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Your Guide to Buy the Right Kayak Paddle

Do Your Research


Single female sea kayaking on beautiful lush lake.
Heath Korvola / Photodisc / Getty Images
Updated May 16, 2014

Buying the right kayak paddle is an often overlooked task for beginners. All too often, the choice becomes one by default. We spend a lot of time looking at kayaks, sitting in them, and adjusting the fit. We buy the helmet based on feel and, let's not kid ourselves, by what looks cool. But then it comes to selecting a paddle. And what do we do? We just buy the paddle that the salesman gives us. Or we just buy the cheapest one they have.

Rarely do we ever worry about size, weight, construction, materials, feather, or blade symmetry. Admittedly, some of those things really don’t matter to a beginner and won’t benefit the paddling they do starting off. But I can’t tell you how many times I have seen a new kayaker come home with a paddle that is simply too long for them. Whether you will be buying your first paddle or you are considering an upgrade, this article will outline all of the features that you may want to consider.

Paddle Basics

  • Paddle Length
    Paddle length varies based on the type of kayaking you will do, your height, and the type of kayak you paddle.

    • Whitewater Paddles: 188-203 cm long
    • Inflatable Kayak Paddles: 220-240 cm long
    • Touring & Recreational Paddles: 210-240 cm long
    • For Sizing Based on Height: NRS Sizing Guide
  • Paddle Shaft
    The shaft is the part of the paddle that you place your hands on. Most people don't realize that there is actually a lot that goes into designing a paddle shaft.

    • Shaft Type: Straight or Bent Shaft. Straight shafts are more common, lighter, and cheaper. Bent Shaft paddles put less stress on your joints, promote proper stroke alignment, and are more comfortable.

    • Shaft Size: Most people don't know that there are different shaft diameters. As hand size increases so does the thickness of the needed paddle shaft. The choice here is primarily based primarily on comfort. Here is a "handy" hand sizing chart to guide your decision.
  • Paddle Blade
    The blade is the part of the paddle that enters the water and propels the boat. Similar to the paddle shaft, the design features related to the paddle blade are important.

    • Blade Shape: Symmetrical or Assymetrical. An assymetrical shape provides for a smooth entry into the water. A symmetrically shaped blade is able to be paddled with either hand since the blades are exactly the same on both sides.

    • Feather: The feather of a paddle refers to the angle that each blade is offset from each other. The feather of one blade to another is usually measured in 15 degree increments with the most common being a 45 degree feather.
  • Construction

    • Blade and Shaft Materials: There are many materials that paddles are made from such as: aluminum, plastic, carbon, fiberglass, reinforced nylon. The materials determine the weight, durability, performance, and ultimately the price of the paddle.

    • Detailed Information: Here is a paddle construction guide that will help you with more of these details.
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