Kayaking on the Hudson

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Choosing a Kayak Paddle

Choosing a good kayak paddle is just as important as choosing the right kayak.  Think about it, you wouldn’t buy a new car without an engine would you?  Well, guess what?  You and the paddle together ARE THE ENGINE!  This post will only cover European style paddles.  Greenland style paddles will get their own post.  So here’s what you need to know:

Kayak Paddle Parts:
Blade – end of the paddle that goes into the water and makes you go.
Shaft- round part of the paddle that you hold

Kayak Paddle Types:

High Angle Blades – Shorter, wider blades.  You paddle closer to the kayak with the paddle almost straight up and down (it’s at a high angle to the water).  These paddles give more power and you can accelerate faster, but they require more energy with each stroke.  Good for aggressive paddlers and those with lots of upper-body strength.
Low Angle - Top / High Angle Bottom 

Low Angle Blades – Longer, skinnier blades.  You paddle further out from the kayak at a lower angel to the water.  These paddles don’t push as much water, so they don’t give as much power, but they are easier to push.  So you take a few more strokes, but each stroke is easier.  Good for long trips and people who don’t want to fatigue or aggravate shoulder, back and other injuries.

Kayak Paddle Length:
Put 100 kayak experts in a room and ask each one what length paddle you should use and you will get 100 different answers.  If your paddle is too long it will be unwieldy and cause unnecessary fatigue.  Too short and you will scrape your hands on the side of your kayak.  The ideal length is a combination of your height, the width of your kayak and the style of paddle you choose.  Most mass merchandisers sell paddles that are way too long.   A low angle paddle will have to be longer so it will reach the water.  Paddles come in lengths measured in centimeters.  My rule of thumb is that you really shouldn’t need a paddle more than 220cm unless you are 6ft or taller or you paddle a really wide boat (like a tandem).  I’d be glad to give a more personalized answer- just email me at:

Kayak Paddle Weight:
Weight is key in a kayak paddle.  The more you paddle, the more fatigued you become.  If you’re just out for an hour bird watching, it won’t matter what you have.  If you go out for a few hours or days, you’ll want the lightest paddle you can afford.

Kayak Paddle Materials:
Metal / Plastic – $24-$200  Heaviest, cheapest
Fiberglass – $200-$300 Middle weight, mid-priced
Carbon Fiber – $300-$500 Lightest & most expensive
Combos – $129-$250 New paddles that combine light materials like a carbon fiber shaft with inexpensive materials like plastic blades.  These give significant weight savings without the cost.

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