Beyond looking for the right kayak, beginners have to find the right kayak paddle too. Many kayakers argue over the most efficient length. To get the right paddle length, you evaluate it with a few factors like boat dimensions, body structure and paddle stroke preference. Your hands will wrap around the paddle all day long. The strokes from your paddle will propel your kayak through the water either quickly or slowly depending on the kayak paddle that you have chosen and hopefully prefer.
The kayak paddle matters for another reason. You could be paddling out on the water for hours or days at a time. Having an effective paddle ensures that you don’t put strain on your hands and wrists. Poor wrist alignment can lead to a condition known as tendonitis. As a kayaker, you want to take active measures to protect your wrists.
Step #1: Consider the Construction Materials
Paddles make use out of different materials that include aluminum, fiberglass, plastic, carbon fiber and wood. Depending on budget, style and preference, you will choose a material that fits your needs.
The cost-effectiveness of aluminum paddles have made them a popular choice for beginners. You have a low-cost paddle that averages anywhere from $15 to $60. Aluminum feels robust in hand, and it resists corrosion. When you paddle on the water, you need this because the water can break down the paddle materials, especially if it is saltwater.
The downside of aluminum is that it doesn’t feel good on the hands for cold days. You’d wish you bought a paddle made from another material. Remedy this through wearing thin gloves. Aluminum paddles have one other issue: They weigh more than fiberglass or the coveted carbon fiber paddles.
Fiberglass paddles provide you with a happy middle ground. They weigh less than aluminum paddles, but they usually cost less than carbon fiber paddles. Pricing for aluminum paddles range from $250 to $400. They can cost as much as carbon fiber, but kayakers used these paddles more commonly for recreational purposes. The paddle feels light, stiff and durable in the hand.
You might feel steered away from fiberglass paddles because the price can be as high as carbon fiber paddles. A lot of beginners will be turned off by the pricing, but they may learn what a difference these construction materials make later.
Kayakers choose plastic paddles when they want a medium-priced paddle for recreational purposes. Plastic paddles work especially well for short day trips, and you might use this paddle while playing around up in the cabin. Some kayakers buy a plastic paddle as a spare in case they lose their main. The price of plastic paddles will range from $15 to $150.
Unfortunately, plastic paddles weigh more than carbon fiber and fiberglass paddles. Their thicker blades make them less ideal for paddling through the water fast. That and the flex to the plastic blade means that you don’t shoot through the water as quickly. Choosing between plastic paddles and aluminum, the aluminum paddle has more advantages.
A traditional approach to kayaking, wooden paddles look great, and they don’t weigh much. The wood paddle has one advantage over aluminum in that it feels warm to the touch even on colder days. Wooden paddles have shock absorption characteristics that make paddling through the water easier. Considering you will make 1,000 strokes for every mile, you want to do what you can to make paddling easier. This paddle wouldn’t feel out of place even for a long-distance trek. The cost of wooden paddles will depend on the species of wood chosen. You could pay $25 for a wooden kayak paddle, but you could pay as much as $300 for high-quality wooden paddles that use Red Alder or Basswood.
The biggest disadvantage of wooden paddles comes from how you have to varnish and sand them every two to three years to maintain them. This is the only kayak paddle where you have to worry about maintenance.
Carbon Fiber Paddles
Coveted in the kayaking community, you might look at carbon fiber paddles as the caviar of the kayaking world. They weigh less than paddles made from other materials, and you can skitter through the water at much faster speeds. For long kayaking treks with your buddies, the carbon fiber paddle becomes the perfect companion. It doesn’t weigh much, which might sound like a small thing, but like with backpacking, when you paddle for miles upon miles, a couple of extra pounds will tire you out faster. Carbon fiber paddles will range anywhere from $250 to $350.
Like aluminum, this paddle can feel cold on the hands. It doesn’t feel as cold as aluminum, however. The other disadvantage comes from the price tag, but as the saying goes, “You get what you pay for.”
Step #2: Understanding Paddle Size
Knowing what paddle size you should buy is crucial to having the paddle feel good in the boat. The size will depend on your torso and the size of the boat. Here’s a look at a paddle size chart to help you decide on paddle size:
- 22 inches – Youth 180 cm
- 24 inches – Youth 180 to 200 cm
- 26 inches – 190 to 210 cm
- 28 inches – 200 to 220 cm
- 30 inches – 210 to 230 cm
- 32 inches – 220 to 240 cm
- 34 inches – 230 to 250 cm
- 36 inches – 240 to 250 cm
- 38 inches – 250 cm
To measure this correctly, you will sit down in a chair and measure the distance between the seat and your nose with a measuring tape.
Important to note: The different styles of paddles will call for different lengths. For racing, whitewater kayaking and playboating, you will want a shorter kayak paddle length because you will take fast and short strokes to keep control of the boat. With a more leisurely pace, a longer paddle size won’t be as big of a disadvantage.
Step #3: Straight Paddle vs Bent Paddle
Straight paddles tend to dominate the market, but you can buy bent paddles and get an extra advantage. Bent paddles were built to put less stress on the wrist as you paddle through the water. One of the most common injuries to kayakers is known as tendonitis where the wrist has inflammation in the tendon. This can make paddling painful. You might use bent paddles to lower the stress on your wrist as you paddle through the water.
Bent paddles often cost more than straight paddles, but it can stave off a common problem with your wrists later. While bent paddles can reduce the stress on your wrists, not everyone likes how the bent paddle feels. It can stop you from making essential maneuvers.
Step #4: One-Piece vs Two-Piece Paddles
Again, whether you choose a one-piece paddle or a two-piece paddle comes down to personal preference. A lot of people like the two-piece paddles because they can use the ferrule to make them smaller. In a car with limited space, it makes the paddle less visible.
The problem with two-piece paddles comes from how they break far more easily than a one-piece paddle. As the ferrule starts to wear our from water and debris, it becomes increasingly vulnerable to snapping in half. Once this part of the paddle breaks, you could be on the hook for another $250 to $300 paddle.
One-piece paddles, on the other hand, have become a popular choice because they don’t weigh as much as two-piece paddles. For long-distance kayakers who do multi-day treks, they often choose the one-piece paddle. The structure of a two-piece paddle has also made them less efficient in the water. You have to make more strokes. Ultimately, this comes down to personal choice, but two-piece paddles offer better maneuverability in the car and everywhere else. You can make them smaller.
Step #5: What You Need to Know About the Blades
You need to know about the blades of a paddle because this impacts how fast you move through the water. You have a variety of blades that include:
- Greenland paddle
- Low angle paddle
- Wing-shaped blade
- Dihedral blades
- High angle paddle
An ideal choice for long treks, Greenland paddles have long blades that let them cut through the water with ease. You can make powerful strokes with the Greenland paddles while exercising core muscles in the body. Greenland paddles can take some adjusting to, but they were used for centuries and have a shape like an airplane propeller. You will have a harder time losing a Greenland paddle because it has natural buoyancy.
Low Angle Paddle
They call it the low angle paddle because you hold it horizontally in the water with both hands close together. Low angle paddling feels less tiresome, which makes it a good choice for long treks. These blades will be thinner, and they won’t have as much width, and that lets you cut through the water more easily.
With a shallow-scooped shape, the wing-shaped blade puts power and efficiency behind its blade. You can make some fantastic forward strokes! Kayak racers love to use the wing-shaped blade because it lets them move much faster. This paddle is not recommended for recreational users because it will feel awkward in the hands, and you won’t have a practical use for it. Someone who would prefer to take their time and enjoy the water won’t like the wing-shaped blade as much. As you paddle through the water, the wing-shaped blade takes an almost vertical angle through the water for greater power and propulsion.
Dihedral blades have two different angles on the blades of the paddle. You have two power faces. With dihedral blades, the paddles will slope down slightly from the middle of the blade. Designers of this blade intended to eliminate vibration and give you greater pull when cutting through the water. The downside of the dihedral blades are that they can create more drag as you cut through the water. This choice might work well for a beginner, but dihedral blades can be annoying for more advanced kayakers.
High Angle Paddle
High angle paddles mean that you will hold them more vertically to the water. Think of the common canoe paddles, but you’d do the same with a kayak. Some kayakers like this because they can put more power behind their strokes, which equates to greater speed. High angle paddles have commonly been used for whitewater kayaking and racing. They propel you through the water much faster, but a high angle paddle hands you more control over the paddle. In a whitewater situation where the current can offer up challenging conditions, this can make a big difference.
Step #6: What About the Blade Size?
The blade size chosen will have an impact on the kayaking experience. You can get the maximum push through the water with the larger blade size. They meant to use larger blade sizes for playboating. This type of kayaking uses a whitewater spot to perform different moves. They call this playboating.
Medium-sized blades do well with river runs and creeking. Finally, you have smaller blades, which were intended for recreational use. The blade size is designed with a purpose, but you should match the blade size with the size of the person. For example, use a bigger blade with a bigger person and a smaller blade with a smaller person.
Hopefully, this tutorial on kayaking paddles has been informative, and you enjoyed it. Everything outlined here matters because it can help you to buy the right paddle for your next kayak. When I first started kayaking, I thought a kayak paddle was just a kayak paddle. I didn’t realize how many variations you had. Furthermore, I thought $30 was a lot to spend on a kayak paddle, but after doing the sport a while, you learn how paddles can cost far more than $30. Anyone who wants a quality kayak paddle will want to pay a little more. Someone only starting may find that the lower end paddles will work fine. What did you think of the article? We invite you to share your thoughts in the comments below for an active discussion.
My name is Bryan and I’m the chief editor of kayakiye.com. My goal is to share my experience with readers of kayakiye.com. Here I tell you how to choose the perfect kayak for fishing, camping, and traveling. I share reviews of the best kayaks on the market. I hope that my blog will be useful to Kayakers and Fishing folks.