If you want to enjoy kayaking, it is necessary to buy a quality paddle.
You should be able to make strokes easily and build momentum with each stroke. This requires that you pay special attention to the build materials and shape of the paddle.
Since paddles come in a lot of varieties and shapes, it is hard to pick the right one.
Why Paddle Size Matters
When going on a kayaking trip, paddlers want to have fun. And you can’t have fun when you are uncomfortable. Comfort depends on how you hold the paddles. If the paddle is too long, you won’t be able to lift it or move it smoothly. If it is too short, your hands will get sore and knuckles may rub against the kayak sides. You may also have to bend too far in an uncomfortable position to be able to paddle.
If you want to maneuver your kayak in the direction you want, you will need to have proper paddles. If you want to move through narrow passages, make accurate turns and move forward with force, you will need to choose a paddle carefully.
Beginners find it easy to use paddles with symmetric blades. Similarly, seasoned anglers or kayakers would need different paddles from beginners. For example, racers often use wing paddles to harness higher force. If you choose the wrong paddle, you would get stuck and struggle to paddle to your target location.
Here is a checklist of things to consider to buy the perfect kayak paddle.
First, you need to know how long a paddle you need. As a thumb rule, the wider your kayak is, the longer the paddle should be. But also consider how tall you are. The taller you are, the longer the paddle should be.
Manufacturers set different paddle variants based on the above two factors: boat width and paddler’s height. The paddle should clear the kayak’s gunwales and allow you to maintain proper posture. Your knuckles shouldn’t hit the deck while paddling.
Check the paddle sizing guide below, as given on Aquabound’s website (the chart below is for low-angle kayaking):
What if I fall between two sizes?
If your paddle size lies between any of the two standard sizes, go for the shorter size since it will save you money. From a performance standpoint, you can buy either of the sizes. It also depends on your torso – if you have a big torso, the longer paddle will be better.
The length of your torso is also a key factor for measuring the paddle size. To accurately measure your torso size, sit in a chair with a straight backrest and measure the distance between the seat and your nose. Once done, you can consider the following size guide to select the paddle based on your torso size.
Different Paddling Stroke
Another thing you need to understand is low-angle stroke vs high-angle paddling stroke. In a low-angle stroke, you slightly tilt the paddle shaft. Your upper hand stays below the shoulder. This type of paddling allows you to relax and unwind.
If you are more of an adventurous type and want to move fast while kayaking, the high-angle stroke will work better for you. It consists of tilting the shaft more than usual and keeping the paddle blades moving close to the boat in order to propel the boat forward faster.
Keep in mind that the paddling with high-angle strokes can tire you out since it requires precision. To make high-angle strokes, you need a paddle that is short and has a wider blade.
As with any product, the build quality is a crucial factor to buying a kayak paddle.
The first thing to check is for lightweight blades. Lightweight blades don’t tire you out too quickly and also perform better. Performance also depends on the type of material used to build the blade.
Paddle blades can be made from plastic, fiberglass, carbon fiber or sometimes wood. Each material has its own pros and cons in terms of being lightweight, flexible and durable.
Polypropylene material – Blades made with polypropylene show great resistance to impact. It is a type of plastic that can absorb high-impact shocks. They also last a long time because they don’t break but bend when colliding with rocks, submerged trees or other objects. They are most suitable for regular use or recreation since they are affordable and perform really well.
Nylon or plastic – Nylon/plastic blades are cheap and often used by beginner paddlers. Since the plastic bends upon impact, they can last a long time but they can crack when there is a strong impact. Plastic blades also wear out with exposure to the sun.
Fiberglass – Fiberglass blades are mid-range blades that strike the perfect balance between performance and durability. A fiberglass blade is more lightweight than a plastic blade and doesn’t crack under pressure, although it may lose small shavings.
Carbon-fiber – If you want nothing but the best, buy carbon-fiber paddle blades. They are as light as feathers but also sturdy enough to transfer momentum with each stroke.
Wood – Wooden paddle blades bring flexibility to the paddle and make it look sleek. However, they need a bit of maintenance once in a while. You need to sand and varnish them to keep them in proper condition. They are medium in terms of weight and their price varies depending on the quality of wood.
The most common shaft material is aluminum because it is affordable, sturdy, lasts long and can be maintained easily. However, it is prone to getting too cold or hot when the weather gets extreme, so one should put gloves on before hitting the water. When stowing it away, don’t leave it out in the sun – keep it tucked in shade.
Paddle shafts are also made out of carbon and fiberglass. Both materials are sturdy, lightweight and last long. But of course, they vary in costs.
If you want the right balance between affordability and performance, go for a fiberglass shaft. Fiberglass material is also a bit flexible which helps with performance and durability.
A carbon shaft stands out because it is extremely lightweight. But they are the most expensive. If you paddle quite often and go on longer trips, investing in a carbon shaft paddle makes sense. A carbon shaft allows you to paddle and enjoy the water without getting tired.
So a paddle is made with the materials listed above and varies in terms of performance, sturdiness, flexibility and price.
The blade design determines in which way the paddle will perform with each stroke.
Asymmetrical blade – An asymmetrical blade is wider and longer on one side. It has an angle so when you tilt the shaft it pushes the water forward with a greater force. The force is greater because the asymmetric side of the blade goes deeper into water to produce more force.
Symmetrical blade – A symmetrical blade has similar shape on either side of the shaft. You don’t need to hold them in a particular way to make an effective stroke. This makes them easy to use and perfect for beginners.
Feathered vs Matched Blades
Blades can be of two types: feathered or matched. While feathered blades are positioned at an angle with each other, matched blades align with each other. The benefit of paddling with feathered blades is that you get less wind drag on the blade that is up in the air.
You don’t need to buy feathered or matched blades in separate paddles. Most paddles are adjustable so you can rotate matched blades to convert them into feathered ones. The rotation can be done gradually, fifteen degrees at each step, to set them exactly how you like.
Dihedral blades come with a lifted core throughout the middle that helps reduce flutter and helps water flow equally through each side of the blade. This reduces drag but also affects stability. Therefore, they are meant for more experienced kayakers.
Wing blades are good for harnessing a lot of forward momentum during the forward stroke. However, for all other strokes, a wing blade doesn’t make any difference. There is a misconception that wing paddles are better since racers or competitive kayakers use it – but this isn’t true. They are just better for the forward stroke. They are longer than usual blades. You shouldn’t use a bent shaft with wing blades – always use a straight shaft.
Straight vs Bent
Paddle shafts can be straight or bent with a kink in the center. This kink shape allows you to have a comfortable grip when powering the boat forward. It also means you don’t get tired soon. Most paddlers go with straight shafts.
Two-piece Paddle vs Four-piece Paddle
A paddle can have either two pieces or four pieces. How does it matter? The four-piece paddle is easier to store and a more suitable choice if you are travelling overseas or over a large distance.
Also pay attention to how thick the paddle is. If you have small hands, you should not buy shafts with large diameters since it will tire you out. A quick litmus test is to check if you can touch your thumb with your index finger when holding the shaft. However, most shafts come in standard diameter and work well for most people.
Type of Kayaking
To buy the right kind of paddle, you need to tailor it to the type of kayaking you usually do.
Recreational kayaks are wider than touring kayaks. Therefore, you should buy a longer paddle for recreational kayaking.
For recreation, fiberglass or polypropylene blades will work well. You can choose from either symmetric or asymmetrical blade shapes. When choosing shaft material, stick to fiberglass or aluminum because of their sturdiness and durability.
Fishing kayaks are usually quite wide to provide a spacious platform for mounting rods, casting and reeling. The seating position is also higher off the kayak deck surface to provide wider view. This means you need the longest paddles for a fishing kayak.
The paddle should be sturdy but still lightweight. For this, a paddle with fiberglass material in both shaft and blades will be the best choice.
When buying paddles for a touring kayak, you need to understand two things. First, touring kayaks have the least width out of all kayak types. Second, you need paddles that can help you cover long distances while touring.
This means you need to buy shorter paddles. And choose even shorter if you paddle with a high-angle position as explained above.
Our go-to paddles for touring would be made out of fiberglass material to provide power and durability.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do you pick a kayak paddle size?
The size of the paddle depends on the paddler height and width of the kayak. If you are 5’ to 5’6” tall, you need a 210 cm paddle for a kayak under 23” wide, 220 cm for 23”to 27.75” kayak width, 230 cm from 28” to 32” kayak width and 240 cm for over 32” kayak width.
What should I look for when buying a kayak paddle?
When buying a kayak paddle, you should look for building material of the shaft as well as the blades, weight of the paddle, design of the blade as well as the shaft. Choose fiberglass material since it is lightweight and sturdy. Pick symmetric blades if you are a beginner, otherwise asymmetric.
What is the best kayak paddle for a beginner?
The best kayak paddle is the SeaSense kayak paddle that comes with feathered blades, long shaft and two piece construction. Another option is the Cannon Cascade Kayak Paddle. Its blades are made with fiberglass reinforced material while the shaft is made with aluminum, which makes it sturdy and durable.
Do kayak paddles float?
Yes, kayak paddles float. When you accidentally drop your paddle into the water, it will float and flow in the direction of the current. However, some paddles, like carbon fiber or fiberglass paddles are ultra-lightweight, so they float better than other heavier paddles.
What size paddle do I need for a 10 foot kayak?
If you have a 10 foot kayak, you need to consider its width and your height to select the right paddle size. For example, if you are 5’7” to 6’ tall and your kayak is 28 to 32 inches wide, you should choose a paddle that is 230 cm long. For a complete size guide, refer to the chart given above.
Kayak paddles come in all shapes and sizes. The right size of paddle will help you stay in control and maneuver amidst trying waves. It also ensures that you don’t get tired too quickly.
Consider the important factors mentioned in this guide and choose a size that suits your experience level.