On sunny days when the general population of paddle boarders show up, nearly half have backwards paddles. Some insist they were taught that way, others didn’t know and some don’t care.With those that do care or may be interested, we offer a tip suggesting to flip the paddle face around so the spoon shaped blade side is facing you. That’s the power face. That’s the side you should be using to paddle with.
Why that side (power face)?
Looking at the paddle if held up horizontally, you’ll see an offset angle, called canter. This is usually angled at 10-13 degrees. The canter allows for more reach in your stroke. The side below the canter is the power face. The spoon like curve of the power face varies per paddle model.
|Bottom pic, see power face below canter angle|
Cheap or older paddles may not have any canter and/or curve on the blade face. In those cases, I’ll ask a student to place a sticker or Sharpee mark on the minimal looking power face so they know which side it is.
Like a spoon the power face will better catch water thus propelling you forward with less effort. The backside isn’t shaped in such a way that benefits moving you forward. Usually there’s a bulge down the length of the paddle that helps prevent breakage of the paddle. And the opposite side of the spoon curves away from you thus doesn’t grab the water as well as the power face.
Also, when you reach forward in your forward stroke to place the blade in the water at the catch, the power face gives you more reach which makes you more efficient.
|First frame shows reach. Third frame shows neutral exit angle|
When your paddle is pulled to your feet where you should be removing it, the blade should be in a vertical position which allows for the cleanest low drag exit from the water. If the blade is backwards, it’ll pick up water like a shovel thus adding more work, drag and thus slowing you down.
One of my goals in paddling is to make it easy and to reduce injury so I can have more fun. A backwards paddle reduces your reach, creates more work and may lead to injury as you’ll be working too hard with you body to paddle, exit, release, etc..
When to use the back side of the blade?
Somewhat contradicting myself, I do teach to use the back side of the blade for backwards or reverse strokes. They’re not performance or speed paddling strokes so the main benefit in efficiency here is that you’re not flipping the blade face around to paddle backwards. This applies to the Reverse Sweep Turn as well.
How it works – Paddle forward with the power face facing you. Now paddle backwards on each side without flipping the blade around – so use the backside of the paddle (2-3 strokes as fin allows without turning).
The advantage here is that in a rough water situation or in surf, you’ll have one less thing to do when you need quick fast acting strokes to keep speed or balance in check. If you’re flipping the blade around backwards-forwards you’re slowing yourself down and/or making more work for yourself.
About Rob Casey – Named a pioneer in the SUP industry by Stand Up Journal, Rob is the author of “Stand Up Paddling Flat Water to Surf and Rivers” and “Kayaking Puget Sound and the San Juans, 60 Trips.” Rob owns SUP school Salmon Bay Paddle in Seattle. He also runs several paddling races throughout the year.