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Choosing a Kayak Paddle
Finding the right kayak paddle shouldn't be that hard. After
all, its just a pole with a flat blade at each end. But finding the
paddle that’s perfect for you does take some effort and thought.

There are three considerations that may help determine which
type of paddle could be right for you:

1. The type of paddling you be doing, whether it will be
touring or whitewater.
2. Your height and body strength. If you’re under, say,
five-and-a-half feet tall, you may require a shorter than
average paddle. If you’re well over six feet tall, you may
require a longer than average paddle.
3. The width and height of your kayak. A wide or tall kayak will often need a longer paddle to effectively reach the water.

Once these three areas are considered, then you can look at
the three major differences in paddle characteristics:

1. Blade length and shape.
2. Shaft length and shape.
3. The materials used to construct the paddle.

Blade length and shape
Paddle blades can be long, short, narrow, wide, feathered,
unfeathered, symmetrical, asymmetrical, spooned or dihedral. Each
shape has its benefits. A wide blade with a larger surface face can
provide greater acceleration, but will also create more resistance in
the water. It takes more effort to use a large-bladed paddle than a
smaller one. This can be an important factor for the infrequent
paddler, as touring is more about endurance than it is about
speed. A long, narrow blade will take more strokes to move
through the same amount of water, but the paddler will be less
tired while doing it.

Paddle blades that are unfeathered have the blades parallel to
one another. Feathered paddles have the blades turned at an angle
to one another. This feathering allows for a more efficient stroke
as the blade that is not in the water is leading into the wind with its
narrow edge instead of the flat side, making for much less wind
resistance (physics is cool). Some paddlers, especially beginners,
find that the additional wrist-turning necessary to use a feathered
paddle is uncomfortable and unnatural. A possible good
compromise for the beginning paddler is a collapsible paddle that
can be adjusted for either feathered or unfeathered use.

Blades can be either symmetrical or asymmetrical. Typically,
touring paddles are long, narrow and symmetrical. Some paddlers
find an asymmetrical paddle reduces the twisting on the paddle
shaft while stroking, because it evens the amount of water on each
side of the submerged paddle.

A spooned paddle has a curled or cupped face that increases
the power of a stroke, while a dihedral paddle has a type of tapered
nose in the middle of the face that helps direct water around the

Shaft Length and Shape
As we touched on earlier, a longer paddle is needed by taller
paddlers and paddlers of tall or wide boats. Often, a sit-on-top
kayak will need a longer paddle. A long paddle may provide more
power, but will also create more resistance. Whitewater kayakers
will prefer shorter paddles for their increased maneuverability,
quickness and strength.

While most paddle shafts are straight, there are several
bent-shaft models that may increase the paddler’s comfort as well
as provide for a stronger, more effective stroke.

Materials Used In Construction
The materials used to construct the paddle will determine its
weight, durability and flexibility. Paddles may be made of fiberglass,
plastic, aluminum, graphite, Kevlar, carbon, or good-old-fashioned
wood. Each type has its own feel as to weight and flex. Each
paddler will have to consider the combination of weight, durability,
flexibility and cost.

In the end, however, your personal preference as to which
paddle feels the best may be the deciding factor in your decision.

Paddling equipment at REI Garage




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