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How Do I Choose a Kayak Paddle?

We all know you never want to be up a creek without a paddle; but only slightly less annoying is being on the water with the wrong paddle. How do you go about choosing the right kayak paddle? Read on to learn some tips, tricks, and insights into how the correct paddle can enhance your performance in the water.

A kayak paddle consists of a shaft with a blade on each side. It is meant to be held by the kayaker who strokes with each blade, alternating on either side of the kayak. It isn’t an oar which is a single blade tool (that often rests on a oarlock attached to the boat). Then, the rower holds one end of the oar and pulls it through the water.  

Kayak Paddle Length

Choosing the correct length for your kayak paddle is important. There are a number of things that impact the length of your paddle.   

  • Your height
  • Width of your kayak
  • Type of kayaking you will be doing

If your kayak paddle is too short, you are liable to continuously hit your hands on the side of the yak and have difficulty reaching the water. A longer paddle (which is also therefore a heavier paddle) will create increased strain which can lead to injury. It also makes your strokes further from the boat creating an inefficient zig-zag.

The type of kayaking you enjoy can also impact the length of your paddle. For example, recreational and sit-on-top kayaks are generally built for stability, so they are wider. You might need a longer paddle to reach the water more comfortably. Your narrower kayaks, like touring and sea kayaks, will necessitate a shorter paddle.

kayak paddle sizing chart

Kayak Paddle Materials / Price

As you might expect there are a variety of materials used to create kayak paddles and the lighter and stronger those materials, the more expensive the paddle. A few things to consider as you select a paddle:

  • Durability
  • Weight
  • Flexibility

You may have heard the truism that saving weight raises performance (and price). True enough. A lighter blade (and shaft) can pay off in less fatigue and how it transfers energy to your stroke. A heavier blade may be more durable. A more flexible blade is less likely to break when struck, but it is also less efficient in the water.

Common materials used in forming kayak paddle shafts include aluminum, fiberglass, and carbon. Aluminum is a great entry level choice as it is lightweight and inexpensive. Fiberglass will keep your hands warmer or cooler than aluminum and it is lighter and stronger. Carbon is the high-end option being both tougher and lighter than both options.

Common materials in creating paddle blades include nylon/polypropylene blades with and without fiberglass or carbon reinforcement and compression molded blades in fiberglass or carbon. The advantage of nylon/polypropylene blades is that the high impact plastic is affordable & durable (will bend instead of break when hitting rocks/obstructions). When reinforced with fiberglass or carbon these blades are stiffer and more efficient so they are a good option for those kayakers who spend long days on the water or go great distance. Carbon blades are the pinnacle of blade materials - lightweight, stiff, and smoothly efficient. It is also the most expensive choice.

Paddle Blade Shape / Size

The size and shape of the blade is also a consideration when choosing a kayak paddle.

Most kayak paddles are asymmetrical (narrower and shorter on one side) and dihedral (with a rib down the center). The rib allows the water to flow smoothly and evenly over both halves creating less flutter. But there are a number of choices when choosing a blade shape.           

  • Angle
    • Low-angle - longer, narrower blade designed for shorter, horizontal strokes. Excellent for beginners and recreational kayakers
    • High-angle - Shorter, wider blade designed to catch and hold the water. Stroked in a longer, closer-to-the-boat path that allows for greater speed. But can lead to greater fatigue if not done precisely.
  • Shape: Flat vs. Dihedral
    • Flat - A blade without any ribbing, whose face is plain.
    • Dihedral - A blade with a center rib. This guides the water smoothly along both halves of the blade increasing the strength of the blade and water flow. It reduces “flutter” and makes for a more efficient stroke.
  • Shape: Symmetrical vs. Asymmetrical
    • Symmetrical: The symmetrical blade is shaped the same all the way around. This means you can hold it anyway you want which makes it very good for beginners.
    • Asymmetrical: An asymmetrical blade has one side narrower/shorter than the other. Because a kayak paddle enters the water at a shallow angle, this asymmetry grabs the water more uniformly and efficiently increasing power transfer.

Kayak Paddle Shaft Shape

Finally, you should consider the shaft shape when choosing a kayak paddle.

  • Straight: Typically, straight shafts are stronger and less expensive, so this makes them extremely common and good for newbie kayakers. However, the straight shaft doesn’t allow you to position your wrists naturally, leading to fatigue and pain.
  • Bent: a bent shaft is excellent for relieving tension on your wrists because of the more natural positioning of your hands. If you are an avid kayaker who likes to spend lots of time out on the water, you might want to invest in a bent shaft.

Check out Brooklyn Kayak Company paddles to get going on the water. Lightweight, durable, adjustable, you can’t go wrong.

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