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Choosing the Right Paddle Angle for Surfski Paddlers- The Shift to a Lower Feather

When it comes to surfski paddling, the paddle angle plays a crucial role in a paddler's technique, comfort, and injury prevention. Feather angles have been evolving over the years as paddlers experiment with the different biomechanical benefits of various feather angles. This article will discuss the factors to consider when choosing the right paddle angle for surfski paddlers.

Dani McKenzie uses a 60 degree feather
Dani McKenzie uses a 60 degree feather

Feather angle is the angle at which the paddle blades are twisted relative to each other. Zero feather angle means that the blades are parallel to each other, while 90-degree feather angle means that the blades are perpendicular to each other. Choosing the right feather angle depends on several factors, including a paddler's skill level, technique, body type, and paddling conditions.

Beginners are usually given a paddle set to zero feather angle. This is because they don't need to be taught how to feather, which is a technique that requires paddlers to twist the paddle shaft in their non-dominant hand. With zero feather, both hands are always oriented in the same position on the paddle shaft. Zero feather allows for an easier low brace stroke, which is perhaps the most significant benefit of zero feather. This ultimately helps with stability.



Beginner paddler uses 35 degree
Beginner paddler uses 35 degree for an easier brace stroke

The lower the feather angle, the easier the brace stroke becomes, because there is less need to change the wrist position dramatically or quickly. However, changing the feather angle should be done gradually, in small increments of 5-10 degrees over time. This allows the muscle memory and reflexes to adapt to the new angle. Too much change at once can have a detrimental effect on technique, especially the low brace. 90-degree feather angle is extremely rare in modern paddling, if not unheard of. It is an extreme angle that can lead to wrist problems over time. The 90-degree feather angle was adopted originally by early whitewater kayakers and then sprint paddlers. In contrast, 75 degrees is considered a high angle by today's standards. Sixty degrees was until recently the most popular feather angle in the USA and was the default setting used for one-piece paddles by most manufacturers. However, the trend has shifted towards 30-degree feather angle, which is now more popular.


Greg Barton paddles at 75 degrees
Greg Barton paddles at 75 degrees and has decreased his angle since from 90 degrees in the early days of his career

There is a perception that using a lower feather angle, less than 45 degrees, can prevent repetitive motion injury like carpal tunnel syndrome or tennis elbow. However, many athletes and experts have paddled for years and years injury-free with high to moderate feather angle, so technique and body types may be key factors. Some experts and coaches believe that feather angle is beneficial and natural ergonomically for generating a powerful forward stroke with a high-angle shaft. And this theory is certainly still prevalent today amongst the sprint kayaking community. Other paddlers believe that it makes little difference in terms of power once you get used to whatever feather angle you use. The actual effects of different feather angles are largely a matter of personal feel and preference, as there have been few if any scientific measurements made on this aspect of paddling technique. Very few paddlers can change their feather angle more than a few degrees at one time and adapt to the new angle immediately. Whatever feather angle a paddler is used to is likely to be the one they stick with. However, if they want to change it, they can gradually adapt to the new angle over time. Choosing the right paddle angle for surfski paddlers depends on various factors, including a paddler's skill level, technique, body type, and paddling conditions. Feather angles have been evolving over the years, with the trend now shifting towards lower feather angles. However, the actual effects of different feather angles are largely a matter of personal preference, and whatever feather angle a paddler is used to is likely to be the one they stick with.

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