I am a low angle paddler. I am a low angle paddler because I paddle long distances. I am a touring kayaker. A low angle style works well for me because it is a slower, easier cadence that is easy on the body, and can be sustained for a long period of time. How long? Paddling in Alaska's Prince William Sound, on four separate occasions I have paddled 27.5 miles. The first time was a challenge, the last time was a zen experience - as an aside, the last time I did it was in a kayak that had a seat back supported by nylon webbing that tore on the first paddle stroke of the day. So I did 27.5 miles without a seat back - Another instructor on the trip asked me how I felt, and I told her I was ready, in fact wanted, to keep going. I wanted to break my personal record of 27.5 miles. I know other instructors from the same school who have done days that were much longer in terms of mileage. This is the beauty of low angle paddling.
But there is another paddling style, high angle style, which can be explosive in power, faster, but is a bit more jarring to the body. The video I linked to of the Olympic paddlers illustrated a high angle style. The paddlers are still rotating, but the paddle blade moves down the side of the boat, with the paddle shaft almost vertical.
To paddle high angle, plant the paddle blade as far forward as you can, close to the side of your kayak, near your feet. Draw the blade back along the side of your kayak, rotating your body as you do. Withdraw the paddle blade at your hip, while simultaneously planting the opposite blade as far forward as you can. Notice in the video, I still have my hands relaxed, and my posture upright and straight. The torso is still rotating. Only the angle of the paddle shaft has changed.
The negatives of the style are that I find it a bit more tiring. Also, it brings your elbow higher than your shoulder, which puts them in danger of injury. We always want our elbows below our shoulders. It requires a shorter paddling shaft, in the video you can see that my 220 cm paddle is a bit too long, but as I only paddle High Angle on occasion, it is acceptable. I mentioned in a previous post that high angle is the martial arts equivalent of the hard, external styles like Karate or Kung Fu, while low angle is the more internal, softer Tai Chi or Chi Gung style. I tend to lean toward the softer style. But when the situation demands it, I can slide into the harder style.
Which brings up a valuable point. When do I switch. I switch, like when I decide to feather my paddle, when the situation dictates it. Because the positives of a high angle style are simple, and singular.
In the video you will see me paddle high angle, then briefly paddle low angle, then back to high angle, then back to low angle.