Your paddle is the engine to your kayak! Please choose wisely or we might end up seeing you taking a bath on your purchase as it withers away on Craigslist website. The paddle can really help your enjoyment of the sport. Do you know how hard it is to recoup your money on a Pelican kayak on Craigslist? Better luck in Vegas.
The kayak paddle can make or break the experience but it is often thought of as, well, an afterthought. I'll tackle a few tips and techniques for choosing a paddle here but the important thing is, go try one in the water.
Understanding Paddle Length - Its Tricky
Find a paddle at a shop and stand with it at your side vertically. Now reach up with one hand and curl your fingers around the top of the blade. If the paddle hits you in the palm, it's probably a bit short. If you can't reach the end, too tall. But hang on! Keep reading. Take into consideration the width of your kayak. If you are in a boat wider than 26" like the Ascend D10 sit-in kayak which measures 29", you need to bump up a size. Paddles are typically measured in centimeters and range from 210cm-260cm and usually by 10cm increments. At 6'2", I use a 230cm paddle, (monkey arms, I know), but I also paddle two wider kayaks at 31" and 36" so a 240cm-260cm is really best so I don't spend all day playing the drums on the side of my yak with my new paddle.
Extra Tip: If you are paddling a kayak wider than 33 inches you will want to add 20 centimeters to the normal length you would buy.
1. When determining paddle length, the kayak width is key to ensure you aren't hitting your knuckles on the hull as you paddle. For sleeker touring/sea kayaks your padding style and physical size play more heavily in how you choose a paddle.
2. To measure in the field, hold a paddle horizontally in your hands with your elbows slightly inside a 90 degree angle. Place your hands about two-thirds of the way between the center of the shaft and shoulder of the blade.
3. Take stroke angle and boat width into consideration, and demo the paddle whenever possible.
4. For kayak fishing, your boat's width will be the most important factor. After measuring the width of your kayak, follow the chart above on recommended paddle length above. Many kayak fishermen use adjustable ferrules because of their versatility and ability to accommodate wider boats and adjustable seats.
Extra Tip: 5 Different Strokes for Paddling Folks
Understanding the Paddle Blade Styles
There are basically four categories of blades. You have wide and flat blades, narrow and flat blades, wide and scooped/winged blades, and narrow and scooped/winged. Variations are all over the board for these but two things are needed to decide properly. The wide blades are going to give you more power. They move more water and can allow you to turn faster, accelerate in choppy water better and fight the weather. These work great for fishermen because of their versatility. They also work better in wider boats, which are typically heavier and require more to move them.
Narrow blades are more efficient. If you are paddling more than 2-3 miles in a day you might think about this option. Just understand if you are in a big, heavy, wide kayak, the advantage of the more efficient paddle is nullified. The decision about a flat blade versus scooped/winged blade is up to you. Sides are split as to added efficiency etc. I will say however that a flat blade is typically more durable for fishermen when used as an alternative to a push pole.
Different Types of Paddle Material
Blades and shafts can be made of aluminum, plastic, carbon fiber, fiberglass, wood and a host of blends. Carbon fiber is lighter and can reduce weight for a long day on the water but if you are fishing oyster beds or rip rap it can make your paddle start to fray on the edges. It’s not a big deal but if you aren't careful it could be problematic later. Aluminum and plastic are durable but usually heavy. These are also cheaper alternatives and what you will see a good majority of paddlers using on the water. Nothing wrong with that! Just understand you will work harder throughout a day than you would with a carbon.
Understanding the Importance of Paddle Weight
Since we are talking about it above let's continue here. Typical paddle weight is between 25 and 42 ounces. It doesn't seem like a ton of range but after a few thousands strokes, your shoulders and back will let you know the difference. I recommend the lightest, most durable paddle you can find for you situation. Durability and light are usually not synonymous with cheap so this is a decision that needs to be weighed carefully.
Exploring the Wide Range in Paddle Cost
So many variables exist when you talk cost. All of the things mentioned above will play into it. Paddles range from $29 to infinity. There is a huge difference between that $29 paddle and a $399 paddle from a name brand. The sweet spot for a very nice paddle that doesn’t break the bank is usually from $149-$229. This isn't in everyone's budget so buy accordingly.
Learning About the Paddle's Shaft Style
I won't spend much time on this but the new line of thinking is that a bent shaft puts less torque on the wrist and arms throughout the day, especially for inexperienced paddlers. A straight shaft works for most folks.
The Backup Paddle
Backup paddles like this Bass Pro Shops Telescoping Mini paddle are telescoping emergency paddles that are easily stored until needed.
Kayaks & Kayak Accessory Brands
If you spend your time on the clearance aisle, some of these may be new to you. Check out the full line at a local kayak dealer like Bass Pro Shops or go to a local kayak get together. Some names you should know are Ascend, Werner, Bending Branches, Aqua Bound, AT, and Carlisle.
A paddle is a personal preference much like the brand of fishing pole you might prefer. The best way to know what you like is to try a lot of them.