Wing paddles were first used by the Swedish national team
in the mid 1980's for flatwater sprint racing. Within a few years, the times in
all Olympic sprint kayak events dropped by about 2% and wing paddles became necessary
equipment for anybody hoping to be competitive in flatwater races.
cross section of a wing paddle is shaped like an airplane wing. If this were an
airplane wing in the diagram below, as the airplane moved forward (to the right)
air flowing over the wing would provide upward lift on the airplane. In the case
of a paddle blade, as the paddle moves away from the boat, water flowing across
the blade provides forward lift on the paddle. Thus, rather than acting as a stationary
anchor on which to pull, the paddle itself can actually move forward in the water
and pull you along with it.
While wing paddles are definitely more efficient
for the forward stroke, they do require learning a different technique and do
not work well for all types of strokes. Most recreational paddlers will be better
served with our (Epic Paddles Inc.) Wayfarer model.
A wing paddle must
be moving sideways, away from the boat in order to function properly. This is
the main difference between a wing paddle stroke and a traditional stroke. With
a traditional stroke (dashed line below), the paddle is pulled relatively straight
back during the stroke. With a wing paddle (solid line) the stroke begins with
the paddle next to the side of the kayak, but then the paddle moves steadily away
from the boat during the stroke. The stroke generally finishes 12"-18"
further away from the boat than it started.
Because the wing paddle is an
open wing section (concave on the bottom side), water pressure builds up on the
'lip' at the leading edge of the blade and helps to push the paddle away from
the kayak during the stroke. Therefore a wing paddle naturally wants to take the
correct path in the water. It is best to pull straight on the paddle without forcing
it into or away from the boat, letting the paddle move out on its' own. It will
take a while to get used to the feel of the paddle and stroke; but once you find
it, the stroke will feel very stable and comfortable. When switching back to a
standard paddle, most wing users encounter a lot of flutter, as the traditional
paddles do not track nearly as solidly as a wing blade in the water.
Perhaps half the benefit of a wing paddle is the way that it encourages good technique.
Because the paddle moves away from the boat during the stroke, it allows the paddler
to use much more torso rotation in the stroke while keeping straighter arms. This
utilizes your larger and more powerful muscle groups to pull the kayak through
The paddle moves outward during the stroke and then exits
out to the side. To begin your push for the stroke on the opposite side, do not
move your hand close to your head (this would require bending your arm significantly).
Instead, start your top hand push wide (away from the body where your previous
stroke ended), and slowly come across with your top hand as you push forward.
Towards the end of the stroke, your top hand will cross the center of the boat.
This is desirable - as your blade and bottom hand move away from the kayak, your
top hand should cross over this same amount. The angle of the paddle shaft when
viewed from the front should remain nearly constant during the power phase of
While a wing paddle provides
greater power and efficiency for the forward stroke, it also limits the types
of alternative strokes that you can do.
As shown in the first figure, a wing
blade does not work well whenever it is moved inward towards the kayak, or so
that it forces water into the 'lip' on the leading edge. When this happens, the
blade stalls, and usually dives downward in the water, taking you with it.
wing paddle works fine for the following strokes - note that the blade moves in
the favorable direction in each of these cases.
Stroke - as long as you keep the blade moving away from the kayak
Modified Sweep Stroke - emphasis the first part of the stroke where the blade
sweeps out away from the kayak, then exit the water before pulling back towards
* Low Brace - with the convex side
of the blade down.
* Eskimo Rolls - The blade
moves in the favorable direction with a Sweep roll, and is relatively stationary
during the 'C to C' roll.
* Backstrokes - work
fine. Do not turn the paddle around to do a backstroke, but use the back side
of the blade (this is the recommended way for all paddles).
- generally OK, but can be a little trickier than with traditional paddles.
the following strokes when using a wing paddle. These strokes are best done with
our Wayfarer model.
* High Brace - with the
concave side of the blade down. You will probably end up swimming.
- Does not work well during the return portion of sculling strokes.
of Stroke Steering Corrections - these are usually done by pulling the
paddle back towards the boat at the end of the stroke - a 'no no' with wing blades.
Often used by paddlers in kayaks without a rudder.
Type Strokes - where the blade is planted in front of your body and the
boat is turned around it
Learn More from the Epic Paddles,
Inc. Website: www.epicpaddles.com
Greg Barton is President, Epic Paddles, Inc. and a
Double Olympic Gold Medalist (K-1 & K-2 1000 meters), Seoul, Korea, 1988 Olympic
Bronze Medalist (K-1 1000 meters), Barcelona, Spain, 1992 and Olympic Bronze Medalist
(K-1 1000m), Los Angeles, CA, 1984.