Next to picking the right kayak, choosing the right kayak paddle will have the greatest impact on your boating adventures — perhaps even more so. Consider that you will be carrying the weight of the paddle, swinging it with each stroke nearly the entire time you are on the water. A paddle that fits you and your paddling style will maximize enjoyment, while reducing your fatigue level and chance of injury.
In order to choose the right paddle, you will need to answer a few questions. First, what is your style of kayaking: recreational, fishing, touring, sea or whitewater? Second, what paddle style will you be using? Third, what is the width of your kayak? And, finally, how tall are you?
Now let’s take that basic info and find you the right paddle!
There are two types of paddling styles: low and high angle. A low angle stroke keeps the paddle relatively parallel to the water. It well suited to recreational, fishing, touring and sea kayaking, especially when distance is more important than speed. A good low angle stroke can be very efficient, with only marginal impact on the elbows and shoulders. Low angle paddling requires a longer paddle.
A high angle stroke is more aggressive and powerful. The paddle is kept nearly perpendicular (or vertical) to the water and is well suited for rough water or when speed is the primary objective. High angle paddling can cause a strain on the wrists, elbows and shoulders, but good paddling form can overcome these drawbacks. High angle paddling requires a shorter paddle.
Determining Your Paddle Length
If you’re a recreational paddler or kayak fisherman the width of your kayak is going to be the most important factor in choosing the right paddle length. Recreational and fishing kayaks are generally quite wide, typically 26- 30 inches. And wider boats require longer paddles.
|Low Angle Size Guide|
|Paddler Height||Boat Width|
|Under 23”||23”-28”||28”-32”||Over 32”|
|Under 5’||210 cm||220 cm||230 cm||240 cm|
|5’-5’6”||215 cm||220 cm||230 cm||240 cm|
|5’6”-6’||220 cm||220 cm||230 cm||240 cm|
|Over 6’||220 cm||230 cm||240 cm||250 cm|
Touring and sea kayaks are generally narrower than recreational kayaks and designed for more performance and efficiency. They can be paddled with a low or high angle stroke, depending on your paddling style and objectives. If you use a lower angle stroke reference the Low Angle Size Guide above. If you use a higher stroke reference the High Angle Size Guide below.
|High Angle Size Guide|
|Paddler Height||Boat Width|
|Under 25”||Over 26”|
|Under 5’||200 cm||220 cm|
|5’-5’6”||205 cm||220 cm|
|5’6”-6’||210 cm||220 cm|
|Over 6’||215 cm||230 cm|
Most whitewater kayaks are very near the same overall width, so your height and style of paddling are the factors to consider. Generally, you should pick a shorter length for playboating/freestyle and a longer length for river running and creeking.
|Whitewater Size Guide|
|Your Height||Paddle Length|
|Under 5’2”||188-194 cm|
|Over 6’1”||196-204 cm|
Paddle shafts can be either straight or bent. Straight shafts are easier to make, stronger, lighter and the less expensive. Bent shafts are designed with a ‘kink’ in the shaft that allows your hands and wrists to be in the best possible position during the power portion of the stroke. They tend to be slightly heavier, higher performance, cause less fatigue and a bit more expensive.
Paddles come in 1-piece, 2-piece or 4-piece variations. Most recreational, fishing, touring and sea kayak paddles come in 2 and 4-piece options. Whitewater paddles are usually 1-piece for durability. Many creek kayakers will carry a second 4-piece paddle in case they lose their primary paddle while on the river. A 4-piece paddle breaks down nicely, which is great if you need to carry a spare or travel light.
Paddle shafts are mostly made in only one shaft diameter, but kids paddles and some high-end paddles also offer a smaller diameter option. This smaller shaft diameter makes gripping the paddle easier for those with smaller hands.
BLADE SHAPE BASICS
A longer thinner blade is designed for low angle paddling. This shape takes less effort to pull through the water, which makes it great for relaxed cruising or paddling long distances.
A stubbier wider blade is used for high angle paddling. It works well for a more athletic vertical stroke, and when a higher cadence is desired. Rough conditions and moving water are well suited for this more aggressive and powerful blade shape.
A feathered paddle is a paddle where the blades are at different angles in relation to each other. This is usually accomplished through a ferrule or an adjustable joint in the center of a two-piece paddle.The advantage of a feathered paddle is that it puts your body in the best possible posture to get the most power and efficiency out of each stroke. It also allows the blade that is out of the water to slice through the air more easily, which is really important on a windy day.
Whitewater paddles are usually one-piece and set up at 0, 15, 30 or 45 degree-offset angles. General river runners use higher offset paddles, usually 30 or 45 degrees, which helps promote the best posture for a quick, powerful and efficient forward stroke. Playboaters tend to use lower offset angles, like 0 or 15 degrees, which helps when actively engaging both blades on some freestyle maneuvers.
A paddle with no feather, where both blades are at the same angle, is easiest for beginner kayakers and people with wrist injuries. The paddler’s grip does not change throughout the stroke when a paddle is has no offset.
The price of a paddle depends on its materials and design. Plastics will be cheaper, while composites more expensive. Carbon-fiber is generally the best performing material, but also the most expensive.
Straight shafts are less expensive than bent shafts, as bent shafts require more engineering, custom tooling and build time.
Your personal budget and performance requirements will determine how much you spend on a paddle. A basic recreational paddle, like the Carlisle Magic Plus will set you back about $100. A top of the line touring paddle, like the Werner Shuna Carbon Bent Shaft, will set you back about $425. But, rest assured, there are many kayak paddles in between those two price points.