I upgraded my paddle recently from a lower cost Bending Branches paddle to an investment grade Werner paddle. I am very happy with my choice but I learned some things after the purchase and I may have made a couple different choices in the paddle I purchased. I hope to share some of my experience and hope it will be of benefit to you if you just started kayaking and will soon be motivated at some point to begin upgrading your equipment.
I’m very satisfied with my choice and judging by the number of people that have the same paddle amongst more experienced paddlers, I know I did not go wrong. This review is geared towards sea kayakers but perhaps some of the things to watch out for will apply to other types.
In sea kayaking there are some different styles, I am not covering Greenland style paddles here that will be for a inflatable paddle board later article. There are two types of common paddling styles however, Low Angle and High Angle. The type correlates to the angle of the shaft in relation to the water. I did not even realize there was a low angle style, and you may not know there is a high angle style. However you need to understand what type of paddling you do before you invest in an upgraded paddle.
Low Angle is the most common paddling style I’m told. This style has a more relaxed cadence for a relaxed touring style. The paddles typically have longer and narrower blades.
High Angle paddling is typically a more aggressive style with a faster cadence and allows a larger variety of strokes being used on each outing. These paddles have short wide blades for a powerful catch and stroke. I have an aggressive style. There are also some options here as well, large paddle area for power, but shorter trips or less paddle area for longer tours.
There are different types of shafts as well; a neutral bent shaft or a straight shaft. The straight shaft is likely less cost if that is a concern. If you have issues with your hands then spend the money for a neutral shaft. This type naturally aligns your wrist to help reduce stress on joints. The straight shafts are lighter and provide a predictable, straight and continuous grip area.
Don’t let anyone tell you differently size does matter. The shaft size provides the proper fit which is key to allowing a light grip to increase comfort and reduce fatigue no matter what your skill level is. You may need to try out both standard and small diameter shaft sizes and see which one is best for your hand. Large hands typically will be best with the standard diameter shaft size. I think I should have purchased the smaller diameter shaft. On very long paddles, my hands go numb or cramp up, thinking the smaller diameter shaft may have been a better choice for me.
The correct length of paddle is also very important. The length is determined by a combination of your height and your boats width. Some research here is recommended to get the right length of paddle to fit your personal situation. Many manufacturers will provide a chart to select the proper length.