Wednesday, March 28, 2012

How to Choose a Touring/Sea Kayak Paddle

Selecting the perfect kayak paddle is probably the most important decision you will make as a boater.  That is because the paddle is engine, your tool to transfer energy to the water.  Choosing the proper blade shape will allow you to perform at the highest level for your style of boating and understanding the perfect fit options for you will allow you to be more comfortable, use less energy and spend more time on the water.  

Choose the shape of your blade based on the style of paddling you are doing
Low angle-“more options”.  Most people enjoy the low angle style of paddling as it allows them to use good technique when they choose, torso rotation and focus on core strength, but also spend more time on the water if you are just relaxing and recreating.  With your hands in a lower position, think about your top hand shoulder height as you take your stroke, you put significantly less pressure on your upper body, arms and shoulders.  The longer, more narrow blade shape Werner has designed “fits” in the water better and presents more surface area to the water with low angle paddling.

High angle-“more commitment to technique, but more efficient.”
By focusing on keeping you top hand about forehead height as you take your stroke you will notice how the blade travels closer to the kayak.  With the blade traveling in this path your boat will track significantly better, go straighter.  Werner’s wider, shorter blade shape puts more surface area of the blade into the water in this position.  Now this style does take more emphasis on proper torso rotation since more pressure can be put on your shoulders in this higher angle paddling style.  The commitment is worth it though for those looking to take their paddling to a higher performance level in longer, sleeker light touring and touring kayaks.

Check out a video here giving you a visual of low and high angle paddling.

Fit options
Now that you have the proper blade shape for your paddling style let’s be sure you have the perfect fit.  The perfect fitting paddle will assure comfort and the least amount of energy used on the water.

Low angle
            Here are some easy to follow rules
-6 feet and under use 220cm.
-6’1” and over use 230cm 
-If your kayak is over 28” wide add 10cm to the length of the paddle, after you choose based on your height.
High angle
 Here are some easy to follow rules
-6 feet and under use 210cm.
-6’1” and over use 215cm 
-Kayak width generally does not come into play since most high-angle paddlers are in more narrow light touring and touring kayaks.

For a more in depth look, especially for more uniquely sized paddlers and boat width combinations, check out the Paddle Fit Guide

Shaft options
The benefits of a straight shaft is that it is a familiar feel, we have all used straight shaft at some time and it is what we are used to.  Other benefits are lighter weight and less of an investment.  If good technique is used and a paddler can hold on loosely to the paddle, focusing on grasping the shaft with the “O-Kay” symbol, all day, pain free paddling can be obtained.

For those who have developed some aches and pains in their hands and their wrist, for those who generally hold on to tightly to their paddle (and let’s face it we all do when we get nervous when conditions get wavy and windy,)  neutral bent shaft become an insurance policy for your body.  By always keeping the wrists in an ergonomically correct, straight alignment, less pressure is put on the small tendons and ligaments of the wrist and pain is alleviated.  Although more of an investment it can make all the difference of spending more time on the water.  The concept of neutral bent allows for a smooth transition from your old paddle, as your hand position is familiar and exactly the same as it was on your straight shaft.  The only thing that changes is that your wrists remain straight while paddling.

Check out a video here giving you a visual of straight vs. neutral bent shaft.

Shaft diameter and Blade size
Both of these options are really common sense and easily determined by your body size.  Smaller hands, smaller bodies, would look towards the smaller diameter shaft for a more relaxed grip and a medium or smaller blade surface area to put less stress and strain on the body.  Larger boaters, generally with larger hands, prefer the standard diameter shaft and a medium to full sized blade area depending on their fitness level.  Remember, a bigger blade is not always going to make us more powerful, especially if we are just working too hard to move that extra size through the water.
Spend as much as you can afford on your paddle material
As we stated early on, the paddle is your engine.  You will use less energy on the water, run more drops, surf more waves and perform better if you are less tired.  A paddle that is lighter to move through the stroke path, swing weight, will allow you to feel fresher as the miles and hours wear on.  A paddle with a stiffer material will flex less, causing less water to “escape” from the blade face and for you to use less energy and create more motion.  Higher end materials like Performance Core offer buoyant blade materials which will help you brace with more confidence and for higher performance paddlers, rolling more easily.  With the ease of use and simply design of Werner’s adjustable ferrule system, no matter how many times you take your paddle apart and put it back together it will never wear out.  Your investment is protected for life. Well I think that sums up how to decide what to spend, how much do you value your time on the water, how far do you want to stretch your skills?   

Thank you to Werner's own, Danny Mongno for preparing this blogpost.

Green River, UT

Green River, UT
Photo: Shawna Franklin