In beginning whitewater class, I was advised to use a right handed paddle with a 90 degree feather. I assumed that this was correct, after all these folks were certified by AWA – New York. Well people, after a few runs on the river my wrist was sore from bending 90+ degrees, my control arm was getting stronger (the other was not), and I was thoroughly confused about which way to turn the paddle when upside down. Not wanting to get carpel tunnel, asymmetrical shirts, or end up swimming every time I flipped, I did something crazy — I ordered a zero degree paddle. Results as follows:

1. On a forward stroke the high wrist is flat while the low wrist is bent back at about 15 degrees.

2. Both arms get worked.

3. When rolling up (C to C) the inside paddle blade is flat on the bottom of the kayak forcing the outside blade to be flat on the surface. Really neat!

4. Rolling is easier because the outside blade is about four or five inches higher in the water than could be achieved with a feathered blade. Super keen! The feathered inside blade forces the outside blade down into the water. Super bad!

5. Off-side rolls are much easier because the wrist angle is shallow and is the same as on the on-side roll.

6. When being thrown side to side in a rapid, the zero paddle is always ready for a brace on the opposite side. With a feathered paddle you must be very-very fast.

7. When going over a drop that puts you underwater, the zero paddle on low brace will help bring your bow up faster and allow you to right your kayak before breaking the surface. A feathered paddle will cause you to do a neat 360.

8. Side surfacing on the off-side does not require a broken wrist.

Amazing, ain’t it!

by John M. Turk
From The Eddy Line, May 1996

[John: The certifying body is actually the ACA, not the AWA, and they are not in New York, but are closer to New York than they are to Georgia or to the average paddler. You make some excellent points. I asked some questions and did some research about feathered paddles back in my kayaking days. The only explanation I found for feathering was to reduce wind resistance on the blade that is out of the water during your power stroke; that it would make a great deal of difference in your degree of fatigue after a long day of paddling. My thought is that this is probably true in a sea or touring kayak, but not so much in a white water boat. I had the same problems you did in white water with the feathered blades until I switched to a break-down paddle with feathering adjustable between ninety, forty-five and zero degrees. – Editor.]