Noyo Pacific Kayaking

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What are Wing Paddles?
Kayaking - Kayaking Equipment

What are Wing Paddles?

There have been a couple of new innovations in paddle form recently. The first was wing blades for Olympic sprint style kayak racing, and that was later joined by shafts with weird bends in them for white water slalom racing. Both concepts have gone through design modifications and are now used in upper level recreational flat water and white water paddling.

Wing Blades
The "wing" blades found on kayak paddles are so named because they

generate lift, like an airplane wing, when used properly. They are very tricky to learn to use properly, because the deep spoon in them makes a high brace and most maneuvering strokes very difficult. These blades were designed about 10 years ago to enhance all-out forward speed in a straight line. The performance advantage is actually not real great, two to four percent, maximum, and it takes a very good paddler to utilize them to any definite advantage, and paddler of close to Olympic caliber to take them to their max.

Bent Shafts
Bent shaft kayak paddles are all compound bends (two or three bends in each hand grip area), and first started appearing around 1990. The theory for kayak paddles is to get the wrists at a more comfortable angle during the forward reach part of the stroke where the power is applied. A "double torque" shaft (where did that name come from?) was developed to alleviate part of this wrist angle problem. However, the double torque shaft also reduced the amount of reach out front, which isn't good.

That lack of reach problem was repaired with a further modification called the "crank" shaft which put the blade back in line with the section of shaft between the hands. Another later adaptation is the modified crank shaft where reach is extended a bit more and the blade is now in front of the shaft. Some think this is just an application of the "more is better" principle that introduces more problems than it solves. Others like them a lot. You might think that the bend might cause problems at the end of the stroke, but as little if any power is applied there, it seems to be okay. All of these kayak shafts have advantages and disadvantages. For instance, the blade forward of the hands creates low bracing and back paddling problems. Again, all of these design concepts, except possibly the single bend canoe, are in their infancy, and will be changing over the next several years. Bent shafts are much easier to learn to use effectively than a wing paddle. Like wings, any performance advantage is slight, probably not even as great as that of a wing. The modification is meant for paddling comfort which will primarily help long term performance.

Until techniques develop, straight shaft kayak paddles are probably better than bent shafts for all around use, but bents may be better for specific uses. Try one for yours, sometime. A beginner could learn to paddle with a bent, but still might be better off trying one out and possibly switching to bent after they know what use they're putting the paddle to, and developing their initial style with a straight shaft paddle.