If you have been considering making the move to winged paddles but not sure what to look for this article is for you. As a long distance racer ad expedition paddler I use wings a lot and get asked about them more than anything else.
So here are the main 4 points you need to consider and why.
- Blade size - Bigger is NOT better! I know your logical brain is trying to tell you that if you have big blades you will move more water and then go faster but it's wrong. You will for about 200m and then die. Most people are surprised to learn that getting a small blade will actually allow them to paddle fast, with better technique and for a very long time without exhausting them. My personal paddle is 740 cm2 and I have used it for 5km time trials to 95km expedition days without burning out.
- Paddle Length - Like blade size you probably need to go shorter than you think. Depending on you craft and your size of blade, you should definitely play with length. Buy a paddle that is adjustable by 10cm and you can vary the length depending on the conditions, the kayak you are using (e.g. Surfski or sea kayak) and how long or far you are paddling. For example, when I was kayaking around Ireland I would usually start the day at 210cm in my Rockpool Taran 18. As the day went on I would shorten my paddle to allow me to maintain the same cadence and usually end up at its shortest of 206cm. If I was particularly tired I might just start at 206cm. Think of the gears on a bike, as you get tired you want to keep turning the gear but reduce effort.
- Shaft stiffness - Often overlooked but this can have a big impact on your fatigue and body. For ocean or long distance paddling I recommend a flexi soft shaft. The amount of give is not visible but the small flex will be much kinder on your shoulders and body for those long days. Stiff shafts are for sprint racing and big power bursts.
- Blade Shape - There are several wing blade shapes to choose from nowadays. Tear drop and parallel are the main shapes and various combinations of both. You may also here reference to brands who have specific shapes like Epic, Braca, Lettman or Jantex. Blade shape if very personal and comes down to feel and performance for each individual. My advice is try to use a few different shapes if possible and find your preference. If you can not access paddles to try, some popular shapes are Epic mid wing ( very predictable and stable ), Jantex Gamma Rio my paddle of choice for the last 3 years or Braca 4. Whatever you do go for, it will take some time to adjust to and really get the feel of them.
- Get some coaching. I'm always surprised what little effort people put into mastering their forward stroke. I mean you only use it 98% of the time. Find a coach who knows what they are talking about. You will not find them giving advice on Facebook groups you'll have to go see them.