The Perfect Paddle?
So just to quickly say, this blog post is mainly aimed towards kayakers... We'll more than likely cover Canoe and SUP in a later post anyway.
The most asked question we get is whats the right paddle for me? And in all honesty it isn't as simple as "ohh you're 5'9", you need a ***cm paddle" they's a lot more to it than just that... Personal preference, Boat Style, Paddling Style, Blade Material and even just your own personal taste in paddle design all play a major role in finding your perfect paddle.
So we do work on a standard size chart here at Shields Paddling Co. however, that is only to get a rough guide to work on with the customer. Before we go into more detail here's an example of our size guide:
|Height||Freestyle / Playboating||River Running/ Creek Boating||Sea & Touring||Recreational|
|4'8"-4'10"||180 cm||185 cm||210 cm||195 cm|
|4'10"-5'||183 cm||187 cm||210 cm||197 cm|
|5'-5'2"||185 cm||191 cm||210 cm||197 cm|
|5'2"-5'5"||188 cm||194 cm||210 cm||200 cm|
|5'5"-5'10"||191 cm||197 cm||215 cm||205 cm|
|5'10"-6'||194 cm||200 cm||215 cm||210 cm|
|6'-6'2||197cm||200 cm||220 cm||215 cm|
|6'2"+||197 cm||203 cm||225 cm||220 cm|
Obviously people do have different tastes for example, I prefer a slightly longer paddle, I'm only 5'9" but I creek/river run with a 200cm Double Dutch Slam and playboat with a 194cm Robson Fluid Carbon so obviously you need to take in account your own preference but we feel this is a excellent starting point to work out peoples perfect paddle size...
So you've got 5 or so basic build ups when talking about paddles: Carbon, Fiberglass, Plastic Composites, ABS and finally Wood.
Wood If you've ever paddled with a Wooden paddle you know what I mean when I say they are the best feeling paddle out there... everything feels so natural however due to ease of manufacturing, costs and just general trends very little if any major paddle brands sell wooden blades anymore which is a shame as I personally love them, even more then Carbon, everything just feels so right. They've got the right amount of flex, you can still get extremely powerful strokes off them and are still very hard wearing. The biggest disadvantage to wood is the simple matter of price and availability, they're hard to come by and if you do find a decent manufacturer you can be certain you'll be paying at least the same price as a Carbon counterpart. Another disadvantage is that fact that you need to care for these paddles and look after them because once these are broke, they're broke.
ABS ABS is usually what's used in your standard base grade paddle that you can pick up for around the £40-£50 mark (Ainsworth ABS All Round) These are a great starting point as they are cheap and will last you a life time. usually they're paired up with a Alloy shaft so you can be sure they'll take a beating.
Plastic Composites You'll usually find Plastic Composites in the entry to mid range of most manufacturers Whitewater and Sea/Touring ranges (Robson Rush Thermoplast) and are usually paired to Fiberglass shaft and because of this have a bit more a premium feel. The great thing about this is they've got the same strength if not more then ABS and you can be sure that your blade with last a while, the down side is though. they're not a stiff as full composite paddles and aren't as light, however, they are noticeably cheaper then full composite. If you're just getting into River/Sea/Touring paddling these a great option and we'd usually point you in this direction.
Fiberglass Now you're talking... Fiberglass is almost every manufactures material of choice when it comes to their mid to high range blades. It's hard wearing, light, pretty stiff yet flexible and you can get it in almost any colour you want. If you're not looking for ultra light or ultra stiff I would always recommend Fiberglass for the simple fact of durability... Carbon is cool and all but fiberglass is cheaper and wears better. The best bit of it all is now you've usually got a couple of shaft choices: Straight or Cranked we'll get into more detail later, However, 99% of the time fiberglass blades are paired to composite shafts and in all honesty it makes sense the feel you get with these paddles is excellent. If you're looking for premium that lasts... do yourself a favour an go Fiberglass.
Carbon So if you're looking for the stiffest or lightest paddle out there to shave that extra 1/4 second off your racing time... Or you're a sucker for Carbon like myself you'll be looking for Carbon. You'll usually find that the Carbon counterpart of a fiberglass paddle is about 50-100g lighter but is noticeably stiffer and because of that you can get the slightest bit more power down when you need it. You've got 2 types of carbon paddles Aircore and Foamcore as the name suggests one has a central core of Air and the other with Foam. Although they isn't alot of differences you'll immediately notice Foamcore blades surface much quicker then Aircore, usually catch the water better and I personally feel they're slightly stiffer and although not strictly proven, a friend of mine has had a Foam Core blade since I started paddling 5years ago and has been out 2-3times a week yet has only lost 1.5cm in length over that time, opposed to my Aircore Robson Fluid Carbon Cranks that I've had for the past year that's lost 2cm. This also brings us to Carbons biggest downside they don't last as long as Fiberglass.
The majority of manufactures use either an Alloy, Fiberglass, Carbon or Carbon Cranked shaft with their paddles. At the same time you've got quite a few different variants and styles to take in account i.e. Robsons Cranks are different to the Lettmann Ergo Pro cranks and you can get 2pc and 4pc build ups with a huge variety of locking/connection styles for simplicity we'll cover the basic ones below.
Alloy The cheapest but heaviest shaft available, they're meant to last and boy do they I'm sure we've got a 30year old set of Schlegels in the garage somewhere that's built with an alloy shaft and would still be fine to paddle with today... one major consideration though, in winter they get cold and I mean cold. some manufactures put a coating or heatshrink over the shaft which helps but they still are considerably colder then composite shafts.
Fiberglass Probably the most common shaft out there, it's light, hard wearing, strong and cheap to manufacture making it easily the most common shaft out there. Fiberglass shafts have a nice amount of flex meaning Playboating and Surfing feels abit more natural when compared to ultra stiff Carbon straight shafts
Carbon Carbon shafts have very comparable features to Fiberglass, they're light, hard wearing, strong but instead of having flex they're extremely stiff... which is excellent if you're looking to put power down quickly. Usually your Carbon shaft is about 25-50g lighter then Fiberglass.
Carbon Crank Now this is probably the most controversial shaft out on the market. Some people love them (Me!) others absolutely hate them. They've got all the same features as Carbon except have a slight crank/bend where you're hands are meant to go...
Every manufactures place these differently so we always recommend trying these out before buying... Or you could go the Kit route where you cut and piece your paddle together yourself meaning you get a totally custom fit like Lettmann and Double Dutch offer. Anyway, the original reason for this is provide a more ergonomic grip mainly for paddlers with wrist and mobility problems and yes they really do work just ask Kerry who suffers from Arthritis in the wrists... everytime once in a while she forgets about the canoe and comes out in a kayak and she always goes for a cranked shaft. At the same time though in the past 10 or so years they've turned into more of a style thing... Yes they look cool but make sure you like paddling with them as they're usually an extra £100+ on top of the base straight shaft. I personally love them and they feel to me much better then straight shafts.
2piece Available on both Straight and Cranked shafts a 2pc split is perfect for people traveling a lot or just wanting something easier to store. Once upon a time split paddles were almost treated like the runt of the litter and were known for coming loose in hard use etc. now though 2piece locks have progressed to a point where they're just as stiff and secure as single piece and splits usually have about 10cm of additional length you can add and you've usually got total control of +90° and -90° feathers this all depends on the lock style but the majority are like this. 2pieces are great for sea and touring paddles looking for a backup paddle that can be safely stored under deck lines ready for quick us. They're also excellent for paddlers traveling abroad as they can usually fit inside the cockpit of your standard river runners.
4piece Usually only available on straight shaft paddles these are the perfect Whitewater back-up paddles as they fold down small enough to fit in the stern of most river running boats. the disadvantage is that usually manufactures have preset lengths and feathers available but I'd rather be paddling with a 197cm 45° straight shaft then with nothing at all when times require you to.
So throughout the blog you've noticed the word feather being thrown around a lot and simply put that's the degree that the blades are offset by... 0° being perfectly inline +30° being 30° for a right handed paddler and -30° being 30° for a left handed paddler. We cannot really say you need **° feather as this is all personal preference however, if you're looking for something to help with playboating you'll usually be looking for about 0°-15°, River Running/Creeking you'll be looking for about 30°-55°, Sea/Touring you'll be looking at 45°-90°, however, with Sea/Touring paddling you'll notice you might need to change features to deal with heavy directional winds so we'd always recommend looking for a 2piece adjustable Sea/Touring paddle.
So hopefully with the help of this article we've managed to give you a better idea of what would be your perfect paddle... If you need any more assistance, don't hesitate to give us a call on 0191 427 4552 or pop into the shop, one of us will sort you out!
Sam Elliott, Company Director