Selecting the right paddle for you and your boat can make your experience on the water much more enjoyable, efficient, and maybe even less painful!
One of the first things you will need to figure out is what length kayak paddle you will need. This largely based on two dimensions; the paddlers height and the width of the kayak. Many of the kayak manufactures will offer a suggested length of paddle with handy chart, depending on the blade and shaft design.
|Kayak Width||Under 23″||24″ to 28″||29″-33″||34″+|
|Paddler Height||Recommended Paddle Length|
|Under 5’5″||210 cm||220 cm||230 cm||240 cm|
|5’5″ – 5’11”||220 cm||230 cm||240 cm||250 cm|
|6’+||220 cm||230 cm||250 cm||260 cm|
As seen in the table above, this is one of those places where metric and English units collide. Most kayak paddles are labeled with their length measured in centimeters, while most kayak widths are listed on spec sheets in inches. If you are unsure on your kayaks width, most sit on top and fishing kayaks will be on the wider end of the spectrum. Lightweight touring kayaks will tend to be on the narrower side and recreational kayaks will be in the medium/wide end of the spectrum.
Blade and Shaft Material
Blade and shaft material will have a large part in the cost of the paddle.
Blades will commonly fall into four main categories:
- Carbon Fiber
Plastic will generally be the cheapest, but on the heavier side. Fiberglass will be lightweight, but at a higher price. Carbon fiber blades will be one of the lightest weight blades and highest performing with a price to match. Wood blades can give a unique look, but will generally not perform as well as the synthetic materials.
Shafts are generally made from aluminum, fiberglass or carbon fiber. Aluminum will be the cheapest, but the most heavy option. The metal can also have a cold feel to the hand. Sometimes aluminum shafts will have a coating or rubber grip to lessen the cold feel. Fiberglass will offer a step up in performance over aluminum. The highest performing paddles will have a carbon fiber shaft. Wood shafts are sometimes seen, but these paddles are more for style rather than performance.
Blades will fall into two categories; high-angle or low-angle.
High-angle blades will generally be wider and are paddled closer to the boat and can provide more speed, but require more technique when paddling.
Low-angle blades will be narrower and are paddled in a more relaxed manner and are best suited for recreational, flat water situations.
Shafts are either straight or bent. Some people may prefer a bent shaft as the angle your hand will travel during the paddle stroke may be more comfortable. Straight shafts are generally less expensive to manufacture and are more popular.
Many paddles will come apart into smaller pieces for easier transport; generally into two or four pieces. The way that these pieces fit and lock together can offer some differences in performance and cost. One of the most popular ferrule systems is the snap-button. The snap button will allow for feathering in set increments at a relatively low costs. Some paddlers do not like the snap-button system because there will be a little “wiggle” in the paddle.
More advanced ferrule systems will allow for paddle extensions, more precise feather angles, and/or a more secure and locked feel. Feathering is when the angles of the blades are offset along the shaft to minimize air resistance during the paddle stroke.
Some paddles will have a nifty feature or two that we didn’t mention above. For example, many fishing paddles will have a hook retrieving notch to help pull out snagged hooks from logs or trees. Many fishing paddles will also have a ruler for measuring fish on the paddle. Be sure to shop around to make sure your not missing out on any extras that will make your time on the water more enjoyable.
Some popular paddle accessories to consider are paddle holders and paddle leashes. These will help secure your paddle when it is not in use or if dropped. Another popular accessory are drip rings. Drip rings prevent water from running down the paddle and into your boat or on you. Most paddles will come with a drip rings, but some may not.