How to Choose the Perfect Whitewater or Touring Kayak Paddle

by Danny Mongno, Werner Paddles Marketing Manager

Werner Kayak PaddlesSelecting the perfect kayak paddle is probably the most important decision you will make as a boater. That’s because the paddle is your engine, 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 such an important decision, it does not have to be hard.

First of all, for either whitewater or touring paddles there are some common choices that you’ll need to make. Let’s go over them now:

Shaft options
The benefits of a straight shaft kayak paddle is that it has a familiar feel; most of us have used a straight shaft at some time and it’s what we are used to. Other benefits are lighter weight and less of an investment. If good technique is used and a paddler can hold on loosely to the paddle, focusing on grasping the shaft with the “O-Kay” symbol all day, pain-free paddling can be obtained.

Whitewater Kayak PaddleFor those who have developed some aches and pains in their hands and wrists, and for those who generally hold on too tightly to their paddle (and let’s face it, we all do when we get nervous), a neutral bent shaft kayak paddle becomes an insurance policy for your body. By always keeping the wrists in an ergonomically correct straight alignment, less pressure is put on the small tendons and ligaments of the wrist and pain is avoided. Although more of an investment, it can make all the difference for spending more time on the water. The concept of neutral bent allows for a smooth transition from your old kayak paddle, as your hand position is familiar and exactly the same as it was on your straight shaft.  The only thing that changes is that your wrists remain straight while paddling.

Shaft diameter and blade size
Both of these options are really common sense and easily determined by your body size. Folks with smaller hands and smaller bodies, should look towards the smaller diameter shaft for a more relaxed grip and a small or medium blade surface area to put less stress and strain on the body. Larger boaters, generally with larger hands, prefer the standard diameter shaft and a medium to full sized blade area, depending on their fitness level.  Remember, a kayak paddle with a bigger blade is not always going to make us more powerful, especially if we are just working too hard to move that extra size through the water. If your hand is larger than 7 inches from the base of your palm to your fingertip, you will want the standard shaft. If the length is smaller than 6.5 inches, you should use the small diameter shaft. In between, you can go either way.

Spend as much as you can afford on your kayak paddle material
Touring Kayak PaddleAs I said early on, the paddle is your engine. You will use less energy on the water, run more drops, surf more waves, paddle further and perform better if you are less tired. A paddle that is lighter to move through the stroke path, referred to as the paddle’s “swing weight,” will allow you to feel fresher as the miles and hours wear on. A kayak paddle with a stiffer material will flex less, causing less water to “escape” from the blade face and for you to use less energy in your stroke to create more motion.

Kayak paddles with higher end materials like Performance Core provide more buoyancy in the blades, which helps you brace with more confidence and roll more easily, even in the most aerated water. Sure, paddles wear over time, but so does your boat, your automobile or mountain bike tires, your tools. However, think of the performance advantages you are getting while on the water. Is your paddling enjoyment worth the investment? Well, I think that sums up how to decide what to spend…how much do you value your time on the water; how far do you want to stretch your skills?

Now, let’s take a few simple steps toward fitting you with the perfect whitewater or touring kayak paddle:

Choosing a Whitewater Kayak Paddle:

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

river running kayak paddle1. River running or creek boating:

As we paddle downstream we are faced with many features: holes, waves, eddies, ledges both small and large (i.e. waterfalls). To navigate your way through these obstacles your forward stroke will be far and away the most valuable tool. A river running kayak paddle will have a larger portion of the blade shape at the upper tip, or a focus above the center line of the kayak paddle. This oversized tip allows paddlers to reach the water sooner and get instant bite at the most important part of the forward stroke, the catch. For those paddlers looking  primarily to run rivers or steeper creeks, this is your best choice.

play boating kayak paddle2. Play boating:

As the sport of whitewater kayaking has grown over the years the ways we “play” the river has expanded. For some the feeling of front surfing a glassy wave is what provides that all-day smile while others need to notify the local air traffic controller before they start their aerial assault on the river. No matter what your idea of play boating is, the proper shaped blade will help your performance. By down turning or “drooping” a play boat blade shape, with more focus of the blade surface area below the center line, the kayak paddle will engage the water sooner, allowing paddlers to perform play boat control stokes with greater ease.

3. What if you can’t decide?

If just getting to the river and enjoying your time on the water with your family and friends is your ultimate goal, with no set agenda, we say play the percentages.  What do see yourself doing the most out there? 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, but that is not to say you can’t “cross train”.

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 kayak paddle will assure comfort and better paddling efficiency.

1. River running kayak paddles will always be longer, again due to the importance of the “catch”. The catch is where the blade first enters the water, where you have the most energy in your stroke. So if your paddle has some extra length you will have more “catch length” and take fewer, more powerful strokes. Generally speaking, short people use 194 cm, medium people 197 cm, tall 200 cm.

2. Play boating kayak paddles tend to be shorter, as you will need to perform more dynamic paddle strokes when performing play boat maneuvers. You will also need to take much faster, higher cadence strokes as you attain upstream to catch waves or drop into holes. For a general rule of thumb, short people should look to a 191 cm, medium at 194 cm and those long folks 197 cm.

Choosing a Touring Kayak Paddle:

Angled Paddling

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

low angle kayak paddle1. Low angle = “more options”:

Most people enjoy the low angle style of paddling. Low angle paddles have longer and narrower blades designed to pull through each stroke 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, is more relaxed and puts significantly less pressure on your upper body, arms and shoulders.

high angle kayak paddle2. High angle = “more commitment to technique but far better tracking”:

This is typically a more aggressive style of paddling with a faster cadence and a larger variety of strokes being used on each paddle outing. By focusing on keeping your top hand about forehead height as you take your stroke you will notice the blade travels closer to the kayak. With the blade traveling in this path your boat will track significantly better and go straighter. Werner’s wider, shorter blade shape puts more surface area of the blade into the water in this position. This does place more emphasis on proper torso rotation since more pressure can be put on your shoulders in this higher angle paddling style. 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 do see yourself doing the most out there?  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 kayak paddle

Here are some easy to follow rules:

  • 6 ft or under, use 220 cm.
  • 6’1″ and over, use 230 cm.
  • If you kayak is over 28″ wide, add 10 cm to the length of the paddle, after you choose based on your height.

2. High angle kayak paddle

Here are some easy to follow rules:

  • 6 ft and under, use 210 cm.
  • 6’1″ and over, use 215 cm.
  • Kayak width general does not come into play since most high-angle paddlers are in more narrow light touring and touring kayaks.

If you have questions about boating styles or kayak paddle choices, give the folks at ACK a call, 888-828-3828, or email at customer@austinkayak.com.

Happy paddling!

 

Werner Paddles Team Update

Haley SUPing (left) and Rush (right).

Werner Paddles has added two big names to their whitewater paddling teams including the multi-talented Haley Mills and world renowned white water paddler Rush Sturges. These are some exciting additions and I encourage you to check out a little more about each paddler on the Werner blog for Haley and for Rush.

Werner is known for it’s high performance paddles for all types of paddling conditions and we’re excited to see what these new athletes bring to the already impressive list of names on the Werner team. You can be sure that we’ll keep you updated!

Joseph @ ACK

See Rush in our past blog about the Grand Inga Project.

Walk on Water

NRS films brings us another beautifully made paddling film that tells the amazing story of Greg Mallory who wound up paralyzed from the waist down after a terrible skiing accident and as a result turned to paddling. Today, he’s is a skilled Class V whitewater paddler who finds comfort, strength and kinship on the water. Enjoy his story.

Joseph @ACK

Walk on Water from NRS Films on Vimeo.

The Grand Inga Project

A team of four very talented whitewater paddlers including Steve Fisher, Tyler Brandt, Ben Marr and Rush Sturges band together to take on the world’s largest rapids, the Inga rapids of the Lower Congo River  – twice as steep and 100 times the average volume of those found on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. It went down in April 2012 and is now available for download on iTunes or purchase via their website. This is paddling history folks. Read more on the story here.

Video Update: Balance, At Ease

How should paddling fit into your life? What about the outdoors in general? Striking the right balance between outdoor fun and work is a reality most of us have to face. A new online video series called “Balance” aims addresses this topic and their first episode, At Ease, focuses on kayaker Blair Trotman.

Balance Ep.1- At Ease from Lee Visual on Vimeo.

Watch the Teva Mountain Games on NBC this Sunday!

NBC Sports’ World of Adventure Sports (WoAS) returns this Sunday with coverage from the 2012 Teva Mountain Games earlier this year. This event called athletes from around the world including paddlers (kayaks & SUPs), cyclists, runners and more from a total of 23 different disciplines. Sadly, ACK was not in attendance, but we kept up with the coverage and were really impressed. You can count that we’ll be watching this Sunday and suggest you do too! The show will air on NBC on Oct. 14th, 2:30 – 4:30 PM ET.  – Joseph@ACK

Of Souls + Water, The Warrior – NRS Video

NRS doesn’t skimp when it comes to their short films. You might’ve caught our updates recently on the Remains of a River Series, but they’ve just released the next installment of their equally impressive Of Souls + Water and we couldn’t help but share. The fourth persona of their five part series which tell the real stories of five water bound archetypes, the warrior has fought all his life – on and off the water. Now, he finds peace  through his sport. – Joseph@ACK

“Years later…when I think everything is lost and gone, empty feeling in my gut, I go down to the river and get a surfboard and go surfing.” – Christopher Peterson, the Warrior

Know Before You Go: U.S. Geological Survey Water Resource

As a retailer that sells paddlesports and other outdoor products based in Central Texas, we anxiously await any chance for rain; gazing at the sky for dark clouds, eyeing weather radars online, and turning up the volume on the TV when the forecaster makes an appearance, all for even the slightest chance of rain to fill our creeks, rivers, and lakes… so we can paddle!

Checking USGS charts could've proven the greenbelt was dry at the Land Bridge this day. (photo by Andrew Torrey / http://andrewtorreymedia.blogspot.com)

Yesterday, a customer came by our warehouse to pick up an item he ordered from our online store and while he was there he mentioned an online service provided by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) that is a fantastic resource for paddlers and outdoor adventurers, among others. The USGS has a site that provides water flow data for the entire country. He said he could check their site for water flow information that would indicate whether or not a certain waterway was viable for paddling or swimming and mentioned he’d probably try to paddle the following day based on the information he got from the site. Since the rain is hit or miss in Central Texas (mostly miss) and we can’t be too sure where the levels are without actually going, the USGS site is an excellent resource to “know before you go”.

The Land Bridge at the greenbelt with a little more water. That's yours truly jumping in. (photo collage by Thomas Allison / www.thomasallison.com)

For example, I like to go out to the greenbelt above Barton Springs in Austin, Texas to hike, run, climb, cliff jump, and swim (and I’ve even seen kayaks out there but there’s rarely enough water). I often want to go out to some of my favorite spots on the weekends but until now, I haven’t had a way to see if there might be any water there without actually going. Now with the recent rains we’ve had in Austin, the USGS site shows ~3-4 feet of water in the greenbelt. While that might not be enough to cliff jump or paddle, I could probably still find a spot to jump in and cool off after a long run or hike, which is always welcome in our Texas summer heat and I can monitor the levels to see if they become viable for cliff jumping or kayaking later on.

Our San Marcos store uses the water flow charts frequently since there are several rivers nearby, and even though I’ve mentioned Texas-specific waterways, you can utilize this service in any state. Just check out the handy infographic below to see how! Clicking on the image takes you straight to the USGS site. Do you have another favorite water-related resource like this one? We’d love to hear about them in the comments below!

- Trent @ACK

You can use this infographic to get started checking water flows in your area, even if you're not in Austin! (click above to be taken to the site)

Hello Luke…Welcome to ACK San Marcos!

Luke Patranella, mapping it all out on the Grand Canyon

We’d like to take a quick moment to introduce Luke Patranella, ACK San Marcos Store Manager. Luke was born and raised in San Antonio, TX and attended school at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches where he majored in business. Soon after graduating he moved to the mountains of Colorado where eventually he ended up with two great seasonal jobs. In the winter he worked at the Loveland Ski area in a sport shop and as a whitewater rafting guide during the summer months. He spent a total of five seasons as a commercial rafting guide along with kayaking on his free time in Colorado, Utah, Arizona and West Virginia so he is no stranger to whitewater.  Luke told us that the highlight of is career was paddling all 300 miles of the Grand Canyon, twice — first in 2009 and again in 2010. According to Luke, he is very happy to be back in Texas and working for Austin Canoe and Kayak — we are too.

If you get a chance, stop by the store to help us welcome him aboard or comment below. If you have any rafting or whitewater kayaking questions, he’s the man to ask!

Chris @ACK