Which Blade Shape?

What I am about to say comes from almost two decades of competing in Down River Racing, marathon and ocean ski racing. I have no axe to grind, it is just what I have learned and been taught. I have listed different types of blades and their lengths below. These are blades that I used and I am still using today but this is not much use to you if you dont know my height, which is 6 foot or 182cm.

I do not use one blade for all disciplines as each shape has its own unique characteristics. Instead, I use a blade suitable for the type of kayak/ski I am racing and for the conditions. Just one additional comment which is that I am a confident paddler and I like to push the limits so my choice of blades will be ones that work well for me even in some hairy situations. I believe that confidence is vital to how I paddle well in all types of water conditions. I believe that the different shapes of the blades suit styles and water conditions and are therefore faster but I do not believe that there is a golden blade that will make you go faster than any other blade, that is just in your head.

 

There are two basic types of blade shapes. Parallel edge (some examples are Lettmann I, Stealth, Marathon, Rasmussen, Braca III & VI etc.) and the teardrop (Epic, Braca I, II & IV, Fusion, Russian the list is endless). Within the parallel edge blades there are a few with no offset and little pitch (Flite 5, Champion, Wildwater, Gutt are a few examples)

Down River Racing:

  • The blade I used when I was racing and the one that most DRR paddlers used, is of the parallel edge type which has a small to medium size blade and as I mentioned it has little or no offset and a small pitch. This gives the paddle a very solid catch, ideal for racing on grade III and IV rivers. The lack of offset and pitch means it does not exit quite as well as other types but this is not an issue for DRR's who use shorter paddle lengths and mostly have a very short punchy stroke. Small to medium blades are normally used with lengths from 198 to around 210cm. If you use this type of paddle some examples are Flite 5, Champion, Wildwater, Gutt etc and they plop or slap on entry, it's not the paddles fault, it's because you have a problem with your catch.
  • I raced using 208 to 210 cm AM Champions cadence 90-110 spm.
  • I see these days that the Burton/ Jantex Gamma are becoming a popular choice by a lot of top paddlers in DRR and L/D ski. I find them a bit lifeless myself but their results are proof that they do work so see what you think!

Parallel Edge

Marathon/ Sprint:

  • The parallel edge blades which have a greater offset than the DRR blades produces a cleaner but slightly less stable catch. They perform very well throughout the entire length of the stroke thus making it a very popular choice when racing K1/K2 down rivers but to a lesser extent on flat water. The Teardrop style however generally has a larger offset and pitch which is characterised by a very clean entry and accelerates the kayak well through the power phase. However, I find the catch phase can be unpredictable in turbulent waters it has a habit of fluttering so this type is very sell suited to sprint and marathon racing.
  • For K1 I used 217cm Braca IV copies and in the K2 219 to 220cm cadence around 86 spm but on rivers I prefered using a Lettman I.

Tear Drop

Ocean Racing Ski:

  • I used an Epic medium blade a teardrop shape to start with. It is a wonderful paddle in light to moderate conditions which I initially was quite comfortable with but as my confidence grew, I found in really rough conditions they would sometimes have a tendency to "flutter" during the catch/ power phase which was not conducive to my positive paddling in all conditions. I now mainly use a set of medium Rasmussen's.
  • I use 214cm medium Rasmussen cadence 80-100 spm.

Multisport:

  • I paddled a Sharp 6.5. Like most of the faster multisport boats, they are designed to hold a high top end speed and do not accelerate well like K1's. A lot of the racing is also on moving water so with these facts in mind, I found that the medium Rasmussen was the best choice for this style of racing.
  • I used 210-212 cm on rivers and 214cm on flat water or sea for a cadence of around 86 spm.

Some words of wisdom from various coaches.

"Too long paddles or too large blades means the paddler will not be able to paddle with good technique, and may change to bad technique to cope with using them."

"Too long paddles means the paddler will never be able to train explosively or with a high enough stroke rate. This will work against their desire to go fast, and hinder development."

"The right length is what is right for the individual paddler and the craft they use."

"If in doubt, paddle size should be smaller than larger and or paddle length should be shorter than longer."

Like many of us we can easily fall into that human trap that the decision we have made must be correct and to maintain this belief we then apply blinkers to shield us from anything that contradicts it. We just hate being proved wrong, right? So even for more seasoned paddlers it might be an idea just to step back for a moment and ask yourself is this really working well for me? Is my technique good enough to get the most out of these paddles?

Remember if you are starting out, you won't yet have the strength of the top paddlers so just like racing a road bike, you are taught to spin in smaller gears until you develop stronger muscles to push bigger gears. The same applies to kayaking. Cadence should be between 80 to 90 single strokes per minute at race pace, so adjust length and size of the blade to suit.

In summary, if you are starting out in the world of kayak racing then in my opinion the best balanced blade type is that of the parallel edge type. It is very predictable in all situations and will greatly help developing paddler's confidence. Once you are a confident paddler, go for your life with regards to blade selection.