Picking The Perfect Paddle

Once you’ve got your Folbot all ready for a great day of paddling, you want to make sure you have the right paddle to go along with it.  Picking a paddle is too often an afterthought for many people but having the right paddle is an integral part of enjoying your time on the water.  When recreational kayaking, you can make as many as 40 strokes per minute; if you have a heavy or uncomfortable paddle, the extra weight and discomfort can become magnified pretty quickly!  Imagine planning the perfect day or trip on the water, only to be exhausted 20 minutes into your adventure because it feels like you are paddling your boat with a big piece of lumber.

Like kayaks, paddles come in many different shapes and sizes depending on what you’ll be using them for. In our opinion, Werner makes the best paddles and in this post, we’ll make it simple for you to find the perfect paddle so you can get out and enjoy your time on the water. Once you’ve gotten your paddle, read our “Recreational Kayaking For Beginners” post to help you get started.

Step One: Choose A Shaft Length

  • A general rule of thumb to determine the right length is to lift the paddle up in the air and rest the center on your head. Position your hands on the shaft so that your elbows are bent at about a 90-degree angle. Your hands should be about 4 inches from the blades.
  • Another general guideline is based on the type of kayak you have. Touring kayak paddles are generally about 240cm in length or 220cm for surfing kayaks
  • Height and boat width are also important variables to consider. Taller people or people with wider boats generally need longer kayak paddles (240cm or more) to avoid strain while paddling. Shorter people or people with narrower boats can choose shorter paddles of about 200-220cm. Average size people can choose paddles in the middle range, 220-240cm.
  • Also think about the type of paddling or trip you’re going to be taking. If you’re planning an extended, more relaxed trip, a longer paddle requires less effort, which helps you preserve your energy for a longer trek.

Step Two: Choosing The Right Material

  • Paddles can be made from many different materials. The most common paddle materials are wood, fiberglass, carbon, plastic, aluminum, and Kevlar. The material you choose will determine the weight, durability, and price of your paddle.
  • Wood paddles tend to be a bit heavier, depending on the style. They can also be less durable than other materials and require more upkeep to retain appearance. Wood does retain heat better than other materials and can help keep hands warm in colder temperatures. Wood paddles are best for recreational kayaking.
  • Fiberglass paddles are lightweight, durable, and virtually maintenance-free. Fiberglass paddles are usually in the middle range of pricing and are a popular choice for sea, recreational, and whitewater kayaking.
  • Carbon Fiber, or graphite paddles are typically the lightest-weight paddles available. They tend to be more expensive and less durable than fiberglass paddles. They come in handy especially if you’re paddling long hours or multi-day trips.
  • Aluminum/Plastic paddles tend to be the best choice for beginners as they are extremely durable and inexpensive. They do tend to be heavier than other paddles, and can be quite chilly in colder temperatures.
  • Kevlar paddles are good for beginner and intermediate paddlers looking for a strong, durable paddle. Kevlar paddles are designed for river paddling and are not made for high performance.
  • As a beginner, the best thing to do is to choose a paddle based on price rather than performance until you’re comfortable on the water.

Photo Courtesy of Let Ideas Compete on Flickr

Step Three: Choosing A Blade Shape
(We think that blade shape is one of the most important factors in choosing a paddle, so make sure you read this section carefully)

  • Blades are either feathered or nonfeathered. Nonfeathered blades are positioned to be parallel to each other while feathered blades are rotated at an angle to each other. Feathering reduces wind resistance so that while one blade strokes through the water, the other slices through the air. Blades are feathered so that one hand (typically the right) maintains control of the paddle. Control is a matter of personal preference and is not actually dependent on whether you are left- or right-handed.
  • Blades are also either symmetrical or asymmetrical. Symmetrical blades can pull you through the water quickly, but require more energy per stroke. Asymmetrical blades are narrower and can help you paddle more accurately and efficiently, which uses less energy. If you’re a recreational paddler, or plan on paddling for extended periods of time, you will typically want to opt for asymmetrical blades.  However, if you have a very upright paddling stroke, a symmetrical blade may be more suitable.
  • Blades are either flat, cupped/spooned, or dihedral. Flat blades are good for beginners just learning to kayak, but there isn’t as much “grip” in the water. Cupped blades are curved, similar to a spoon, and are more stable in the water, allowing you to paddle more accurately. Dihedral blades have a built-in angle, much like the wings on an airplane, which helps water flow smoothly and evenly over both halves of the blade. Most blades are a combination of dihedral and cupped shapes.
  • Larger blades are better for surfing and paddling that requires quick, powerful bursts of acceleration. Smaller blades are better for conserving energy over a long period of time.

There are no real hard and fast rules for picking a kayak paddle, since there are so many variables to consider. The best thing to do is to try one out.  You can find our full selection of paddles on our website by clicking here.

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