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How to Choose a Touring Paddle

Selecting the perfect sea kayaking or kayak touring paddle is probably the most important decision you will make as a boater. That’s because the paddle is 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 how to get the perfect fit will allow you to be more comfortable, use less energy and spend more time on the water.

Although it is an important decision, it does not have to be hard.

Shaft options

  1. Straight Shaft: It has a familiar feel and many of us are used to it. It’s also a lighter and a less expensive option. Using good technique—lightly gripping the shaft, with your hands forming the “okay” symbol—you can enjoy all-day, pain-free paddling.
  2. Bent Shaft: A great choice for those who have developed some aches and pains in their hands and wrists. Paddlers who hold on too tightly to their paddle (and let’s face it, we all do when we get nervous) will also benefit. By always keeping the wrists in an ergonomically correct straight alignment, less pressure is put on the small tendons and ligaments of the wrist, reducing pain. Bent-shaft paddles are more expensive, but the expense is justified if it helps you paddle pain free.
  3. Shaft Diameter: Werner offers two shaft diameters to comfortably accommodate different sizes of hands. Proper shaft diameter allows paddlers to use a more relaxed, low-stress grip. If your hand is larger than 7 inches from the base of your palm to your fingertip, you will want the standard-diameter shaft. If the length is less than 6.5 inches, choose the small diameter shaft. In between, you can go either way.
  4. Blade Size: The blade size that works best for you will depend on your body type and fitness level. While a blade with more surface area will push more water, a bigger blade does not make every paddler more powerful. Smaller and less advanced paddlers may find that a blade with a small or medium surface area puts less stress and strain on the body while allowing more efficient strokes.
  5. Paddle Material: A paddle made out of stiff, lightweight materials will lead to less fatigue, allowing you to run more drops, surf more waves, paddle farther and perform better. A lighter “swing weight,” or effective weight of the paddle through the stroke path, 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, requiring less energy from your stroke to create more motion. Carbon fiber paddles are generally the lightest options. Fiberglass models are the most durable and are still quite light.

Choose the shape of your blade based on the style of paddling you are doing.

  1. Low Angle:
    Most people enjoy the low-angle style of paddling. Low-angle paddles have longer, narrower blades designed with the right amount of surface area for good power while maintaining a smooth forward stroke. The low-angle stroke puts your hands at about shoulder height, allowing a more relaxed stroke while putting significantly less pressure on your upper body, arms and shoulders.
  2. High Angle:
    The more aggressive high-angle paddling style typically involves a faster cadence and a larger variety of stroke types. Keeping your top hand about forehead height during the stroke keeps the blade’s path closer to the kayak, resulting in better, straighter tracking. Werner’s wider, shorter blade shape puts maximizes the power and efficiency of high-angle strokes. Because it can place more pressure on your shoulders, high-angle paddling requires more emphasis on proper torso rotation. 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.
  3. What if you can’t decide?
    What kind of paddling do you envision doing most? Look at the boat you’re paddling and your goals in the sport, and then buy the blade that works best for that application. Remember, the proper blade shape is going to offer you maximum performance in your discipline.

Length 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 paddling efficiency.

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

If you have questions about boating styles or paddle choices, give the folks at NRS a call, 800.677.4327 or drop an email to service@nrs.com.

Happy paddling!