The paddle is one of the more important items you will use while kayaking. An essential piece of equipment for propelling your kayak through the water, keeping you upright (either by bracing or with rolling), and aiding in your directional control. There are numerous varieties, designs, and materials of paddles on the market – finding the right one for you may take a while, not all paddles are the same.
The main materials used in construction of the paddles will contain metal (aluminum), wood, plastic, fiberglass, or carbon fiber. There are two main parts of the paddle design, the blade and the shaft. The materials used in the overall paddle construction can be completely made from one element, or a combination of items. For example, the shaft made from aluminum, and the blades from plastic. Why is this important? The various construction items can provide features in which a paddler is seeking. Are you looking for a very durable materials because of the paddle environment, your skill paddling skill level, or are you looking for something lighter for longer distance?
Aluminum/metal – Pros: very affordable, very durable in strength, can be roughed up and not be ‘babied’. Cons: Heavier material (can feel like weight lifting after a kayak trip).
Wood – Pros: Tough and durable, lighter in weight than metal, can be made from various sources of trees. Cons: not as commonly found in ‘big box stores’, the wood has to be maintained (sealants/and sanding).
Plastic – Pros: Inexpensive, can be purchased at most outdoor retailers, very durable. Cons: Construction can be flimsy, a bit heavy at times.
Fiberglass – Pros: Lightweight, popular, a firm paddle “feel” as the blade passes through the water. Cons: A bit more expensive than the other paddles, susceptible to damage from rocks.
Carbon Fiber- Pros: Ultra lightweight – great for long distance, durable construction and “feel” of paddle stroke. Cons: Expensive (two or three times more than a fiberglass), not commonly found in local retailers. Not made for rugged paddling environment (rocks/boulders).
The Main parts of a Paddle:
Let’s take a look at the front of the paddle (the side which faces you).
The Power face/Blade – This is the part of the paddle which goes into the water – and with the combination of a proper paddle stroke will propel you through the water. The blade is used to help stabilize you when a bracing move is made. It aids the paddler during a roll as it offers support and lift during the roll. Depending on the direction one places the power face in the water in relationship with the kayak, can determine directional control.
The Throat – This is the connection point in which the blade is connected to the shaft.
The Shaft – The main location in which one places the hands, and controls the paddle as it flows through the water. When holding the shaft, one should have a loose grip, but one in which full contact is maintained during the paddle stroke. If you have ‘white knuckles’, or your forearms go tired as you paddle, you are holding onto the paddle too tightly. There is a straight shaft (as pictured) and bent shaft (ergonomic), which have a kinked appearance and provide a more comfortable angle as one paddles. Majority of the paddles on the market are two piece – meaning, they will come apart in the middle.
Top of Blade/Bottom of Blade – One of the easier ways to ensure you are holding the paddle in the right orientation is to look at the logo or writing on the blade. If you can easily read these, you have it orientated correctly. Blades can also be either symmetrical or asymmetrical in design. Majority of paddles are asymmetrical in design, meaning the top is longer than the bottom, which can be another identifying tool ensuring you are holding the paddle correctly.
Blade Angle – There are two main designs, a high or low angle blade. This directly relates to the normal way one paddles day-to-day. A high angle paddle stroke relates to holding and maintaining the paddle stroke approximately 60 degrees or higher in relationship to the water’s horizontal surface. A low angle blade will be fairly horizontal to the surface of the water and upwards to about 50 degrees.
The Back of the Blade – It is the opposite of the Power Face. It does serve a function when paddling. When paddling in reverse, this is the surface of the blade in which makes contacts and propels the kayak. When doing a low brace – this is the main contact point and supporting element.
Paddle Length – This is the overall total distance from tip to tip of the paddle. Majority of paddles will have sizes, and are measured in centimeters – they will usually range from 210cm up to 230cm. There are a few ways to determine what is the proper length for you. One method is to stand the paddle straight up and try to grasp the tip of the blade within the first knuckle of your fingers. Depending on the width of your kayak will also dictate the length of your paddle – a wider recreational kayak will need a longer paddle in order for the blades to reach the water.
The Ferrule – Some shafts have this in the middle of the paddle. They can either be adjusted in many different angles, or have pre-set angle locations. This adjustment can feather the blades – meaning the top of the blades offset another. A non-feathered paddle, when laying on a flat surface will appear flat, whereas a feathered paddle will have one blade flat and the other facing up at an angle. The notion for adjusting the blade angles varies from the belief of being able to ‘slice’ through the wind and have less resistance, to less chance to have your paddle blade get tangled in tree branches as one passes underneath. One does have to maintain a ‘control hand’ on the shaft (either left or right handed), this ‘control hand’ wrist will continuously flex or extend – whereas the non-control hand can freely reposition.
Choosing a paddle is a bit of a task, and may take a while to find the perfect one. Much like deciding which kayak to purchase, it is best to test out different paddles and see what is best for you. There is nothing wrong with getting a starter paddle at an affordable price – only from there can one grow into better paddle gear.
For the Paddler Within……