The first boat paddle likely resulted from needing to cross water that was too deep for a pushing pole. Of course, since then, boat oars and kayak paddles have evolved remarkably. Modern technology combined with the expertise and advice of worldwide paddlers creates sleek, powerful, efficient paddles that provide optimal force and control.
This guide provides helpful information about the different styles of kayak paddles and their specific uses. Join me on a fast, fun, and informative adventure! Let’s get wet!
Kayak Paddle Basics
Although there are uncountable differences between the many kayak paddles available today, they are simple to understand in their basic design.
Kayak paddles have a blade on both ends of a shaft.
The shaft is typically between 7- and 8-feet long. The front sides of the blades are “power faces”. The rear sides of the blades are “back faces”.
The power face captures water as you execute a forward stroke and propel your kayak through the water. The back face serves the same function when you’re “back paddling”.
Modern paddlers have various options concerning the length, diameter, construction materials, shape, and design of paddles. We can now customize our paddles based on variables that suit our unique paddling styles and requirements.
Whether you find yourself gently floating along tranquil streams, Indian stroking through rough waters in high winds, C-stroking into a fast current, pry stroking to cause a sudden directional change, or parakayaking off Niagara Falls, the paddle you use matters!
Materials used to manufacture kayak paddles
The materials used to manufacture a kayak paddle will affect its performance, durability, and cost. Here’s a quick breakdown of what you’ll find:
- Plastic is the most common material used for blade making. Plastic shafts are practically non-existent. Plastic is weaker than other choices, and it flexes, which detracts from efficiency and strength.
- Aluminum is stronger than plastic and is a dependable, budget-friendly option in kayak paddles. It is responsive to hot and cold temperature changes, and you might need paddling gloves.
- Carbon fiber and fiberglass kayak paddles are the strongest, lightest, and best-performing options. They are also the most expensive. (Logical, right?)
OK! Let’s launch now and explore the different kayak paddles available on the market. You may find it all a bit more than you thought you would have to consider, and that’s alright.
It will be good to know when you are making your choice of which kayak paddle to purchase. We’ll keep it fast and sweet – like slicing silently through a calm mountain lake.
Different Types of Kayak Paddle Blades
Asymmetrical vs. symmetrical blades
This concept refers to blade design. Imagine a line stretched from the heel to the toe of a kayak blade. A symmetrical blade will be the same on the top and bottom of the line. An asymmetrical blade will have differences between the top and bottom halves.
Length & width of the blades
A wider, shorter kayak paddle blade will deliver more powerful strokes than a longer, skinnier blade. Short, wide blades bite into the water better. Long, narrow blades are better suited for slow, easy stroking.
Dihedral vs. flat blades
Dihedral refers to the angle between two physical planes. Look at a blade from the tip of the power face downward. Do the sides face away from the center shaft line toward the edges? If so, then it’s a dihedral (2-planed) blade.
This design guides the water across the blade more efficiently and smoothly than a flat blade design. It reduces blade fluttering by encouraging the water to shed off the edges more readily.
Comparatively, a flat blade is horizontal, smooth, even, and uniform, although it may have a central rib on the power face to add reinforcement.
Spooned vs flat kayak blades
You can find asymmetrical and symmetrical blades in both flat and spooned shapes. Beginners typically go with flat blades because they are easier to regain orientation with if you happen to roll underwater. When you’re confident with your skills, you’ll likely prefer spooned blades because they grab the water better and thereby provide more force and less flutter.
Feathered vs unfeathered kayak paddle blades
A kayak paddle with both blades set on the same plane on each end of the shaft is called “unfeathered”. If the blades are oriented differently, then the paddle is “feathered”. Feathering reduces above-water air resistance and adds underwater propulsion.
Many kayak paddles feature adjustable blades that can increase or decrease the feathering. To adjust a paddle’s feather, you simply reposition the shaft’s ferrule so that the opposing blades misalign with each other instead of being positioned symmetrically on each end of the shaft.
If your paddle features a snap-button ferrule, then you will only be able to feather it from 0 – 60 degrees. Some paddles have mechanisms that allow unlimited ferrule adjustment to any angle you feel most comfortable with.
There’s no correct or incorrect choice about feathering. It’s all just about enjoying our time on the water, maximizing our efficiency, and minimizing the physical effort we exert.
“Greenland” kayak paddles
Greenland-style paddle blades are narrow and long. They also typically feature short, thick shafts. These paddles are for endurance and finesse, not quick bursts of power. They are symmetrical and preferred for intricate maneuvers, but not for explosive propulsion.
“Euro” kayak paddle blades
Euro blades have shorter, wider surfaces for applications that demand power and sudden speed. These blades grab a lot of water to propel your kayak, which makes them wear your muscles out faster than Greenland blades. This type is popular among sea kayakers because of their superior power and control.
Types of Kayak Paddles
It’s just about time to deep dive into the different types of kayak paddles. If you’re new to kayaking, you might think that all paddles are the same. But there are differences between the available models.
Just remember that much of the decision about which type of kayak paddle is best comes down to personal preferences and your intended application.
For instance, if you plan on paddling all day in calm water, you might consider going with a Greenland-style paddle to maximize your endurance. However, if you plan on fighting white water rapids, the narrow, long blades of a Greenland paddle may not be suitable.
So don’t stress. Just enjoy the learning process!
Kayak paddles with low-angle blades
Kayak paddles with low-angle blades make each stroke easy and efficient. They are narrower and longer than high-angle blades, making them glide through the water more fluently. They allow you to pull the paddle through the water with less physical effort per stroke, which increases your endurance for long days on the water.
The “low” angle on this type of kayak paddle is typically between 20 – 30 degrees, which is considerably more horizontal than a high-angle paddle. Low-angle kayak paddles are for kayakers who prefer a longer, more relaxing time on calmer waters.
Kayak paddles with high-angle blades
Kayak paddles equipped with high-angle blades accommodate more rigorous paddling in more challenging marine scenarios. They are wider and shorter than those on low-angle paddles, and they displace a lot of water with each powerful stroke. They capture and retain the water to increase the kayak’s propulsion.
The stroke used in high-angle kayaking is considerably more vertical than in low-angle kayaking. Sportspeople who enjoy the challenges of whitewater kayaking, kayak surfing, and other aggressive boating scenarios typically use high-angle paddles.
Kayak paddles with small diameter shafts
Consider a small-diameter kayak paddle if you can’t touch your index finger and thumb together when wrapped around the shaft of a standard paddle. It’s about more than just being able to get your fingers wrapped though.
The difference in diameter between a standard and small kayak paddle is typically not more than 1/8 of an inch, which is only about a ½-inch difference in circumference. That’s not a lot of difference!
However, even this small difference in circumference makes a big difference in how your hands respond to hours of paddling. It has to do with the angle your blades contact the water.
If you’re paddling with a small-diameter shaft, each stroke causes a large blade angle change. If you’re paddling with a standard paddle, each small motion of your hands creates a sizable change in blade angle.
What does that mean?
It means that a fatter shaft can deliver enhanced paddling precision because it increases blade control. Note that the enhanced control does not depend on the size of the paddler’s hand. It’s more about whether you need that finer precision of blade control for your preferred paddling style.
Choose a small-diameter paddle if it feels better in your hand. Just know that you will give up some of the finer blade control you could achieve with a thicker shafted paddle.
Kayak paddles with bent shafts
Kayak paddles with bent shafts enhance paddling control while decreasing physical stress for the paddlers. The curved shafts enhance comfort and efficiency. These paddles are typically used by touring paddlers and others who wish to prolong their water time and experience less fatigue.
The curved design of a bent-shaft kayak paddle enhances wrist position and alignment, which creates a smoother, more fluent stroke. This makes a day on the water more enjoyable, less strenuous, and safer.