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Mirror Mirror ...

Should I paddle Asymmetrically?

by Steve Howie

When buying a canoe paddle there are many points to be considered including the length, the shaft and blade material, and the angle of the blade on the shaft. It is also possible to buy paddles with blades that are either symmetric or asymmetric. This article examines the difference between the two, and asks the question: Should I paddle asymmetrically?

The diagram above shows two paddles, one of which is symmetric, and the other asymmetric. The difference being that the symmetric blade is mirrored either side of the blade`s centre line, making the area of both sides exactly the same. With the asymmetric blade this is not the case, the area of the lower half is smaller than that of the upper.

Surface area is important as the greater the area the more water will be pushed, and the more force will be required to do the pushing. With paddles the effect of the area is complicated by the fact that a paddle is rarely inserted into the water vertically. Usually the paddle enters the water at an angle. This coupled with the fact that the blade is often not completely submerged and we can see that the area of blade actually in the water is effected by more than by its shape alone.

An asymmetric blade takes this into account. As we can see from the diagram it is shaped so that the area of blade submerged above the centre line of the paddle is the same as the area below the line - represented by the blue and pink areas. With a symmetric paddle there would be an inequality of area in the water, so that the lower half would have more force placed upon it. This would have the effect of creating a twisting action on the blade, requiring the paddler to grip the blade more tightly.

It is this twisting action that has brought about the asymmetric design. For long distance paddlers, or paddlers who are intending to paddle for a large number of hours, the small extra grip required can lead to tired hands.

Therefore your choice of symmetric or asymmetric should depend upon your type of paddling. The symmetric paddle generally gives a greater surface area in the water giving a more responsive stroke - a key benefit in white water. The asymmetric paddle reduces hand ache over time and is better suited to touring and long days spent on the water.