By Danny Mongno, Werner Paddles Marketing Manager
Selecting the perfect kayak paddle is probably the most important decision you will make as a boater. That’s because the paddle is your engine, your tool to transfer energy to the water. Choosing the proper blade shape will allow you to perform at the highest level for your style of boating, and understanding how to get the perfect fit will allow you to be more comfortable, use less energy and spend more time on the water. Although it is such an important decision, it does not have to be hard.
First of all, for either whitewater or touring paddles there are some common choices that you’ll need to make. Let’s go over them now:
The benefits of a straight shaft kayak paddle is that it has a familiar feel; most of us have used a straight shaft at some time and it’s what we are used to. Other benefits are lighter weight and less of an investment. If good technique is used and a paddler can hold on loosely to the paddle, focusing on grasping the shaft with the “O-Kay” symbol all day, pain-free paddling can be obtained.
For those who have developed some aches and pains in their hands and wrists, and for those who generally hold on too tightly to their paddle (and let’s face it, we all do when we get nervous), a neutral bent shaft kayak paddle becomes an insurance policy for your body. By always keeping the wrists in an ergonomically correct straight alignment, less pressure is put on the small tendons and ligaments of the wrist and pain is avoided. Although more of an investment, it can make all the difference for spending more time on the water. The concept of neutral bent allows for a smooth transition from your old kayak paddle, as your hand position is familiar and exactly the same as it was on your straight shaft. The only thing that changes is that your wrists remain straight while paddling.
Shaft diameter and blade size
Both of these options are really common sense and easily determined by your body size. Folks with smaller hands and smaller bodies, should look towards the smaller diameter shaft for a more relaxed grip and a small or medium blade surface area to put less stress and strain on the body. Larger boaters, generally with larger hands, prefer the standard diameter shaft and a medium to full sized blade area, depending on their fitness level. Remember, a kayak paddle with a bigger blade is not always going to make us more powerful, especially if we are just working too hard to move that extra size through the water. If your hand is larger than 7 inches from the base of your palm to your fingertip, you will want the standard shaft. If the length is smaller than 6.5 inches, you should use the small diameter shaft. In between, you can go either way.
Spend as much as you can afford on your kayak paddle material
As I said early on, the paddle is your engine. You will use less energy on the water, run more drops, surf more waves, paddle further and perform better if you are less tired. A paddle that is lighter to move through the stroke path, referred to as the paddle’s “swing weight, ” will allow you to feel fresher as the miles and hours wear on. A kayak paddle with a stiffer material will flex less, causing less water to “escape” from the blade face and for you to use less energy in your stroke to create more motion.
Kayak paddles with higher end materials like Performance Core provide more buoyancy in the blades, which helps you brace with more confidence and roll more easily, even in the most aerated water. Sure, paddles wear over time, but so does your boat, your automobile or mountain bike tires, your tools. However, think of the performance advantages you are getting while on the water. Is your paddling enjoyment worth the investment? Well, I think that sums up how to decide what to spend…how much do you value your time on the water; how far do you want to stretch your skills?
Now, let’s take a few simple steps toward fitting you with the perfect whitewater or touring kayak paddle:
Choose the shape of your blade based on the style of paddling you are doing.
1. River running or creek boating:
As we paddle downstream we are faced with many features: holes, waves, eddies, ledges both small and large (i.e. waterfalls). To navigate your way through these obstacles your forward stroke will be far and away the most valuable tool. A river running kayak paddle will have a larger portion of the blade shape at the upper tip, or a focus above the center line of the kayak paddle. This oversized tip allows paddlers to reach the water sooner and get instant bite at the most important part of the forward stroke, the catch. For those paddlers looking primarily to run rivers or steeper creeks, this is your best choice.
2. Play boating:
As the sport of whitewater kayaking has grown over the years the ways we “play” the river has expanded. For some the feeling of front surfing a glassy wave is what provides that all-day smile while others need to notify the local air traffic controller before they start their aerial assault on the river. No matter what your idea of play boating is, the proper shaped blade will help your performance. By down turning or “drooping” a play boat blade shape, with more focus of the blade surface area below the center line, the kayak paddle will engage the water sooner, allowing paddlers to perform play boat control stokes with greater ease.