why are ww paddles feathered?

I understand why sea kayak paddles are feathered, but not ww paddles. Is it just the equipment I’ve been exposed to that seems to be 100% feathered or is this the standard? And if so, why?

I wanted to take a ‘club’ paddle out today for my first ww trip, but I’m used to paddling unfeathered, so though I’d have preferred taking the beat up club paddles than my newish one, I wanted the security of a familiar feather. But it made me curious…it seems the major force is the water, not the wind.

Just wondering…Lyn

Personal Preferences
But the standard feather has decreased to 15 or 30 deg.

Watch the slalom paddlers, and see
where they end up as far as feather goes. Probably slalom courses are too short for a feathered blade to make any difference in speed.

I started with 90 degree blades in 1973, and am quite used to them, although I ordered 75 degrees for the last kayak paddle I ordered. By now, you have to special order to get a WW paddle feathered more than 60 degrees, and 45 degrees seems to be the most common.

There may be subtle, unappreciated reasons for having some feather. Humans look symmetrical, but they do not function symmetrically. A feathered paddle recognizes the unremovable tendency to have a dominant or control hand.

slalom roots…
A feathered blade makes a big difference when trying to clear a slalom gate. The feathering can really help you prevent any accidental paddle touches (2 second penalties). Also in large wave trains, if the wave hits you on the chest while paddling forward, a feathered blade more easily slices through the water. With that said, there is a rather strong movement among playboaters to switch to lower degree offset paddles (15-30 degrees) and even unfeathered paddles versus the standard 45 degree offset. I have personally switched both my whitewater paddles to zero degrees and it makes a big difference on my bow stall balance and it makes offside bracing more instinctual. So now I’m almost a totally zero degree offset paddler (zero degree for whitewater and a GP for sea kayaking) although I do still like a feathered paddle when sea kayaking with a Euro paddle.

Great question
Congrats on your great day on the water! We were all rooting for you.

This question is easier to illustrate with a paddle in hand, than to explain over the internet, for me any way. If someone can explain this in a less cumbersome way please help.

With the paddle in your hand, place the right blade at the catch phase of the stroke, where the right blade is in the water at your right foot. Are you with me so far? This is where the stroke is “loaded” and ready to go off, yes, ready for the “power” portion of the stroke.

In this position, stroke loaded at your right foot, if you were to start to capsize on your right, a good hard stroke could allow enough purchase on the water to help right the boat, or you could easily slice the right blade into “high brace” position. Agree so far?

Now, from that same position, stroke loaded on your right at the beginning of the stroke,… if you were to begin to capsize on your left, (away from the blade already in the water) the left blade of a feathered paddle is automatically in position for a high brace, power face down, elbow down. This is no coincidence. A non feathered paddle will have the bottom edge of the left blade facing down to the water surface, not the power face of the left blade. There fore the blade will slice thru the surface of the water giving no purchase on the water, no support, and you will flip.

I don’t buy the whole idea that feathered blades are for “slicing into the wind”. Thats great if your paddling into a head wind or a no wind situation. How often does one paddle in side winds that ketch the wind? The GPs aren’t feathered. And I’m not a fan of changing the feather in windy cicumstances…all your strokes are done with technique and muscle memory according to specific geometry between body boat and blade, change the blade and your instincts and muscle memory work against you , and in windy conditions thats sometimes when you need it most. The sales guy will tell you thats why they are a djustable. But the real reason they are adjustable is so the dealer can sell one paddle as either right or left or nonfeathered, he doesn’t have to stock all three.

Steve Lutsch from Ontario taught me that at my first BCU class back in the late 80’s and nothing I’ve heard since then has changed my opinion and I’ve heard a lot. Thats his answer and I’m sticking to it. Hope it makes sense to you.

Sorry, but thats the best I can do over the net. I hope thats clear enough and not too confusing.


now I’m confused…
Are you saying that an offset facilitates bracing? If so, I totally disagree but it’s possible I’ve read your post incorrectly. Could you clarify this?

Disagree too.
It sounds good but its not factual. Getting the blade to the right surface from any random angle takes small corrections no matter what the offset angle.

Lot’s of whitewater boaters now use 0 degrees as do surf kayakers, I use feathered blades for touring and 0 degrees for surfing. I find it’s a lot easier to brace in rough / random conditions with 0 degrees.

I think it’s disgusting and cruel to…
…pluck the feathers off of cute little birdies just to decorate one’s paddles! And what about those crazy hair boaters?! Where do you suppose they get the hair to put on their boats? What’s next? Watersports? Kinky bastids.


I’d say it’s the other way around
Using a feathered paddle requires a control hand and forces the paddler to learn to paddle asymmetrically. If you take a novice paddler and hand them an unfeathered paddle, they will not naturally develop a control hand. The paddle dictates the technique, not vice-versa.

and how many neo’s died to make that kinky wetsuit huh?!


depends on situaiton
As others have already pointed out, 80-90 degrees facilitates clearing gates when racing slalom.

30-45 degrees requires the least wrist rotation when doing a high angle forward stroke.

0 degrees makes many playboating tricks easier.

That is a good article.
But many people would disagree with Jimmi. Ergonomically speaking, for most people, a feather of about 11 or 12 degrees is neutral with respect to wrist movement. Zero degrees is not neutral nor is his recommended 40 degrees.

personal preference…
I’ve heard the argument for 12 degrees as well although I think the optimal feathering is probably different for each person. If you look at elite racers who use wing paddles, they have the most precise offset. It’s not really uncommon for a racer to have a 42 degree offset or something else equally obscure based on their personal preference and their results from tweaking the offsets.

Each person will differ. Just like some folks think the ideal river craft is a modified surf board and others prefer other shapes.

I think my hands/wrists probably would prefer something around 25-30 degrees with a bent shaft, but since I spend most of my time open boating these days, it’s hard to justify buying a new paddle.

What ??
I can see your point given your example but that’s hardly a universal truth. How then do you explain the people that start unfeathered and switch to feathered? Even today, most people paddled feathered paddles. Unfeathered paddling just alternates control from one hand to the other and back. There’s still hand control going on. In some respects feathered is a more simple technique for an experienced paddler.

I paddled unfeathered for years before I determined that feathered worked better for me. It was faster, less complicated and more efficient in the conditions (seas, winds) that I prefer. Heck, I’ve even settled on 75° feather, up from the 60° and 45° that I started with. On occasion I set my paddles for 90° feather when the wind is really blowing.

To the original poster:

Most paddles are feathered because historically that’s what the better / more competitive paddlers used. Racers found feathered paddlers gave them an edge, slalom paddlers liked the extra clearance for the gates, WW paddlers likely adopted them because thats what everyone else was doing. These days at the recreational level, it doesn’t matter between feathered or un-feathered, use what you want.

peer pressure?

– Last Updated: Mar-20-06 4:20 PM EST –

"How then do you explain the people that start unfeathered and switch to feathered?"

Although there are definite advantages to feathering which you named (racing stroke, gate clearance, headwind, etc.), I do think that most recreational paddlers paddle feathered because the more "advanced" paddlers around them do so. If you give someone a paddle without any outside influence, they probably would naturally choose an unfeathered paddle. When I began paddling not too long ago, it was my perception that unfeathered paddles were a hallmark of inexperience so I feathered my paddle. Heck, even in the classes I now teach, we work with feathered paddles and teach the students to paddle feathered. I can't give you a real good answer why it's better for most people over unfeathered since you paddle more often with a beam wind rather than a headwind. Actually, come to think of it, I'm not sure why I even paddle with a feathered Euro for sea kayaking. Maybe it's just habit at this point or maybe watching Brent Reitz has ingrained the "chicken wing" into my brain. :)

I started in a rec boat and with a break down paddle that I could set the feather on, I used unfeathered out of concerns about wrist issues (carpal tunnel). Once I switched to whitewater paddling, no place local had unfeathered ww paddles without special order, so I ended up with feathered just because that was what was available. I had been using a 45 degree paddle, but recently upgraded to a new paddle with a 30 degree offset which I like even better. Good news is that despite my fears, the feather has not aggravated my wrist. Maybe a 90 degree feather would, but the 45 degree or less has not been a problem for me…

so you can fly over the big rocks?

quite wrong by my reckoning
I waited until I got home and could check my paddle. But with a right hand control paddle in the position you describe (ready for the power stroke on the right side) the left hand blade has the power face slightly open to the sky. If you tip over to the left you are not in high brace position unless you rotate your hand up/back. If you don’t do that your blade will simply slice into the water.

Memoirs of a Born Again GP convert…
For my first five years of paddling, I used, almost exclusively, a straight shaft Euro paddle with an 80 degree feather (Werner San Juan). I always enjoyed using that paddle, and never had any problems with the ergonomics of it. I still have the paddle, but it’s mostly neglected since I discovered my general preference for Greenland Paddles. It’s now used mostly by visiting friends who just prefer that type of paddle.

My inspiration to try a Greenland Paddle had nothing to do with any problem I had with the Euro paddle and/or feather angle; it was merely a matter of my curiosity finally reaching the breaking point. As it turned out though, just as I was “hit by a bolt of lightning” when I first sat in a kayak, so was I struck by the possibilities when I first dipped a GP into the water. I was “born again”! :slight_smile:

Now, my introduction to feathered paddles seemed to be fairly standard at the time (as was the 80 degree feather, apparently). I was told that feathering was preferred by some because of both the windage issue and ergonomic concerns (of course, at the same time, some people told me that ergonomically, they preferred to paddle un-feathered and/or with bent shaft paddles…so, I just accepted my state of newbie confusion until I could do a bit of experimenting on my own).

I quickly became quite comfortable with the 80 degree feather, and from my own switching back and forth between feathered and un-feathered, I decided that when dealing with a headwind or tailwind, I seemed to prefer the feather; so I just kept it that way, and never went back to un-feathered. The Werner San Juan has pretty wide blades for a touring paddle, so these blades can indeed catch a bit of wind now and then, and the rather extreme feather angle seemed to help. With the “proper” control hand technique, I never experienced any finger/hand/wrist/arm/shoulder problems with the 80 degree feather, and all the various strokes, braces, and rolls felt very natural and comfortable. In short, I loved using that particular paddle in that particular configuration for a happy five years…then temptation struck…

Though I had long since known of my preference for “W. Greenland” inspired boat designs, for some reason I really can’t fathom at the moment, I just didn’t think much about Greenland Paddles one way or the other; even though I thought they looked pretty cool. Mostly, I was exposed to people using Euro paddles, and since I was already quite comfortable with mine, it’s just what I used. Then, one day I saw someone paddling a sleek SOF boat with a GP, and I was completely captivated by the beauty and grace of the entire picture…it was truly poetry in motion. I decided that I just had to try one of those skinny little sticks.

This was still a year before I decided to finaly try my hand at building my own boat, so I wasn’t even considering the idea of carving my own paddles either. The stars were smiling upon me though, as just a few days later, someone posted a message on an email list offering a few GPs for sale (two full length paddles, a storm paddle, and a norsaq). I bought the whole set! :slight_smile:

The rest is even more long-winded history, but the moral of the story is that even a very happy high-tech composite extreme feather Euro paddle enthusiast can be instantly swept away by a skinny little unassuming stick of wood, as it just might be a magic wand. :slight_smile: