Kayak Paddles. Which one is the Best?
My experience with kayak paddles has consisted thus far of 3 different types. These are the Euro Blade, the Greenland and the Wing.
THE EURO BLADE has a wide surface designed to catch lots of water in one stroke. I use it for quick acceleration and it's my favorite for catching waves in the surf. With it, I can maneuver quickly into position, and be ready to give the crucial first strokes and accelerate onto the face of the wave. This paddle also much easier to do a stern rudder as the large blade gives a great degree of control. I use the 220 centimeters Werner Ikelos, which has a surface area of 691 sq. centimeters.
THE GREENLAND PADDLE is long and skinny. I felt like a Venetian gondolier the first time I used one because moving it through the water is so effortless. That feeling however, means that you are using the Greenland paddle like a euro blade, and you do not have the right technique. When done right, the Greenland paddle should feel like you are pole vaulting your whole body and the kayak. Through the motion of the stroke, the paddle is staying in place and you are leveraging forward. In fact, most of the power will come at the end of the stroke. Picture that in your mind, and you will see that the whole movement will feel quite different. Having tried both a very long and very short Greenland paddle, my preference is for the short. This allows me to paddle with a high stroke, and have a fairly high cadence without getting exhausted. If you learned to roll using the Euro blade, the Greenland paddle will require some technique adjustments. The smaller surface means there is less leverage from the paddle for use as a pivot for support, and so you might have to hold the paddle closer to the end, and some folks even hold from the very edge of the blade. Having a finessed hip-snap and good head position is therefore all the more important. I use a 205 centimeter paddle.
THE WING PADDLE is by far the strangest paddle of the three. It is shaped like an elongated ice-cream scooper and behaves just like a wing. When you slice it through the water, there is a push towards the back of the paddle, like a wing generating lift. For its blade size, the Wing paddle moves a lot of water, but it doesn't feel as forceful as a Euro blade of the same size. When the water is flat, this is my favorite paddle, I can both cruise for a long time, and sprint quickly when needed. If you have never used a Wing paddle, rest assured, the paddle will tell you if your technique is correct, and if it is not, it will not be kind to you. When the stroke entry angle is too tight, it carves into the hull and faceplants you into the water. If you hold it too wide, the stroke will stall like a stick shift car jumping gear on the traffic light. But, when used with a high stroke, good torso rotation, and the entry angle is just right, the Wing paddle carves through the water like a bat hitting a baseball on the center of percussion (the sweet spot); from the catch to the exit , the entire movement feels almost effortless even at great cadence. I use 205 centimeter a small mid wind Epic which has a surface area of 735 sq. centimeters.
Which paddle is the fastest?
To be entirely honest, I cannot tell the difference in speed between the Euro blade, the Greenland or the Wing paddle when I am out on the water. My Euro Blade is very wide, and definitely is the quickest to accelerate, but it also has the slower cadence as each stroke takes more effort. The Greenland paddle is definitely not a sprinter out of the gate, but I can easily put in twice as many strokes at full exertion; and the Wing paddle feels somewhere in the middle.
I decided to do a side by side comparison. Here in Key Biscayne, the beach has several channel markers to indicate the boat exclusion zone and they make an excellent kayak time trial course; the distance being neither too short to observe meaningful differences, nor so long that conditions are likely to change between runs. I have compared both upwind and downwind runs for each paddle type.
The results of this preliminary test indicate that in a slight upwind course, the Wing Paddle is a little faster than the other two, but only slightly so. The Wing Paddle was about 4% and 7% faster when compared to the Euro Blade, and Greenland Paddle respectively. I would note however, that the effort exerted with the Euro Blade felt more strenuous, in part due to the larger surface area exposed to the wind, even when the paddle is feathered. Therefore, in stronger headwinds, the over performance of the Wing Paddle may be more noticeable.
On the down wind run, the Wing Paddle was a negligible 1% faster than the Euro Blade, and about 5% faster than the Greenland Paddle. It is possible that with a stronger down wind, the Euro Blade would have been the fastest as the wind would provide a greater push on the paddle surface.