Choosing the Right Kayak Paddle

Choosing the Right Kayak Paddle
Three key factors must be considered when choosing the proper length for a kayak paddle: your height, the width of the kayak and your paddling style. Three more factors determine the type of paddle -- blade shape, shaft shape and composition. Using the ideal paddle makes a big difference.


Difficulty: Easy

Choosing a Paddle

Things You’ll Need:
  • Tape measure
Step 1
Measure your height. Kayak paddles aren't specialized like single blade paddles and come in fewer sizes. You can estimate a comfortable range by your height. If you're under 5'2", a paddle between 181to 194 centimeters should work. If you're between 5'0" and 5'8", try a paddle between 191 and 197 centimeters. Anyone over 5'6" should be comfortable with a 194- to 200-centimeter paddle.
Step 2
Measure the beam or width of your kayak at the center. Once you've determined the range of lengths suitable for your height, you can determine which end of that range will work best. 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.
Step 3
Choose a paddling style. Low angle paddlers use a more energy efficient stroke for long trips and flat water; they need a longer shaft to fully bite the water with the blade. High angle paddlers prefer a perpendicular stroke that gives the paddler better control, but uses more energy. This style is popular in whitewater or surf. The high angle paddler often prefers a shorter paddle to minimize the total weight of the paddle and to improve his control.
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 a 90 degree angle. Your hands should grip the shaft within two hand widths of the blade's throat. The length of the shaft from throat to throat is the proper shaft length for you.
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
Choose between a feathered or unfeathered stroke. Feathering returns the blade from the end of the stroke to the catch position with the blade face parallel to the water. This reduces wind resistance against the blade and saves energy. Feathered blades are set at anywhere from 45 degrees to a full 90 degree angle offset between blades. Rough paddlers prefer that the blades line up with each other (unfeathered) to improve the speed of recovery for a faster stroke.
Step 7
Select a material that suits your paddling needs. Traditional wooden paddles are made of tough woods like ash or hickory. Modern composite materials like fiberglass, plastic, graphite or carbon may provide more strength and lower weight. Aluminum paddles provide low weight and high strength at a lower cost. Ultimately, the composition of paddle is a matter of taste, unless you're a gonzo extreme paddler working tough whitewater and shooting waterfalls. Then, go for maximum strength.

Tips & Warnings

Talk to other kayakers about their favorite paddles; they may even let you try out some of their favorites.
Check out canoe liveries, outfitters and paddle shops to try out different materials and lengths.
If you're doing extreme paddling make sure you get a paddle strong enough to take a pounding.

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.

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