Here we will discuss the importance of choosing the right paddle to get the most from your paddling and reduce the risk of injury.  

Paddling long term with a paddle that’s too big will lead to sore wrists, elbows and shoulders. Just as tennis players get tendonitis in the elbow, paddlers get this injury in the wrists. If your paddle is too small, your rate of paddling is always too high and you’ll get tired.

So, what to consider when looking for a paddle?

Just like boat selection, it will reflect the type of paddling we do and our physical size will help us make the right decision. The main features to consider are; length, shaft size, blade shape and the construction (weight).

Ultimately, not all of these things matter to a beginner, but the paddle we choose partly will dictate our style of paddling and the likelihood of injury.

Here is a good range of paddles to give a good idea of price to go with this article.

Basic Paddles Range

White Water Kayaking

– relatively short giving us a high tempo of paddling
– big power face for maximum power transfer
lots of power going forwards and backwards


Sea Kayaking

long shaft for more leverage and lower tempo of paddling
– longer and slimmer blades for a lower paddling action
– long shaft for extra reach in turning the boat


Performance

– long light paddle
– winged blades to grip the water and apply the maximum amount of power
– designed to repeat the same forwards stroke and nothing else


Paddle Basics

Paddles are made up of two main important parts, the shaft, and the paddle blade. These two parts can be made of different materials and it is import to know how these can affect our paddling.

But, before we start getting carried away with shiny materials, we need the right length!

Paddle Length

As a general rule, smaller paddlers should use shorter blades. The type of kayaking will have an impact when we need to perform a higher rate of strokes ie. white water paddling, where we are always changing direction or changing our speed, it will be easier with a shorter paddle. Touring along the coast, eating up the miles, will be easier with a longer paddle.

  • White Water and Freestyle Paddles average: 180-200 cm long
  • Sea, Touring and Recreational Paddle average: 190-230 cm long

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/Cranked Shaft. Straight shafts are more common, lighter, and cheaper. Bent Shaft paddles put much less stress on your wrists but are more expensive.
  • Shaft Size: As hand size increases, so should the thickness of the paddle shaft. The choice here is primarily based on comfort.

Paddle Blade Shape
As a general rule, the stronger and bigger you are the larger blade you can paddle with.

  • Size – As well as our stature we will use chunkier paddles as we paddle with a more vertical stoke ie. slalom, white water. When we relax and paddle with a lower angle we can have a longer, narrower blade ie. sea kayaking, touring 
  • Symmetrical or Asymmetrical – 

This depends on whether both blades are identical (Symmetrical) or a mirror image of each other (Asymmetrical). The main point are more efficient with an asymmetrical design but they will be more expensive.

  • Feather – The feather of a paddle refers to the angle that each blade is offset from the other. The feather means the blade waving in the air each time we take a stroke does not catch in the wind. Some touring or sea paddles come as splits (two parts). These are great for storage, but also allow you to set your own angle of feather to paddle with.

Construction
Paddles are made from a variety of materials, with the cheapest being plastic blades with metal shafts. They will get more expensive, but stronger and lighter, as we use fibreglass and carbon fibre. Some Greenland sea & canoe paddles are still lovely made from wood

The lighter the paddle the stiffer they have to make it, putting extra pressure on our joints, so it’s even more important to have the size and length right if you buy a carbon fibre paddle. Using a lighter paddle makes it less work and strain, so it can be worth the extra cost.


Top tip

Try before you buy, it’s no fun to have stiff shoulders and sore wrists after every kayaking trip. If you get the right size a good paddle will last you for years.