What’s this “TRIK STYLE” blade shape all about and why do I feel it is the best configuration I make? Trik style means the blade is centered on the shaft- like a canoe paddle. It means the paddle will do equally powerful forward and backward strokes. The name came from Keith Backlund in the mid-eighties for a specific kind of symmetrical blade shape he created and offered his customers- very similar to my “Big Fun” blade shape- but the concept is many thousands of years old as it was the form created and preferred by generations of Inuit paddlers. Their very lives depend on effective and efficient equipment, so their choices should not be disregarded.
I’ll go into the advantages of Trik Style shapes later, but first I’d like to discuss my ideas on the current paradigm of curved powerface paddles. Where did these come from? Not from the original Inuit kayakers- they all used small, short, narrow trik style paddles. As far as I know, the curved powerface blades came to America from early European paddle designers and builders like Kober, Klepper, and Prijon. Much of this initial business was related to touring kayaking which was popular in Europe for decades before whitewater paddling became popular in the 60’s. The touring paddlers did not experiment with blade shapes much and basically settled in on what is commonly considered “slalom” blade shapes with curved powerfaces. The slalom blade shape came to America and became the “standard”- no questions asked. The best stroke science was coming from flatwater and slalom paddlers and everyone accepted their conclusions without regard to if the racer’s needs actually matched cruiser’s needs.
Ask any paddler what the curved powerface is for and he will tell you it gives you more “bite” in the water- as if biting the water is necessary or desirable. Another analogy might be to point out how swimmers seem to curve or cup their hands while swimming for speed. This however is not exactly correct to the finest detail and objectively proven as superior to a flattened hand. What a curved powerface DOES give you is an enhanced “catch” in the early part of the stroke. That is- it makes the angle of attack of the initial section of the blade slightly (maybe 5 degrees) more perpendicular to the water’s surface and so more aggressively positioned to render more torque early in the stroke. In the next few inches of the stroke, when the blade is perhaps a third involved, this angle of attack becomes even more perpendicular to the water’s surface and so is optimally aligned for the forward pulling of the boat (which is the work load being addressed). This is exactly where the additional “bite” is coming from and it IS noticeable. I do make curved faced racing paddles for those with those kinds of needs.
But I think this is where the “advantages” end and the handicaps begin. When the blade is just past half involved, the angle of the deepest section (almost a third) of the blade starts going beyond perpendicular. This, being the farthest point on the paddle, is where the maximum torque and work is being generated by the blade. At this point in the stroke, the tip is entering ever-worsening configurations to the direction of pull (less perpendicular) and so this distant working end is becoming increasingly useless throughout the stroke. By the time the blade is fully involved (around 10″ into a 28″ stroke say) you are beginning to pull a curved face through the water. One could argue that a curved powerface is offering more surface area (ie pull) per length by virtue of the curve actually being longer that a straight line would be. But a curved powerface blade say 18 3/8″ long only increases the bladeface length by 1/8″ over what a straight face would provide (less than 1% additional length). And some of this “increased” blade face is working at compromised angles. So that’s not a factor.
At this fully involved point, you now have a “puddle” forming in the center of the blade- a mass of dead water corralled by the curved ends of the blade. This pillow gives the blade a wishy washy feel as it tries to wander and wiggle past the puddle. This is why many insightful designers use a “dihedral” on their curved powerface. This is an effective but weight-adding technique. Trik Style shapes are technically “bi-facial dihedrals” (the optimal handling of the dihedral concept). The dihedral ensures a positive flow off the powerface and solves the “puddle” problem. During the “power phase” of an average stroke (16-26″ into a 28″ stroke) the tip of a curved powerface blade is undercutting the direction of force being applied. The blade is trying to slip under itself because of the overly-accentuated angle of the tip. So the blade is clearly in a compromised configuration when you are depending on it the most. You still have a small section of blade perfectly perpendicular to the direction of pull- but it is only a minor section of the blade. And so a minimal percentage of the bladeface is optimally poised at any one point. Somewhere in here blade designers start discussing how much “power” a particular shape may have. I can only think they are referring to torque- which is a pretty simple function of blade size and shaft length. If you could really make a shape more “powerful”- I would want one that makes me as “powerful” as Arnold Schwarzenegger. Can they do that? I don’t think so. By these standards a very “powerful” shape would be very very large- so it would render maximum torque. Yet there are not many huge blades on the market. Maybe they have too much “power”.
The throat end of the blade is the last section of blade to enter the water and the first section to leave during a stroke. The time it spends being fully involved is absolutely minimal and the fact that is has a much reduced surface area compared to the rest of the blade makes the “curve” handling of this blade section effectively inconsequential.
The final obvious flaw with curved powerfaces is the way they behave when used edgewise- as a wing. This not only affects the releasability of a blade but also how it feels when entering the water. It’s a real concern for squirt and rodeo paddlers who often skim their blades over or through the water on sliding braces or strokes. If the blade is a simple and efficient wing in cross-section(trik style)- it will be slick and stable in this mode. How many airplane wings do you see configured like curved powerface paddles- complete with reinforcing rib down the back? Very few. There is a lot of edgewise drag and directional turbulence related to this genre of shapes. The best shapes are hydrodynamic and centered- trik style. If you had a slab of accelerated water and put a curved powerace blade edgewise (winglike) into it -it would basically curve around and go nuts. A trik style blade would have a very stable realm where it could happily blend with the grain of the current. It’s the difference between “lumpy” and smooth feeling entries and exits of the blade. Almost half the actual stroke distance is consumed with placing and retrieving your blade- so this has a lot to do with the aesthetics of the feel of the blade.
Reading what I feel is “wrong” with curved powerfaces gives a lot of insight into what I feel is right about trik style blades. Their entry and exit is smooth. They are perfect for sliding strokes and braces. They don’t compromise the torque of your backstrokes- very key in dynamic play scenarios. They are also stronger. A curved powerface blade will flex open to a point under stress and then freeze up. At this point the tip is very vulnerable to collapse as it is the weak point of the curve and structure of the blade. Under stress a trik style blade will flex back EVENLY to a point where it will “freeze up”. But at this point the tip is not compromised. The entire blade is working in unison to accept more flex and therefore workload. Many many curved powerface blades break just a couple inches in from the tip because of this. It almost never happens to trik style blades. I also like how trik style blades are best poised to do the most work inthe “power section” of the stroke when your body is optimally positioned to pull the hardest on the blade. They have a softer entry (good for endurance/bad for racing) but a more solid pull later on in the stroke. This makes trik style blades better suited for cruising than racing in my opinion.
One final aspect is that- in wood blades at least- trik style is the most efficient configuration for the mass of the blade to be as strong and light as possible. I say this from decades of experience as a paddlemaker. The “fairing strip” area of the paddle, where the shaft rib dimensions fair into the outer blade dimensions, is an area where “extra’ wood can hide out, making the blade “cheeky” and heavier than need be. Trik style blades are easier to condense to the minimal required mass of wood in this area.
I’d like to add a final couple words on my opinion of “ergo” grips presently popular on cruisng and play synthetic paddles. The idea is unworkable to me. I resent having someone else tell me exactly where my hands will go all the time. I switch my hands around on the shaft a lot as I paddle to adjust the torque I want for a given stroke~ just like the ancient Inuits always have. These bentshafts prohibit any choice like that, of course. I also like to twirl and throw my paddle- no room for that in a bentshaft world either. I also wonder about the initial premise. The flatwater and slalom paddlers who started the concept have abandoned it. It seems the original idea was that you could keep your pinky finger from having to stretch so far in the catch section of the stroke. So your pinky could become more “powerfully” configured to pull and it would enhance your ability to pull in this first third of the stroke. This catch section of the stroke is most people’s weakest part of the stroke and so is fertile ground for improvement. I’m not saying having a powerful pinky in the catch section is worthless- especially to racers- but at what cost is it worthwhile?
It also seems like it could goober up your wrist angles when you are trying to do strong Duffeks- a key consideration for creeking. Also- if your pinky is more “down” for the catch (less stretched) isn’t it in a weaker configuration (pulling up-lifting water) for the latter part of the stroke where you are trying to pull even harder? I feel the wrist angles also can compromise the strength of your back strokes. My pinky has never complained of weakness or fatigue so it’s all mumbo jumbo to me. Just my two bits. Bent shafts make the paddles ugly and uncentered. The original concept may have come from marathon canoe paddlers which is a different matter completely. Canoe paddlers sit higher from the water’s surface and the paddlers have more ability to transfer force down from their high seat. This becomes an easy way to get “extra” work done and the bentshafts probable do help in this regard. Marathon paddlers are famous for not throwing or twirling their paddles also- so they have virtually no concerns in this regard. In conclusion I would say that over the long haul- it’s a case of “keep it simple”. Trik style is simple and centered.