Spring and Summer is approaching, and this is great time for kayaking. If you are looking into getting a kayak, one thing that you will have to decide is the type of kayak paddle to get.
The paddle length you choose will depend on both the type of kayak you’ll be paddling and your height.
Recreational and sit-on-top kayaks are built for stability, so they’re wider. You’ll need a longer paddle to be able to reach the water comfortably and easily. 230-250cm will be a good range.
Touring and sea kayaks are built for speed, so they’re narrower. You’ll want a shorter paddle since you won’t have to reach as far to the water. 210-230cm will work great for this.
If you’re taller, you’ll want a longer paddle. If you’re shorter, you’ll want a shorter paddle. It’s ideal to find the paddle that will fit you, personally, best.
Kayak paddles are made from a variety of materials. As you might guess, the lighter or stronger the materials used, the more expensive the paddle.
The three materials used for shafts are:
Aluminum: Entry level material
Fiberglass: Will keep your hands warmer than aluminum can, weighs less, and more durable
Carbon: Tougher and lighter than both options
As far as blades go, blade options include fiberglass reinforced nylon, carbon reinforced nylon, compression molded fiberglass, and compression molded carbon. All great materials, but you’ll see that one of the biggest differences comes down to weight. Fiberglass reinforced nylon being the heaviest of those options working our way to compression molded carbon which is the lightest. If you’re looking for durability, consider looking at paddles that have carbon reinforced with nylon blades.
Plastic shafts are rare. Aluminum, the most wallet-friendly shaft material, is durable and serviceable. It can also get cold or hot, so you might want to glove-up before you grab it in cold weather, and you should stow it in the shade when it’s hot out.
Carbon and fiberglass shafts are durable, strong and lightweight. Pairing one of those shaft materials with either of those lightweight composite blade materials creates your most lightweight and efficient paddle option—and the price will reflect that level of performance.
Most paddle blades these days feature an asymmetrical dihedral shape.
An asymmetrical blade is relatively narrow and shorter on one side. That angles it so the surface area of the blade is more uniform when it’s pushing though the water. You can spot a dihedral blade by the rib down its center. This allows water to flow smoothly and evenly over both halves of the blade. Blades without this flutter more, which can make it more difficult to track straight. Because they’re lighter, narrower blades are comfortable for long stretches of paddling; that’s especially helpful on a full-day tour or a multiday trip. Wider blades lend themselves to quick powerful strokes that let you accelerate quickly. Kayaking surfers often prefer them for this reason. Some specialized fishing blades also include a J-shaped notch in the blade to retrieve snared fishing lines and hooks.
Straight shaft or bent shaft? Bent-shaft paddles have a “kinked” section that positions hands at a more comfortable angle during the power portion of a stroke, which minimizes discomfort and fatigue in your joints. If you’re changing from a straight-shaft paddle to a bent-shaft paddle, plan on a day on the water to adjust your stroke technique.
Two-piece or four-piece? Both are designed to break down for easier storage. A model with a four-piece shaft simply has shorter sections, so it’s good if you’re hiking somewhere with a portable kayak or taking your paddle on a plane.
Small-diameter shafts offer a less fatiguing grip for paddlers with small hands. If you can’t touch your thumb and index finger together when you grab a paddle, this is you. Shafts aren’t made in multiple diameters: They’re either standard or small diameter.
Blades are either feathered or matched. Matched, or unfeathered, blades are aligned with each other. Feathered blades are not on the same plane; they are offset at an angle to each other, which reduces wind resistance on the blade that’s out of the water.
To wrap it up, if you are getting a kayak, choosing a kayak paddle is equally important, and really it comes to how you will be using your kayak. There are plenty of brick and mortar stores where you can purchase kayak paddles and online sites where you may be able to get kayak paddles for less.
Almost all paddle shafts allow you to rotate them to be matched or feathered. They also allow you to easily adjust the amount of feathering, typically in 15-degree increments. A few let you adjust them to any angle you want.
Note: The terms “right-hand control” and “left-hand control” refer to which hand rotates the shaft during a feathered stroke. Most paddles let you set it up either way.