Wing Versus Flatblade Paddle for Ultra
Q: I’ve been using a full carbon straight shaft Werner Cyprus paddle and playing with the feathering a bit to find what’s comfortable. One thing I was wondering is if you really can’t get a good leg drive/torso turn is it worth it to go with a wing ? The CD Extreme is a nice snug sea kayak fit with the foot pads all the way to the front but I can only really move my knees up and down a couple of inches so don’t get a great torso twist. I can do it better in the Necky because it has a huge cockpit. From what I’ve researched on the wing paddles it sounds like for the really long distance stuff a smaller blade with less twist (not sure that’s the right term) is recommended.
A:When I first read your “Which paddle?” question I immediately thought, “No-brainer… go with a wing!” But then I thought twice, and wondered if that was just my own bias. So before I put any more thought into it, I e-mailed two of the world’s foremost paddle experts/designers/paddlers/outright great guys: Director of Research and Development at Werner Paddles, Andy Bridge, and world champion racer and co-founder of Epic Kayaks and Paddles Greg Barton. They were both kind enough to weigh in on your question, and I’ll paste their answers below.
As for my own thoughts, I’ve been paddling with wing blades since 2002 and personally couldn’t imagine using anything else. There’s so much “purchase” on the water with a wing blade. I compare it to speed skating: When that razor sharp blade bites into the ice and the racer pushes off, you know there’s just 100% energy transfer rocketing the skater forward. That’s how wing blades feel. And because of that they do promote a more torso-intensive stroke. I say “promote” not “demand.” You can still arm paddle with a wing and see a benefit, and on ultras like the Yukon Quest arm paddling is a valuable tool to have in your skill set. It can break up the monotony and move the effort off the torso to give it a rest for a few miles.
All that being said, the carbon Werner Cyprus is a GREAT paddle, and we have one in our quiver. As far as non-racing paddles go it’s super light and certainly worthy of achieving a good performance in the Quest. Heather brought one as a back-up for her record-shattering ’06 Quest. And if dropping $400+ on a new wing paddle between now and race day isn’t in the budget, you could absolutely go into it with confidence using the Cyprus.
My bottom line: Decide right now, with a year to go before race day, whether you have the funds for the wing. If you do, spring for it and get comfortable with it, then make it your main paddle in the Quest. It’ll take a bit of time, but once you “get it” you’ll never look back. On the other hand, if you decide to go with your Cyprus, move forward with no second thoughts and focus on having a great race. Either way, have at least 3 different “good strokes” to use at different times of your suffering. Err… I mean, different times of your racing. Ha! Welcome to the world of ultra, Paul!!!
ANDY BRIDGE: “Racing a kayak is about being as efficient as possible. From a mechanical perspective, for a forward stroke the wing design is superior to a non wing design in terms of energy expended versus distance traveled. That said individual technique can vary tremendously. A racer with a text book efficient stroke using a non wing could easily beat a racer using a wing paddle with a poor inefficient stroke. This is of course assuming similar boat and fitness level. Wing paddles do require a slightly different technique then non wings in order to maximize their efficiency, however proper torso rotation combined with some leg pumping should apply to both blade designs.
Your paddler does raise a good point in that most true sea kayaks have much smaller cockpit openings then sprint or marathon kayaks. This design feature is optimized for sealing out water and other non racing needs like bracing and rolling. Part of the tradeoff for a non racing kayak that is used for racing.”
GREG BARTON: “There are 2 different issues here. One is use of the legs and the other is using a wing paddle. Both will benefit in speed and efficiency, but are not dependent upon the other. So ideally, he’d get a boat that allows better use of the legs AND use a wing paddle. However, even with limited leg usage, a wing paddle will still be more efficient.”