Choosing the Right Kayak Paddle – The science of kayak paddles

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Did you know that there is a science behind choosing a paddle? Okay, maybe not a science, however, definite reasoning behind choosing the right kayak paddle. When I started out kayaking two years ago, I went to my local sporting goods store and purchased one that fit the budget. I also had a simpler kayak then, so I didn’t think I needed anything fancy. Boy, was I wrong!

How to Choose a kayak paddle

Rewind to last year, yes, it took me that long to realize that I needed to upgrade my paddle. When my husband went to our awesome local kayaking store to buy our daughter her kayak, they explained to us about choosing a paddle. Of course, the paddles are a little more pricey, but they are totally worth it. After being educated on the different types of paddles, we ended up buying me a new one. Shortly after this new purchase, we took our kayaks out as a family, and I got to use my new paddle for the first time! It was like a whole new world; it gave me insight into the difference a paddle can make. I was able to paddle without covering myself in water. It also made it easier to glide through the water compared to the cheaper one that I had originally purchased.

choosing the right kayak paddle
Carlise (lavender) is the new paddle. The black no limits is the older paddle.

Choosing the proper paddle is very important, especially if you plan to make kayaking a regular outing. There are a few things to take into consideration when you are choosing your paddle:

Kayak Paddle Length

Your height needs to be taken into consideration, along with the width of your kayak. The paddle will need to be long enough to clear the sides of your kayak when you are paddling. That was one of my mistakes. Your height is critical to selecting the right size kayak paddle since it impacts your form, power, and stroke. The right sized paddle will help you immensely.

choosing the right kayak paddle

Kayak Paddle Style

What type of kayaking you will be doing, also plays a huge role in this as well. If you want to do recreational kayaking, then your paddle will be budget friendly and will be a little bit heavier and shorter. Touring kayaking is what my family does, which is a longer distance in open bodies of water, like lakes and rivers. These paddles tend to be lightweight, durable for longer paddling and a little more pricey. Performance kayak paddles are ideal for speed, power, and are ultra-lightweight for continual paddling. Then there is, of course, is whitewater kayaking where you need a tougher paddle that is designed to withstand the beatings it will take against the many rocks you’ll encounter and working your way through strong currents.

Kayak paddle sunset
Captured this beautiful sunset on our first paddle this season.

How to hold a Kayak Paddle

Hold your kayak paddle by keeping your hands at your shoulders distance from each other centered on the kayak paddle.  Hold with a thumbs down grip.  By center, I don’t mean in the exact center of your paddle but so your hands are “centered” – if you’re off-set from the center it will cause you to turn and paddle in circles.

To practice, grab your paddle, grip it with both hands and extend it out from your chest so your elbows are straight and your hands are at shoulder height and distance. This is your grip you should start from and tweak as needed depending on your kayak style.

If you find yourself spinning in circles or favoring a turn left or right while trying to paddle straight its most likely because your hands aren’t centered on the paddle and you are applying more power to the stroke your favoring thus causing you to continually oversteer.

While holding a paddle your grip should be firm, comfortable, and not painful.  If your paddle has foam grippers or adjustable components – make sure that you have these in the right position. If it doesn’t feel comfortable standing still you won’t like it while your paddling.


Question:  How to buy a kayak paddle?

Answer:  Use the information provided here and visit your favorite kayaking store. Let them know what type of kayaking you’re interested in and have them help with fitment and adjustments.  Kayak paddles can be purchased online, at sporting good stores and specialty kayak stores.

Question: How to choose a kayak paddle?

Answer:  Know your mission – If you’re just starting out.  look for comfort, performance, and affordability. As your skill level increases, you can upgrade as you see fit. Many kayak specialty stores will have “demo days” where you can try out equipment and get a feel for it before you buy.

Wrap Up

So the next time you are looking at paddles you too will know the difference per your needs of kayaking. Now since it’s almost kayaking season get out there to upgrade your paddle if needed and enjoy the beauty of nature on some open waters.

What is your favorite kayak paddle? When you purchased your gear what do you look for in choosing the right kayak paddle? Leave your comment below, we love hearing from our readers!

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About the author

I’m a 40 something father of two girls who loves the mountains, still plays in the sand, and enjoys being in the great outdoors. The mountains are always calling my name.

“Wilderness is a necessity” – John Muir

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