Kayak Paddles and Wings
Touring and White Water
Choosing the right kayak paddles can make a huge difference to your kayaking experience. A paddle made for touring isn’t going to work well on whitewater and the paddle a six-foot-five man would use isn’t going to suit a petite girl. However, there are no hard and fast rules about which type of paddle to use and ultimately you’ll have to make a choice based on your own preferences and abilities.
The first thing you need to do when buying a paddle is to consider the type of kayaking you’ll be doing: the blade, shaft length and size are different for touring and whitewater kayaking.
Blade size and shape
One of the most important considerations when buying kayak paddles is the blade length and shape. Blades come in a variety of sizes and shapes, each with their own advantages and disadvantages.
Short, wide blades with a greater surface area give you greater acceleration and so are good for short, fast runs and are favoured by whitewater paddlers. However, they also offer greater resistance so it takes more effort to use a large bladed paddle and they can be more difficult to control in the wind. So anyone who plans to do a lot of touring should look for quite the opposite type of paddle – something with a long, narrow blade – they’re more efficient and more comfortable to use over long distances. Wing paddles are used by kayak racers as they provide fast, controlled strokes but it can be difficult to learn the proper technique for using one of these high-tech kayak paddles.
Feathered blades are positioned at an angle to one another to reduce wind resistance - the unused blade then slices through the air rather than pulling through it. This creates a more efficient stroke but requires an extra twist in the wrist to use which can be uncomfortable for beginners.
Other blade considerations
Blades are also defined by their symmetry. Asymmetrical blades equalize the force on the top and bottom of the blade while in use which reduces the twist on the paddle shaft. Curled or spooned paddles increase the power of a stroke and dihedral, or tapered, blades direct the water around the paddle more efficiently.
Shaft length and shapeTaller people generally require longer paddles than short people and typically, narrow or short kayaks need shorter paddles than wide or tall kayaks. However, the longer the paddle the greater the resistance. Consequently, whitewater kayakers prefer shorter paddles as they make it easier to manoeuvre, while touring kayakers prefer paddles with bent shafts for greater comfort and more efficient long-distance stroking.
Paddles are usually made out of fibreglass, aluminium, plastic, wood or more expensive graphite, Kevlar, or carbon. The material a paddle is made from affects its weight, durability and flexibility considerably. Go for the best paddle you can afford and it’ll enhance your kayaking experience immensely.