The kayak paddle has twin blades, mounted on opposite
ends of a long shaft. By having two blades, the kayak paddle eliminates
the need for a canoe style cross-over to propel the boat in a straight
line. Kayak paddles are usually made of wood, fiberglass, carbon-fiber
or some other type of plastic composite material. The shaft may
be constructed of the same material or aluminum. Paddles can range
greatly in price, depending upon material and design.
One of the greatest considerations in selecting a paddle is the
blade width. The width determines how easy a paddle moves through
the water. Narrow blades (less than 6 inches wide) are less stressful
on muscles and wrists due to reduced water resistance. With a narrow
paddle, you do have to maintain a more rapid stroke rate to keep
up with someone using a wider blade. Wider blades have more surface
area and can propel the kayak faster with the same number of strokes.
On the downside, a wider blade requires more effort.
Kayak paddles are usually measured in centimeters. Most sea kayak
paddles are 210 to 250 cm. The length of the paddle you need depends
on your size, the size of your kayak and the type of paddling you
intend on doing. If you paddle mostly rivers, are of small frame,
or paddle a heavily loaded kayak, use a shorter paddle. If you have
a larger frame, lightly loaded kayak or travel in mostly saltwater
(except surf), you might want to try a longer paddle. Generally,
it's better to err on the shorter side.
The rate of paddling changes depending on the length of the paddle
shaft. Shorter paddles are less demanding on muscles, but increase
the rate of paddling. Longer paddles decrease the rate of paddling
for maintaining the same speed, but require more muscular effort.
Paddles with longer shafts tend to have narrower blades.
Paddle shafts may consist of a single segment or may come in two
(or sometimes more) sections. Paddles that break down into two pieces
are much easier to store, transport and carry on your kayak as a
spare. Usually high quality two-piece paddles are as strong as those
with a single section.
You should be able to feather the paddle, by rotating the
two sections and locking them in-place. Feathering is where the
paddle blades are at 50 to 90 degree angles to each other. This
allows the blade that is out of the water to move much easier through
the air. Beginners should generally learn with the paddles in the
straight position as it is easier to learn bracing techniques.
It's a good idea to purchase a spare paddle can carry it on every
trip. Don't skimp on the spare, as the only time you'll really need
it is after you've lost your primary paddle. If you think you don't
really need a spare, try paddling with your kayak any distance by
hand without a paddle.
A good first paddle for beginning sea kayakers consists of asymmetrical
blades about 17"-18" inches in length and 7" in height. The blades
should be made of fiberglass or nylon on a fiberglass or carbon-fiber
shaft. The paddle should break into two sections and weight no more
than 2 1/2 pounds.
Don't skimp when purchasing a paddle. If you purchase a cheap clunker,
you'll soon either give up on kayaking or will be visiting the store
in search of a replacement. Expect to pay between $100 and $180
USD for a good first paddle.