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Paddle Feather

An Article from the Lightning Library

What is Feather Angle? Should I use a feathered paddle?

Feather angle refers to the blade plane configuration of a kayak paddle (you canoeists can skip this). When the two blades are in the same plane as indicated by being able to lay it with both blades flat on the floor at the same time, it is unfeathered, (also called no-feather or zero feather). A feathered paddle is indicated when the blades are at any angle away from the same plane, and only one blade will lay flat on the floor at a time.

Unfeathered Paddle Feathered Paddle
Unfeathered Paddle Feathered Paddle

It can be right or left feather (see next topic), and at any angle up to 90°. The typical range of feather angles found is from a low of about 45° to 90° as the highest. I've heard of angles below 45°, but not seen any.
(UPDATE, 25 June, 1998: We've now made a few 30° and 15° angle paddles.)

The feather versus no-feather issue is probably THE most hotly debated topic in the sea kayaking community, approaching that of religious war fervor. It is much less so among white water paddlers. Feathered paddles provide better forward speed, mainly through better ergonomics and body dynamics. Kayakers who will be paddling a lot, especially those who think they might worry about boat speed, should use a feathered paddle. If someone wants to make learning to paddle a kayak easy, and then not worry much about speed and performance, unfeathered is okay. It's okay even if paddling more than a little bit, as long as it's nothing real strenuous. Though unfeathered is easier to learn, and therefore seems easier to do, it's probably not quite as efficient as feathered in many ways.

If you do go feathered, for starters, choose a paddle in the 60° feather range for best body dynamics efficiency. You can always change the angle when purchasing a future paddle, if necessary. Some authorities think using a feathered paddle might increase a paddler's chances of developing tendinitis. My informal research, as well as that of others, indicates that improper paddling technique is probably the biggest cause of wrist problems. I recommend trying feathered at first, and switch later if you have to. You will probably never have to.

Article courtesy of Hank Hayes, Lightning Paddles
Copyright © 1996, 1997, 1998, and legal fine print
Revised: 25 June, 1998