Understanding Paddle Feathering

Proper paddle position when using a feathered paddle.

Most of you probably own a paddle or two and already take advantage of what is commonly referred to as feathering but there is a good possibility that some of you don’t. For those unfamiliar with the term “feathering”, it’s the action of positioning your blades at opposite angles to one another to reduce the wind resistance while paddling. Put simply, while one blade is in the water the other will be angled so that it is slicing through the air resulting in greater paddling efficiency. Seems pretty straight forward, doesn’t it?

Using a feathered versus an un-feathered paddle has been a cause for continual debate amongst many paddlers. Sea kayakers and coastal kayak anglers tend to feel the need to use feathered paddles as their outings typically involve long distance fights against the winds while white water paddlers are more concerned with paddle durability and less so with the slight speed advantage of the decreased wind resistance. Other paddlers don’t care either way or feel that using a paddle in its simplest form works just fine for them. Then of course you have those that may have heard about feathering and know they have those features available on their paddle but just don’t understand it.

Understanding and Adjusting the Feathering Position

Figure 1. (Click to enlarge)

Most two-piece paddles (even some lower-end models) will typically offer at least two angle positions, some will have 3, as shown on Figure 1. The ferrule (the joint where the two halves of the paddle attach) of the paddle has three different slots that the button can clip into — 60 degrees to the right, 0 degrees, and 60 degrees to the left. By giving both a left and right angle option, users can choose which hand to use as their control hand. Typically, right-handed people will feather the right paddle while left-handing people will feather the left but can vary depending on the person.

Figure 2. (Click to enlarge)

Mid to higher-end paddles typically offer even greater adjustability as shown in Figure 2. This ferrule or a similar one is commonly found on many higher-end paddles. This one in particular offers angles to the right or left in smaller, 15 degree increments. This could be useful for paddlers who face constantly changing wind speeds where a jump to a 60 degree angle is not necessary. Some paddles offer a feathering angle up to 90 degrees.

When to Feather
Once again, the concept is fairly simple. Feathering is most advantageous when paddling into high winds. The higher the angle of your blade, the less resistance you will encounter. Alternatively, an un-feathered paddle can be advantageous when the wind is at your back, working as a small sail each time the blade is raised into the air.

How to Use a Feathered Paddle
When using a feathered paddle, you are required to rotate the shaft of the paddle with your hand so that your blade “slices” the water at a vertical angle. This will cause the other blade to rotate in the opposite direction resulting in more horizontal position thus slicing the air. The main image above shows a great example of this. This movement requires one of your hands to help rotate the shaft, which is commonly referred to as your “control hand”.

A Few Things to Keep In Mind
If you’ve never used a feathered paddle before, remember that it may feel a bit awkward at first. Try it a few times off the water first. When ready to try it on water, do it on a mild day with little wind. Also, keep in mind that the extra rotational movement when using a can put a strain on the wrist of your control hand. If you feel any strain, lower your feathering angle. To better understand the impact of the wind on your blades, while paddling on a windy day, put your back to the wind and raise a single blade vertically in the air, you will be surprised at how a little wind will propel your kayak.

There is so much more to paddling techniques than can be explained in just a few words. As always, we recommend you seek out lessons by a professional instructor. Using a feathered paddle may not be for everyone but with a little time and practice, you’ll truly understand the value of utilizing this technique. Do you use a feathered paddle? Any advice for those that don’t?

Joseph @ACK

Winds of Shift

Always stay up-to-date on the weather forecast

I recently had an opportunity to take a quick trip to Matagorda Bay here in Texas with my co-worker Jerron for some coastal winter kayak fishing. The game plan was to target trout in the morning and hope for the sun to lure some redfish into the flats for some easy catching. However, the weather didn’t quite cooperate the way we had hoped. While the forecast called for 10-15 mph winds out of the southwest with mostly sunny skies, the weather quickly turned on us. Shortly after getting on the water the winds shifted from the North and quickly approached the 20-25 mph range.

Paddling in winds over 20 mph may not necessarily be ideal paddling conditions in an open bay but with some practice in paddling technique, understanding how to use the weather to your advantage, and the right equipment it can certainly be achieved. If you’re like me, when you have a busy schedule, you take the opportunity to go fishing when you can regardless of the weather conditions.

The first and most important thing is to know what to expect in terms of the weather. As you can see, we were caught off guard, and could have easily avoided this scenario if we knew when this front was going to hit.

Next, know and respect your physical limitations. One-way to avoid getting tired too quickly is to use the weather to your advantage. For instance, if your launch point is facing north and the wind is coming from the same direction, head out directly against it. Once you’ve reached your destination, you can simply drift to where you started by letting the wind take you back to the launch point. Besides, you typically have more energy when you get started.

Of course the winds can shift on you without warning, and when they do, you can always rely on your gear to help you get through it. One thing I recommend for any kayak angler is to get a rudder. It will enable you to compensate for “weathercocking”, which is what happens when a side wind pushes the stern of your kayak causing your boat to always turn into the wind. It stabilizes the stern of the boat allowing you to maintain your normal paddling cadence for maximum efficiency. Without a rudder, you will constantly have to perform corrective paddle strokes in order to track straight. This will cause you to tire out more quickly and lose efficiency in your forward momentum.

Most paddles give you the option to "feather" the blades.

Then there is always paddling technique. Stat by “feathering” your paddle. It does take a little time to get used to but once you get comfortable, it can make a huge difference. Your paddle blades act as small sails when the wind grabs them, so by feathering them you are setting them at an angle and your paddle blades can now essentially “slice” through the wind as opposed to hitting it face on.

Stohlquist Warmers Fingerless Gloves

We’ve recently talked about cold weather paddling apparel but I can’t stress how much of a difference a simple pair of gloves can make. I recently purchased the Stohlquist Fingerless Gloves. I highly recommend these because they help keep protect your hands from the elements, including the sun, as well as reduce the friction on your hands when paddling. Of course, as a kayak angler, the half finger design is imperative when fishing.

These are just a few tips to help make your kayak fishing trips a little easier on those windy days. If you ever have any questions or just want to come into the shop and talk kayak fishing come by our Houston location and we will be more than happy to share all our kayaking and fishing knowledge. And as always, we want to know more about our customers. Do you have any tips you’d like to share with us? Leave us a comment below.

ACK – Houston