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Paddle Differences, Types, Uses, and Selecting the Right One For You

Paddle near a body of water

Paddle Differences, Types, Uses, and Selecting the Right One For You

When kayaking through the Mahoning or Cuyahoga Rivers, choosing the right paddle can make all the difference. When it comes to choosing a paddle, you have to consider a four variables:

  1. Length of paddle

  2. Materials used

  3. Blade shape

  4. Shaft type

Choosing the right length

Let’s start with length. To choose the right length, you need to know two things: the size of the kayak and your own height. The chart below uses the measurements of boat width and height to help you find the best length of paddle. As a general rule of thumb, if you are in-between sizes, it’s best to size down your paddle.

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Choosing the right blade material

Once you’ve got the right length, you can consider the material the shaft and blade are made of. We’ll start with the most common blade materials, from most to least expensive.

  • Carbon-fiber blades are pricey, but they’re also the most efficient and durable.

  • Fiberglass blades are mid-range on the price scale, but they’re also very efficient in the water. While they could chip, they’re unlikely to split across the length of the paddle, which is something that can happen with our third and most affordable paddle.

  • Plastic paddle blades are great for those new to kayaking who aren’t going to test the waters (pun intended) too much. They aren’t as efficient as fiberglass or carbon-fiber because they tend to bend under pressure. They can also chip, crack, and break.

If you’re a leisurely kayaker, who only gets out on the water a few times per season, then plastic might not be a bad option. But if you’re a more avid kayaker who likes longer trips on more powerful waters, then a fiberglass or carbon-fiber blade might be a better investment.

Choosing the right blade shape

Ok, so you’ve got an idea of what paddle length and blade material you want. Now let’s check out the different shapes of blades available, and what situations they’re best for.

The main choice you need to make when shopping for blade shape is blade width: narrow or wide. Narrow blades are great for longer kayaking trips because they have a smaller surface area and require less power per stroke. Wider blades have more surface area, which means more power is required.

If you go on a long trip with a wide blade, chances are good you’ll tire out faster and feel pretty sore the next day.

Choosing the right type of shaft

Just as with blades, choosing the right shaft material and design is important. When it comes to materials, the most common—from most to least expensive—are aluminum, fiberglass, and carbon-fiber. Aluminum is heavier and less durable than the other two, and it also can get really hot or cold depending on the temperature. If you go with aluminum, you might want to have a pair of gloves handy.

Shafts also come in straight or bent, two-piece or four-piece, standard or small diameter, and feathered or matched blades. I know! Lots to choose from. Let’s break it down.

A straight shaft is just what it sounds like. The bent shaft looks like an EZ curl bar that you might see at a gym. The angled parts of the shaft can make it more comfortable to paddle with.

A two-piece paddle comes in two separate pieces that attach in the middle of the paddle, while a four-piece paddle comes in four pieces: two blades and two shaft pieces.

The traditional and smaller diameter shafts simply provide options for people with smaller hands or people who like the feel of a smaller shaft that’s easier to grip. It’s all about hand size and preference.

The difference between feathered and matched blades is simple. Matched blades are in alignment, so if you lay it flat on the ground, both blades will lay the same. Feathered blades are offset, so if you lay one blade flat on the ground, the other would be at a slightly different angle. Feathered blades are supposed to catch less wind when out of the water and account for the rotation of the paddle that occurs when you switch from side to side.

Once you learn which paddle is best for you, bring it over to one of our three river adventures: Mahoning River, Cuyahoga Valley, or Burning River, and test it out during one of these hot summer days.

And if you don’t have a paddle, no worries! When you rent a kayak from us, you get a paddle, life jacket, and brief paddling instructions.

We look forward to seeing you out on the river soon!

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