How to Choose the Right Kayak Paddle
November 21, 2022
Next to picking the right kayak, choosing the right kayak paddle will have the greatest impact on your boating adventures — perhaps even more so. Consider that you will be carrying the weight of the paddle, swinging it with each stroke nearly the entire time you are on the water. A paddle that fits you and your paddling style will maximize enjoyment, while reducing your fatigue level and chance of injury.
In order to choose the right paddle, you will need to answer a few questions. First, what is your style of kayaking: recreational, fishing, touring, sea or whitewater? Second, what paddle style will you be using? Third, what is the width of your kayak? And, finally, how tall are you?
Now let’s take that basic info and find you the right paddle!
There are two types of paddling styles: low and high angle. A low angle stroke keeps the paddle relatively parallel to the water. It is well suited to recreational, fishing, touring and sea kayaking, especially when distance is more important than speed. A good low angle stroke can be very efficient, with only marginal impact on the elbows and shoulders. Low angle paddling requires a longer paddle.
A high angle stroke is more aggressive and powerful. The paddle is kept nearly perpendicular (or vertical) to the water and is well suited for rough water or when speed is the primary objective. High angle paddling can cause a strain on the wrists, elbows and shoulders, but good paddling form can overcome these drawbacks. High angle paddling requires a shorter paddle.
Determining Your Paddle Length
If you’re a recreational paddler or kayak fisherman the width of your kayak is going to be the most important factor in choosing the right paddle length. Recreational and fishing kayaks are generally quite wide, typically 28- 36 inches. And wider boats require longer paddles.
Low Angle Size Guide
Touring and sea kayaks are generally narrower than recreational kayaks and designed for more performance and efficiency. They can be paddled with a low or high angle stroke, depending on your paddling style and objectives. If you use a lower angle stroke reference the Low Angle Size Guide above. If you use a higher stroke, reference the High Angle Size Guide below.
High Angle Size Guide
Most whitewater kayaks are very near the same overall width, so your height and style of paddling are the factors to consider. Generally, you should pick a shorter length for playboating/freestyle and a longer length for river running and creeking.
Whitewater Size Guide
The Aqua-Bound Manta Ray Carbon Posi-Lok 2-Piece Kayak Paddle (pictured below) is a recreational paddle with a high-angle blade design to give you more horsepower for increased control.
Paddle shafts can be either straight or bent. Straight shafts are stronger, lighter and less expensive. Bent shafts are designed with a ‘kink’ in the shaft that allows your hands and wrists to be in a neutral position during the power portion of the stroke. They tend to be slightly heavier, cause less wrist and shoulder fatigue and are a bit more expensive.
Paddles come in 1-piece, 2-piece or 4-piece variations. Most recreational, fishing, touring and sea kayak paddles come in 2 and 4-piece options. Whitewater paddles are usually 1-piece for durability. Many creek kayakers will carry a second 4-piece paddle in case they lose their primary paddle while on the river. A 4-piece paddle breaks down nicely, which is great if you need to carry a spare or travel light.
Paddle shafts are mostly made in only one shaft diameter, but kids paddles and some high-end paddles also offer a smaller diameter option. This smaller shaft diameter makes gripping the paddle easier for those with smaller hands.
BLADE SHAPE BASICS
A longer thinner blade is designed for low angle paddling. This shape takes less effort to pull through the water, which makes it great for relaxed cruising or paddling long distances.
A stubbier wider blade is used for high angle paddling. It works well for a more athletic vertical stroke, and when a higher cadence, or faster paddling swing, is desired. Rough conditions and moving water are well suited for this more aggressive and powerful blade shape.
A feathered paddle is a paddle where the blades are at different angles in relation to each other. This is usually accomplished through a ferrule or an adjustable joint in the center of a two-piece paddle.The advantage of a feathered paddle is that it puts your body in the best possible posture to get the most power and efficiency out of each stroke. It also allows the blade that is out of the water to slice through the air more easily, which is really important on a windy day.
Whitewater paddles are usually one-piece and set up at 0, 15, 30 or 45 degree-offset angles. General river runners use higher offset paddles, usually 30 or 45 degrees, which helps promote the best posture for a quick, powerful and efficient forward stroke. Playboaters tend to use lower offset angles, like 0 or 15 degrees, which helps when actively engaging both blades on some freestyle maneuvers. Most 1 piece whitewater paddles come with a standard 30 degree offset these days.
Touring and recreational paddles usually feature a simple push pin design ferrule for 0 degree, or 60 degree offsets with left or right hand control. Some of the more advanced ferrules will offer an infinitely adjustable offset to match your exact preference or the weather conditions you are paddling in.
The price of a paddle depends on its materials and design. Plastics will be cheaper, while composites are more expensive. Carbon-fiber is generally the best performing material since it’s so light, but it’s also the most expensive.
Straight shafts are less expensive than bent shafts, as bent shafts require more engineering and materials.
Your personal budget and performance requirements will determine how much you spend on a paddle. A basic recreational paddle, like the Aqua-Bound Manta Ray Hybrid Paddle is around $185. A top of the line touring paddle, like the Werner Camano Carbon Bent Shaft Kayak Paddle will set you back about $500. But, rest assured, there are many kayak paddles in between those two price points.