Know about the different types of kayak paddles will help you choose a model that suits your paddling needs.
From long to short and heavy to ultralight, you will find kayak paddles on all ends of the spectrum (plus everywhere in between!). The good news is that they all have somewhat of a ‘best use’, or a type of kayaking that they work better for than others.
If you are new to kayaking, for example, a bent shaft paddle is probably going to look and feel pretty weird. As you gain experience, however, you will learn about the scenarios in which this type of kayak paddle is easier to use and much more efficient than others.
The shaft of your kayak paddle is the tubular section that connects the two blades at either end. This is where you place your hands while paddling and it can either be a single-piece, two-pieces, or four-pieces.
Because there is so much variety among kayak paddles, we need to add a brief description before we get into the different types to explain a little bit about the different materials used to build the shafts of kayak paddles.
While plastic blades are very common among the most affordable kayak paddles, paddles with plastic shafts are extremely rare. That is probably because it has far too much flex to make a serviceably efficient paddle.
Aluminum is the most common material used to build budget-friendly kayak paddles. In terms of performance, paddles with aluminum shafts are reasonably durable and will serve beginners well enough.
The biggest problem with aluminum is that it can be subject to extreme temperatures. You will probably need to wear a pair of the best kayaking gloves if using a paddle with an aluminum shaft during the winter because it will get quite cold.
Conversely, an aluminum paddle shaft will heat up quickly during hot days. So just making sure you avoid leaving a kayak paddle with an aluminum shaft sitting directly in the sun will help you avoid burning your hands when you pick it up.
Fiberglass and Carbon Fiber
Kayak paddles with fiberglass and/or carbon fiber shafts are going to be the strongest, lightest, and most efficient options. They will be slightly more expensive than aluminum paddles, with carbon fiber being the most expensive material.
Paddles with fiberglass or carbon fiber shafts are usually used by only very experienced paddlers. They are common for competitive paddlers of whitewater kayaks or long-distance paddlers of touring kayaks.
The blades provide the power and directional control for your kayak. They are glued to the ends of your paddle shaft and spend most of their time pushing or pulling water along the edges of your kayak to control your direction and move you forward or backward.
Feathering refers to the adjustments to the blade angle that some kayak paddles allow you to make. With a non-feathered (also known as matched) paddle, both blades will be facing directly upward at the same angle when you are holding your paddle.
With two-piece paddles, however, the blade angles can be changed so that one blade points directly upward and the other points slightly more towards either the bow or stern of your kayak.
Depending on your preference, feathering your kayak paddle’s blades can give you either left-hand or right-hand steering control.
Drip guards are the small, circular pieces of rubber that encircle the shaft of your kayak paddle. They are designed to be placed at the far ends of your paddle shaft where the blades connect.
The purpose of drip guards is to stop water that drips from the blades towards the center of the shaft and cause it to fall back into the water outside of your kayak instead of falling into your lap in the cockpit.