Why are Kayak Paddles Twisted?
Sometimes kayaking is a world of its own. If you’ve been around for a long time and know your equipment very well, you can’t imagine how it all has to affect beginners. Beginners who have questions quickly end up in the big kayak forums. Unfortunately, the discussions there quickly drift away from the topic and also density of technical terms deter many newcomers.
It can be quite simple. Essentially, all you need for kayaking is a good kayak, a suitable kayak paddle, the right kayak clothing and a life jacket. When beginners see the equipment for the first time, they often ask: Why are kayak paddles twisted?
The paddle blades on kayak paddles are arranged asymmetrically to reduce wind resistance. An alternative is to turn the paddle when it is lifted out of the water. In the long run, however, the turning movement proves to be unergonomic. Nowadays, twisted kayak paddles are used in popular and professional sports.
The wind is the main reason why the kayak paddles are twisted. But is this design the result of a development by the Inuit? Or were the paddles only adapted to this in modern times?
Did the Inuit also use twisted kayak paddles?
Kayaks are a development of the Inuit. When the rest of the world began to transfer the Inuit model to the modern age, people – just like the Inuit and other indigenous peoples – opted for non-twisted double paddles. Soon after the rediscovery of kayaks, however, kayaking was expanded to include a sporting aspect.
Races against other kayakers and races for time became more and more popular. It quickly became apparent that the untwisted paddle blades were held into the wind with their “broadside”, thereby slowing down the boat. The paddle technique developed in such a way that the paddle blade emerging from the water was turned in order to offer as little attack surface as possible to the (rushing) wind.
However, this paddling technique was not optimal. Furthermore, the wind resistance was high and turning the paddle was not very ergonomic for the hand.
The exact time when the development from the non-twisted to the asymmetrical double paddles took place is not known. We only know that in 1928 the well-known folding boat driver Carl Joseph Luther still drove with untwisted paddle blades. But already at the 1936 Olympics, kayak paddles twisted by 90° were the standard and thus resembled today’s models. Only paddle blades protruding at right angles no longer exist today.
Another funny story is the presumable first encounter between the Inuit and the twisted paddles. During the shooting of “S.O.S. Eisberg”, a feature film about the search for a lost Greenland expedition, some Inuits were able to test a modern folding boat including a twisted double paddle for the first time. While the boat was praised as ajungilak (“good”), the Inuit could not get used to strange double paddles. This was probably due to the unusual paddling movement.
Which angle of the kayak paddle is good for beginners?
Anyone who inspects the kayak paddles that are offered for rental in a water sports centre will often notice that the paddle blades are almost not twisted at all. Often the angle is only 0 to 15°. This can quickly lead to the misconception that a low angle is the right choice for beginners. After all, most customers of a water sports station are beginners or at least inexperienced kayakers.
Which angle is best for beginners is not easy to answer. With classic paddling there is hardly any room for manoeuvre. The paddle blades have to be removed individually and glued back to the shaft with a corresponding offset. Modern kayak paddles, on the other hand, can be adjusted to different angles. Usually the steps 30°, 45° and 60° are used for these double paddles.
While the Olympic athletes in 1936 still adjusted their kayak paddles to an angle of 90°, today 60° has established itself as the standard. Instead of getting used to paddling with paddle blades that are not twisted, newcomers should immediately use this standard. With the asymmetrical kayak paddles, the paddling movement is more ergonomic and the wind resistance is lower when riding.
Which angle should advanced kayakers choose?
For advanced kayakers, the same angle is suitable as for beginners. International top athletes and their coaches recommend an angle between 60° and 85°. If the pros use these angles, that is of course a good sign.
A group of kayak paddlers swears by the magic setting of paddle blades offset by 15°. In the broad masses and also in the top group, however, the majority continue to set a minimum of 60°. The only exception are surf skiers who manage with a smaller angle.
Angle of the kayak paddle and paddle style
With new paddlers, the problem is often that all the strength comes from the arms. The upper body is used too little. If you paddle in this way, you may even get by better with a non-twisted kayak paddle. Such a double paddle could be immersed directly in the water. However, we do not recommend this paddle style. Instead of entering kayaking with a symmetrical double paddle, beginners should also prefer an asymmetrical kayak paddle with an angle of 60°.
Advanced kayakers as well as semi and real pros do not sit still in the kayak while riding. Experienced kayakers use their bodies to the full when paddling. Instead of having their upper body pointing forwards, even their legs are used for paddling. If you prefer this more active paddling style, you should choose a kayak paddle with a larger angle.
The first minutes after something has changed in the angle of the paddle blades seem unusual. However, the paddle movement quickly adapts to this. But especially at the beginning it should not be exaggerated. Beginners who have never sat on a kayak before can be overwhelmed by a too large angle. In our experience, a 60° angle is still suitable for beginners. In this way, there can be no wrong paddling style, but beginners are accustomed to an active use of the body right from the start.
The difference between a paddle style where strength comes from the arms and a style that involves the whole body is that the second style requires more movement. This means that it is more difficult to maintain balance. The type of kayak also has an influence. For beginners, an active paddling style is therefore easier to implement on a wide kayak than on a narrow boat.
In the course of several tours a good sense of balance develops on a narrow touring kayak. A fall or two into the water is unavoidable, but if you invest the time, you will improve your balance. It should be noted, however, that switching to an active paddling style can be challenging when you are in a narrow kayak.
The low wind resistance and better ergonomics are the reasons why the paddle blades on kayak paddles are arranged asymmetrically. If you want to get into kayaking, you should get used to twisted kayak blades right away.
For the start we recommend an angle of 60°. As with other sports, the kayak equipment must be individually adapted to each kayaker. Many advanced paddlers swear by an angle of 70 to 80°. Other paddlers, on the other hand, have different opinions. Kayaking is and remains a sport in which you can talk shop a lot.
However, we hope that this article has helped you and that you have taken a step forward in your optimal attitude.