WW Paddle - why feathered?

Around the time I switched to using a greenland paddle for much of my paddling (actually almost all of my paddling during the winter as it turned), I moved to non-feathered position on my wing paddle. That seems to work just fine with the wing.

However, most of the WW once piece paddles I see are feathered, usually 30 degree or so.

Anyone care to give a definitive answer why would a WW paddle ever be feathered?

I am aware of the arguments for an against in sea kayaking and racing (wind resistance, to be specific). But for WW I can’t figure out why… Is it just because people are used to feather or is there something else that is going on in WW?

After having paddled unfeathered for some months now it felt awkward to try a 30 degree WW paddle. I know I get used to one or the other quickly after, but that’s not the issue here. Just wondering why most WW paddles seem to be feathered …


that’s a darn good question
and I’m hoping some of the experts can tell us why it is so.

I use a neutral paddle for touring and find it to be much easier for off side bracing. When I use my whitewater boat I always need a few minutes practicing braces just so I don’t screw it up when I most need it. If I’m not careful the offside blade dives and catches under the boat. Bad move, big upset:-)

Probably no good reason

– Last Updated: Feb-20-09 10:28 PM EST –

There are lots of things we do in kayaking that have been around for a while and which people think are right but don't know why. Kind of cultural lag. There are some arguments that in playboating a feathered paddle helps in some moves. Maybe. But that is irrelevant to down river WW kayaking. Use the paddle feather that works for you. But there are probably more advantages to no feather than feather for the typical river runner. The most important thing is that braces and rolls are the same no matter which side. That makes learning and execution much easier.

Back in the 70s, all WW paddles were
feathered 90 degrees. The reasons (not necessarily good) were that the upper blade would be slicing forward through the air with less resistance, and that for slalom paddlers, the upper paddle being feathered 90 degrees meant less chance of clipping a pole when going through a slalom gate.

The wind resistance argument is weak. The slalom gate argument is irrelevant for non slalom paddlers, and even for slalom paddlers, a lesser degree of feather such as 75 degrees is plenty.

On WW web sites, there is continuing argument on what degree of feather (if any) is best. There seems to be something about human motor psychology that finds that some degree of feather “feels better,” but no one seems to know what that something is.

Being an old timer, and a weekend warrior on “citizen race” slalom, I still use a 75 degree paddle routinely. It feels fine to me, and I can perceive no fatigue factor associated with it. A 90 degree paddle (I still have two, including a treasured Backlund New World wood paddle) feels a bit extreme, but I can live with it. I don’t intend to convert to lower feather angles, but I would advise anyone new to kayaking to do so.

No good reason I can see
In fact, I had Werner build me an unfeathered WW paddle. They didn’t want to do it, and said that they wouldn’t take it back unless it was defective, but when you wave cash in someone’s face…

I’ve never paddled feathered in all the years I’ve been kayaking, and I have no issues with wind or speed. Being a GP’er in my SK’s, bracing unfeathered is natural for me. If I were to feather a paddle in rough water or WW, I can guarantee capsizes would happen. Probably more than one.

It’s all what YOU like, everything else is dogma.

It relieves carpal tunnel NM

In the beginning…
there were no ww paddles - or even ww boats for that matter. You had a kayak. You had a paddle.

You want to do ww? Take your kayak and paddle to a ww river and have at it.

The paddles were feathered - probably because of the wind resistance thing.

Eventually somebody probably got tired of breaking their paddle on rocks in ww, and decided to make a “ww paddle”. Probably this was based on an existing paddle, just made stronger. The “based on” paddle was probably feathered.

So “ww paddles” were feathered.

Well, we all are lazy about reading the
previous posts in a thread. Including mine.

So, here it is again.

Back in the 70s, slalom racing had a strong (though arbitrary) influence on whitewater boats and paddles.

That is why virtually all whitewater kayaks were 13’ 2" long. That’s 4 meters. The standard slalom racing length. (It’s now 3.5 meters.)

And, there was a substantive reason why slalom kayakers had feathered blades, to minimize the chance that the upper blade would clip a pole (5 second penalty back then) when negotiating a gate. Most racers back then thought the upper blade cut the air with less resistance. The slalom gate issue, and the cut-the-air issue, set the standard for 90 degree blade feather. There were no other substantive reasons. Those were the reasons.

Later, in the 80s and 90s, builders and WW paddlers realized there was no reason to paddle 4 meter boats, and there was no reason to use 90 degree feathered blades. Boats have gotten much shorter, and paddle feather has been reduced to whatever feels good.

Werner built me an unfeathered one, too
I paddled (sea kayaks) unfeathered for a few years, then switched to 15 deg. for one season. No problems with the switch, though obviously it took some practice to get used to it. I got my other-side roll that same season.

At the beginning of the next season (fresh start, less bias), I played around switching back and forth in succession. Verdict: the unfeathered felt more natural to me. Then I tested my roll on both sides to see if there was any problem adapting…none. Based on that, when I bought a WW paddle I special-ordered it unfeathered. There was no extra charge from Werner; it just was not on any store shelf so I had to wait a couple weeks.

Since I could adapt to paddling either unfeathered or at 15 deg., I reasoned that it was more practical to go unfeathered. Every two-piece paddle I’ve seen has an unfeathered position, but not many have a 15-deg position. And I wanted my WW paddle to match the feather of my sea kayaking paddle, just to keep things simple.

My WW paddle is 12 degrees
Old old WW paddles were offset to even more than 45 degrees often. Things have changed there as with sea kayaking if you look at what is actually happening on the water.

H2O has a 12 degree offset, which feels very comfy to me. Like many others I have dropped to very little feather on my other paddling (adjustable paddle), and didn’t want to start blowing left side rolls in WW just because of a steeply different feather. I find that around 20 degrees of diff it is more than I can adjust to easily - spent an hour or so on a pond one rainy day just sussing this out.

I know of some highly respected sea kayak coaches who argue strenuously that, especially with a high angle stroke, a 45 degree feather is the only mechanically efficient way to go. I am sure they know better than me - they are certainly way better paddlers than I’ll ever be. But none of that advice is in my head when I am upside down. So I stay with the lesser feather.

I have heard those same arguments
And I am not sure they do know what they are talking about. But that may be because I tend to be a contrary cus at times. Jim Snyder has had discussions of feather and paddling mechanics on his paddle web site over the years and has changed his mind several times. I think that any discussion has to start with assuming you should use zero feather and and then trying to make a case for not doing that. Instead the argument goes the other way: convince me I shouldn’t use a feathered paddle. Like many of us here I WW and sea kayak and it is important to have the same mechanics for both disciplines, especially for braces and rolls. Efficient paddling is more important for sea kayaking so I start there and carry over what I do there into WW. Since I use a GP now most of the time, my Euro paddle is zero feather and hence my WW paddles are zero feather.

Left Handed
My H2O paddle is unfeathered. When I started ww I bought used paddles and the only ww ones I could find that were not right hand feathered were two/three piece paddles which gave the option of right or unfeathered.

So, I started ww paddling unfeathered and still do so - I often use a gp when paddling a sea kayak.

If wonder if the …
Inuits had this same discussion 1,000 years ago, experimented with a range of offsets from 12° to 90° and finally deciding on unfeathered …

I think it’s pretty likely they went to 90° offsets when running Greenlandic slaloms in the 1070s.

Probably just flat grained paddles that warped and twisted …

Warped and twisted Inuit paddlers? :slight_smile:

It’s easier and more comfortable
I’m not out there for a physics lesson (though I often get one). I’m out there to have fun. A feathered paddle is more comfortable and easier to use. It’s that simple.

  • Big D

Wow - just sleep on it and 15 replies :wink:
Thanks! From what I see, there does not seem to be a reason for me to go feathered on WW then. I only do mild WW and not often wo no reason to readjust from my unfeathered sea kayak practice…

For You
"A feathered paddle is more comfortable and easier to use."

That maybe true for you but is not so for everyone.

A coach took my Length-lock paddle loosened the ferrel, set it to no feather and then paddled. After a bit he stopped to see what feather happened simply from paddling. It turned out to be 15 degrees. I did the same and ended up closer to 10 degrees.

Subsequently I paddle unfeathered.

Apparently white water paddlers…

– Last Updated: Feb-21-09 11:58 AM EST –

...are asking the same question, as the trend for the past few years has been to less and less feather, with 10-15 degrees being very popular now, where only a few years back 45-60 was the norm. It seem to me the biggest reason people use feathered paddles is market inertia. That's the way it's been done for decades and most coaches learned that way, so that's what people do.

I could never see the point in feathering, didn't like it when I tried it and haven't used feathered paddles in years. Switching to GPs made sure of that...

FWIW, it seems to me that feathered paddles are the single biggest contributor to difficulty in paddlers learing to brace and roll on both sides.

Personal preference
It just comes down to personal preference. Personally, I use 30degree offset just because it makes me use my torso more than just zero degree. Zero degree usually can lead to an ‘all arms’ paddle stroke. Many ww playboaters go with zero offset so when they’re in a bow stall (mainly flatwater)they brace equally on both sides. Also, zero degree helps with offside and offside backdeck rolls. Upside down, there’s something to be said for always knowing where your blades are.

I have always suspected
that a high angle stroke coupled with an aggressive torso rotation would definitely benefit from a feathered paddle which would allow the paddle to travel more square more perpendicular to the boat making for a more efficient stroke. Or maybe I just wanted to explain to myself that there was a reason for using a feathered paddle. I believe that the catch is compromised unfeathered.

Now going unfeathered feels wrong. Like I am just arm paddling. I get tired faster. I feel sore quicker. 20 miles of that would not be fun. For me. Yuck.