How to choose a kayak paddle

How to choose a kayak paddle

When you’re dropping in on narrow chutes you want a paddle you can trust to keep you stable and get you right side up again. When you’re paddling for hours and days at a time, you want an efficient paddle that’s easy on your wrists and hands.

  • The way the blade is shaped and sized influences the power and efficiency of your stroke
  • Length of the shaft depends on type of padding, your height and the width of your boat
  • Materials vary by cost, lightness and durability, as well as the way they feel in your hands

Blade shape

All quality blades have an asymmetric shape. This balances the blade when it’s in the water and prevents fluttering or twisting.

Spoon blade

These blades are scooped and provide instant power.

Dihedral blade

These blades are slanting backwards and give a smoother, more stable stroke. The shape helps to reduce flutter and the effort needed to hold the paddle.

Blade size

Blade size affects the amount of power you can apply:

  • Bigger blades are for maximum power if you’re play boating.
  • Medium size blades are for creeking and general river running.
  • Blade size should be matched to your body size: bigger person, bigger blade, smaller person, smaller blade.

Bent vs straight shafts

Bent shafts keep your wrists at a neutral angle to your forearms throughout the stroke. This reduces wrist fatigue and lets you apply power more efficiently and predictably. The more natural alignment also allows all four fingers to easily stay in full contact with the shaft.

Straight shafts are less expensive and stronger, but don’t offer as much performance as bent shafts.

One-piece vs two-piece paddle

One-piece paddles are the best choice for whitewater paddles. The solid design makes them much more durable and long lasting, though their size can be hard to travel with.

Two-piece paddles are largely used for travelling overseas or for when you need to fit them below deck. They are also great as a backup paddle as they are easy to transport. Even the toughest paddle can break, so having a spare with you is a smart idea.

Paddle length

Whitewater kayakers typically select paddles 192-198cm long. To measure a perfect fit, hold the paddle with your elbows bent at 90°. Your hands should be about one hand’s width from where each blade begins.

For creek boating or general river running you might want to go longer and get a paddle at least 196cm. The extra length will provide more leverage and bracing for rolling. If you are play boating and want quick strokes and rapid re-deployment, go to a shorter paddle for a quicker response with each stroke.

Materials

The material the paddle is made of will affect its performance as well as its price. For touring and sea kayaking, you’ll likely prioritize lightness and efficiency over strength. For whitewater kayaking where power and quickness are key, you’ll want a strong material that’s still lightweight enough for quick handling.

Fibre composite

Can be made thinner than other materials so they cut into the water more efficiently.

Fibreglass

Light and moderately flexible, fibreglass is a good mid-range option that balances durability, weight and cost.

Carbon

Stiff and very light. Manufacturers blend different ratios of carbon and fibreglass to create a balance of lightness, stiffness, and flexibility. This is a more expensive option, but might be worth it if you’re focussed on high performance or multi-day efficiency.

Plastic, polypropylene, polyethylene, or nylon

Durable and very low-maintenance, though heavier than fibre composites. Plastic blades with aluminum shafts make tough, inexpensive paddles. They are a great option for beginners, recreational paddlers and what most people choose to carry as a spare.

Wood

Unmatched for its liveliness, flex, and warmth in the hands, but largely replaced by synthetics. Slightly heavier than fibre composites, but lighter than plastic or aluminum. They require some maintenance – from dabbing varnish on a chipped area, to full sanding and refinishing.

Laminated wood

Made with strips of wood bonded with strong glues, they provide greater strength and stiffness than pure wood paddles. They transfer power better than one-piece paddles, but aren’t as lively or shock absorbing.

Additional features

An asymmetric grip is where one section of the shaft (usually in the right side) is oval rather than round. This is referred to as indexing, and it allows you to determine the blade angle without looking at it, just by the feel of it in your hands. Many paddlers find it more comfortable, less prone to twisting and less fatiguing for long excursions.