Kayak paddle blade angle – so what is the big deal?!

Kayak Paddle Blade Angle

Understanding blade angles and basic terms

Hey guys, so in this post, I am going to explain my story about how I came to understand blade feathering, and how it has affected my kayaking. I hope that you can get a better understanding after reading this article. 
First things first, we need to understand some basic terms:
Offset – the difference in angle between the two paddle blades. Varying from 0 – 90 degrees.
Paddle Style – the way in which you hold your paddle and take strokes (i.e. “low paddle style”  – arms lower to the water and closer to the body when taking strokes or “high paddle style” – arms higher and further away from your body).  

My paddle blade history

I started off using a 45-degree offset paddle, as that is the only offset they had at the outdoor school I was attending. When you start kayaking, it doesn’t really matter what angle you have, because you don’t know any better and how it should feel; everything is going to feel weird. Saying that, I now always like to start beginners off at a 0 degree angle, so they are less likely to screw up their wrist adjustment and trip over their blade. Anyway, I ended up getting used to a 45-degree offset and swearing by it, believing that it was the best and only offset. My thoughts didn’t really go further than that…at least for a while. After about two years, when I had finished outdoor school, my paddle snapped and I needed to buy a new one. At that time I didn’t have money to throw around and someone I knew was selling a 30-degree offset paddle for cheap. I was like, “ok, I’m scared to change angles, and I probably wont be able to kayak anymore, but I don’t really have a choice, do I?”. I bought the paddle, and low and behold, 30 degrees became the new best paddle offset. I suppose what I’m trying to say here, is that you get used to what you use.
It’s not always good to get so comfortable with one type of angle, so that when you are forced to change, it can negatively affect your headspace. I still use 30 degrees when I am whitewater water kayaking, and my muscle memory has adapted to this offset but if I need to change it doesn’t stress me out as much as it used to. The reason behind this is: 1. Experience, 2. Knowledge that it’s not actually such a big deal, 3. Skill and training with different offsets.  

The science behind blade offsets

Why have an offset or not
  • If you are a beginner, you will find it easier using a 0 degree paddle, as you will not be forced to twist your wrist so much when placing the stroke, instead you can place your stroke in the water knowing you don’t need to twist your wrist, or do anything fancy – it is already set at the correct angle. On the other hand, if your offset is 90 degrees, you will have to twist your wrist quite a lot when placing your left stroke, and this can be a bit tricky to have to think about when just starting out. It can also put strain on your wrists. 
  • Most people that use a 0 degree offset are “play boaters” (whitewater kayakers in freestyle kayaks), whom like to be able to roll from all kinds of positions, in a fluid and effortless fashion. Having your blade being set at 0 allows the play-boater to slice the blade at the correct slicing angle, forwards, from both sides, when coming forwards from the back-deck. For example, if you have an offset and you try a back deck roll on your left side, your paddle blade won’t be at an angle where it wants to slice upwards, hence making rolling on that side very difficult. 
  • Paddling at a 0 degree offset will mean that when you place high vertical strokes like bow-draws, and the like, you will have to really crank your wrist to get the blade right so that is running parallel to the bow of your kayak (join a Tekknikkurs Hav” or our Get to Grade 3” whitewater kayaking course to learn this technique). If you have more angle, the blade will already be part way there, so you will need less wrist adjustment.  
  • Kayakers paddling on relatively calm waters and going long distances, who are most probably using a low paddling style to conserve energy and maximise the power face of their longer touring blades, which are designed to be fully submerged when using a more horizontal stroke, will most likely benefit from a low offset paddle as they don’t need to make any fast, vertical strokes, or paddling with a high paddling style – unless you have a strong headwind, then you may want to increase your blade angle so your paddle blade doesn’t have so much surface area to the wind, thus creating more drag.
Main takeaways
  • Use a 0-degree paddle when you start if you can; if you don’t have the chance then you will adapt quickly to what you have so don’t stress it too much. 
  • Play boaters paddling whitewater freestyle kayaks will benefit from using a 0-degree offset. 
  • Sea or lake kayakers touring long distances, using longer paddles with thinner paddle blades and adopting a low paddle style. 
  • Test, use, practice and figure out what suits you best. 
So to wrap it up
You want to make sure that your wrists remain in a neutral position while paddling. Dependant on your paddle style, this can vary between paddlers. This means that there is no one correct offset or paddle style. The reason why we want our wrists neutral is because it will prevent them from becoming fatigued and in the long term can prevent over-use injuries, etc.  When holding the paddle, your right hand (or left if you are left handed) will grip the paddle, while your other hand is open and allows the shaft to change to the correct angle when taking the stroke.  
Low paddling styles
A low top hand in the low paddling style uses a lower degree of offset to support neutral wrist alignment. Suggested 0 to 45. A higher top hand in the high angle style, uses more degree of offset to keep your wrist neutrally aligned. Suggested 45 to 60”. I personally like to use a low paddling style when I’m trying to conserve energy or paddling into the wind. Using a lower style will reduce the friction against the air, meaning less resistance. Imagine taking high paddle strokes when it’s windy; the wind will grab, push and bounce off your extended limbs – basically, you will use a lot more energy. A lower paddle style will also force you to rotate your torso, and use your core muscles. Your core muscles will last longer, and allow you to paddle longer before tiring. 
High paddling styles
I use a higher paddle style if I want to get somewhere fast. I use this technique more when I’m river kayaking. For instance, if I need to make an eddy, or need to quickly get to a point on the river. This style uses more energy but allows for more strength and precision in your strokes. It is also a strong and stable position to be in. When river kayaking you want to be sitting upright and slightly forward. This will give you better balance. It also allows you to twist your torso further – getting more out of technical strokes. 
The reason for having a high offset blade angle
The main reason why people prefer a high offset is because of wind. This makes sense for head winds BUT does not take side and tail winds into consideration.
Wind resistance – this is important for sea kayakers, as we usually paddle long distances into head winds.  Having a high off-set will mean that when you take a stroke, the blade that is out of the water and in the air, will be at an angle that slices the blade through the air, rather than the flat of the blade facing the wind. Saying this, you can change your blade angle to a low offset when you have a tail wind, then this can work to your advantage, as the wind will hit the face of the blade from behind and give you some extra push. 
The reason behind a low offset blade angle 
Like I said, if you are a beginner and you don’t want to start your kayaking experience by tripping over your paddle and tipping upside down and if you are prone to wrist strain and would prefer not to have to twist your wrist every time you take a forward stroke. 
Like I said earlier, I have heard that play boaters use a 0 degree offset so that they can easily roll both ways with out resistance and that they are versatile on both sides when throwing tricks. Please hit me up if I’m wrong about this?
When river kayaking, you are not subjected to strong winds, or at least, not as often. You are also not paddling such long distances. This means you don’t have to worry so much about having a super low or high angle. Most kayakers I know, have an angle between 15 and 60. Most commonly between: 15 – 45. The way I see it is that when I’m lining up a stroke, I don’t want to have to think about dramatically twisting my wrist to change my angle. In turbulent water, I also would prefer not to trip over my paddle because I didn’t manage to get the correct stroke angle in time. That is why I am at a happy mid-point between the two extremes, preferring to use an offset of 30 degrees. Allows me to make fast, vertical & technical strokes without a lot of wrist adjustment (like with a 0 degree paddle) but also means I don’t have to adjust my paddle angle a lot when forward paddling. Remember also that the length of your paddle will dictate its usefulness in different scenarios. It is difficult to adopt a high paddle style with a very long touring paddle and tour implement fast vertical strokes as the paddle is long and unwieldy. On the other had I would not want to paddle long distances with a shorter paddle and blades. If you go on a trip that might include the need for both scenarios then I recommend bringing two paddles!!
Conclusion 
My recommendation for sea kayakers: get an adjustable paddle, so that you can change the angle to suit the conditions. My recommendation for river kayakers: I prefer not to have an adjustable paddle when river kayaking because it weakens the paddle, meaning that it is more likely to snap when under force. A one-piece paddle is much stronger. Paddle preferences vary a lot. I recommend trying out different angles and finding out what suits you best. I have paddled all around Oslo fjord with a “heavy plastic 0 degree paddle” and I was totally fine – even into head and tail winds, waves and the like. Of course, having a lighter paddle and making adjusts to your angle to suit conditions can help a lot and if kayaking is something you do often, then you want to make it as stress free on your body as possible.  It is easy to get used to one angle, as your brains muscle memory adapts to that offset.  This is why it will feel a bit strange to change. Stay strong and know that you will quickly adapt – mmmmaaeeeeeehhh! 
To end with
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