Touring kayak paddle blade shapes?

Key difference I’ve noted outside of the obvious of width and length are…

  1. Symmetrical vs. asymmetrical
  2. Dihedral vs. flat surface
  3. Scooped vs. straight from shaft to tip

    The asymmetrical design seems to address the issue of placing equal water pressure on the top and bottom half of the blade during the paddles entry and stroke.

    The dihedral design seems to be in play to reduce flutter or wandering of the blade during the stroke.

    The third one of scoop vs. flat is probably the one I least understand for advantage vs. disadvantage. Scoop is suppose to grab substantially more water, but then why would’nt paddle manufactures put more scoop in their white-water blades?

    I see more brands like Werner prefer more of a scoop design while Adventure Technology’s blades are flatter and a little more like a Greenland blade in this respect. Then you have a different design theory in play with something like Derek Hutchinson’s Toksook paddle. Thoughts, input, preferences?

    I am aware that wing paddles are a whole different beast with a very specific purpose, so more interested in hearing about basic touring blade shapes.

interesting question
I’ll ponder and guess.

At the catch, your paddle isn’t verticle. The plane of the face of your blade really is only verticle for a moment during a stroke. What I mostly think is that it could create a more powerful catch by not allowing as much flow off of the end of the blade. A less likely to be noticable thought is that it changes the angle of the end of the blade at catch to being slightly more verticle than the shaft, creating a better angle against the water at catch. Don’t know if anything would be realized due to this? It also may make it easier for some to do a cleaner entry at catch, producing less splash and noise?

I think the explanation on whitewater paddles is probably as simple as whitewater paddlers utilize and rely on back strokes far more frequently than sea kayakers, so any advantage would be outweighed by the disadvantage of having the back of a spoon catching on the back strokes. In a sea kayak, the forward stroke advantage may outweigh the disadvantage on the back strokes. Everything always seems to be somewhat give and take.

Scoop design

– Last Updated: Apr-07-09 7:34 PM EST –

The scoop design I've been told is good for the initial catch and a quicker transfer of power at the beginning of the stroke. According to one sales rep the scoop design moves much more water per stroke at almost a two to one ratio compared to a flat paddle design, but I have some reservations on that. Question is does the scoop design negate itself at the end of the stroke as the paddle is now acting more like a spoon trying to lift water as the paddle is exiting the water?

Also is there a noticeable difference in the performance of a scoop design compared to a flatter blade design for such things a sculling, bracing or bow rudder strokes?

ANY rudder, draw, pry, brace, roll
or reverse stroke is way less effective and balanced with a spoon shape. while they work OK the margin of error or ‘forgivingness’ is reduced with a curve.

this is one cool aspect of a GP…neutral and balanced.

you wanna go faster…go faster (as in RPM’s) NOT more powerful, which can create strain and stress.

AT comes as close to a GP as any Euro style.



With the exception his 90 deg feather
I think DH’s Toksook is even closer to a GP.

I have several…
… GPs that take offense to that. L Oh well, at least you didn’t compare Nigel’s weighty willow leaf wonders to an Aleut or some other excellent and more developed/refined native designs like he would!

Different take

– Last Updated: Apr-08-09 4:59 AM EST –

1. Symmetrical vs. asymmetrical

Only matters during catch (if at all, as it isn't much time with decent euro technique). After that blade is buried and both types are balanced.

2. Dihedral vs. flat surface

Marketing claims abound - and they can work that way - but reality is technique is the best way to deal with flutter. In other words, if your blades flutter, work on your technique! Many good paddle of either type, but if you have good technique, you'll likely be selecting paddles based on other things. Some say dihedral hampers/limits technique development, while flat encourages better technique (or even demands it). Dihedral often feels better to many at first (and many stick with it), but counter productive later (similar to Aleut ridge vs flatter side power face debate).

3. Scooped vs. straight from shaft to tip.

Again, catch related (as you already noted above). WW is not all that forward stroke oriented, more about maneuvering strokes (many where curved blades are OK, but aren't optimal as Flatpick said), hence the flatter more predictable WW blades.

If you look at stop motion images of a paddle stroke at speed, you'll see that the paddle moves very little (stays where you plant it other than the blade changing angle around some pivot point, and the slight outward flare of wing stroke if doing that), so a lot of what people visualize about paddles moving through the water is likely to be just plain wrong (unless they paddle in place while tied to a dock).

For most (doing 3 knots for a few miles) none of this probably matters, and the common default asymmetric with some dihedral paddles most companies turn out are probably what they should be making/selling to most people (who are in kayaks that are too fat to get the most out of really nice touring paddles like GP/Aleut/Wing anyway! *L*).

Asymetrical vs. not

– Last Updated: Apr-08-09 8:53 AM EST –

Derek Hutchinson (as much as I am not convinced by many of his other statements) says that the asymetrical sahpe is mostly marketing and "because everyone else is doing it".

If we think about the forward stroke technique (and are to trust folks like Ben Lawry and many here), one should *not* be pulling during the catch *and* the entire blade should be burried in the water first. So, after the blade is burried, then it really does not matter if it is symetrical or not.

On the other hand, if it is balanced in a position when not fully burried, then it will be unbalanced in a position when fully burried, so it makes absolutely no sense to me to have an asymetrical shape from that prospective.

Having an asymetrical shape for a high-angle paddle, however, makes a lot of sense to me (which may be counter-intuitive to some who associate the asymetry with the catch phase's water entry part and say in a high angle paddle asymetry is not that important). My theory is that having an asymetrical high angle paddle allows for a closer to the hull catch (irrespective of how the paddle enters the water) and thus a more efficient stroke. Just look at wing paddles - have not seen a symetrical one, but their asymetry is differently "distributed" compared to low-angle "touring" designs.

I'd be curious to see what others more experienced than I think of the above ;)

Also, add to the list of differeces the attribute of "twist" (twist, not feather; read-up on it in "The Barton Mould" book for instance).

I have symmetrical wings…
… but your typical wing paddlers likely wouldn’t call them wings. Used the same way though (specific design for this - not talking GP/Aleut - though these are also long narrow symmetrical wings)…

As for regular wing paddles, the teardrop shapes are most prevalent now, but the parallel edge blade designs are a little more symmetrical, a little more forgiving, and a little softer on catch - and these might be really good choices for touring (particularly smaller sizes for sea kayaks).

My hybrid native/wing detunes it even more - narrower, unfeathered. Bit of an ugly duckling/stealth ship looking thing, but my favorite cruising paddle currently (bounces back and forth between these and Aleut, and I typically have both with me [as well as a CF GP for any rock bashing/seal clubbing tasks]).

Your wooden “wing” is symmetrical but if it was not, it would perform even better is my uneducated guess. You would not be able to swap right for left anymore though… The symmetry here does not much matter for closeness of catch because yours is narrow anyway. But if it moves thru the water in an outward motion as a wing paddle is supposed to be used (as opposed to plow straight back), then if the front and the rear edges are not symmetrical, then I think it is not optimal thru the water - would create more unwanted turbulence.

Nigel who?
The Toksook is Derek Hutchinson’s signature paddle.

Nigel Foster’s paddle is one of the better Euro designs, IMO, but it’s not enough to convince me to give up my GPs.

One thing that’s important to keep in mind is that paddles are often designed to work with a particular paddler’s technique. Derek and Nigel’s paddles are good examples of this.

They all work and none are perfect…
…in all situations. Try a few and see what works for you, as that’s all that really matters.

Yeah, sleepy/lazy posting…
… regarding D/N.

Agree 100% on styles dictating what’s best for anyone, and such preferences/differences generating designs that are optimal for the originator and those who paddle in similar fashion, and maybe not so for others.

Variety/options/experimenting are good. Finding your own sweet spots (a process not a goal - as this is always in flux), priceless. Gurus can help or hinder in equal measure here.

For majority, things won’t get that dialed in (downside), and it won’t matter much (upside). Maybe more accurate to say things won’t be pushed/nitpicked to that point, and what is recommended and/or what you like (for whatever reason) is generally sufficient criteria to pick a paddle.

Whatever the approach, or orientation, simple enjoyment should be primary concern.

Many forms of “better”.
If I adopted your perspective I’d just use a regular wing, but that is not optimal for my current needs/uses/fitness.

On a K1 or ski I’d likely use a regular wing. If I were in great shape and raced fast hulls, I’d certainly use a regular wing.

I paddle in something else though, and non-competitively. These paddles (Aleut and hybrid) hit slightly different sweet spots for decent pace touring, comfort, ease on body. They both nail it for what I’m doing most of the time, and which best suits depends. Often it’s swithcing between them.

A poor way to break this down that may at least give some perspective/comparative relationship is to sort of place these paddles on an overlapping performance continuum (just as it relates to fast/efficient cruising anyway) that goes from GP to Aleut to Hybrid to Wing. Speed for effort gets better as you go up the line (assuming decent technique and appropriate fitness for each), but with increasing trade-offs on body and more fitness required to make best use of them (primary being ability to comfortable hold the speeds each is best at). The overlap between all these cannot be over emphasized. It is large, particularly between GP/Aleut and Aleut/hybrid. Wing is only in it’s own zone for paddlers in s similarly elevated ability range. They are all just paddles after all.

I can’t really place euros on this scale between the other types as there are all sorts of them and technique differences, so they sort of overlap most of this and go from somewhere below GP to somewhere below wing depending on model and user.

Wings have a specific purpose?
Our wing blades are our touring paddles. All paddles work the same. Put the blade in the water and pull the boat up to it. Repeat as many times as necessary to get you to your destination.

Everything else is going to be personal preference. Try the different shapes/styles and use the one that feels the best to YOU.