Canoers, kayakers and rafters all use paddles to propel their craft along the surface of the water. However, not all paddles are created equal.
Paddles were originally crafted from sections of trees and shaped to make them more efficient at scooping the water. Over time, craftsmen began to understand that the shape and size of the blade would affect its pulling power through the water, and in turn the amount of force and exertion the paddler’s muscles and joints would experience. A bigger blade is not necessarily better, it all depends on who is using it.
Paddles come in different sizes and configurations depending on the discipline they are used for. Along with your paddle, you had better use a paddle leash as well...just in case you get slippery fingers.
Different Types of Paddles
An oar and a paddle are very similar design. Both have a shaft – the long rod that also makes up the handle – and a blade – the curved spoon shaped section that scoops the water creating the force to move the craft forward. However, the key difference is that oars are much longer and are connected to the boat by an oar lock creating a pivot point and holding most of the weight of the oar. Rowers sit facing the stern (rear) of the boat, and use a very different motion to the technique used for paddling.
A paddle should be lightweight and of a length and width that is suitable to the specific paddler. Paddles are held in both hands, supported 100% by the paddler.
Kayak paddles differ from those used by canoers and rafters in that they have two blades, one at each end of the shaft. Kayakers use both blades equally, keeping their boat straight, enabling them to maintain a fairly constant hand position on the paddle. Paddles used for canoeing and rafting are single-bladed, with a handle at one end to provide a good grip and solid leverage.
Materials and Construction
Some canoers today still use wooden paddles for aesthetic reasons, however, it is much more common for manufacturers of canoeing, kayaking and rafting equipment to work with modern lightweight composites.
Paddle shafts are constructed from wood, aluminium, fibre-glass, and carbon fibre; carbon-fibre being the lightest and most expensive option.
The blade of the paddle is sometimes made from different materials to the shaft. Entry level paddles are often made with an aluminium shaft and a plastic blade. Mid-range paddles might be a combination of aluminium shaft and plastic blade or just aluminium. The lightest and stiffest paddles are made solely from carbon fibre, however, they can be prone to scratches and chips along the blade’s edge if they connect with rocks too often. As a general rule, carbon-fibre is for experienced paddles with superior paddling skills, and aluminium and fibre-glass are more suitable to beginners and intermediate level paddlers.
Kayak paddles are sometimes feathered. This means that the blades of the paddle lie on different planes requiring the paddler to rotate the paddle slightly with each stroke. Feathering allows the blade end of the paddle that is not in the water to slice through the air experiencing less wind resistance than an unfeathered paddle. However, it all comes down to personal preference; some kayakers prefer unfeathered paddles where as others may prefer a specific degree of feathering.
One or Two-Piece Paddles?
Two piece paddles the chosen weapon of some kayakers for two reasons: they can be broken down making them smaller and more easily transported, and their feather angle can be adjusted on the fly; most paddles coming with at least two if not three possible positions. Some kayakers prefer single piece paddles because they are stronger being a solid length of material, they don’t need to be rinsed after use in salt water as they don’t have a joint that can corrode, and they don’t lose strength over time at the joint because they don’t have one. The style of kayaking you are performing and the conditions you generally experience will affect the type of paddle you will choose.
Even the most experienced paddlers sometimes drop their paddle. A rogue wave or a slip of the finger is all it takes. A paddle leash is the most effective way of making sure that if you do, you don’t lose it. A paddle leash connects your paddle to you canoe, kayak or raft, giving you the peace of mind that you’re brand spanking new full carbon paddle isn’t going to be food for the fishes.
See also: Tassie's gems of the sea
Be Seen, Be Safe on the Water
There is a good reason why paddle blades and shafts often come in a variety of hi-vis colours. It is important to make sure that you are seen out on the water. Larger craft can sometimes find it difficult to spot smaller boats that are a similar colour to the body pf water on which they are paddling as they are often viewing them from a raised position. Reflectors on your paddle, and bright coloured blades are a good way of ensuring that you don’t up under the bow of a commercial liner.