Picking out a kayak is only one part of getting on the water. After finding the perfect kayak, the one that fits your needs, you also need to select the right paddle.
Many beginners think that “a paddle is a paddle” but not every paddle is built the same, nor does each perform equally. You need to select the paddle that fits you in terms of size, shape, and style. Let me help you.
Whitewater paddles are built for strength & durability, after all they will be put to the test on some of the roughest waters available and the hazards they include. They include wide blades & thick shafts for both strength and efficient maneuverability.
Touring paddles are the most versatile paddles available as they are designed to be comfortable after even a long day of paddling. The lightweight, ergonomic design is ideal for lakes, slow moving water and even open ocean use.
Performance as the name suggests these paddles are specially designed for speed and power. They are ultra light and durable with features that reduce resistance and increase efficiency. These designs are most often used for racing but can also be useful when using your kayak for camping or adventuring when distance is a necessity.
Recreational paddles are the most basic of paddles, meaning they are able to be used for a wide variety of application but offer the least amount of features. They are heavier, less comfortable but also cheaper. While not intended for long term use or great distances they work well for short or intermittent paddling, such as that encountered while fishing.
The length of the paddle needed vary depending on your own height, the width of the kayak and whether it is a sit on top or sit inside model (sit on tops require a little extra length due to distance from water). For example, if you are over 5’5” and your kayak is under 23” wide the ideal paddle will be approximately 220 centimeters (paddles are measured in centimeters not inches). If the width is 24”-28” add 10 centimeters, 29”-33” add another 10 centimeters and an additional 10 centimeters if over 34”. For paddlers over 6’ add an additional 10 centimeters to each calculation.
If this sounds confusing to you that’s because it can be. Luckily, there is easy way to fit your paddle.
Stand with the paddle vertical, with one blade touching the ground. Standing next to the paddle you should be able to reach up and curl you fingers over the upper blade.
Traditional paddles are made of wood, which is still an excellent choice due to its natural strength and durability. However, wood is heavy and can quickly lead to fatigue. Because of this many modern paddles or made of aluminum, fiberglass or carbon fiber.
Aluminum is also highly durable and cheaper than fiberglass or carbon fiber which makes it popular with beginners. But, like wood, aluminum is heavy and difficult to manage for long trips.
Fiberglass offers an excellent combination of weight and durability. They are excellent for those looking to spend long days on the water, but are more expensive than either wood or aluminum.
Carbon fiber is the perfect alternative to fiberglass. Not only does it offer the strength and durability you need for almost any application it is also cheaper than fiberglass.
The final part of the puzzle is shape. That is, the shape of the blade and of the shaft. Shafts are available in either round of oval shapes, with the oval being more comfortable and providing extra grip. Some designs offer an overall round shape with an oval area for your hands. You can also get shafts in either single or two piece designs. Most beginners think that the two piece design is for easy storage, but it’s main advantage is the ability to put it together with blades at different angles for more personalized paddling style.
Blades come in a very wide variety and the only real way to determine which is best for you is by trying several and picking which works with your style. However, there some general guidelines you can use to narrow the search.
For high angle, speed paddling you will achieve better results with a wider blade. For low angle recreational paddling a narrow blade on a longer shaft will be both efficient and comfortable.
For more tips on selecting the perfect kayak paddle check out this YouTube video.