Many novices gives scant thought to choosing a kayak paddle. The truth is, many experienced kayakers will say it’s as important as the boat. Some will even buy paddles first!
Of course, you know you need a paddle; the double sided paddle that acts not only as a propulsion source, but also as a symbolic representation of a kayaker. That said, depending on your kayaking experience, what kind of kayaking you intend to do, and your personal build, the kayak paddle you need can vary significantly. So what are your options?
What Floats Your Boat?
First, you have to determine what type of kayaking you intend to do. Do you plan to spend most of your days flat water touring or hitting the whitewater? A little of both? While there are generalist paddles available, having a paddle specific to your activity can be very beneficial if you plan to stick to just one water type.
For example if you plan only to leisurely boat, a paddle design that is meant for class IV rapids might be more of a hindrance than it is helpful.
Kayak Paddle Length
The length of your kayak paddle is one its’ most important aspects. The shorter your paddle, within an acceptable length for your height and build, the more efficient your paddling is. You lose less energy between strokes with a shorter paddle length, within a range for your boat and height, but if your paddle is to short it’ll be a pain to use.
Bigger is Better
Paddling style also directly plays into what length of paddle you need and should be taken into consideration before a purchase. While kayak paddles range from 210 cm and 260 cm, an individual with a high angle paddling style will want to get a kayak paddle 5-10 cm longer.
For example while a 5’4 kayaker’s ideal paddle length varies is between 205 cm and 215 cm, whereas someone who is 6’0 or more should look at paddles between 220 cm and 230 cm.
…but not always!
An area you must pay attention to when selecting a kayak paddle is the weight.
The cheaper paddles tend to be heavier. There may not see like a big difference between a 38oz paddle and a 32 oz paddle. Once you lift and drop it a few hundred times you’ll be sure to notice it!
So wherever possible, get the lightest paddle you can afford. It’s always a good idea to have a backup paddle so you can always upgrade the one that comes with the boat and keep the original.
Paddle Blade Design
Another important consideration when buying a new paddle is the blade design. Some paddle blades are wide and some are narrow. This will greatly impact how much “bite” they take out of the water.
For example, a wider paddle will take a bigger bite. This means it’s easier to accelerate and easier to make sharp turns quickly. Just what you need in a smaller lake or river.
Conversely, the narrower type is much easier to pull through the water and go for longer distances in a straight line. That’s why this type of paddle is the constant companion of ocean kayaks.
What your paddle is made of can vary and also needs to be considered.
With newer plastics becoming increasingly popular, making sure your paddle can withstand multiple excursions and the stress they bring is important.
What your paddle’s made of directly impacts cost. While higher quality paddles may be made with some of the best compounds around, they may not necessarily fit what you want to do.
Whitewater kayaks paddles are designed to fit the narrower and deeper sitting whitewater kayaks, so they don’t need to be as long. They also are designed for better boat maneuverability, necessary to navigate obstacle ridden whitewater routes.
Whitewater paddles tend to be significantly more durable. They also are heavier because of this, made to withstand the frequent beating with the many rocks and logs they’ll come in contact with.
Even within whitewater kayaking your paddle may vary, with different oar shapes designed for the different adventures you may be going on.
Brands like Werner Paddles have a specific paddle for every type of whitewater encounter. With higher priced premium carbon specialized paddles all the way down to cheaper plastics and aluminums, there is a paddle for every occasion and price.
If you’re looking to paddle out on flatwater, whether just to hang out by the shore or go on a extensive flatwater trek, your paddle will look a bit different.
Less strength is needed to paddle in these situations, which makes lighter paddles ideal. Many flatwater paddles come with detachable oars, giving them a bit more utility. This also makes them cheaper to fix, having only to buy a replacement oar opposed to an entire paddle.
Flatwater oars also have the same range of quality and therefore price. If you’re looking for an economical range of dual purpose paddles, check out Intex as they have some good ones for under the $50 mark.
Ocean Kayak Paddles
As mentioned earlier, ocean paddles will typically be a lot narrower. This is because you won’t need to turn as much as a narrow blade causes less friction in the water and you won’t tire as much.
Werner also makes some great ocean paddles. They have a good ranger of fiberglass paddles but for those on a budget, the carbon-reinforced skagit is a stand-out.
Fishing Kayak Paddles
The good news for kayak anglers is the best fishing paddle is a paddling paddle.
There’s no need to break the bank on a super-light paddle that’ll defy the laws of gravity. Most inexpensive recreation kayak paddles will do a good job as you’ll aim to be floating more than paddling.
If you were after something a bit special, there’s the Bending Branches’ “Angler Classic” paddle. It’s a great fiberglass construction but there’s a ruler on the paddle to measure fish and water depth. Both could come in really helpful.
One Paddle To Row Them All?
Overall, it’s important to know your own preferences. How do you like to paddle and where do you want do it? Once you’ve got that in mind, matching your height to the right paddle length is key for a successful paddle choice.
Once you have the perfect paddle for your build, style, and wallet, all you need to do now is add water 🙂