How to Choose a Kayak Paddle

How to Choose a Kayak Paddle
Three factors--your height, the width of the kayak and your paddling style--determine the best length of your paddle. Blade shape, shaft shape and composition materials vary according to the type of paddling you will do and your personal preferences.


Difficulty: Easy

Choosing the Right Paddle

Things You’ll Need:
  • Metric/standard tape measure
  • Metric/standard tape measure
Step 1
Measure your height. If you're shorter than 5 feet, 2 inches, a paddle between 181 to 194 centimeters should work. If you're between 5 feet and 5 feet, 8 inches, try a paddle between 191 and 197 centimeters. Anyone taller than 5 feet, 6 inches should be comfortable with a 194- to 200-centimeter paddle.
Step 2
Measure the beam or width of your kayak at the center. The paddle must reach the water from the center sitting position. If it's too short, you'll find yourself leaning from side to side to get a good bite with your blade. Kayaks 22 inches wide or less require shorter paddles. Boats 22 to 25 inches are mid-range boats. Kayaks wider than 25 inches require a longer paddle. Try blades within the shorter end of the ranges above for narrower boats and toward the higher end for wider boats.
Step 3
Choose a blade to match your paddling style. Low-angle paddlers use a more energy-efficient stroke for long trips and flat water. Low-angle paddlers use a longer shaft. High-angle paddlers prefer a perpendicular stroke that gives better control but uses more energy for whitewater or surfing. High-angle paddlers prefer a shorter paddle to minimize the weight and improve control of the kayak.
Step 4
Grasp the proper length kayak paddle over your head with the exact center resting on your head. Grasp the shaft so your elbows form 90 degree angles. Your hands should grip the shaft within two-hand widths of the blade's throat if the shaft is the proper length.
Step 5
Determine what style of blade matches the paddling you plan to do. A long blade with angled tips is best suited for low-angle touring and stillwater work. A slightly wider, symmetrical blade is best for general recreation. A shorter, narrower blade works best in surf or whitewater, where a high-angle style is used.
Step 6
Decide whether you prefer a feathered or unfeathered stroke. Proper feathering returns the blade from the end of the stroke to the catch position with the blade face parallel to the water to reduce wind resistance against the blade. Feathered blades are set at anywhere from 45 degrees to a full 90 degree angle from the opposite blade. Rough-water paddlers prefer unfeathered blades to improve blade recovery speed.
Step 7
Select a material that suits your paddling needs. Traditional wooden paddles are made of tough woods such as ash or hickory. Modern composite materials such as fiberglass, plastic, graphite or carbon can provide more strength and lower weight. Aluminum paddles provide low weight and high strength at a lower cost. Ultimately, the composition of paddle is largely a matter of taste, except for paddlers who frequent whitewater and surf. These conditions require maximum strength.

Tips & Warnings

Talk to other kayakers about their favorite paddles; they might let you try out some of their favorites. Check out canoe liveries, outfitters and paddle shops to try out different materials and lengths.
Talk to other kayakers about their favorite paddles; they might let you try out some of their favorites.
Check out canoe liveries, outfitters and paddle shops to try out different materials and lengths.

Article Written By Tom King

Tom King published his first paid story in 1976. His book, "Going for the Green: An Insider's Guide to Raising Money With Charity Golf," was published in 2008. He received gold awards for screenwriting at the 1994 Worldfest Charleston and 1995 Worldfest Houston International Film Festivals. King holds a Bachelor of Arts in communications from Southwestern Adventist College.

Keep Me Informed

Weekly newsletters, announcements and offers from to your inbox.

Sign me up!

We HATE spam and promise to keep your email addresses safe and secure.