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Choosing The Kayak Paddle

It's easy to make a case for the paddle being the most important piece of your canoe or kayak equipment. The paddle is an extension of your body and you feel the water with it when controlling your boat. it is your most sensitive link to the water world. It is the tool required to explore the characteristics of a boat. If it is heavy or awkward your experience can be dulled and your perception of a particular boat can be adversely affected. You work with the paddle, expending energy as you lift it and pull on it. The boat by contrast will respond favorably, or not, reacting to your efforts with the paddle. You can adjust for unfavorable hull speed or maneuverability but it is hard to compensate for the paddle. You are immediately aware of it with every stroke.

How do you recognize a good paddle or one appropriate for you? This will vary depending upon a wide range of personal issues including your size and strength, where you paddle, the style of paddling you are interested in and the boat you intend to paddle. We'll cover a few basics here but bear in mind that the subject is vast and space is limited.

Touring Kayak paddles are frequently asymmetrical since they are placed in the water at an angle. Blades often curve from base to tip.

Racing blades are often small and or shaped to easily slip in and out of the water. The number of strokes taken during the race can be more important than the power applied per stroke. Wing style kayak paddles help propel during entry and exit.

Traditional kayak blades are long and relatively narrow. This is primarily due to limitations of materials and technology associated with traditional construction. Paddles were often constructed from a single piece of wood. These fine paddles are associated with sophisticated paddling techniques and tend to excel in deep water.

Whitewater paddles are typically stout, stiff, and have large blades. These qualities enhance predictability and power in turbulent waters.

The best paddle for you will depend upon how specifically you adhere to the above categories as well as the skill level you bring to paddling. For example, there are many sea kayakers who prefer paddles sized for touring but with blades similar to whitewater kayak paddles. Many canoe paddlers gravitate towards paddles blending qualities of the touring paddle with traditional shapes for finesse boat control. A shorter kayak paddle is easier to paddle at a higher cadence but a large blade size can slow that down. It is wise to test paddle paddles to make your link to the water a comfortable one! Talk with us about zeroing in on the best paddle for your physique and temperament.

A properly sized paddle will be the most efficient paddle for you. You'll enjoy it more because you'll work less and have a better feel for the water. It is therefore important to obtain a sensible fit when choosing your paddle. Variations in paddle length can have more dramatic effects on your paddling effort than variations in blade shape and size. Ignore manufacturer paddle length measurements as you switch from one style of paddle to another.

Paddle fit should be based on the ancient system of anatomical measurements. A kayak paddle can be sized using your arms alone. With your shoulder to elbow parallel to the ground, and your elbow to hand at 90 degrees of the shoulder to elbow, with a whitewater paddle there should be 4-6" from the outside of the hands to the beginning of the blade. If you are sea kayaking you'll want 6"-10" between hand and blade.

In kayak paddling one hand or the other serves as the paddle control hand. It can be important to be able to feather the return stroke so that wind and waves don't catch the blade. In choosing your paddle make sure that the grip is comfortable in your hand. You are wise to stick with one hand or the other as the control hand. Paddles are often constructed to be adjustable for paddling in the unfeathered position, or as either Right Hand Control (RHC) or Left Hand Control (LHC). If the kayak paddle blades are symmetrical and flat then the control hand concept is not a factor in selecting your paddle since there is no specific front or back to the blade, there can be no right or left. Most of the better paddles are curved and have a top and bottom so that there is a right and left.

To identify the control hand for a particular paddle hold the paddle in front of you with both hands on the shaft. The blades should be in the offset or feathered position. Line up the knuckles of one hand with the top of the blade nearest it. If you have done this with your right hand as pictured, the opposite blade curves up for a right hand control paddle. Conversely the blade curves down if the paddle is left hand control. Your control hand maintains this position during your paddle stroke while the paddle shaft rotates freely in your opposite hand. When you paddle with offset blades one blade is anchored in the water while the other slices through the air meeting less wind resistance.