Fishing Kayak Paddle Selector

Fishing Kayak Paddle Selector


The cost of fishing kayak paddles is driven by materials and features.  Unless you only plan on paddling a couple times a year or using another source as your primary propulsion (pedal or electric), it is worth stepping up to at least a mid-grade paddle.  From a mid-grade to the best paddles you will cut down on weight, improve stiffness and responsiveness.  Below are the common paddle materials from most to least expensive.

Carbon Fiber $$$
Fiberglass & Wood $$
Aluminum Shafts $
Plastic Blades $

There are also features that alter the price of a fishing kayak paddle.  Adjustable length and feathering options add to the cost slightly.  Larger and more complex blade shapes are more expensive.  Carbon fiber ferrule inserts are an upgrade over fiberglass and plastic.

Paddle Shafts

Shaft Material

The shaft transfers energy from the paddler to the water.  If the paddle flexes, some of your energy is wasted.  Obviously, if a paddle is excessively heavy than energy is also wasted.  So the most important material property is strength to weight.  The paddler wants to purchase the stiffest and lightest paddle within in their budget.  The following shaft materials are listed from the highest (best) strength to weight ratio, to the lowest (worst):

  1. Carbon Fiber
  2. Fiberglass
  3. Aluminum

Shaft Features

An adjustable length paddle adds only a few ounces, but allows the paddle to be lengthened up to 15 cm (5 inches).  This is nice if you plan to use the paddle with a kayak that has adjustable seat heights, different width kayaks, or if you want to share paddles.

Feathering is when the blades on each end of the paddle are not aligned.  If the shaft is rotated at the middle, the blades can be offset from 0 to 90 degrees.  Feathering a kayak paddle is nice if you twist a lot when you paddle, allowing you to get more power out of each stroke.  It reduces wrist fatigue for long days on the water. You can also feather your blade so the paddle out of the water is not blown around in windy conditions or has less wind resistance.  Some paddles offer unlimited feathering angles, others have a couple settings like 30 and 45 degrees, where others are fixed at 0 degrees.


Blade Size

The surface area of the kayak paddle directly corresponds with the amount of water you can pull, in turn how much power you can generate.  A larger blade is more powerful but that also translates to more tiring. These are great for technical waters where you need to generate a lot of turning power in short bursts. A small blade is excellent for paddling long distances at a high cadence, and on flatter water.

Blade Shape

A rectangular kayak paddle blade is symmetric about the center axis.  If you paddle more aggressively with a high angle stroke (close to straight up and down), then both sides of the blade are equally submerged.  However, if you paddle at a low angle, the bottom half of your blade is submerged and the top half is only partially under water.  This creates an uneven force on the blade halves and causes your paddle to want to twist in your hands.

An asymmetrical blade compensates for the top half of your blade not be fully submerged.  The larger area on top that is partially under water is equivalent to the smaller area on the bottom of the blade that is fully submerged.  Therefore, when paddling at a lower angle there will be minimal twisting felt on the shaft.

Blade Materials

Fishing kayak paddles come in a variety of materials to meet the different demands of consumers. Carbon fiber is the lightest, most efficient and expensive option.  Carbon fiber is prone to crack failure due to high impact.  So if you go with a carbon fiber blade extra caution needs to be taken in rocky waters.  Don't push off of rocks with it to get away from shore. Rarely will you see a kayaker choose a carbon blade for whitewater, but they dominate the market amongst racers and deep water users. A hybrid blade that uses molded plastic with carbon fiber strands offer a great compromise between stiffness, weight and durability.

Wood blades are beautiful.  When properly wrapped with fiberglass and an edge guard a wood blade will last a very long time.  They are slightly heavier than carbon fiber.

Fiberglass are again in between wood and carbon fiber on durability, stiffness and weight. Since fiberglass wets out clear, you can have all sorts of cool designs laid up under the fiberglass. Plastic blades are heavy, cheap and durable.  They also flex a lot which in turn wastes your energy and reduces responsiveness.

Paddle Length

Kayak paddle length is the overall distance from tip to tip.  There is no method to choose paddle length that works for everyone in every kayak.  Paddle length ultimately becomes a personal preference. 

What are the symptoms of incorrect paddle length?  Too short and the paddle will be skimming the surface, causing it to twist in your hands and decreasing power output.  Too long and the paddle will be completely submerged throughout the entire stroke, inefficiently wasting energy as you battle to keep it from wobbling at the start and end.   Paddlers who travel long distances prefer to paddle at a lower angle to reduce fatigue.  A more relaxed low angle paddler may want a paddle 10 cm longer, whereas an aggressive high angle (vertical) paddler may want to go 10 cm shorter. 

So how do you know what is the best length?  It depends on three factors primarily.  First is your height, second is the distance from your kayak seat to the water line, and third is the width of your kayak.  If you have a boat with an adjustable seat height consider an adjustable length paddle.

Method #1

Ideally, the best way to measure would be to sit in your kayak, while on the water, and loaded with a normal amount of weight.  You want your paddle just fully submerged at the part of your stroke where the blade is even with your hands (from bow to stern).  There should be enough clearance between the boat and paddle shaft that they are not interfering with each other.

Method #2

If you can't get on the water an estimate can be made from the table below.  Remember, the difficulty here is every paddler has their own paddling style, and the distance from your seat to the waterline varies from one kayak to another.  

Kayak Width Paddle Length
< 28" 230 cm
28 - 31.75" 240 cm
32 - 35.75" 250 cm
36 - 39.75" 260 cm
> 40" 270 cm


Note: Add 10 cm if you are over 6' tall and subtract 10 cm if you under 5' tall.

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