History: hand paddles

originally by Dick Hannula 

Paddle assisted swimming was used from the very early days of swimming. 

Paddles were designed to make power training and skill building more effective.

In the late 1950s, swim equipment took the form of a pair of heavy iron paddles. 

Each had a hand grip opening within the paddle. The swimmer would grip the paddle and plow down the pool with about a two-pound paddle in each hand. It was a crashing, hand entry. Paddles were heavily weighted and resulted in a ballistic weigh lifting exercise with no catch made on the entry. 

Using paddles was a one swimmer affair because if any other swimmers approached that swimmer, he or she was apt to be knocked cold on contact.

Hand paddle swimming had a way to go before any wide spread acceptance was to occur.

That experience kindled the inventiveness and thinking about paddle swimming. Rather, paddles should enhance the feel and engagement of water on the arm stroke.

In the 1960s, before commercial hand paddles were on the market, coaches experimented. 

The shop teacher at Wilson High School was convinced to make prototype of hand paddles for the swim coach. 

Coach would wear gloves, and then the shop teacher poured fiberglass over the gloved hands to form and set up the paddles.

In the pool, the "hands" would fill with water and render those paddles ineffective while swimming.

Eventually, the coach and shop-teacher came to settle upon thin, aluminum, sheet metal, rectangular-shaped and with rubber bands around the paddles. Hands were placed inside the rubber bands to hold the paddles onto the hands. The aluminum paddles of the 1960 were efficient. They were sensitive to the water. They were quite pliable.

Those aluminum paddles permitted good stroke work and developed a better feel of the water. These paddles were used for several years before a commercialized version of the hand paddle became available. Paddles were used in drill and technique swimming.

Aluminum paddles were built for swimming, for stroke improvement and technique work. 

  • The sheet-metal hand paddle had one major disadvantage. The edges could easily cut a swimmer if struck. Hands of different swimmers sometimes crash in a crowded lane. 

Once the plastic, commercial hand paddles came onto the market, the sharp-edged, sheet-metal paddles were abandoned.

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