Kayak paddles have two blades, usually set at an angle to each other (called offset) between 60° and 85° apart. The following notes assume right handed paddlers and paddles.
The old method of determining the length is to stand the paddle vertically alongside you. If you can curl fingers over the top blade, the paddle is about the right length. This method is not ideal and often results in paddles that are too long.
The correct length paddle for sea kayaks, flatwater competition boats, skis and similar (longer vessels with reasonable directional stability) will be such that the bottom blade is just fully submerged as it passes the paddlers” knee whilst the top hand is at around eye height. This is a function of torso height and seat height and can be very different for two people of the same height with different body dimensions and different vessels.
Whitewater paddlers tend to use shorter paddles that fit in with their lower seating position and smaller boats.
The best starting point is to talk to your local AC National Training Provider or AC Instructor, Guide or Coach to get an approximate length to start with.
A paddle shaft that is too long creates too long a lever, excessively loading the muscles that are providing the force. The length of the paddle should be chosen carefully as a paddle that is too long can cause injuries and make it impossible for the paddler to perform the correct technique
There is a misconception that a longer paddle is better for cruising, especially at sea. The most efficient (and correct) forward stroke (see kayak paddling) uses the top hand as a fulcrum with the bottom hand transferring the power to the blade. The further the bottom hand is from the blade, the less efficient power transfer will be to the water. Longer paddles are also heavier, put greater strains on the paddler, harder to use and more likely to encourage a lower, wider top hand which is poor technique.
The major change to paddle shape occurred in the early 1980’s but didn’t gain widespread acceptance until the late 1980’s. This change in shape was called the ‘wing’ paddle. Using the shape of a bird’s wing as a template, the paddle was designed to utilize lift properties, according to Bernoulli’s principal. Just as a bird’s wing, or aeroplane wing, uses differences in air pressure to allow the bird or plane to fly, this blade design uses differences in water pressure on the front and back surface of the blade to hold the blade locked onto a body of water more effectively. There is less movement of water and less slippage of the blade in the water – effort is spent to move the boat past the blade in the water, rather than move some water and some boat, as was the case with the flat blade
A small change of shape occurred in the wing paddle very shortly after its general acceptance, to a more rectangular shape. This blade became known as the ‘propeller’ and it is in general use today, with limited variation amongst brands
Australian Canoeing recommends that all paddlers wear a PFD (equivalent to Australian Standards for Type 2 or 3 PFDs, whilst on the water.
Colour should be chosen to make the paddler more visible, also check that any pockets or attachments, straps, etc. are not likely to catch or impede exit in the event of a capsize.
PFDs give you valuable floatation in the event that you end up swimming.
As always, dress for the conditions.
Paddlers need to protect themselves from heat and cold.
Sunburn, sunstroke, heatstroke, dehydration are all risks in paddling on hot days. Always wear a hat and use sun protection. Drink regularly whilst paddling.
On the other hand, hypothermia, the loss of body heat in cold and wet, and made worse by wind is a real risk in paddling on cold days. A wind break in the form of a cag or other windproof layer is most important to stop heat loss. Under the jacket paddlers should use wool, or heat conservation synthetic garments. (A couple of mnemonics: ‘Cold cotton can’t come canoeing’ and ‘Wool is warm when wet.’) In the diagram, she is dressed for hot conditions, he for cold and windy. In an open canoe she might prefer slacks for protection from the sun, while they would both add a helmet for white water or surf.