Finding the right kayak paddle shouldn’t be that hard. After all, its just a pole with a flat blade at each end. But finding the paddle that’s perfect for you does take some effort and thought.
There are three considerations that may help determine which type of paddle could be right for you:
1. The type of paddling you be doing, whether it will be touring or whitewater.
2. Your height and body strength. If you’re under, say, five-and-a-half feet tall, you may require a shorter than average paddle. If you’re well over six feet tall, you may require a longer than average paddle.
3. The width and height of your kayak. A wide or tall kayak will often need a longer paddle to effectively reach the water.
Once these three areas are considered, then you can look at the three major differences in paddle characteristics:
1. Blade length and shape.
2. Shaft length and shape.
3. The materials used to construct the paddle.
Blade length and shape
Paddle blades can be long, short, narrow, wide, feathered, unfeathered, symmetrical, asymmetrical, spooned or dihedral. Each shape has its benefits. A wide blade with a larger surface face can provide greater acceleration, but will also create more resistance in the water. It takes more effort to use a large-bladed paddle than a smaller one. This can be an important factor for the infrequent paddler, as touring is more about endurance than it is about speed. A long, narrow blade will take more strokes to move through the same amount of water, but the paddler will be less tired while doing it.
Paddle blades that are unfeathered have the blades parallel to one another. Feathered paddles have the blades turned at an angle to one another. This feathering allows for a more efficient stroke as the blade that is not in the water is leading into the wind with its narrow edge instead of the flat side, making for much less wind resistance (physics is cool). Some paddlers, especially beginners, find that the additional wrist-turning necessary to use a feathered paddle is uncomfortable and unnatural. A possible good compromise for the beginning paddler is a collapsible paddle that can be adjusted for either feathered or unfeathered use. Blades can be either symmetrical of asymmetrical.
Typically, touring paddles are long, narrow and symmetrical. Some paddlers find an asymmetrical paddle reduces the twisting on the paddle shaft while stroking, because it evens the amount of water on each side of the submerged paddle. A spooned paddle has a curled or cupped face that increases the power of a stroke, while a dihedral paddle has a type of tapered nose in the middle of the face that helps direct water around the paddle.
Shaft Length and Shape
As we touched on earlier, a longer paddle is needed by taller paddlers and paddlers of tall or wide boats. Often, a sit-on-top kayak will need a longer paddle. A long paddle may provide more power, but will also create more resistance. Whitewater kayakers will prefer shorter paddles for their increased maneuverability, quickness and strength. While most paddle shafts are straight, there are several bent-shaft models that may increase the paddler’s comfort as well as provide for a stronger, more effective stroke.
Materials Used In Construction
The materials used to construct the paddle will determine its weight, durability and flexibility. Paddles may be made of fiberglass, plastic, aluminum, graphite, Kevlar, carbon, or good-old-fashioned wood. Each type has its own feel as to weight and flex. Each paddler will have to consider the combination of weight, durability, flexibility and cost.
In the end, however, your personal preference as to which paddle feels the best may be the deciding factor in your decision.