have used one occasionally.

My impression is that the GP must be deeper in the water than the Euro blade to get good power. In rocky, shallow WW, that might pose a problem.

Look at EJ’s video on rolling
The basic roll he teaches is a lay back roll but different from the standard GP roll. In the section where he talks about advanced rolling he advocates a roll with no set up. It is faster and safer than a roll where you start with a set up and in my experience just as reliable and certainly faster. If I tip over on, say my right side, I can quickly slice my paddle toward the surface, rotate it so the power face is down, and do a lay back hip snap and pop back up in just a few seconds.

As a frequent GP user
I cannot see my using one of my GPs for ww. The bite of a ww paddle is important as is the shortness.

Your body rights the boat when rolling. Especially in turbulent waters. I think a long narrow paddle would be awkward in ww.

I paddle unfeathered both sea and ww. My favorite ww paddle is my H2O which is unfeathered. Celia’s H2O has a 12 degree feather.

Maybe, maybe not …
I;ve used my GP on white water when I was first learning in that environment precisely because it offered my shaky roll more chances to work than not. Fast-forward 2 years and I don’t like the GP in that environment much. If you shorten and fatten the blades as you suggest and lose some of the length, you get a real WW paddle -;).

In WW you need two things that the GP is engineered to be the opposite of:

  • wide grip on the shaft
  • immediate solid catch

    Using a GP in WW I personally can’t nearly as effectively brace or apply power on short strokes with a narrow grip grip and a long blade on the side. There is no time to slide hands around to achieve a strong wide grip effect as you can in sea paddling conditions. WW, or at least the Class II/III that I paddle regularly, moves too fast to let me fool around with sliding hands - I need short quick powerful stroks, not gracious but slow ones there. I also can’t do steering strokes nearly as effectively with the GP as with the WW.

    On the other hand, there is nothing wrong I suppose in using the GP for relaxed paddling on easy white water. It would also roll you safely in foamy or turbulent water, as long as you have space around you to do it. The GP is quick to move underwater. It is easy to position for a solid brace if you have time to adjust your grip. So you can paddle big water too, as long as the features you are dealing with are deep and the water moves slow enough to let you react.

    It’s just that - GP to me offers slower reaction times and less immediate purchase on the water while needing more depth.

Use the tool designed for the job

– Last Updated: Jan-14-11 10:56 AM EST –

Whitewater is frothy and the whitewater blade is designed to optimize purchase in that situation. While you don't paddle up with proper roll technique, the paddle provides resistance for you to brace your body roll against.

One of the obstacles to whitewater rolling is the paddle being knocked out of position by surrounding rocks, currents, riverbed, etc. The shorter the paddle, the less likely this is to happen. The shorter paddle also seems to sweep into position easier (paddle dexterity). When ww paddlers have trouble transitioning to a sea kayak roll, I have found that the critical differnce is usually the timing with the longer paddle, not the difference in the boats.

Since most ww boats are designed to spin and turn, we use a fairly high angle stroke to go straight. GPs lend themselves to a more horizontal position.

I've used a GP with a ww boat in pool practice to try different rolls. But I wouldn't want to use it on the river.


– Last Updated: Jan-14-11 1:05 PM EST –

I know of a guy who regularly goes out in fairly nasty moving water using all the (supposedly) wrong tools. Sea kayak, GP etc. AS far as I've heard, he is getting some solid respect from the WW folks. His intent, by the way, is to use available WW to learn good skills for tidal races and the like. Considering how many long boaters get messed up the first time they try this stuff, it's an interesting idea.

That said, if you look at most WW blades they tend to be bigger and built for more power than the same sized touring blade. So much of your concern is already addressed in the design. The are also bomb-proof - made of materials that you can bash the hell out of on rocks and not break the paddle. A usual GP would be challenged to take the same abuse.

So a GP could be used in these circumstances yes, and there are those who have shown they can do well at it. But that's not most of us, and the ones who can do this have spent a heck of a lot of time really learning a GP.

I Meant Really MODIFIED
Maybe I shouldn’t have used the term GP at all. The paddle I see in my head is really shorter and the blades REALLY wider. But… none of that spoon shape that drags along. If I were wealthy and idle I’d try designing it.

have one…3 7/8 inches wide…for surfing:)

it would work fine…but for WW I still prefer a spoon

Best Wishes


only on Pnet
would what paddle to use in ww, GP or ww paddle, be even remotely considered a topic. incredible.

If you don’t like the topic…
ignore the post. At least the OPer has provided some info in a profile about who they are and what they do.

Funny thing
The people who post the snottiest remarks (repeatedly, too) about Pnet and its followers hang around here an awful lot. I guess they haven’t found (or founded) another site that attracts others of their ilk. Which of course they are free to do.

Something new?
Something new? I say go for it. I’m happy with a zero-degree WW paddle, but maybe you can come up with something interesting. Build a snorkel into the paddle-shaft so you can breathe through the thing, or try some new shape or idea. SOF blades maybe?

I think it’s the wrong focus …
… to choose a tool (or spouse) based on its ability to to provide a service that occurs only a trivial percentage of the time.

Even if a GP were a marginally superior tool for rolling upright in WW, which I doubt, it is not a the superior tool for avoiding that circumstance and staying upright. WW paddling involves a lot of static, dynamic and turning braces as well as frequent and aggressive accelerations and decelerations. The partially-immersed thin blade of a GP is not the best tool for these kinds of high water-purchase maneuvers.

Some other examples of this kind of loss of focus are:

– Lining your open canoe with 25 pounds of foam planks so it floats higher in WW when it’s upside down. The added weight and consequent loss of acceleration and maneuvering ability will increase the probability that this undesired circumstance will actually occur.

– Choosing a spouse on the primary basis of his/her ability to provide you with the most effective bed care when you are terminally ill.