What Feather Angle Should My Kayaking Paddle Be?
Feather angle refers to the blade plane configuration of a kayak paddle. 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.
It can be right or left feather (see next topic), and at any angle up to 90 degrees. The typical range of feather angles found is from a low of about 45 degrees to 90 degrees as the highest. I've heard of angles below 45 degrees, but not seen any. 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 degrees 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. Informal research 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.
Which Control Hand?
The "control hand" on a kayak paddle refers only to feathered paddles, and how the angle difference between the plane of the blades is configured. Grip the shaft of a feathered paddle normally, and you can easily take a stroke with one hand, but the shaft must be twisted one direction or the other for the stroke with the opposite blade. The hand that accomplishes the shaft twist to correct the OPPOSITE blade's orientation most comfortably (by dropping the wrist) is the control hand. Except with a two piece paddle, you do not determine right or left control, the one who makes the paddle does. You dictate that a right control paddle be made for, or sold to you. You'll hear kayakers refer to paddles as using "right control," right "feather," right "rotation" or right "twist" paddles.
An easy way to tell if a paddle is left or right control is to place the paddle vertically with one blade surface facing your feet, like you were going to use the paddle. If the like surface of the other blade is angled towards your right, it is right control, and a lefty would face left. Just take the above pictures and stand the blade closest to you on the floor. The blade that was farther away from you in the above picture is now up in the air, and the same face that is towards your feet would be facing the direction of feather, either to your right or to your left. If the blade label faces your feet the blade label faces right or left.
Making it easy on yourself and going unfeathered is one option, but again, you lose some paddling efficiency. Kayakers who do choose to go with a feathered paddle must make the choice of which hand controls the paddle. Joining the crowd and going right feather makes it easy to buy a paddle, as that is what most stores stock, exclusively. It is also easier to borrow a paddle if you forget to take, or lose, or break your own on a trip. All three scenarios happen occasionally (at least I've heard about them often enough).
Budding competitive paddlers might want to think about left control if they are right handed (and vice versa) as there is informal (unsubstantiated?) anatomical / physiological and kinesthetic evidence that paddling with the "wrong" hand as control hand is most efficient.