As a whitewater kayaker, it’s just as important to know how to choose the right paddle as it is the right kayak. Your paddle is an extension of your body, so it’s important to choose one that is comfortable in your hands, feels good, and performs to your expectations! Knowing how to choose a white water paddle will allow you to paddle more efficiently and effectively, while having more FUN!
Choosing a whitewater paddle may feel like a difficult task: Should you choose a carbon fiber or fiberglass paddle? How long should the paddle be? Should you paddle a straight or bent shaft? While the designs vary slightly, a paddle is a paddle: it has two blades attached to either a straight or bent shaft. Paddle blades and shafts come in a variety of materials and sizes.
Length: For an all-around paddle, I would suggest the following lengths, based on your height.
5’0″ – 5’3″: 188-192cm
5’3″ – 5’8″: 192-196cm
5’8″ – 6’1″: 196-200cm
6’1″ + : 200-204cm
If you are a smaller paddler, consider a shorter paddle with a smaller shaft, and smaller blades.
Straight vs. Bent Shaft: The straight-shaft is a more traditional design, while the bent-shaft is a newer, more ergonomically correct design. Personally, I prefer a bent shaft whenever possible, as it puts your wrists and elbows in a neutral position, allowing for less arm fatigue when paddling. This is more of a personal preference, but generally speaking the bent shaft is easier on your joints.
Blade Offset: Paddle blades typically have anywhere from 15 to 45 degrees of blade offset. The less offset the blades, the less movement occurs at the wrist, meaning less repetitive twisting, and less overall fatigue on the water. With that said, a higher degree of offset “cuts” through the wind easier when paddling into a headwind. I would personally recommend a blade offset of 30 degrees, a nice happy medium between the two ends of the spectrum.
Materials: Paddle blades and shafts come in all kinds of materials: aluminum, plastic, fiberglass, carbon, etc. The main differences between materials are swing-weight and strength. Aluminum is the heaviest, followed by plastic, fiberglass, and the lightest: carbon. Generally speaking, strength and rigidity go in that order as well, with carbon being the strongest and the stiffest. Stiffness is purely personal preference. Generally speaking, the stiffer the paddle, the more efficient the paddle stroke, as your effort is not lost in the flex of the paddle shaft or blades.
I would personally recommend a lightweight semi-stiff paddle paddle, such as one with a fiberglass or carbon shaft and blades. While slightly more costly, your paddle stroke will be more efficient and your arms won’t be as tired at the end of a paddling session. Not to mention, these materials are generally more durable.
Price: The lighter the paddle, generally the more expensive the paddle. The price range of dependable paddles is generally $150-$500
When choosing a paddle, consider all of the above, and if you can, demo. Each paddle is a little different, and it’s worth it to find the paddle that feels good!
If you’d like to get more technical, consider the style of paddling you will be doing. Generally, I suggest a shorter paddle for playboating, and a longer paddle for creeking. When playboating, a longer paddle has a tendency to get “hung up”, while you’ll appreciate the added reach and leverage of a longer paddle when creeking. For example, I paddle a 191cm paddle for playboating and a 193cm paddle for creeking.
About the Author: Kim Russell has a B.S. in Human Physiology and is both a full-time Exercise Specialist and Professional Whitewater Paddler of over eight years. She has won the 2015 Little White Salmon Race, Western Whitewater Championship Series from 2010-2013, the Wind River Festival from 2010-2013, and the Northwest Creeking Competition from 2009-2013. She has participated in various FLUX women’s clinics, and is an active member of the Northwest paddling community. You may also find Kim racing mountain bikes professionally in the Enduro World Series and local races.
For more information on Russell and for similar articles visit her website: www.kimrussell.weebly.com