Back at the tail end of 2012 we published an article about the types of kayak paddle you can buy. We highlighted the general differences and briefly mentioned problems caused by having the wrong type. However, it’s all well and good choosing a specific ‘engine’ based on manufacturing materials, but what about paddle length and choosing the right size?

The measurement of your shaft will have a direct influence on how you paddle, the efficiency of your stroke and the handling of your boat. Your paddling preference – surf, flat water or distance, for instance – should also be taken into account. Sitons investigates paddle sizing and navigates you through this tricky subject.

Boat first

Sit on kayaks are mostly wide beasts – although this isn’t always the case. Some offer more girth than others while a number of boats are narrower and designed with manoeuvrability in mind. You’ll need to assess the width of your boat before you start making judgement calls about paddle size.

Assess the width of your boat to avoid catching your shaft In your paddling position, it’s important riders are comfortable, don’t over exert themselves and are able to fully submerse the blade during the ‘reach and catch’ part of the stroke. You’ll also need to take into account the ‘recovery’. If your paddle is too short the gunnels (edges) of your boat will impede an otherwise efficient stroke and you’ll be clattering your shaft against plastic.

Paddling style

Having determined your boat’s width, the second question is: what style of paddling do you subscribe to? This doesn’t have to be a brain taxing conundrum but should be given some consideration none the less. For those who favour waves, a shorter shaft with narrower blade should be the order of the day. This allows for quicker side to side (rail to rail) changes and gives riders the opportunity for explosive bursts of paddle power when needed. You may not get as much reach but you’ll be more agile and better poised to tackle surf. It could also be wise to go for a narrower diameter shaft which can minimise fatigue with grip during sessions. If you’re a touring aficionado then a longer shaft, for further reach, with a fatter blade, giving greater water displacement, would be a wise choice. Covering greater distance with less effort will make for more efficient journey times and less bodily strain.

A longer shaft will help when covering distance Even ‘once in a blue moon’ paddlers should consider shaft length – it’s even more crucial for those who kayak infrequently. When you don’t get as many sessions under your belt as you’d wish, there’s a tendency to overcook it when you do manage a float. Having an incorrect paddle length could therefore heighten the risk of injury as you throttle down from the off. Warming up beforehand will help avoid injury but correct paddle sizing shouldn’t be overlooked.

Paddler height

Even though you’re sitting down during kayaking it’s important to consider your overall height and choose your paddle size accordingly. For instance: if you’re 6ft plus with a boat width of 29” then you can get away with a shorter paddle shaft length of around 230 – 240cm. This would be a ‘middle ground’ tool allowing riders to straddle disciplines and would be a larger rider’s all round paddle. If you wanted to specialise, going shorter for increased turning ability, and longer for improved mileage would be best. Here’s a simple table that details rule of thumb incremental paddle sizing (individual tweaks may be further required).

If you’re really struggling then you could always choose an adjustable paddle. Be aware though that these can sometimes lack strength and durability.

Blade angle (feather)

Once shaft size is put to bed, blade angle (or feather as it’s more commonly referred to) is worth considering. The amount of wrist twist, during paddle strokes, and how much resistance during the ‘punch’ you encounter is all linked to blade feather. 90’ angle blades require more twist and are fine for general recreational kayaking but impede fast strokes. Subtle angles, not requiring as much rotation, are usually a better choice. Allowing for a more explosive style, and faster paddle stroke, this type of design is most preferred as you progress. In terms of what feather angle is best, the jury is out and open to debate. The best advice is to try a few different types and see what suits.

Shaft diameter and type

Narrow diameter shafts are usually preferred by all paddlers. They offer a more comfortable grip and are more forgiving than something chunkier. Different incremental measurements are available and it’s always worth demoing a few to ensure you make the correct decision.

An example of an alloy paddle – fine for general recreation Paddles are manufactured in different materials – some come in alloy form while others are produced from fibreglass and carbon. Alloy sticks are cheaper with fibreglass and carbon being more expensive. If you want the most efficient product then it’s best to go for a carbon type as these generally offer the best performance. Weekend warriors, who get out infrequently, or budget conscious individuals will be fine with alloy or glass paddles.

Follow your own path

The more you hit the water, the better you’ll understand what works and what doesn’t. If you stick to tried and tested and never experiment, you’ll be none the wiser. However, demoing multiple products and spotting how design tweaks affect your paddling is always a worthwhile exercise. Most retailers offer hire kit. Get yourself along to your local paddling emporium and speak to the guys in the shop – their advice should also help you narrow down choices further. Paddles are an often overlooked piece of essential kayaking kit – particularly within sit on circles. And yet, having access to a decent stick will promote more enjoyment from your kayaking sessions and help you avoid injury.

Follow your own path and change your set up regularly to discover what best suits Once you start tinkering with your set up you’ll find your optimum gear. If something’s not working, change it, even if it goes against the grain. As long as it’s not placing undue stress on your body, promoting bad technique and giving less enjoyment, then go for it! Get out there and try as many different paddles as you can, you won’t be sorry…