The style of kayak paddle you pick should be based on a number of factors. These include your height and strength, the size of your kayak and the type of paddling you'll be doing. Whitewater paddles will need to be shorter, sturdier and more lightweight than used for kayaking in the ocean. Regardless of the style, you should also make sure the paddle feels comfortable for you.
Kayak paddle blades have a wide variety of styles. These include wide or narrow; long or short; feathered or unfeathered; spooned; asymmetrical; Greenland, or dihedral. Wide, short blades provide more water resistance for quicker movement but are harder to use than long, narrow blades. Feathered blades are turned out at an angle for less wind resistance than the parallel, unfeathered blades. Feathered blades require a lot of wrist strength and movement. Asymmetrical blades are angled on one side of the paddle, requiring less twisting of the paddle. Spooned paddles feature a spooned paddle face for a more powerful stroke. Greenland blades are long, narrow and only slightly wider than the paddle's shaft. Dihedral paddles feature a tapered section in the center of the paddle so water moves more easily around the paddle.
Pick a shaft length based on your height, kayak design and style of paddling. Longer shafts are best for taller folks and kayaks where the seat is on top of the unit and farther from the water. Shorter shafts work for shorter people and are usually whitewater choices as they offer less resistance and are easier to move in tight spaces. If you tend to be a high angle paddler, or hold the paddle high on its shaft, you'll want a shorter paddle than those who hold the paddle lower on its shaft. Straight shafts are the most common, but bent styles are available for those who feel the latter enhance their paddling.
While kayak paddles were once made solely of wood, you can find them now made of fiberglass, Kevlar, plastic, graphite, aluminum or a combination of materials. Each material has a slightly different weight, durability and range of flexibility. Your best bet is to test the different materials to see which feels most comfortable and best works for your individual needs. Some of the most durable for whitewater kayaking are composite paddles made of a combination of aluminum and plastic.
Article Written By Ryn Gargulinski
Ryn Gargulinski is a writer, artist and performer whose journalism career began in 1991. Credits include two illustrated books, "Bony Yoga" and "Rats Incredible"; fitness, animal, crime, general news and features for various publications; and several awards. She holds a Master of Arts in English literature and folklore and a Bachelor of Fine Arts in creative writing with a French minor from Brooklyn College.