What's the Difference in Kayak Paddles? [Video]

<em>(Photo courtesy of @paddle365 via Facebook)</em>

Join Dan Arbuckle from Headwaters Kayak and Chris Sartain from Out West with Chris as they discuss: “What’s the difference in kayak paddles?”


Yes, you can jump in a kayak and simply paddle around. It’s not hard. But as with many activities, the more you do it, the more you realize there’s so much to learn!

Why Your Paddle Matters

Dan has been kayaking for 26 years. He says, “The paddle is probably—next to your kayak—the single most important piece of gear. Maybe even more important than your kayak.”

Why? Because your paddle is the thing you’re using to propel you through the water at roughly a thousand strokes per mile. A pound or two can make a huge difference in your energy level and soreness by the end of the day.

Chris shares:

“When I bought my first kayak it was a package deal. I got a PFD, I got the kayak, I got a couple paddle leashes, and I got a paddle. It wasn’t until I met Dan that I really came to understand the importance of a good paddle. He introduced me to a pretty decent paddle. It changed how much I enjoyed kayaking, how far I could go, how long I could go without getting exhausted on the water.”

Dan deals this way in his shop: “If you have $1,000 to spend, spend $750 on your kayak and $250 on your paddle. You’ll come back and thank me.”

What Makes a Paddle Lighter (and therefore better)

It’s all in the materials used in construction in both the shaft and the blades.

Aluminum is the cheapest and heaviest material used in kayak paddles. They’re used in entry-level paddles along with plastic blades.

Fiberglass paddles are lighter than aluminum, but still carry a heavier swing weight than your next option: carbon fiber. Carbon is noticeably lighter, which is what swing weight is all about—how heavy the paddle feels when it’s in motion.

Carrying weight at the end of your paddle (the blades) makes the swing weight heavier, which means more fatigue at the end of the day. The lighter the material, the less fatigue you’ll experience.

The lightest paddles give you buoyancy—the blades almost pop out of the water on their own, making it even easier to paddle over long distances.

Paddle Blade Shapes and Why it Matters

Kayak paddle blades come in two basic shapes: long and lean, wide and short. Long and lean blades are designed for low-angle paddling. This is a relaxed style good for several hours on the water.

Shorter, wider blades are designed for high-angle paddling—when you’re paddling faster or hauling gear in your kayak (i.e., when kayak fishing).

(For more on blade shape read: Kayak Paddles: High-Angle vs. Low-Angle)

Look for a local kayak shop where the staff really knows kayaking. They can answer your questions and help you pick gear that’s right for you. Many can even let you try out some demo equipment, which is a super way to test different paddles.

See more from Chris on his YouTube Channel: Out West with Chris. You can catch up with Dan at Headwaters Kayak in Lodi, California.

Contact our Wisconsin-based Customer Service team with your paddle questions today: 715-755-3405 • [email protected]

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