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Essential Gear: Paddles

Alan Bergman – Choosing the right paddle for recreational and touring/sea kayaking is a combination of subjective and practical criteria.  What may be the perfect paddle for you could be the totally wrong paddle for your best kayaking buddy.  Let’s explore some of the guidelines to consider when purchasing a paddle.

Keep in mind that these guidelines only provide a general overview for selecting a paddle that will prove easy to use, while powering you through the water efficiently.   Just like with kayaks, it is prudent to actually try a few out on the water to help determine which paddle seems like the right choice.


This first factor in paddle selection requires some self-examination and analysis.  What type of paddler are you?  Most of us fall into one of two categories.

We may be low angle paddlers, meaning that our strokes tend to be more low-cadence and relaxed.  While this could sacrifice a little in tracking (paddling in a straight line), low angle paddling usually requires less exertion and is easier on the joints and muscles.  The paddle shaft will be more horizontal than it is in high angle paddling.  Low angle paddling is typically aligned with choosing paddles with longer, more slender blade shapes.

High angle paddlersexhibit a more aggressive paddling style, requiring increased exertion on the water.  The paddle is in more of a vertical position (than with low angle paddling), and the blade enters the water closer to the hull of the kayak. High angle paddling may be better suited to more demanding water and weather conditions, as well as longer, sleeker kayaks.  If this is your preferred style of kayaking, then shorter, wider blade shapes should be best for you.


One’s height and arm length are important factors in determining the most appropriate size paddle to purchase.  You don’t want to be slamming your knuckles down on your kayak deck, nor do you want the blades entering the water too far from your kayak. One litmus test for selecting the right length paddle is to hold it in your hands with your elbows bent slightly, in just less than a 90-degree angle.  Your hands should end up falling on the shaft about 2/3 of the way between its center-point and the shoulder of the blade.

To provide some general, rule-of-thumb direction, the height and corresponding paddle length guidelines are as follows:  5’4” to 5’11” tall – 210-240 cm paddle; or 6’+ tall –  220-250 cm paddle.  If you happen to have a short torso in relation to your overall height, then a slightly longer paddle may work better. Notice that the paddle length is expressed in centimeters, rather than inches.

Every rule has exceptions, and these aforementioned sizing guidelines have one, too.  These suggested paddle lengths may not necessarily be accurate for fishing kayaks and other very wide kayaks.  This is further investigated below.


While the paddler’s height goes a long way in selecting the most appropriate paddle length, it is essential that kayak width be taken into consideration, too.  Simply put, the wider the kayak, the longer the paddle needs to be.  Taking both of these factors into account, a short person in a wide kayak and a tall person in a narrow boat, could conceivably require the same exact length paddle.


Not unlike purchasing a kayak, the same parameter often applies to paddles:  the lighter, the more costly.  At the lower end of the price range are plastic and aluminum paddles. At the upper end are carbon and fiberglass paddles, which tend to be more flexible, lighter and cause less strain on the wrists.

Last, but certainly not least, are wooden paddles, also known as Greenland or Inuit paddles. These are usually made from cedar, ash, spruce or walnut; and, are finished with multiple coats of a laminate. Greenland paddles have a rather loyal fan base among sea kayakers; and, seem to be most efficient for long-distance paddling and/or very windy conditions.  The blade is less than 4” wide and tapers to a shaft that is generally equal to the width of the kayaker’s shoulders.


Just to add a few more pieces to the paddle purchase puzzle, several other decisions need to be made as part of the process.

One decision is whether to go with a straight shaft or a bent shaft.  With the latter option, the hands are placed where the recesses are positioned on the shaft.

Some paddlers believe that the bent shaft is more ergonomically correct than a straight shaft, and, thus, easier to use.  Other experienced paddlers feel that the straight shaft provides more options for hand placement for executing different types of strokes.  Who’s correct?  Who knows?  Come talk to the experts at Wild Meadow Paddlesports and we can help you select the right paddle, or two, for you.