a paddle is a paddle is like saying a lake is a lake, or one canoer is
the same as all canoers. Like
lakes and canoers, all paddles have their own character.
Some consider choosing a paddle an “art”. This article will hopefully help you navigate the waters of
choosing the right paddle for you.
choosing a paddle, there are three main considerations:
does the paddle feel?
does the paddle look?
is the paddle’s functionality?
three considerations are all affected by the makeup of the paddle,
mainly its shape and its material.
A fourth consideration would be the cost of the paddle and your
There are three main material
categories for paddles: injection
molded, composite, and wood.
molded are generally the easiest to make as it is basically pouring a
liquid plastic in a mold a popping out a paddle.
Injection molded paddles are also generally heavier than most
paddles are very popular with outfitters as they are also generally
cheap and can be very light. These
paddles are made up usually of a combination of two or more of the
following materials: fiberglass,
Kevlar, carbon, epoxy, and aluminum.
Of these, the carbon paddles are generally the lightest, but also
paddles can be very beautiful and very comfortable. Those who canoe the BWCA often, and are looking to purchase a
paddle, will generally choose a handmade wooden paddle that when cared
for can last the paddler’s lifetime.
To me the most beautiful paddle is a white cedar bent at the
throat, however beauty is not the only consideration.
As with the other parts of a paddle,
the blade shape
that you may choose is affected by your makeup.
How strong are you? How
conditioned are you? The
wider the blade, the more water you will be moving with each stroke,
which provides faster acceleration and turns.
In turn, wide blades force your arms out further from the canoe
and require greater strength and endurance.
Wide blades are ideal for shallow water and whitewater.
Narrower blades need to be longer to
move as much water as their wider-bladed cousins.
The less blade surface there is, the lighter the paddle is and
the easier it is to run through the water.
This requires a faster cadence and more strokes to cover the same
distance. Narrow blades
tend to have a quieter entry than wider blades.
For longer trips, a long narrow blade is usually recommended.
The length of a paddle is very
important for comfort and safety. A
paddle that is too long, adds extra weight and can cause shoulder
injury. A paddle that is
too short can cause difficulty with some of the strokes.
measure the proper length of a paddle for you, sit on a chair and
measure from your nose, down to the seat of the chair.
This will give you the correct length from grip to throat of the
You will be spending a lot of time
with your paddle, so it is imperative that your grip is comfortable.
Grips come in various shapes, such as t-shape, pear shape,
straight (oar style), and ball shape.
For long canoe trips, I recommend a smooth pear shape.
As the grip controls the angle of the blade, I do not recommend
the straight or ball grips. Grips
are often weighted to balance out the weight of the blade to add more
feel of of the paddle
throat and shaft is also important.
It should be comfortable to hold and not too thick.
One who has smaller hands will need a shaft with less width.
Likewise, one with larger hands will need a thicker shaft for a
When traveling long distances,
weight can play a big role in paddling efficiency.
A paddle weighing only an additional five ounces can add the
equivalence of lifting 3750 pounds (nearly two tons) every fifteen
miles. Investing the extra
dollar for a light weight paddle can save your body a lot of wear.
all these factors to consider, one may be wise in going to an outfitter
and renting a few paddles to try them out before making a choice.
It is also a good idea to bring a
couple inexpensive wooden
backup paddles on a canoe trip.
a paddle you can be proud of, a paddle that will “meld with you” on