why are ww paddles feathered?

WW feather
I believe whitewater paddlers in general use a feathered paddle for the same reasons that flatwater paddlers do, its more efficient.

When I used to race flatwater my paddle was a 90 degree offset. Great offset for slicing thru the air, but not very good on your forearm and wrist. The degree of offsets has been reduced to help eliminate such problems. As ones focus changes from efficiency to ergonomics, offsets are reduced. Whitewater paddlers are not as concerned about forward paddling efficiency and you see some of their offsets at 12* But you should here them bitch when they’re paddling into a head wind!

Peer Pressure

– Last Updated: Mar-20-06 6:05 PM EST –

Peer Pressure

Agreed, I'm not sure it's always peer pressure since the more "advanced " paddlers probably don't care but there is often a tendency for new paddlers to be drawn to whatever equipment that advanced paddlers use. Similar to your former impression about unfeathered paddler being the hallmark of inexperience.

All of my (Euro) Sea and WW paddles are are break-downs and are set up for feathered or unfeathered use. When I teach I use whatever feather angle the student is using.

Like I said I find feathered more simple because I don't have to switch control hands mid-stroke on every stroke, but to each his own. It does make sense for newbies to start unfeathered, it's one less thing to think about when everything is new. Later if they find they want to feather it's a pretty simple transition. Some may choose to stay unfeathered for life and that's fine too.

I suspect that going forward clubs might think more about two-piece paddles that could be set-up as feathered - left/right or not at all.

Even if you hadn't ingrained the "chicken wing" into your brain, the action of raising the wet blade via an elbow bend (to get it ready for the push component) causes the paddle shaft to rotate unless you switch control hands mid-way through the stroke.

More than you want to know. :slight_smile:

Actually, quite a good article.

Feathers help keep the weight down.

Seems to me feathered would actually catch wind MORE than unfeathered. Isn’t that what birds have on their wings?

for summarizing in a couple words exactly what I was trying to say; offset blades facilitate bracing. And its ok that you don’t agree I don’t mind at all. Although I can’t imagine how it doesn’t make sense to some paddlers. It makes perfect sense to me (and everyone in my kayak as a matter of fact!) where as the whole idea of a blade slicing thru the wind (when the other blade is pulling how many pounds of force and water?)seems hokey.

I did have the blades mixed up, the power face is pointing up but the backface is facing down witch still gives great purchase on the water, when falling to your left. When the stroke is loaded on the left, the right blade is powerface to the water.

And the slalom gate theory, someone explain that please. Many the gates will be taken closely with a dufek or many times the blade in the water will be in a slicing “in water recovery” motion, either of which will place the blade that is out of the water at a perpendicular angle to the gate. How many gates are taken straight on with a forward stroke? Zip turns, S turns, railturns, sternsquirts, how does a feather help there?

Surfing and Rodeo, yes, the feather is cumbersome in the vertical manuevers and the hole roll and thoses boys have been doing away with it. But I was talking about where it came from, not where its going to.


Yeah, i did
have my blades upside down, or backwards or…whatever.

But If your slicing a blade into the water,then I’m really not making myself clear on positioning or you have a 10degree feather. Sorry I don’t know how else to explain it but I guess its not that big of a deal…Hopefully Lyngo will have enough opinions given here to keep an eye out for the theory that works best for her.


hey as long as it makes sense to you…
:slight_smile: From my personal experience, braces occur on either side without any correlation to which stroke you are loading at the time. I am a very competent roller/bracer with both feathered and unfeathered paddles and I personally have found unfeathered paddles to be much more instinctual for reflexive bracing as you always know where your blades are with the same wrist angle on both sides.

As for slalom gates, it’s more than a theory. Yes I use duffeks with forward slicing inwater recovery, hanging draws, pivot turns, etc. to navigate gates but the actual passing through of the gate is almost always done with a forward stroke. Basically you come up around the gate with a nice smooth duffek which carves the turn into the gate but that stroke doesn’t give you the forward momentum to pass through the gates. That’s when you have to take the forward stroke and an unfeathered paddle has a much better likelihood of clanging off the gates. I have paddled slalom with both feathered and unfeathered paddles and it is a HUGE difference. I still use an unfeathered paddle mostly because I don’t have feathered whitewater paddles any longer but I find that I often have to do some strange contortions just to prevent the non-active blade from touching the gate. I don’t have this problem when using a feathered paddle.

No control hand, two control hands…

– Last Updated: Mar-21-06 10:05 AM EST –

...it's a matter of semantics. Bottom line, it's the same thing; neither hand is dominant and they function symmetrically.

Stick an unfeathered paddle in the hands of a novice and they'll immediately be able to paddle with it forward and backward, albeit with less than perfect technique. Stick a feathered paddle in a novice's hands and they'll struggle with the forward stroke until they figure out that they can use it by twisting their wrist, which is poor technique. They'll probably struggle even more with paddling backwards. It's neither natural nor intuitive, but people will adapt to it if necessary.

People who switch from unfeathered to feathered have to LEARN to use a single control hand. The paddle forces the technique. How could it be otherwise?

How do you think feathered technique came about? It seems pretty unlikely that some guy was out paddling around one day with an unfeathered paddle and thought "Gee, I'd really like to control my paddle with only one hand, so maybe if it twist the other blade..." No, someone thought "I'll bet I can clear these gates better if I turn one blade 90 degrees to the other..." or "I'll get less wind resistance if I turn the upper blade edge into the wind...". After making the paddle, their thought must have been "Ok, I've got this new paddle, now how do I use it?" Obviously, the paddle design created the need for a new technique, not the other way around.

This is ridiculous
How can ANY feather possibly be “neutral”, when by definition it is asymmetrical? Feather requires a single control hand, which again is asymmetrical.

Unfeathered IS neutral AND symmetrical. Both sides of the paddle and both hands are used in the same manner.

Actually, it’s incredibly biased.

– Last Updated: Mar-21-06 10:21 AM EST –

The first sentence says it all; they prefer feathered paddling. The rest is simply justification of that position without any attempt to present a balanced view. The not-so-subtle implication is that if you don't paddle feathered, you're a luddite, a nimrod, a lily-dipper or a fool.

I guess this brings us back to the topic of peer pressure...

Some comments…

– Last Updated: Mar-21-06 11:24 AM EST –

I think some of the feather stuff is historical. The feathering started at 90' (late 1800's?) and has been dropping ever since.

It's easy to imagine that people suspected that feathering reduced -forward- wind resistance and that reducing this resistance would have an impact on race times. It wouldn't be too surprizing that the ergonomic issues were not concidered at the beginning. Note that the wind resistance argument is relevant to still air on still water. In sea kayak touring, one would likely come to the conclusion that a feathered (90' especially) exposes the blade to a destablising beam wind). (Keep in mind that open water racers will likely use what they are used to and they probably started on flat water.)

The 90' feathering is a heck of a strain on the wrist. So, the angle has been backed off as a compromise of -forward- wind resistance and wrist stress.

If a single "control hand" is important, there's no reason why one can't "control" an unfeathered paddle with one hand.

The "slalom gate clearing" idea is quite interesting (makes sense to me even though I don't race). It's possible that people in WW are more open to other feathering (or unfeathered) as slalom has lost focus.

The notion that feathering is more "natural" or "efficient" is somewhat contradicted by unfeathered greenland paddles. Keep in mind that, even though greenland paddles are ancient, there's nothing that says that they are inherently more "efficient" (they just have to be "good enough")

I believe new paddlers are taught to use feathered paddles because feathered paddles are common and because it takes some time getting used to the technique. The basic point being that one has to learn to feather before one can "choose" to paddle feathered or unfeathered. (Put another way, if you start unfeathered, you can't give feathered a "fair chance").

Except for really cheap paddles, the only paddle being sold in a standard 90' feather is Derik Hutchinsons' "Tooksook" paddle (that I know of).

I like the variable feathering option one can get for some paddles (like Werner): it makes it quite easy to try various degrees. I paddle my Euro sea paddle at 45' to match what is common in WW.

Look at the top of your right hand. Neutral means that when you are paddling your hand does not bend left and right or up and down. To eliminate the left and right motion you need a bent shaft. To eliminate the up and down motion you need a paddle that is almost unfeathered. It has to do with body mechanics. A neutral paddle is not necessarily the most efficient or the best based on a number of criteria. But it does save your wrists.

Analysis from Boatertalk
Try this: sit in a chair with a broom handle in your hands like a paddle. Set up to take a strong paddle stroke with it, then freeze. Imagine looking down the axis of the broom handle. Your forearms are at an angle to each other. That angle is pretty close to your ideal feather angle.

Try an experiment
I assume you have an unfeathered Euro paddle. Sit in a chair (or in your boat). Hold the paddle correctly with your knuckles lined up with the blades. Do not let the paddle shaft rotate in either hand while you do the following. Put the paddle in the catch position for the start of a forward stroke on your right. Be sure the paddle is maximally vertical, as is appropriate for WW. Now look at your left hand. Unless you are built strangely your left wrist will be bent. This means that a zero degree feather for a WW paddle is not neutral. You have to bend your wrist everytime you take a stroke on both sides.

Now lower your left hand so the paddle is less vertical. Notice that your left wrist is bent less and the angle between your forarms is smaller. An unfeathered paddle is closest to neutral when it is parallel to the water and in front of your body. If you tend to paddle with a high angle then you will want more feather – approximately the angle your forearms make with each other. If you paddle with a lower angle, reduce your feather.

Ignore the comments about a GP paddle being unfeathered. Paddling with a GP is very different and not relevant to feather in a WW paddle.

Just a comment about one thing…

– Last Updated: Mar-21-06 6:02 PM EST –

...you wrote:

"The 90' feathering is a heck of a strain on the wrist. So, the angle has been backed off as a compromise of -forward- wind resistance and wrist stress."

First, I'll mention - again - that I've been using an unfeathered Greenland Paddle for a little over three years now, and before that, I used a Euro paddle with an 80 degree feather for five years (and I still have mixed feelings about feather versus non-feather for various types of paddles and their specific purposes; in much the way the discussion in this thread is going).

While I've only tried a full 90 degree feather a few times over the years, I did spend, as mentioned above, about five years paddling almost exclusively with an 80 degree feather. Ever since I was very young, my primary activity (and career) has been playing a musical instrument ('cello). It would stand to reason that if I had noticed *any* discomfort in my wrists as a result of using my 80 degree feathered [straight shaft] paddle, and I felt that the degree of feather might have been the cause of the problem, I'm quite sure that I would have been looking for an alternative...but the fact is, I never felt the need. My switch to an unfeathered Greenland paddle had everything to do with my evolving preferences in terms of paddling techniques, and nothing whatsoever to do with any concerns for my short or long term wrist comfort or health.

That said, as a starting point, I really don't think that my wrists were any more or less susceptible to injury or discomfort than anyone else who is not suffering from some specific, preexisting debilitating condition (previous injury, arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, chronic tendonitis, etc.). So why have I not experienced any wrist discomfort in all these years if it's simply a truism that a high degree of feather "is a heck of a strain on the wrist"?

While I have no problem at all with anyone using a particular type of paddle and/or feather angle that feels most comfortable and functional for their purposes, I do sometimes feel that too many people will look first for a "technological fix" (different feather angle, different type of paddle altogether, etc.) instead of looking more closely at their own techniques. When I was back in High School, I developed a bad case of tendonitis in my left hand...caused by the way I was playing the 'cello. This was a real wake up call for me, and I had to really examine my instrumental technique in order to avoid such a problem in the future. Once I altered my techniques, I never again experienced anything like that.

I guess I'm just trying to say that while there can indeed be those who can benefit greatly by using a specific feather angle, no feather at all, or even a different type of paddle altogether, I have a tendency to feel rather skeptical whenever someone makes a blanket statement about an "extreme" feather angle being, without question, a direct cause of wrist discomfort or injury.


Right. Paddling angle has a huge effect on what feels right. If you use a control hand and a near-vertical stroke – as slalom racers do/did – high feather angles work fine with no wrist flexing.

I can also see the advantage for slalom of having the high blade parallel to the centerline of the boat.

If the question is “why?” WW paddles are feathered, I think it’s because recreational WW gear evolved from slalom gear. If the question is “should?” WW paddles be feathered, I’d say that answer is continuing to evolve.


– Last Updated: Mar-21-06 5:12 PM EST –

It might have been a "blanket statement"

"So why have I not experienced any wrist discomfort in all these years if it's simply a truism that a high degree of feather "is a heck of a strain on the wrist"?"

It's also a "blanket" statement to draw statistical conclusions from a sample size of one.

(I'm qualifying my earlier statements. See the post below. The key is paddle angle.)

Yeah a feathered paddle
is a lot lighter than a tarred one!


– Last Updated: Mar-21-06 7:18 PM EST –

The angle comment is an important key. (I knew this and forgot.)

With a low angle stroke, you have to extend ("motor cycle throttling movement") your wrist to set the angle of the blade for the non-control side. This is where the wrist stress comes in.

With a high angle stroke, the wrist "naturally" rotates (in space) as the arm is brought up to set the angle of the blade. There's little or no wrist extension necessary as long as you let the paddle slip in the non control hand. (Keep in mind that the "slipping" is an essential part of using a feathered paddle).

Thus, the "natural" degree of feather varies according to the paddle angle. Since tourers tend to use a shallower paddle angle, they "need" less feathering. Racers use a high angle, so they "need" more feather angle.

Try it! (Feathered and unfeathered.)

Slipping the paddle in the non-control hand is something that people tend to have to practice (a new paddler won't do this by default). Without this slipping thing, the feathering increases the amount of extention required in the non-control hand wrist. Newer paddlers also probably "prefer" a low angle stroke.

Note that the above doesn't rely on the wind resistance "nonsense". The feathering is irrelevent to bracing: it is designed to optimize the high angle power stroke.

Note that with an unfeathered paddle in a high-angle stroke, you have to flex the wrist of the control hand.

By "extending the wrist", I mean bending the wrist to -increase- the angle of the palm to the arm. By "flexing the wrist", I mean decreasing the angle of the palm to the arm. Note that there is more range of motion in flexing the wrist than extending it (from a "neutral" wrist position). Try it!

Also keep in mind the evolving nature of the power stroke. Not that long ago, it was typically advised to push out with the upper (top) hand. Now, the recommendation is almost all torso rotation (there's no more "punching" out with the top hand).

The forward stroke is the most important thing to flatwater racing. In other disciplines (eg, WW and touring), the forward stroke has less emphasis or other things (eg, bracing, turning, rolling) have increased emphasis (so the paddle configuration is less directed towards optimizing the forward stroke).

These comments are also relevent to the greenland paddle (using a greenland stick isn't -that- different).

Did I really draw any…
…statistical conclusions?

Or did I simply bring up an aspect of this discussion that I feel is too often glossed over while people scramble for what I called a “technological fix” to what might actually be an issue of paddle handling techniques instead? You certainly didn’t address the substance of the issue I brought up; choosing instead to comment only on my “sample size of one”, as if that was enough to dismiss whatever it was I was actually trying to discuss.

I’d actually be really interested in reading any comments you or anyone else may have about the issue of wrist comfort as it relates to the question of technique versus technology. Any comments?