Everyone is fishing for the right feather. My ideas…
I was the original proponent of 45 degree feather paddles, beginning around 1981. Up until then 90′ feathers were pretty much the only available commercial feather based on old European theories about the upper blade slicing through the wind better and lasting slalom requirements that the upper blade have the minimal possible lateral profile- for tight perimeters while clearing gates. Original Inuit paddles were very short, had 0′ feather and narrow blades- so they dealt with the wind factor in an entirely different way.
For many years only squirt paddlers used 45′ feather paddles in the S.O. Terrik shape. They preferred the faster reaction time of the lesser feather. I found my way to this reduced feather angle by trying several feathers above 45′ (like 75′ and 60 degree feathers). My complaint was that the higher feathers made the wrist on the upper (pushing) hand twist so far back that there was essentially very poor bone alignment to the actual pushing portion of this hand- the base of the fingers. This over-flexation left the work to be done by the tendons and ligaments of the wrist. This would cause fatigue during a long hard day. When I tried the 45′ feather in 1981, I found that there was good bone alignment to the pushing pad of the hand and also there was enhanced reaction time due to the lesser work and rotation of the upper wrist involved. The concepts were pretty simple and correct and in time (approximately 15 years) they took hold in the market.
Now 45′ feathers are popular and offered by most manufacturers, meaning the feather has been used in many thousands of paddles. I quit searching through feather alternatives after finding that 45′ worked fine for my needs and was basically “better” than the standard offerings in the old days. Recently many other paddlemakers have come to experiment with other small feather angles- from 30′ down to 0 degree feather. The basic reasoning was pretty much the same- less wrist twist (enhanced reaction time) and “better” feel. Some claim the “symmetry” of the 0′ feather makes for no “off side” in braces and rolls. These challenges to the “new” paradigm of 45′ feathers inspired me to rethink and re-search for what I would consider the “optimal” feather. I had never searched for “optimal” before. I felt I had found and was content with what was “better”.
I soon turned away from 0′ feathers because I felt they necessitated pushing the paddle with a much lower portion of the hand- virtually the crotch of the thumb. I found it hard to get ANY bone alignment with this altered pushing area. But, in review, I found the 45′ feather was still more twist than my old wrists were perfectly “happy” with. I noticed at times my left blade would go though the water canted forward about 5 degrees- especially if I was concentrating on letting my upper wrist be “happy”. “Happy” meant still getting significant connection between bone and wood but with minimal forced flexing. I found a natural feathering of the ergonomics of how my body wanted to apply to the work being done on each side of my boat.
I finally committed to testing the new feather of 40 degrees and found it delightful. My wrists had homed in on their “happy spots” even when paddling very hard. This feather still allowed a strong connection between the paddle and the “pushing pad” at the base of my fingers. It felt “tweaked” and right. I believe 40′ feather on paddles is the most ergonomically correct for paddling kayaks. It allows a LOT of work to get transferred effortlessly. I consider 40′ to be the “optimal” feather (although 45 is fine too), and so that’s what I offer as “standard” on all Jimistyx kayak paddles.
I’m glad to make the feather custom to your preferences- but if you don’t have a preference- try the 40 degree feather. It’s easy to adapt to and does help the upper blade push through the foam of huge holes or winds or slice through the Realm if you are deep into a mystery move- if you happen to be going through those at any time. A zero degree feather pretty much guarantees that upper blade will be coming back at you in these extreme conditions- or if you happen to be landing deep in the foam pile at the bottom of a falls. So- it might be smart to invest in a full face helmet if you love the zero degree feather. Yeah- it makes it makes you look like you are “ready to crash”~ but you ARE!
Somewhere around 30 degree feathers and less, on straight shafted paddles, you also have the disadvantage of losing the bone to wood connection on your upper- pushing hand on your off-side. That would be the left stroke on a right-hand- control paddle. From 30 degrees and up- you can connect the bones at the base of your fingers to the paddle itself. At lower feathers you lose that connection and end up pushing with the flesh between the thumb and finger. I feel like this is a weaker geometry and can lead to fatigue and less powerful strokes. Please check the pictures below to see what I mean here.
Another subtle negative aspect to a zero degree feather has to do with the angle of attack of the leading edge of your blades if you are doing a bow screw exit or roll- which are popular with squirt and rodeo boaters. If you are loooking for support from your leading blade while you are skimming over the water to your exit stroke- you need to keep the leading edge of that blade somewhat open to the surface of the water- so it doesn’t present a diving angle to the water and dive deeply quickly. But you are most likely to get your final support from the trailing blade and so need to keep a rising angle of attack on the trailing blade as well. With a 40 degree feathered paddle- you can maintain climbing angles of attack on both blades simultaneously. But if you present a climbing angle of attack with the leading edge of the leading blade of a zero degree feather paddle- you will necessarily strike a diving angle on the leading edge of the trailing blade. If you want a climbing angle on the trailing blade- you will strike a diving angle on the leading blade- so it’s an unfortunate either/or situation.