Reflections from the Cockpit
"Blade Control"
June 2003

I believe most of us have pet peeves. There are a number of topics in kayaking on my PPL(personal peeve list). The one near the top of the list is the use and misunderstanding of the term "Control Hand." Our kayaks move due to the forces we create when we paddle. Kayak movement is simple physics. How your blade is presented, moved and angled during each stroke has a tremendous impact on how your kayak will move. Therefore, blade control is important.

Most paddlers have heard the term "control hand" whether they paddle feathered or unfeathered. Those of us who paddle feathered paddles are indoctrinated as soon as we take our first class or talk to our first salesperson. "You either control your paddle in your right hand or your left hand." I would love to find out who first used the word "control" instead of using another word for the primary grip hand. The reason I am concerned and peeved is because the word "control" has been taken too literally. I am constantly correcting "experienced" paddlers who have been living under a misconception of the use of the so called "control hand".

I would like to set the record straight. The hand closest to the working blade in the water CONTROLS the blade. The term "control hand" is a term that is trying to identify the primary grip hand when using a feathered paddle. When you take your first stroke on you primary side (commonly referred to as your on-side) your on-side hand is controlling the working blade in the water. After the on-side stroke is completed, you need to rotate the paddle shaft so the opposite side blade gets presented properly in the water. Before you stroke on your off-side, your off side hand needs to be controlling the working blade during the stroke. The primary grip hand (which is on the on-side) should not control the blade on the off-side during the off-side stroke. The function of the primary grip hand, with respect to the off-side stroke, is just to HELP provide rotation of the paddle shaft until the off-side hand takes over the CONTROL of the blade. I personally like the term "indexing side" when I teach.

I have to say I am also disturbed by how many paddlers were taught and are still being taught with respect to the manner in which they "control" their feathered blades. Somewhere, long ago in the US, paddlers were taught to crank their wrists back on their "control hand" to set the paddle up for a stroke on the off-side. We now have generations of paddlers and instructors who perform the shaft rotation mostly with wrist extension (cranking the wrist back). The word hand should have never been used with the word control. The hand is holding the shaft but you can maintain a fairly straight wrist and still rotate the paddle shaft by lifting your arm when paddling. (I am not going to go off on a tangent here to discuss the complexities of the forward stroke.) Proper shaft rotation is being accomplished, in large part, by arm movement not wrist extension. Maybe we should have used the term "control arm" instead of "control hand." I am being a bit facetious here. The word "control" should not be used to describe the primary grip or the rotation of the shaft.

The way we should have described strokes years ago is, control of the blades moves from hand to hand depending on which blade is working. The indexing (rotation of the shaft when using a feathered paddle) is performed by the arm movement on the primary grip side (on-side) with little to no wrist extension.

Let's review the key points:

1- The hand closest to the working blade controls the blade when it is in the water.
2- Arm movement provides the proper shaft rotation.
3- We will no longer crank our wrists back to index the paddle.
4- If you use the term "control hand" to describe indexing, your kayak will sink.

Now that we are speaking the same language, let's talk about blade control. The hand closest to the working blade controls the blade. When you do sculling strokes, braces, rolls, sweeps, draws, shifts, forward strokes, reverse strokes, brace turns, in fact all strokes, the hand closest must control the blade if you want to feel the resistance and be able to do fine adjustments to the blade. If you are one of those paddlers who was incorrectly taught, please go out on some calm water and begin your retraining. Just sit their and do sculls (see sculling), draws and braces with the hand closest to the working blade doing the work. As for the forward stroke, stop cranking those wrists back.

If you want to excel in kayaking, blade control is a critical skill to have. You cannot have good control if you are using the wrong hand. I will leave you with this thought.




Wayne Horodowich


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