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Choosing a Kayak Paddle

Updated: Dec 7, 2023

Your paddle is as important, if not more so than your boat in terms of feeling comfortable and confident, the item that connects you to and gives most of your control in the water. Many paddlers would say that using an unfamiliar paddle is more unsettling than an unfamiliar boat. This guide is focused on club paddlers and those wanting something suitable for general paddling and more focused on river and white-water paddling. See the bottom for considerations for Sea Kayaking and other disciplines. There are two core categories of paddles, that can be further broken down.


The guide below should give you some things to think about, but the best advice is to try as many different versions as you can. Paddlers are a friendly bunch and are normally very willing to let you have a go with their own equipment and will probably give you their honest feedback on their experiences too.


1. Recreational Paddles

These are great for our club sessions indoors and outdoors and suitable for flat water or easier white-water.


Construction: Glass shaft, glass reinforced nylon blades

Price: £90 to £120


Pros:

The cheapest option and pretty versatile. They are ideal for younger paddlers or for those who are happy taking it fairly easy for club sessions, occasional use at CIWW and easier-to-moderate white-water or sea kayak trips.


What they are not good for:

If you are looking to develop into moderate or advanced white water, or you are a strong or aggressive paddler who likes to put the power in when your paddling (for surfing waves, pushing yourself etc) they are a little weaker. You’ll feel an absence of power as the blade and shaft bend and flex in the water. Cheaper options may offer alloy shafts, these are heavy and cold and are of poorer quality than our club paddles.


Options to consider:

Palm Maverick Pro

Werner Amigo

Streamlyte Riverstix Foundation



2. High Performance Paddles (White Water)


Construction options: Carbon shaft and Carbon blades ‘Full Carbon’

Glass shaft and Glass blades

Glass blades and Carbon shaft

All these constructions relate to a set of fibres (glass or carbon), that are set in a resin. Carbon is a lighter and stiffer material, but is more expensive than glass paddles

Price: £150 to £300+


Pros:

Carbon fibre shafts and blades are the stiffest and lightest construction. The stiffer the blade, the less energy from your muscles is lost in the deformation of the shaft or blade when you paddle with it. More of your energy and power is transferred to the water. In addition, the additional weight saving reduces tiredness and fatigue during extended use. Glass constructions are still very stiff, high quality, and a high performance paddle, but have a little more give in them. Whilst they are not quite as efficient as carbon constructions, they do however reduce the strain on muscles and joints in general paddling and in particular impacts on the paddle from rocks or other objects. Some manufacturers produce paddles with a carbon shaft and glass blades, seeking to bridge the gap between these two construction techniques.


What they are not good for:

They can be overkill for paddlers who are not looking to paddle harder white-water, or for those that are more occasional paddlers. They are certainly more expensive!


Options to consider:

The two dominant manufacturers available in the UK are VE Paddles (owned by Palm) and Werner Paddles. VE produce a small range of high quality paddles in both Carbon and Glass constructions. Werner have a wide range of models available to suit every need and budget!


3. Other stuff to think about - Sizes and Shapes

Once you’ve selected a model you like, there’s a few considerations to think about:


a. Length

A shorter paddle is great for explosive bursts of power or speed, so they are excellent for freestyle, surfing, and playing at CIWW. They give a short reach and stroke though, so over the course of a days paddling on a trip might mean you’re putting in way more strokes, increasing your fatigue.

Conversely a longer paddle reduces the number of strokes you need to make to travel over distance, but can be more difficult to accelerate or suddenly change direction as your muscles try to cope with the increased length of the pull. Few people have multiple sets of paddles for different types of paddling and opt for a middle of the road compromise, linked to their height


Below is a starting point of lengths, try one around this size as well as options slightly longer or slightly shorter and see how they feel:


Paddler Height Under 5’ 2” or 157cm

Paddle Length 191cm


Paddler Height 5’ 2” to 5’ 7” or 157cm to 168cm

Paddle Length 194cm


Paddler Height 5’7” to 6’ or 170cm to 182cm

Paddle Length 197cm


Paddler Height Over 6’ or Over 182cm

Paddle Length 200cm



b. Feather

The feather is the angle of offset between each end of the paddle. Standard paddles tend to be either 30 or 45 degrees. Paddles with a low degree of feather are slightly more likely to be affected by wind over distance, those with a higher degree of feather involve more wrist rotation, which may be more uncomfortable for some people. Freestyle paddles can sometimes have much lower, if any angles of feather. In practice however, there is very little performance difference between the the main options of 30 and 45, go with whatever you are most comfortable with.


c. Blade and Shaft Sizes

The shape and size of the blade can be considered in the same manner as the length. A large surface area can enable to you deliver more power to the water, but can require more force to pull on it. The advice here would be to be cautious about going for both large blades and long paddles or small blades and short paddles unless it is suitable for your body size and strength.


For smaller paddlers, a number of manufacturers offer a narrower diameter of paddle shaft that may suit those of smaller stature. Similarly a number of manufacturers produce paddle blades that are slightly smaller and easier to handle.



4. Premium Options

Bent/Cranked or Straight Shafts

A ‘standard’ kayak paddle has a straight shaft, however, for some people this may be uncomfortable to use over a period of time. Conditions such a tendonitis can develop in wrists or elbows for some paddlers. This normally occurs where someone is already susceptible to the conditions.

A bent or cranked shaft paddle seeks to provide a more neutral hand position on the paddle, better ergonomically suited to the wrist. This can reduce the strain or impact of the repetitive paddling motion on joints, reducing chronic issues with discomfort or pain.

Cranked shafts tend only to be available on carbon shafts and will normally add £50 to £100 to the price of a paddle.

Split Paddles

Paddles across recreational and premium paddles can include a “split” version, enabling the paddle to be broken down into two or more parts. These paddles tend to be more expensive than their one-piece counterparts, but can be useful for paddlers wanting:

  • The ability to adjust the feather of the paddle depending on the type of paddling they undertake

  • The ability to collapse the paddle for ease of transport or storage

  • A second ‘emergency’ paddle that can be carried on or in a boat


Other disciplines

If your interest is in sea kayaking, most of the above still applies, however:

  • Paddles tend to be longer and designed more for efficiency of the stroke rather than strength in taking a battering from rocks

  • The same manufacturers tend to produce specific sea kayaking paddles

  • White water paddles are probably OK for occasional sea kayaking day trips. Sea Kayak paddles would be at risk of damage when used in a white water environment


If you are interested in paddles for racing, polo, freestyle etc, there are more thoughts and options to think about. Talk to us if you want some help.

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