Paddles are quintessential kayaking tools that are made in various shapes, sizes, and quality levels to match different kayaking styles. To make the most appropriate selection, you must define the job your paddle will do. Will you be taking long trips and expeditions, short morning or afternoon trips, or working on speed and fitness training? Will you be in a sea kayak, racing kayak, white water or recreational kayak – solo or tandem? And what about you – what’s your height, build, age, skill level, paddling style? Will you paddle on quiet lakes and ponds, in the surf zone or out on the open ocean? How much of your kayaking budget do you wish to devote to your new paddle?
Ideally, kayakers use technique and blades that match their paddling style to maximize the propulsion they get for the physical energy they expend. When purchasing paddles it can be useful to think of money as energy because there are circumstances when deploying a little more economic energy will increase the value derived from your physical energy. For example, even the biggest, strongest, well-conditioned paddler will appreciate the benefits of having a lighter, well-designed paddle over a heavier, mass-produced one. An expensive carbon fiber paddle will not imbue a novice with skills, but it can facilitate improvement because it’s easier and more pleasurable to stay on the water longer with a light paddle that works well – and it’s more fun, too!
A High Angle paddle stroke converts more of your energy to thrust than a Low Angle paddle stroke, but it’s more fatiguing and requires more precise technique: good torso rotation and accurate paddle entry and exit for each stroke. High Angle Blades tend to be shorter and wider when compared to the longer, narrower Low Angle Blades. Low Angle paddle strokes are easier for the unconditioned paddler and for the expert paddler who is fatigued. Either style blade can come in large, medium or small sizes. Large blades generate the most drag for the most propulsion and are especially good for rapid acceleration, but they put a little more strain on your body. Small blades generate the least drag, so there is less strain per stroke but you have to take more strokes to attain and maintain cruising speed. Medium blades will be tuned to compromise. Most contemporary blades are asymmetrical to reduce energy loss through flutter, with either a self-centering dihedral shape or flatter blades will be curved so that the power-face trails behind the shaft. The technically sophisticated Wing blades were designed for racing, but increasingly they’re being used for fitness training and touring. They propel the boat by generating lift instead of drag.
Paddle shafts are made in a variety of shapes, lengths, diameters and materials. Narrow shafts are more comfortable for smaller hands. Straight shafts are the most common, but the increasingly popular ergonomic crankshafts are effective in reducing tendonitis. Shaft length should vary according to the size of the paddler, the paddling style, and the width of the boat.
Engineering and materials vary for both paddle blade and shaft, depending on the designer’s priorities. Finding the right balance between flex and rigidity is important: too much stiffness will strain even youthful ligaments and tendons; too much flex makes it hard to convert the energy of your stroke to thrust that propels your kayak. Paddles with thermoplastic blades riveted onto aluminum shafts are the heaviest, most flexible and least expensive. Sophisticated blends of thermoplastic and glass or carbon fiber can reduce blade weight and flexibility without spiking the price. Strong, lightweight fiberglass and Carbon Fiber (even stronger and lighter) blades and shafts can be engineered to have performance characteristics that tremendously enhance your paddling experience, and though there is a cost associated with every technical advantage built into your paddle, they deliver real value in comfort, efficiency and ease of use.
We have carefully selected manufacturers whose products represent the state of the art in paddle design, performance and quality at every price point. The paddles we sell are the paddles we use because they meet our demanding standards. If you’re not sure which paddle will best suit you, please call so we can help you make the selection that will best suit your needs.