So you have decided on a kayak, and now you need something to propel you. Your choice of paddle depends on the type of kayak you have and the places you plan to go. Also, the more often you kayak, the more critical it is to get the right paddle weight, length, and so on.
Is your boat short and wide? Do you intend to kayak on quiet water, ponds, small lakes, and gentle streams? Or is your boat long and skinny, or perhaps designed for white water and surf?
Depending on your answer, you will have to choose between high-angle and low-angle Paddles.
Paddling Styles, Different strokes for different folks
A low-angle stroke keeps the paddle shaft closer to horizontal and results in a less-fatiguing stroke. This makes it the most popular and versatile way to paddle for recreational kayakers with short, wide boats, as well as touring and long-distance paddlers.
Slightly more specialized is the high-angle stroke, during which the paddle shaft is held closer to vertical while the blade is in the water. This helps supply more power and is used by whitewater and surf kayakers, people performing technical maneuvers, and those looking for a workout.
Kayaking with the correct size shaft allows you to use a lighter grip, which reduces fatigue in the wrist and forearm. Measure from where your palm meets your wrist to the tip of your middle finger. If this distance is less than 6.5 inches, consider a small shaft.
For most situations, recreational, day tripping, and sea kayaking, a low-angle paddle works well. This means a longer shaft with long, narrow blades.
Kayakers who decide on a high-angle stroke are going to look for a shorter-length paddle with a short, wide blade
How much to pay? A good rule of thumb is to spend about 25% of the price of your kayak on a paddle.
Angle of feather
Feather is the difference in angle between the blades, which allows kayakers to reduce the effect of wind on the blade that is out of the water. Basic Paddles have three feathering options (left, right, and neutral) with a predetermined angle, while high-end paddles offer incremental adjustments for a more precise fit. Single-piece paddles have no feathering options.
More shaft options
Most recreational and touring Paddles separate into two pieces, which makes transport simple. This also allows you to easily carry a spare while on the water (sometimes essential). Single-piece paddles are stronger, making them ideal for white water and kayakers in the surf.
Straight vs. bent paddles
Straight-shaft Paddles are easy to use and offer multiple hand positions. They are slightly less expensive to manufacture than bent shaft paddles and suit most kayakers well. Kayakers looking for more long-distance comfort or less wrist strain should take a look at bent-shaft Paddles. The bends allow the wrist a more neutral alignment, which in turn reduces strain on other joints. Bent shafts are more difficult to manufacture and thus are slightly more expensive.
A low-angle stroke requires a longer shaft to reach the water, so most people use a paddle that is 220-240 cm long.
A high-angle stroke suits a shorter paddle best, because a more vertical stroke requires less distance to reach the water. Typically these paddles are 205-215 cm long. (Pure whitewater paddles are even shorter.)
Tall kayakers (more than 6 ft.) and people with wide boats (more than 27 in.) prefer a longer paddle; people with long, narrow boats prefer a shorter one.
There are many suitable paddle materials you can choose, depending on the characteristics you want in your paddle.
- Aluminum shafts are economical and durable, ideal for a lake house. They are heavier than other Paddles and can feel cold.
- Fiberglass shafts are light and rigid, without being too expensive. They are warm on the digits and last a long time.
- Carbon-fiber shafts are incredibly light and amazingly stiff, making them the best choice for performance. They are more expensive than fiberglass.
- Wooden Paddles look great and are warm to the touch. They are heavier and like people who take care of them.
- Plastic is a very common blade material. Depending on the quality of the plastic, it can be very durable and extremely light.
The angle of your stroke will determine the shape of the blade you need. A low-angle stroke requires a long, narrow blade; a high-angle stroke requires a short, wide blade.
Apart from the outline, blades have other performance-enhancing shapes. The most common are asymmetrical profiles and dihedral angles. Asymmetrical paddles simply keep more of the blade below the water during the stroke (all Eastern Mountain Sports paddles are asymmetrical). A dihedral-angle paddle reduces the tendency to flutter through the water.
Paddles with large blades provide more leverage on the water, which make them suitable for stronger kayakers and people performing technical maneuvers. The largest blades adorn the paddles of whitewater kayakers and surf-zone junkies.
Smaller blades suit less powerful kayakers as well as those looking for a more efficient stroke. Don't worry about speed; smaller blades allow a higher cadence, which will let you keep up with anyone.
If you were to hike Mount Washington you would want boots that fit well. Paddles are no different, pick a light paddle with the right length and features to make your time on the water the most memorable possible.