As kayakers gain skill and experience, their paddling stroke technique improves, and they commonly upgrade to higher performance kayaks. When you make such changes, it’s time to shop for a new paddle too. There are a lot of factors to consider when choosing a kayak paddle. Your body build, the width and height of your kayak, your stroke technique, and personal preferences all interact in determining what length and style paddle will be most efficient and best for you. Someone who only kayaks for fitness or race training will choose a different paddle than someone who likes to explore coastlines or paddle in surf and rock gardens. If you haven’t got a clue what paddle to buy, we recommend taking a lesson such as our “Paddle Strokes & Rescue Techniques” course which gets you practicing leaned turns, bracing, and rolling. As you learn these skills, you will begin to feel the differences between various paddle designs, and with that ability to feel the difference, you’ll be able to tell which paddles are right for you. If you can’t take such lessons before buying your first paddle, don’t buy the most expensive paddle. On the other hand, don’t buy something so cheap and heavy that it will ruin your fun and retard your learning. We recommend choosing a decent all around two-piece paddle with the intention of making it your spare paddle after you’ve had enough time in a kayak to form an opinion on what paddle you really like. If you venture beyond sheltered waters, it’s prudent to carry a spare paddle for safety, and in case you ever need to use it, it’s nice to have a spare that isn’t a real clunker. Two good choices for most novices buying their first paddle are theAquabound Carbon Manta Ray AMT Sea Kayak Paddle and the Werner Paddles Shuna Premium Tour Glass Paddle.
The following is an in-depth Buyer's Guide to Sea Kayak Paddles to help you decide which paddle is best for you. If all this leaves you more confused than ever, call us and we will help you choose a paddle. At the Kayak Academy, we carry a large selection of paddles to meet every kayaker's needs./p>
For kayak paddles marketed to adults, the total surface area of the paddle blades does not vary much from one sea kayak paddle to the next (for example, a Werner Shuna has 610 sq. cm while their biggest blade, the Corryvrecken has 710 sq. cm). Yet for people who regularly go out and paddle fast for exercise, even these subtle differences in blade size have noticeable effects. When paddling hard with a relatively small sized blade, strong kayakers can feel the loss of power due to the blade slipping aft as they pull on it. A less strong paddler may pull on this same paddle with all their might and never feel the blade slip any more than a bigger blade would for them. In that case, the less strong paddler won’t go any faster with bigger blades. In fact the bigger blades will add weight to the paddle making it more fatiguing, and using excessively big blades may be hard on your shoulders too. On the other hand, the strong paddler might be able to go faster, brace more powerfully to stay upright in rough water, and find it easier to roll with larger blades.
In comparison to most traditional arctic kayak paddles (which are beyond the scope of this guide), almost all modern (“Euro”) style paddles have short, wide blades. However, even among Euro paddles there is a significant amount of variation in the ratio of blade length to width. Although an expert can do anything with any paddle regardless of its shape blade, wide blades tend to be more forgiving of mistakes when bracing and turning. By “forgiving”, I mean the blade is less likely to dive and cause you to capsize if you make a slight error in the blade angle for the stroke. For similar reasons, wide blades also tend to make rolling easier. So we generally recommend touring paddles with blades that are at least seven inches wide. On the other hand, if you avoid kayaking in rough conditions and don’t plan to learn to roll, then paddles with long, narrow blades (called, “low angle paddles) will work fine too, and they are a little gentler on the shoulders.
Several other blade shape factors besides width contribute to a paddle’s overall tendency to dive or not when you make an error with your blade angle. Practically all (Euro) sea kayak paddles blades are curved (concave on the side normally facing aft) - some more than others. A little bit of curvature may reduce the splash as the paddle enters the water, however, the more curved a blade is, generally the less forgiving it will be. Practically all sea kayak paddles are asymmetric (angled at the tip). Without this asymmetric angle, the lower corner of the blade would enter the water first in a forward stroke, and this would result in the paddle tending to spin in your hand. If the asymmetry is well matched to your stroke style (i.e. high vs. low angle forward stroke technique), you will get equal water pressure on both sides of the blade during the planting of your paddle, and this reduces the tendency of the paddle to twist in your hand. At low speed these effects are so small it is hard to feel them at all, but when sprinting they become real. However, the more asymmetric the blade the less forgiving it will be. So for most people we generally recommend paddles with blades that are somewhat wide, not too concave, and not extremely asymmetric. This pretty well describes all the sea kayak paddles we sell (except by special order for folks who are sure they want something else).
The best way to see if a paddle is forgiving or not is to walk out into thigh deep water and do some sculling high braces and sculling draw strokes with it. Try closing your eyes and loosening your grip while testing this. Feel what blade angle the paddle seeks without forcing it not to dive. Some paddles dive as soon as you relax, others seem to find the correct blade angle all on their own. If you’re gutsy, you can do this in a kayak instead of standing in the water, but you may end up capsizing if you test a paddle that is not forgiving.
For sea kayakers, the taller and wider the front of your kayak is, the longer the shaft of your paddle needs to be in order for you to be able to reach into the water for an efficient forward stroke. Note I said nothing about how tall the person is. Although in a perfect world, smaller people would chose lower and narrower kayaks – in which case there would be some correlation between a persons size and the length of the paddle that works best for them.