Picking the right paddle should be simple. No need for all those crazy methods, confusing formulas, and unnecessary measurements. When it comes down to it, there are just three basic variables to take in consideration.
Type of Paddling – Low Angle vs High Angle
Low angle paddling is relaxed, your top hand remains at or below shoulder height throughout the entire stroke. This top hand position creates a low shaft angle as the paddle blade enters the water. Low angle is favored by many as it reduces tension and stress on shoulders & arms, helping to reduce fatigue over the course of long paddle days. The tradeoff is boat control. With low angle paddling, the blade path angles away from the hull which allows the boat to meander a bit side to side. A longer more slender dihedral blade profile sheds water in the air, and lessens water resistance.
High angle paddling, on the other hand, is a much more aggressive, performance-oriented style of paddling. The top hand reaches eye level, creating a high shaft angle as the blade enters the water. This style of paddling is all about power and form. This is the type of paddling for those looking to go from point A to point B in the shortest time. High angle paddling also increases boat control, and better tracking as the path of the paddle remains close to the hull. Tradeoffs are increased stress on arms and shoulders, and greater energy consumption. It’s also a stroke that demands good form, so it takes more concentration and work. Check out the Storm, Cadence and Cadence X from Lendal, also the Tempo from Stellar and Celtic 600/650 paddles.
According to one of our manufacture partners, Lendal, they have a bias, they believe that too many people are paddling with paddles that are too long, we'd agree here at T&C. This can create all kinds of bad habits that have a negative effect on your kayaking experience. We find that in general paddlers are using paddles that are one size too big (i.e. paddling a 215cm when they would be better off with a 210cm). Consult the chart below to gain an understanding of what paddle length might be best for you based on your height and boat width.
Shaft Style – Straight vs Bent
There will never be one right answer. At the end of the day, it comes down to your personal preference. It is worth noting that Lendal’s bent shafts (Modified Crank Shaft or MCS) are designed to take the stress off your wrists and forearms. Several of our pros prefer bent shafts for this reason.
When considering shaft type and length, we advise paddlers to lean against a countertop, and place your hands where it naturally feels the most comfortable to support your resting weight (easier for some folks than the pushup analogy, but same idea). The distance between your hands is roughly the same distance your hands should be apart when paddling. So, make sure that the paddle shaft and grip area accommodate this width, otherwise you could be putting your shoulders at risk.
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