If you’ve recently decided to take up kayaking, you’re likely already shopping for equipment! Going online is the best idea first and foremost. There are plenty of online stores – independent and otherwise – specializing in fantastic boats, paddles and more besides. But how do you know which paddles will work best for you? Can you buy any paddle for use with any kayak? Usually, only when you buy an inflatable kayak it comes with paddles. In this guide, we’ll be finding out.
Before You Start Shopping
Before you start shopping for the right paddle for your needs, it is a good idea to understand why picking the perfect fit matters so much. There are a few reasons why you should be careful in selecting the right paddle. These may include:
- Finding the correct length for your height and arm span
- Finding the right paddle to fit your lifestyle and experience
- Finding the right shape of blade
Therefore, you’d be forgiven for thinking that one paddle fits all. Many big-name kayaks will arrive with a boat only – it’s rare you’ll get a package with paddles and/or oars included. This is often because each kayaker is slightly different in what they need and want. It’s also because the kayaking experience can be tailored and tuned as you see fit.
Bear in mind that too short a paddle could see you stunted in your movements. Too long a paddle, and you could find yourself over-exerted or under unnecessary pain or stress. For your health, enjoyment and long-term experience, picking a great paddle makes perfect sense. But where on earth do you start?
Different Types of Paddle
Paddles, regardless of size, length, and shape, generally fall under a handful of types. These are:
- Touring kayak paddles
- Recreational kayak paddles
- Performance kayak paddles
- Whitewater kayak paddles
These are the most common types you’ll find online and in stores. It’s important to know the difference between them and where they will come in most handy, so let us take a quick look at the benefits of each.
Touring Kayak Paddles
Touring paddles are generally an excellent choice for long trips, and for those kayakers who find themselves out in their boat quite a lot. Usually available in lightweight construction, these paddles are reliable and robust for real adventurers. They are also perfect for slow-moving water and general exploration.
Recreational Kayak Paddles
Recreational paddles are better suited to shorter trips and for exercise. They are generally more affordable, making them an ideal choice for beginners looking to work their way up to more extensive options. These paddles are usually heavier than other types, however, meaning that they may take some getting used to. In any case, they are incredibly durable and are well worth the money if you’re not taking to the water too often.
Performance Kayak Paddles
Performance paddles, as the name suggests, place full emphasis on extensive performance. These paddles are seen as more capable and more high-tech than other options. They are particularly lightweight and are ergonomically designed to allow comfort through extensive use. Paddling a kayak of any shape and size can get exhausting. Therefore, you may wish to take on a performance paddle to encourage ease of use and maximum flexibility.
Whitewater Kayak Paddles
Whitewater paddles, fairly obviously, are designed for heavy currents and whitewater rafting and kayaking. These paddles are particularly efficient and durable, often thickened to provide extra strength in dramatic water conditions. Any other paddles would run the risk of breaking in heavy water and testing conditions. Therefore, if you’re set to go kayaking under extreme circumstances, it’s well worth considering going straight for the whitewater accessories.
Knowing which length of paddle to get will depend upon both your height and the width of the kayak you wish to use. If you are over 6 foot in height, for example, you will likely need to buy a paddle of at least 220cm in length up to a maximum of 260cm. The length of your paddle will increase with both your height and your kayak width. Therefore, if you are relatively tall and have a wide kayak, you can rely on buying a paddle of considerable length.
The different types of kayak available, as detailed above, arrive in different widths.
- Performance kayaks are around 19” to 22” in width, and are among the narrowest available. You’ll need paddle lengths from between 210cm and 220cm.
- Touring kayaks measure from 22” to 25” in width and are considered mid-range. You’ll need paddle lengths from between 210cm and 230cm.
- Recreational kayaks are the widest at a range between 26” and 30”. You’ll generally need paddle lengths for these kayaks falling between 230cm and 260cm.
- Whitewater kayaks are measured less on the whole – as paddler height is more of a crucial factor.
To measure your kayak, if you are unsure, you merely need to take a tape measure and measure from the widest points of the boat. However, boat width is something which will generally be advised to you at the point of sale, either online or in-store.
If you’re set to opt for a whitewater kayak, anyone under 5’8” in height will do best by purchasing a paddle between 188cm and 196cm in length, while those taller may benefit from paddles between 192cm and 204cm.
Where possible, it’s a good idea to try out a paddle for size and comfort. Buying online can restrict this slightly, but do bear in mind that most stores will offer a money back program for you to change a paddle for a longer size if you need to. Make sure you’re fully aware of your consumer rights when buying!
Which Blade Shape Should I Choose?
Once you’re out on the water, you’ll start to get a feel for your ideal paddling style. For those completely new to kayaking, it’s perhaps a little more challenging to know which blade type and shape to look for. However, once you’ve been paddling for a while, you may want to mix things up. Kayak paddle blades generally differ between high angle and low angle options.
High Angle Blades
Paddles with high angle blades are wider and shorter on the whole. A paddler making the most of a shorter, wider blade or shaft will likely be looking to exert more power and speed. These blades are perfect for trickier waters and for those looking for big adventures. You’ll generally be keeping the paddle shaft up at a more vertical angle while stroking to make the most of these blades.
Low Angle Blades
Low angle blades are more preferred by those working at a more relaxed pace. Gentle paddling is more horizontal to the water, meaning that low angle options are perfect for those paddlers looking to drift through calmer waters. Thin blades are gentle, steady and make the most of energy exerted.
Blade and Shaft Materials
The construction of your paddle can make all the difference, too. Material weight can make all the difference when it comes to the power of your stroke. Lighter options, generally, are more popular with regard to reducing fatigue. However, your paddling style may demand a heavier construction.
Paddle blade materials can vary just as much as shaft options – here is our pick of the most common, and why they are worthy of consideration.
Along with nylon options, these blades are very common and are the most affordable on the market. They offer some control from trip to trip but aren’t the most durable choices available.
Fiberglass blades are seen as the mid-ground option in terms of performance and cost. They’re lighter than plastic blades, and are generally more resistant to steady water. They perhaps won’t cut through heavy current or whitewater, however.
Carbon blades offer peak performance and are the lightest blades on the market. They are, however, also the most expensive.
Once again, there are a few materials to choose from when it comes to the main body of your paddle shaft.
Plastic options are, again, the most affordable, but the least reliable. You likely won’t find many paddles made from plastic.
Aluminum is generally the mid-ground option for shafts. It’s super-durable but very reactive to temperature, meaning it should be stored sensibly.
Once again, carbon leads the way. The most lightweight and most durable, pairing a carbon-fiber blade and shaft is perhaps the most expensive combination, but the most reliable.
Final Things to Consider
We hope you’ve found this quick guide to kayak paddles helpful. Do bear in mind that many of the choices you make will be based on your paddling style and experience, so you may wish to make some changes the more experienced you become.
Other factors such as feathering, which can reduce wind resistance, are work considering once you’ve been out on the water for some time. In the meantime, measure up and look carefully at your most affordable and appealing options.