Wing vs Everything Else

I’ve heard that wing paddles are a little faster than other paddles. Please help this never-took-physics paddler understand how it works. I mean if you have the same surface area and cadence and you put the same pressures on the paddles why would one paddle propel your boat faster than another? Enquiring minds…

Taken from the Epic website:

“As the name suggests, the cross-section of a wing paddle is shaped like an airplane wing. In the airplane context, as the wing moves forward, the air moving over it moves faster than the air moving under it. As air speeds up, its pressure goes down. So the faster moving air above exerts less pressure on the wing than the slower-moving air below, creating lift. This is usually a split of roughly 70% pull from above the wing and 30% push from below. Using the same concept, as the wing blade moves away from the kayak, the water flowing over the wing section of the blade causes it to move forward in the water.

Given the properties of the blade shape combined with efficient technique, you can see up to a 7% - 10% increase in boat speed from the same effort over a conventional paddle.”

maybe this will help
wing paddle can be thought off as airfoil

A simple airfoil, wing, has the following - flat bottom, curved top. As it moves through the water, it creates lower pressure above the curved surface, the Bernoulli principle. Since it just created low pressure zone above the curved surface, it goes there, dragging the mover along.

How does that help you? If you were to move the paddle perpendicular to kayak with the top facing towards the bow, your kayak would move forward.

And this is, basically, it :slight_smile:

Of course, now you have to figure out how to optimize the foil, biomechanics of your movement, and choose kayak were all this will work.

I thought that airplane wings worked at least in part because air can be compressed. Water cannot be compressed so I’m wondering how an airfoil works in water. I’m sure I’m being ignorant here because the wing paddle obviously works …


Even w/above said …
Paddle even with a regular paddle using the ‘wing’ stroke and you will be faster.

One thought
similar to what Pat said above… In a length conversation with Ben Lawry he said that one of the reasons wing paddles are ‘faster’ is because they ‘force’ the paddler to use better technique. He later clarified that by saying they reward a paddler using better technique. I think he meant that you could really feel the difference in the stroke when using a wing paddle with ‘wing’ technique (immediate feedback), and therefor could quickly achieve a smoother stroke.

So close

– Last Updated: Apr-05-08 2:49 PM EST –

Interesting subject..
think on this.
An airfoil does not necessarily provide lift forces. Lift is caused by turning the flow of a liquid-flatter is better.
Because air is compressible, and water is not, lift forces could potentially be greater in water.
An airfoil lowers turbulence, and tolerates a greater angle of attack before stalling.

Wing paddles were developed because a Swedish engineer observed kayak sprinters manipulating their stroke that was different than what technique hypothesis dictated. The paddle entered very close to the boat, but moved away during the stroke. The engineer designed the paddle to mimic what paddlers were already doing.
*you can do the same with any non wing, and get similar results- euro, GP, even canoe(but don't do it with the canoe paddle, there is another way to accomodate lift).

There is some argument about the real results of the wing in application. The wing can create enough lift that it will actually move forward in the water, exiting ahead of the point of entry. That, unfortunately, is very much out of reality. In the sprint world, only top male paddlers can achieve this. Yes, the paddle can do it, but it requires phenomenally huge power. But, it certainly does not "slip" or displace sternward during power application.
The reality of the wing's efficiency may be more subtle. Since the path it wants to make during power is to move away from the boat, the paddle theoretically can stay at a more efficient angle of attack (more perpendicular to the thrust), instead of going through an arc. In most coaches opinions, a major benefit of the wing is stability. When any paddle moves through the liquid, alternating vortex shedding creates flutter. This is the reason for the users of GP's to use the canted stroke. A wing does not do this, the flow is uniform. One of the most common observations my students have, after using a wing, is how much they have to grip any other paddle to account for the instability.

An interesting note is that there was a trend in sprint to go to very, very small diameter shafts. The typical wing user can find they can keep a very open and relaxed hand, since the paddle is so stable; therefore, why not go to a small shaft so that only a "finger hook" type grip is used. It didn't catch on, but it is one of those "exceptions that prove the rule".

If you have read the above carefully, you should be able to understand my following comment. When people complain about particular kayak paddles tendency to to flutter, I always disagree. Always. I have never found any kayak paddle that flutters.
Guess why? (Pat at ONNO, smile but stay mum) As a hint, know that I prefer flatter power faces and disliked the older werners with big dihedrals (the purpose being of little benefit to my use).

Here is another thought. What is the difference between a static brace vs a sculling brace? A C-C roll vs a sweep roll? Would you say the movement of the latter creates more support? That is lift.
There was another old nonsense that still comes up, about a wing being hard to roll with. It does not do Pawlata rolls very well at all, and C-C is odd. But a sweep roll- well, it feels like cheating.

One interesting point about wings- since lift is greater, strong wind from specific directions towards the blade face can create a lot of force!

There is a a great shot of Sean Morley in TITS 2 (I think it was #2), playing in a turbulent slot using a wing paddle. I noticed two things, one, he was in a Kirton Inuk (a very stiff, hard to turn boat), and was using a wing. Superb. He even did a couple of bow rudders, showing that the dogma that wings can't do bow rudders is nonsense. That said, a bow rudder with a wing is rather unstable. Do a cross bow rudder, and OH BABY!

Every touring paddler should spend time with a wing, you can learn a lot. Of coarse, I make the kids I coach in sprint kayaks spend time doing slalom courses using regular flat paddles instead of their usual wings. The more paddle types one is competent with, the less important the paddle becomes.


Moving Mass
This is a long answer, but it applies to any paddle and or paddling technique.

Any form of propulsion generally ends up as some sort of pushing a mass backwards so you can go forwards. A paddle grabs a hold of water and pushes it back. In this way momentum is preserved. The mass of the water (Mw) times the velocity of the water (Vw) equals the mass of the boat and everything in it (Mb) times the velocity of the boat (Vb).

Written out as an equation this is: Mw * Vw = Mb * Vb. Note that you can make the boat go by pushing a large mass slowly or a small mass quickly and end up with the same speed for the boat. This of course assumes the boat has no drag or friction, but the answer is the same.

It would seem that all that matters is the speed and the mass. If you assume that the mass is related to the area of the paddle, that two paddles of the same size should produce the same results.

However, it takes energy to make the masses move. In this case kinetic energy (KE). Where momentum is mass times velocity, energy is mass times the velocity squared KE = M * V^2.

That V^2 is were things get interesting. Note that moving a small mass fast will take more energy than moving a large mass slowly when the momentum is the same.

The Total energy in the boat and paddle system is TE = Mw * Vw^2 + Mb * Vb^2 .

In other words to propel your boat efficiently you want the paddle to grab as much water as possible and move it as slowly as possible so the energy you are putting in the water is as little as possible. Energy in the water is energy that could have been applied to energy in the boat, i.e. the boat going faster.

Now imagine putting your paddle in the water and pulling straight back. It starts to move the water a little bit, and you keep on pulling so it moves that same water a little bit faster, and as you keep pulling you keep on accelerating that same chunk of water faster and faster.

Now use a wing stroke. Place the paddle in the water and slide it sideways as you pull back. You start a bit of water moving a little bit, then slide side ways to a new bit of water and move it a little bit, and then move on to a new piece of still water. The paddle is pushing on new, still water all the time and making it move just a little bit.

By continuously sliding into new, still water, the paddle is moving a larger mass of water and minimizing how fast it moves, thus applying less energy into the water with the result that you have more left over to make the boat go faster.

If your muscles are outputting a consistent amount of energy (TE) and less of that energy is wasted in moving water around, it must mean your boat is going faster.

Wing paddles are particularly good at this trick. And it has as much to do with the fact that the paddle goes out to the side as it does with the idea of “lift”.

Other disciplines
The comment about “moving the water slowly” triggered some memories.

I have an interesting article about the development of the “big blades” now commonly used in rowing. The article made a big point about the efficiency of moving a lot of water slowly instead of a little water fast. When I started rowing, we only had what were called “pencil” oars, already considered out of date- the blades were long and narrow. Every one else was using what was called “macon” blades, much shorter and wider. About the time I stopped coaching rowing, the big blades took over. Much shorter, wider, but also the oars became much shorter as well.

I have always been curious about how much of the research (which includes a very detailed analysis of lift forces) has any bearing on the use of canoe/kayak technique and paddle design. Probably not much, but the parallels are fascinating.

Now, how about this- proper canoe forward stroke technique, by marathon canoeists and even Olympic high kneel, requires the paddle to constantly drive the blade deeper during the stroke.

Seeking unmoving water!

Why arn’t there any valid studies?
With the high cost of these paddles it appears to me that someone would have done this by now, other than the manufacturer. In my former profession, I used to have to go the sanctioned short courses where we heard a lot of theories that never seemed to work as described clinically. I became a very skeptical person.

Another thing is, where do the laws of motion come in? It seems to me that any and all of the force with which a paddler pulls on a paddle is transmitted to foward motion of the boat. If this not true, I’ll never understand because I never will understand the explanations presented here. However, I won’t be surprised too much if they were proven faster.

They’re called “races” (n/m)

Thanks to the above 3 posts, very enlightening! I can’t wait to get on the water again to work some more on my forward stroke. I may need to invest in a wing in the not too distant future too! I had already been considering it but now that I know HOW they work I think I’m sold!


This Much I know
You can’t judge a paddle in five minutes or an hour for that matter. Okay, maybe you can but I need several hours and instruction to get a feel for what I can do with a new concept paddle

this much more i know
thanks guys for the deeper insight and thoughts on paddles. always interesting and informative.

the more i paddle, and the more i paddle with experts and pros, who do it for a living, or as a dedicated sport, i also see all kinds of technique ‘flaws’, lack of rotation, etc, all the time.

the one common thing that makes all of these people strong paddlers when it counts…

fitness and strength. arms, biceps, shoulders? you bet, strong gos very far.

I’m trying to picture a
very long wing…just think GP but from the loam out a wing, long and thin…anybody want to make one for me to play with? ONNO?

Very Long Wing
The Bracsa VIII is a unique design, longer and narrow. I’ve been using one for a little over a year now. Easy catch, and very smooth throughout the stroke. There may be better paddles though, for rough, confused water-shorter, wider blades.

A friend just did some timed runs with a flat blade Euro (Ikelos) paddle against his wing. On several runs, he actually was faster with the Euro on the downwind leg, and faster with the wing upwind. All were done in chop on a surf ski, so he’s posited that the extra comfort/stability of the Euro blade allowed him to relax more. His stroke is refined to begin with, though it was interesting to note his results.

Boat width?
What is the maximum beam for a wing to be more effective?

Based only on my own experience paddling with a wing since I switched from a euro a year ago, I believe the gain comes from the wing design moving the paddle sideways through the water, forcing a longer (diagonal to the hull) stroke.

Didn’t you try my prototype?
Not the colorful one, the all black stealth model…

JackL tried it very breifly on our way out of FBO.

Energy wasted
Lots of energy goes to creating vorticies that are shed by the paddle. With a conventional paddle, if you see an aerated wake, cavitation, vortices, etc., that’s all energy that’s heating up the water but not moving you forward. Start thinking about pulling the boat past the paddle instead of pulling the paddle through the water.

OK, OK, I think I’ve finally got it.
Thanks for allowing my skepticism without being rude to me.

I have used two different wings without seeing an incease in my speed. I diden’t feel comfortable with either one & apparently never got the proper stroke in spite of my efforts to do so.

Yesterday, I remembered an anagolous situation in a documetory I saw on the evoloution of power boats. When the first screw propeller built it was shaped like a wood screw. During the first test run, the boat had an accident in which half of the prop was broken off. On the trip back to the dock, the boat could actually go faster.