Feathering allows you to do strokes with a vertical paddle shaft on both sides of the boat without having to slip your grip while the blade is ‘loaded’.
To see this in action, sit in a chair with a broomstick or a paddle in your hands.
Step by step instructions
As you hold the shaft level across your lap, it’s very comfortable to have both hands aligned evenly with each other- in fact, if all your strokes were done in this plane, it’s likely that nobody would ever have worried about offsetting- but many strokes want to be vertical and there are other circumstances, such as when you want to clear slalom gates, where an offset blade is useful- and so for a while when slalom was where most of the paddling innovations were occurring, large offsets became the norm.
Now, while maintaining your grip on the horizontal shaft, shift the it so that it’s vertical, outside of one of your knees- some of the angles have changed, haven’t they? If your lower wrist is straight, your top wrist will not be- because now, instead of reaching straight forward to the shaft, the top hand is reaching across the body in order to reach the paddle shaft.
If you visualize this vertical shaft from a top view, your shoulders describe a side of a triangle- with the shaft as the third point and your arms as the other two sides. The width of your shoulders at the length of your arms describes the angle of a ‘natural’ feather, given a perfectly vertical paddle. Keep in mind that the introduction of an offset requires you to slip your grip on one hand in order to keep your wrists more or less straight while you’ve got the paddle blade under load.
Now of course we spend more and more time (play boaters especially) doing strokes that are nowhere *near* vertical, which is probably one of the reasons that lower angles are more popular today- because for all that a ‘natural’ angle on a vertical shaft will feel good, at paddle angles where you’re not using a vertical stroke the offset will require you to
do some adjusting when you go from side to side- something we do a lot when cartwheeling or spinning or playing. In brief, a lower angle requires you to adjust less when you’re playing with the boat in the vertical plane, or when you’re not doing strokes in the vertical plane.
What paddles to use
I have paddles with 30 and 45-degree offsets, and I prefer the 45- probably in part because I learned with an offset and feel funny without it, probably also because a lot of the finesse strokes I use involve a vertical stick, so *some* offset makes that easier.
It’s been my experience that the most popular offset around right now is a 45, but a higher offset (like a 60) still seems to be more popular with the river-running set. For general use, I’d recommend a 45- not bad for anything and good for a lot of things. 🙂 If play is what interests you, there’s really no reason to get a paddle with more than 45 degrees offset… in my opinion.