In this part of Sitons’ ultimate kayak paddle guide we look at materials used in the engineering of kayak paddles and the manufacturing process. Materials, in particular, will affect a number of things within paddles and paddling. Performance on the water, how the paddle feels, its effect on joints and paddlers bodies and cost – all factors to be considered when purchasing your new ‘tool’. To keep things simple we’re going to split paddle materials down into three distinct areas. With constant advancements in technology and new products being discovered all the time exotic materials being used in a paddle’s make up is a continually evolving process. Generally, however, paddles are made from aluminium, fibreglass and carbon.
When we talk about paddles being manufactured from aluminium we’re talking specifically about the shaft. Alloy is a fairly cheap product and therefore good for use in budget paddles. Manufactured as a hollow tube with predominantly plastic blades at either end many aluminium paddles are thrown into kayak bundles by retailers and are used as an added value extra when selling new gear. While alloy paddles will certainly get you up and running, if you’re a newbie to sit on kayaking, they should be seen as low performance and swapped out for something better as soon as possible. Aluminium paddle shafts simply don’t possess the bend/flex characteristics needed for efficient kayaking. Plastic blades aren’t actually that bad, as long as grade of material is high and there’s a degree of thought and engineering behind the design. A weak and less than efficient aluminium shaft will be detrimental to your paddling and eventually take its toll on your body. There are some OK alloy paddles available but these are few and far between and best practice is to have an aluminium paddle as a backup or spare only.
Fibreglass paddle shafts generally make up the next tier of kayak paddling performance. Usually failry light weight and offering an admirable degree of performance, glass paddles are worthy contenders for your next paddle purchase. In some instances paddle companies, such as Adventure Technology Paddles, employ fibreglass in their paddle blades. This gives a totally different feel to that of plastic and carbon and suits a variety of different uses. In some cases paddlers may prefer a blended paddle with carbon shaft and glass blade.
Recently Sitons got to demo (extensively) AT’s range and the brand’s Quest was a favourite. While not technically being a full fibreglass paddle – the shaft is actually carbon – the blade gave a nice feel when being pulled through the water and was light to boot. (You can also check out our review of AT’s Pursuit touring paddle, which features a glass/nylon blend of materials in the blade with carbon shaft, here – www.sitons.com/articles/hot-pursuit-adventure-technology-pursuit-touring…).
Generally speaking carbon manufactured paddles, across all paddle sports, are the best money can buy. Offering the most efficiency during strokes carbon can be engineered to flex exactly how the designer has in mind and therefore accommodate a plethora of paddling styles and disciplines.
That said not all carbon paddles are the same. As already mentioned above, some brands (such as AT) have ranges in their lineup that feature blended materials to deliver different performance. Also budgetary requirements will dictate the level of carbon plumped for in your imminent paddle purchase. And let’s not forget that a cheap paddle is still (and always will be) a cheap paddle that hinders rather than benefits – even when talking carbon. Sitons used the adventure Technology Paddles Oracle, which you can see in the video. This sits in the brand’s Advanced Series line and comes in both bent and straight shaft types. IN all scenarios this was a firm favourite and flatters paddling styles and suits a variety of sit on kayak hull shapes. We can’t get across how efficient and joyful to use such a paddle actually is. There is of course a cost ramification from wanting/needing such a tool but your body and paddling in general will benefit massively from using a good quality paddle such as the Oracle. Many will be reading this and thinking that sit on kayaking doesn’t need such expense. But thought should be given to the ‘engine’ being used to propel your craft forwards. The user is the one in charge and it’s the paddler’s body which will suffer if not using correct equipment. With a better designed and manufactured paddle the sit on kayaking experience will be improved tenfold.
Some paddles are manufactured by hand while others are mass produced by machinery – depending on the brand in question. Hand crafted paddles, while generally more expensive, will give the user a bespoke product tailored to an individual’s wants and needs. That said we’re not recommending everyone rush out and go down this route – although feel free if this options sounds appealing. Paddle shafts are usually made utilising the injection moulding process. This requires the material being used for shaft construction to be forced into a cylindrical mould and form the required shape. The more intricate the shaft design – such as with bent/crank shafts – the more time/labour intensive the process.
Blades are then added retrospectively if the materials being used in the section are different to that of the shaft. Some paddles, such as full carbon, do come as one piece but, again, as there’s more work involved in producing this type of paddle, costs tend to rise. Obviously each paddle company will have their own unique way of manufacturing their paddles and may deviate slightly from the process.
Thanks to Perception Kayaks Europe (AT Paddles European distributor) for help with this article. More info can be found by visiting www.gaybo.co.uk/brands.html And thanks to Palm Equipmnent Europe for providing water wear and PFD. More from them can be found at www.palmequipmenteurope.com/