In addition to the kayak itself, your paddle has the greatest impact on your performance on the water. Even a short trip involves thousands of strokes, so a good paddle can make all the difference. To choose a kayak paddle, you should consider four basic ideas:
- Length: Your boat width and your length determine your paddle length.
- Materials and Price: Lightweight materials improve performance, but add to the price of a paddle.
- blade selection: the size and shape of your paddle blade will affect the overall efficiency in the water.
- Shaft choice: A curved shaft or feathered blades can also improve the effectiveness of a paddle.
Picking out the right size (length) paddle is surprisingly easy. The wider your boat is, the longer your paddle should be. Your height is also a factor, especially for a narrower boat: longer paddlers need longer paddles.
So, the paddle size is made based on those two factors. The table below is for Guma Paddles. It is a good idea to check the website of any brand you are considering as you may find slight deviations from the specifications below:
If you are in between sizes, it is generally better to go shorter. Either size would probably work, but you'll save a few grams with a shorter paddle. However, if you are proportioned with a shorter hull then the extra reach will come in handy and you should go for the longer paddle.
Low and high angle paddles
The low angle stroke is done with the shaft tilted only slightly - your top hand stays below your shoulder level. This stroke is ideal for relaxed, recreational flat water kayaking.
With a more tilted shaft and blade pad close to the boat, the high angle stroke is one some paddlers go to for more speed. The shot requires precision and is exhausting if you don't have that precision. It requires a shorter paddle and wider blade than a paddle you'd use for a low angle stroke.
Paddles are for low or high angle kayaking, and the size charts are different for each. The table above is for low angle paddling.
The rule of thumb that weight savings increases performance as well as price applies here too. Because you lift your blade higher than your shaft, lightweight materials pay off in a reduction in fatigue. Different blade materials also differ in how well they transfer energy to your stroke.
"Plastic" is a collective term here. In specifications you can see variations such as 'polymer' or 'polypropylene' or plastic blends impregnated with nylon or fiberglass. Each could yield a modest gain in performance (and price). And "composite" is a collective term for carbon fiber and glass fiber.
Plastic / nylon blades
The inexpensive leader, plastic, is often chosen by recreational paddlers who think it is indestructible. However, it can crack and deteriorate if left in the sun. The flexibility of plastic can keep it from breaking in half, but flexibility in the water comes at the expense of the efficiency of your shot.
These are in the middle of the price range and offer excellent performance and durability. A fiberglass blade is lighter than plastic and can crumble, but it usually doesn't crack all the way through. Rigid fiberglass blades are efficient in the water.
Carbon fiber blades
If you're willing to pay a high price for top performance, opt for carbon fiber. Truly ultra-light, but also ultra-stiff for excellent energy transfer with every hit.
Plastic shafts are rare. Aluminum, the most wallet-friendly shaft material, is durable and usable. It can also get very cold or hot, so it may be helpful to put on gloves before packing in cold weather, and you should store it in the shade when it's warm.
Carbon and fiberglass shafts are durable, strong and lightweight. Combining one of those shaft materials with one of those lightweight composite blade materials creates your most lightweight and efficient paddle option - and the price reflects that level of performance.
Most paddle blades today have an asymmetrical dihedral shape.
An asymmetrical blade is relatively narrow and shorter on one side. That creates an angle so that the surface of the blade is more even as it pushes through the water.
You can see a dihedral angle on the rib in the center. This allows the 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 right past the boat.
Because they are lighter, narrower blades are comfortable for paddling long stretches; this is especially useful during a day tour or a multi-day trip.
Wider blades lend themselves to fast, powerful strokes that allow for quick acceleration. For this reason, kayak surfers often prefer it.
Some specialist fishing blades also have a J-shaped notch in the blade to retrieve tied fishing lines and hooks.
Straight shank or curved shank? Curved shank paddles have a "kinked" portion that positions the hands at a more comfortable angle during the force portion of a stroke, minimizing discomfort and fatigue in your joints. If you're changing from a straight-stemmed paddle to a curved-stemmed paddle, plan a day on the water to adjust your hitting technique.
Two-piece or four-piece? Both are designed to be broken down for easier storage. A model with a four-piece stem simply has shorter parts, so it's good if you're hiking somewhere with a portable kayak or taking your paddle on the plane.
Small diameter shafts provide a less fatiguing grip for paddlers with small hands. If you can't touch your thumb and index finger when you grab a paddle, this is you. Shafts are not made in multiple diameters: they are standard or small diameter.
The blades are either rotated or matched. Matching or non-turned blades are aligned with each other. The turned blades are not in the same plane; they are obliquely offset from each other, which reduces the wind resistance on the leaf emerging from the water.
With almost all paddle shafts you can rotate them to match or turn them. They also allow you to easily adjust the amount of turn, usually in 15 degree increments. With a few, you can adjust them to any angle you want.
Note: The terms "right-hand operation" and "left-hand operation" refer to which hand rotates the shaft during a spring movement. With most paddles you can set it in both ways.
We hope this article will help you. If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment in the comment box below or give us a call. Do you know what you need? Take a look at our webshop. Goodbye!
* Photos are from rei.com