Leigh Barnfield is an enthusiastic kayaker. Having been bitten by the paddling bug he recently purchased his own boat and is out on the water whenever time/work/family commitments allow. Leigh is a classic case in point when it comes to paddles. We’re sure he won’t mind us saying but he didn’t know where to start when searching for an upgrade to his non-efficient alloy type. Here at Sitons we bang on about paddles a lot. We thought it a good idea to catch up with Leigh and chat a little about his experiences of buying a kayak paddle. This should hopefully identify some of the issues and pitfalls kayakers find themselves succumbing to.

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Photo: Leigh Barnfield

When did you first discover sit on kayaking and what made you want to get involved?
A friend who runs a personal fitness company was running group sit on kayaking sessions over the summer. I had been trying to find an activity for myself during my spare time when I saw it on facebook . It looked like awesome fun so I decided to give it a go. I have done a little bit of kayaking before but was in really bad shape and was keen to try and get healthy whilst doing something really good fun. I love it when you hit the big waves and now I have set a goal which is the 2016 Round Hayling Island kayak (a local event to Sitons).

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Photo: Leigh Barnfield

Tell us about your boat – what do you currently own and why did you purchase that?
Perception Scooter. Loads of reasons for that. 1. I wanted a well-known brand, 2. I wanted a kayak that could do anything – river, surf and sea. This would allow me to try out different routes depending on my mood, weather conditions and opportunity. 3. I had used one in the group sessions so I knew I could handle it. 4. Several people recommended it to me. 5. Price. 6. Easy to transport. 6. Stable. 7. A friend had one for sale second hand.

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Photo: Leigh Barnfield

Where do you normally paddle and who with?
My dad and I normally go out Sunday’s from Northney, Hayling Island, or Southsea sea front.

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Photo: Leigh Barnfield

What’s your most memorable kayak session to date and why?
My first session on the water I was like: ‘wow this is awesome and so chilled out! The weather was amazing and the boat was drifting in the tide – it was really relaxing and totally addictive.

Describe the paddle you own at the minute – what makes you think you need to upgrade?
It’s 210cm-220cm and has an aluminium shaft with plastic head (I think). It appears to be a robust good general purpose paddle that came with the kayak but feels a bit heavy and doesn’t really offer the performance I keep being told I need.

Did you have any potential models in mind or have you started from scratch? I know absolutely nothing about paddles. All I know is a want a new paddle so I can increase my speed and control. I think if I had something like an Adventure Technology Pursuit touring paddle I could cover more distance faster. But I’m still not sure.

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Where have you been getting the majority of your information about paddles from? Kayaking websites mainly, like Sitons. Google is also a good source of info and then friends and socil media have advice and info.

What about kayaking in general – any specific sources you use for info regularly? Just the internet and press. I do not have many friends who have been involved in kayaking so I am heavily reliant on other people’s opinions online. I’m not sure if this is a good thing? I’ve managed to learn a lot though so hopefully…

If you had to list three important factors about buying a new kayak paddle what would they be – based on your current experience? Excluding length and blade angle, as these are clearly absolutely critical, it would then be weight, price and durability.

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Photo: Leigh Barnfield

Paddles and paddling can be a confusing topic – have you had any issues with figuring out paddles and understanding the terminology?
It’s all SOO complicated! Feather, length, materials, angle, price, straight or ergo shaft and so on. There just seems to be so many variables and then there’s price. It’s difficult to tell where in the £30 to £400 I really should be looking. There never seems to be a consistent recommendation, unlike when I brought my Scooter – kayaks themselves are so much easier to find definite opinion about.

What do you think the most important factor is when buying a new paddle and why?
I’m not sure. I want to maximise my average speed over long journeys and because there is no one single important variable, from what I can see, it becomes extremely difficult to narrow down which factor is the most important.

Have you visited any retailers to date? If so, what has their advice been?
To be honest any spare time I have I spend in the water. All my shopping/research is done online in the evening after work. If I have a spare afternoon/morning I would rather be kayaking – which adds to my frustration of having this nightmare of purchasing a new paddle. I did make it to one store on a Friday night but it was not a dedicated kayaking store and had very limited stock.

Demoing paddles is a good way to understand the differences between models – have you had a chance to try any?
Unfortunately not. I would like to demo different styles so that I could ensure that I got what I wanted (especially if paying a lot of money), but I am not really in a position to do this.

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Do you think the materials a manufacturer uses in its paddle is important? If so, why?
The literature would certainly indicate it’s critical. I assume it’s about weight but don’t know.

How do you think the upgrading of a kayakers paddle can be simplified? Is there anything manufactures, retailers and media outlets can do to make it easier to understand what you should be looking for?
I would love to see some kind of selection tool where you plug in your requirement and it spits out an unbiased recommendation. Like a matrix/pick list.

Any final thoughts on buying paddles or sit on kayaking in general?
It has been difficult to get all the clothing and other equipment as my dad and I had to buy everything online (lack of shops that sell this type of gear). This made it difficult to get the right fit, with us having to send several items back for larger/smaller sizes. I appreciate this is mostly caused by my lack of time. My point is, however, this makes buying a new kayak paddle a daunting prospect. I don’t really want to be in the situation of having to keep sending kit back. I’m a bit stuck at the moment, however, so may have to take a gamble.

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In summary You can see form what Leigh says above just how confusing the world of paddle buying can be. We appreciate the amount of technical terms any prospective new customer comes across can be mind bending. However confused Leigh may feel though he obviously realised the type of paddle he needs and actually the AT Pursuit would be a good fit the use he intends. Unfortunately, jargon and technical terms used by the kayak industry (in fact, any industry) don’t help intermediates feel confident about what they’re looking for. Note: We’ve also since learned that Leigh has indeed stumped up and chose to part green for the AT Pursuit – we think he’ll be more than happy with that. You can see our video accompaniment to the AT Pursuit review here – the write up can be found by skipping across to www.sitons.com/articles/hot-pursuit-adventure-technology-pursuit-touring…