Boat Review October 2017 Issue

The Best Kayak Paddle and Stroke

A paddle should be selected with the same care you buy a shoe, since it is your connection to the water. For long-term cruising a spare may be good idea. A good economical choice is the Aquabound Manta Ray Fiberglass (about $100).

Walker Bay’s two-piece aluminum paddle is a little heavier than fiberglass and carbon paddles, but the blades are very nicely shaped and it proved white-water durable in extended testing. The paddles are only feathered (offset) in two positions 0- and 60-degree feather only. The Hobie paddles had an inefficient flat shape and a jarring entry. Sea Eagle and Sterns paddles are similarly bulky. Wilderness Systems, Ocean Kayak, and Perception expect you to buy the paddle separately.

To Feather or Not to Feather

Common sense suggests the blades should be aligned. Most whitewater paddlers prefer them this way, because it is simpler to keep track of the blade rotation when paddling furiously, making quick adjustments, and doing an Eskimo roll. But for flat-water kayaking, an offset (feather) of 30-60 degrees makes paddling easier on the wrists and more efficient into the wind.

First, hold the paddle in the position you will stroke on the side of your dominant hand, keeping both wrists in comfortable, neutral position. Notice that the upper hand is rotated about 45 degrees clockwise (if you are right handed) from the lower hand. This is the amount of feather you want. Adjust the upper blade that amount, but in the opposite direction.

When you paddle, hold the shaft with the dominant hand (control hand), allowing the paddle to rotate in your non-dominant hand as the paddle crosses over and stokes on the opposite side. The paddle will rotate about 45 degrees in your hand and the blade on the non-dominant hand will magically enter the water at the correct angle.

While this may seem a little complicated at first, efficiency is improved and your wrists will thank you. Gloves also help, either light coated gloves or your sailing gloves.

Comments (5)

As a long-time whitewater paddler, I am convinced that the only reason ww paddlers use feathered paddles is that is what those teaching us had available and they are what we used when honing our bracing skills in rough water conditions. The bracing reaction of cocking our wrist on the one side becomes so ingrained that it results in many flips in hazardous places when bracing while trying to use a flat paddle instead of a feather. I use a bent (or "crank") shaft paddle to ease the wrist strain.
Get a two-piece paddle that can be set for feathered or flat blades - you'll soon find you only use the flat setting. And, as Rgreno notes, don't get an aluminum shaft paddle - while cheap (in many ways), they are heavy and poorly balanced which makes for a poor paddling experience.

Posted by: Kay Zinti | December 10, 2017 7:17 PM    Report this comment

The feathering method described is well proven for touring and does not require wrist rotation. That is the entire point. The control hand, generally the right, grasps the paddle in a neutral position with the blade in the water. The other hand then allows the paddle to rotate freely by grasping the paddle loosely. If the feather is correct and the control wrist is maintained in a neutral position as it rises, the blade will enter the water in the correct rotation. Both wrists should remain in a neutral position throughout the stroke. This stroke would be smooth even when wearing a rigid brace. The correct feather angle varies with the paddler's stroke, and is anywhere from 0-30 degrees. In my experience, many feathered paddles take this too far, often 45-60 degrees, leading to the unfortunately false impression that feathering increases wrist rotation. That is because the paddle is adjusted incorrectly, in which case zero may be better. The correct feather angle also varries with the kayak type and paddle type; I use very little rotation with my Greenland paddle. With a European paddle, in my case, 20-30 degrees is about right--I've had chronic wrist problems in the past from other things and have studied this carefully.

Whitewater is divided, as any quick search of Google images will show; you will see non-feathered, many with slight feather, and some as much as 90 degrees. In my local river, 80% are between non-feathered and 15 degrees, but this may vary regionally. Most people find it simpler to keep tack of the blade rotation when making furious correction strokes if the blades are non-feathered.

Like anchors, this is always a topic that inspires debate, perhaps because they both seem simple, but in fact contain dozens of variables.The important thing to take away is to listen to your shoulders and wrists, and if they bug you, take a close look at the entire stroke.There are many subtleties, like a golf swing, and you need polish what works for you. Smoothness and efficiency come with time.

Posted by: Drew Frye | December 7, 2017 9:27 AM    Report this comment

Having been an advt kayak paddler for over 25 years as a guide, outfitter and teacher not to mentioned having owned my own kayak retail operations I would have to disagree with the comments in the article. First off it's been my experience that the white water paddlers prefer the off-set feathered design. The touring paddles prefer the straight or unfeathered alignment because you do not have to keep rotating your wrists. With an average of 50 strokes per minute it means you'd have to rotate your wrist some 3000 times!! This can lead to fatigue and at the very worst carpal tunnel problems. Most aluminum paddles are crap- heavy and poorly design and cold to the touch. Don't short change yourself and spend the extra money and buy a good fiberglass or carbon one your wrists will thank you and you'll be able to paddle further and faster. Lastly the length of the paddle is important if you are paddling a wider boat go for a loner shaft so it doesn't hit the sides of the boat. Thanks for the chance to voice my opinion on this subject.

Posted by: rgreno | November 27, 2017 11:04 AM    Report this comment

Thanks Scott. We've changed the image. A feather-brained editor has accepted all blame.

Posted by: sailordn | November 26, 2017 11:21 AM    Report this comment

First off, in the photo, he is holding the paddle upside-down! He needs to switch the paddle blades to the opposite sides, so you can read the name right-side up.
Held as in the photo, he will have little power in his stroke, especially if the blades are feathered, which they should be. In many years of ocean kayaking, including kayak surfing competition, I never met an experienced paddler who preferred unfeathered blades. As you say, a good paddle is necessary to having fun in a kayak.

Posted by: WscottEA | November 26, 2017 9:27 AM    Report this comment

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