Kayak Paddle

Kayak Paddle | A Guide to Selecting the Right Kayak Paddle

Featured Image Credit: Scott Beutjer

Selecting a kayak paddle for me was a simple process; once I had some idea what I planned to be doing on the water. I knew I was not (still am not) adventurous enough to drop over falls in a kayak, so there is no way I can offer you advice on that; I am a kayak bass tournament angler, not a whitewater enthusiast – looks cool, but it is not for me. However, I can offer you some things to consider when standing in front of a wall of paddles at your local outfitter.

Your Kayak Paddle Needs to Reach the Water

First, the paddle needs to reach into the water. 

You might be saying at this point, “Everyone knows this….who is this guy?”

Well, I can tell you I have seen too many people pick up their first paddle without thinking about the distance to the water. A paddle that works well in your smaller Wal-Mart kayak will force you to bend excessively in a larger sit on top kayak and be virtually useless in the newer, wider models on the market. 

The movement required to move the boat will wear your body out, even on short trips, and cause the boat to track differently. Each time you reach down to the water, your body and the boat follow that motion.  So consider how far is it to the water. Sounds simple… but again, I have seen too many folks regret a purchase over this simple oversight.

Kayak Paddle(1)

Joy Cheatham gliding across the water in her Hobie.

Kayak Paddle, Pedal, or Motor?

Second, you need to ask yourself if you are going to primarily paddle or pedal (or motor).  There are purists whom I respect greatly, guys who feel that the sport should be for conventional paddlers only; sit in (maybe on) kayaks. And many more who feel that putting a motor on that kayak is sacrilege, despite the popularity of Torqueedos and other motors on the market. Regardless of your stance, or personal choice, you will need a paddle on the kayak as a method of propulsion; even if it is for backup only. So pick the paddle that fits your intent.  

If you plan to be a pure paddle kayaker, pick up the paddle and hold it out in front of you. 

Is it heavy? 

Does it feel comfortable? 

Remember, it is going to become a part of you for the time you spend on the water. If you are fishing; it is going to be picked up, put down, picked up and used several hundreds of times during the day. If it feels too heavy then, on a hot summer day five miles from a launch or take out point, it is going to feel like lead.  

If you own or plan to get a pedal kayak, the weight is not as much of a consideration. A lot of pedal/motor kayakers do not even carry a full paddle, or just use the paddles that come with those boats. A Hobie, for instance, comes with a paddle that is more than adequate as a backup; and most guys carry it in two pieces. Another viable option for pedal yaks is a Backwater Paddle, a shorter paddle (held in one hand), that allows you to make short strokes to turn the boat or back up.  

Now, I am going to add some free advice about paddles and pedal yaks… unfortunately, the drives can break, the props can be damaged, and the fins distorted by running into submerged objects while running across water. If you can see your vehicle, no big deal. If you have pedaled for a couple of hours away from that vehicle and were planning on pedaling to get home, it will be a very long trip with an assault or half paddle.  

So, my advice, carry a full paddle. I had a buddy use a piece of wood he found, way upstream from a launch, to get back. This effort makes paddling with a short paddle seem like a lot of fun!

Kayak Paddle(2)

Matt Spencer as he fishes along a rip-rap bank in his NuCanoe.

Kayak Paddle | Decide How Often You’ll Be Fishing

Third, be as honest as you can with yourself. I first bought a kayak to enhance our camping trips because I had a bass boat in the garage. My intent was to use it once in a blue moon, then I got paid in a tournament and was immediately hooked… and haven’t been out of the kayak except to work and sleep. This will not be true of everyone, many of you will buy one with the intent of using it a lot, but you have to honestly define “a lot”. 

My brother bought a couple of Wal-Mart kayaks so they could get out on camping trips too. He bought some sit-in kayaks with the cheaper paddles. He used them a few times and will use them very minimally forever. The choice to go with a less expensive boat and the paddle was the best choice for him. If you are just thinking about giving it a try, I suggest you go with the less expensive options until you are sure; if you are sure, seriously consider a better paddle.

Kayak Paddle | Know Your Price

This brings me to the last thing I would recommend you know before you get in front of that wall of colorful paddles; how much are you willing to spend. There is nothing wrong with buying a paddle that fits your price range.  There are several brands that are relatively inexpensive and more than adequate, then there are high-end paddles for those who spend every weekend on the water. 

Choose for you, choose what fits you.  

My first adventure in front of the paddles, I picked out a really cool looking one… had Ryan at Caney Fork explain that it needed to reach the water… got attached to the design… then found out how much it was going to cost. I have since learned that as expensive as that first paddle was, it was barely a middle of the road paddle when it comes to cost. I was fortunate enough to win some money fishing tournaments and upgraded to the Bending Branches Angler Pro Carbon (then another after I backed over that one at a ramp… not a good day) and prefer that over any paddle I have picked up since. But before you pick one up, and get attached to it, make sure you are willing to spend the amount required.   

I am not a paddle expert. 

I may not even be able to play one on TV, but I have offered up the things I would think through if I ever buy a new paddle. Also, read the reviews and the selection guides offered by companies; not just one, but many. I Googled it, so I know there are countless guides out there for selecting paddles. Bending Branches, Werner Paddles, and others have some very informative sites that can give you specific details on the shape of the paddle, length of the shafts, etc.; and I recommend that you research those sites and read reviews. 

The paddle can literally become one of the most important parts of your day on the water, even if it is only to push offshore or to get you back when your other propulsion methods fail, so make sure you are able to reach the water with the best paddle you can afford.

This article was contributed by an ANGLR Expert

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Mike Cheatham


May 2016, sat in my first kayak. October 2016, skunked in my first tournament. Spring of 2017, placed 11th in the KBF Open and have chased the addiction since. Fishing is the one place my mind gets quiet, the place I have always found peace. To do it competitively with a great bunch of folks is just a bonus. To have an opportunity to combine my love for fishing with writing...I feel like I have finally found a place in this world! I do have the support of a wonderful woman who understands my need to be on the water; she supports my dreams fully....life is truly good.

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