Whether you’re a beginner or a lifelong kayak enthusiast, you’re probably wondering and asking, “What size kayak paddle do I need?”
A kayak paddle length can make or break your kayaking.
That may sound strange, but it is a fact because the paddles help the kayak navigate the water safely.
Their size can also determine your comfort while you paddle.
An incorrectly sized kayak paddle may put you at risk of having no control over your kayak.
Consequently, your fun adventure may take a U-turn, making you miserable in the middle of the water.
How Do You Pick a Kayak Paddle Size?
When it comes to picking the right kayak paddle size, you need to look at certain factors and use several methods.
Factors to Consider
The following are major deciding factors that can assist you in picking a perfect kayak paddle size:
Don’t misunderstand body stature as your height or weight; it’s your torso’s length.
Despite the equal height, one may feel absolutely fine while the other may be uncomfortable.
It’s because some people’s height is in the legs, while some have a torso.
As far as the paddle size is concerned, the size of the torso matters.
So, how do you measure your torso height?
- Bend your head down and use your hands to touch the top vertebra where your shoulders meet the neck.
- Now, find the bottom of your torso by measuring the lumbar region. Rest your hands on each of your hip bones with your thumb and index finger pointing backward.
- Stand tall and ask someone to measure the distance from your top vertebrae and imaginary line across the lumbar region.
- Many people tend to confuse that the torso length ends at the last vertebra. No, it’s certainly not the case; instead, it goes all the way to your lumbar region.
After taking the right measurement, you now know the right paddle size you need to get.
For a torso height of 22 inches, you require a paddle length of 180 cm.
On the other hand, for a torso height of 34 inches, you require a paddle length ranging from 230 to 250 cm.
Not only that, but you also need to take into account the high angle style or low angle style.
It’s simple math that for a wider kayak, you require a longer paddle.
It’s because you need proper blade placement in the water.
Plus, it’s only possible when you have a longer paddle to reach beyond the gunwales of the kayak.
Not to mention that you need to maintain a proper paddling form.
How do you measure the kayak’s width? You need to take measurements at the widest point.
All of this is only possible if you opt for a longer paddle.
Obviously, you don’t want to bang your knuckles on the deck and put too much strain on your body.
You also don’t want too little or too much of the blades’ power to face the water.
On the other hand, paddles in tandem kayaks are longer than those on solo kayaks.
Also, you need to consider the height of the seat surface with respect to the gunwales.
That’s why people with the same torso height may need different paddles if the seat height is different in each kayak.
What’s your preference regarding a high stroke? If you prefer this method, you bring the power face closer to the boat’s side in a less acute entry angle to the water.
Basically, in high-angle paddling, you paddle rigorously by making short and precise vertical movements.
In simple words, you use the water closest to the boat in quick motions.
What if you prefer a lower stroking angle used for causal kayaking in still bodies of water?
In this case, you should put the shaft at a more acute angle to the water surface.
In this way, you require less stamina and strength by horizontally stroking the water.
So, the question here is, do you use the same paddle in the same kayak in the above two scenarios?
The answer is no. You will use a shorter paddle for a higher stroking angle and a longer paddle for a lower stroking angle.
In high-angle paddling, you use short shafts and wider blades that move smoother and faster than long blades.
Paddle Shaft Diameter
The diameter of the shaft is directly proportional to the size of your hands. Meaning the diameter should be smaller for smaller hands and vice versa.
You can also select between a straight shaft and a neutral bent shaft.
We all know that blisters are our worst opponent while kayaking and the leading cause is excess movement.
In the case of straight paddles, there is less contact between the hand and kayak paddle shaft.
On the contrary, a bent paddle shaft can rest comfortably in your hand with more contact.
Types of Kayak
Two of the most common types of kayaks are:
- Recreational or Fishing Kayaks: These wider kayaks require a longer paddle to reach the water without leaning
- Whitewater Kayaks: They are slimmer kayaks that require shorter paddles to control the speed in harsh conditions.
Lightweight material allows you to handle a longer paddle without any fatigue.
That’s why paddle blade and shaft material should be lightweight yet sturdy.
That said, you can get a heavier blade that offers stronger stroke power, which means you can use a shorter paddle with a heavier blade.
Methods to Help Choose the Right Size
Here are some ways on how to effectively choose the right paddle size for you:
The best strategy to determine the ideal length is to board your kayak and get on the water.
Next, as a demo, use the proper techniques you’ll use with a test paddle.
The idea is to perform more reps to have an idea about the starting length of the paddle.
Consequently, you can try different lengths of paddles on your boat.
However, you should test a paddle using proper form, including:
- Torso twist
- Upright posture
- Proper hand positioning
- Good positioning
- Sweeping stroke styles
Obviously, you can’t select a paddle based on a poor paddling form.
In a nutshell, selecting a kayak paddle size is more of a hit and trial method and requires practice and proper forms.
It’s essentially a precise on-shore method to determine the proper length of the paddle.
The first method is to hold your arms out, bend the elbows at right angles in a normal paddling position and grasp the paddle typically.
The rule of thumb is that your hands should be ⅔ of the way from the shaft’s center to the blade’s shoulder.
After selecting a suitable paddle, stand it in an upright position next to you.
All you need to do is extend your arm to hook your first finger joints over the paddle’s tip or top edge.
If your fingers can’t reach the top, it means you need to choose a different length.
Conversely, if you can completely wrap the hand around the top edge, again select another size.
What Size Kayak Paddle Do I Need?
Generally speaking, a 230 cm kayak paddle is perfect for an average-sized and height kayaker.
It’s more or less a universal size for paddlers who use a relaxed- low-angle and smooth paddling.
On the other hand, if you want to go for aggressive paddling, you can opt for a 220 cm or 210 cm kayak paddle to enjoy a high-angle of paddling attack style.
These paddles come with stiffer blades than the average paddler.
Just note that the kayak paddle is normally measured in cm, not inches.
As such, to help make the conversion easy: 230 cm translates to 90.5 inches, 220 cm converts to 86.6 inches, and 210 cm measures 82.7 inches.
Also, kayak paddle sizing varies in size in increments of 10 cm or 2 inches.
Just as a precaution, don’t consider it a minor difference because it can result in thousands of strokes on an unwanted tiring kayaking route.
What Happens When You Use Too Long of a Paddle for Kayaking
If a kayak paddle is too long, you put extra effort while paddling. Consequently, you end up hurting your torso and shoulders.
Basically, you work harder to maintain the speed and to keep the kayak on the straight path.
You can also risk getting blisters due to the constant shifting of hand positions along the shaft to compensate for the long length.
On the other hand, a too-short paddle will scrape the kayak’s sides with each stroke.
Nonetheless, a low angle paddling requires you to be more relaxed and paddle slower.
In this particular case, you need a longer paddle to support a low angle.
It’s one of the most common forms of paddling. You also minimize shoulder fatigue.
Now, you know the answer to one of the most commonly asked questions about kayaking: “What size kayak paddle do I need?”
The size depends on several factors discussed above in great detail. It not only depends on the boat’s dimensions but also on your frame.
Still, it requires practice to fine-tune your paddling by experimenting with different paddles.
Once you are in the right form, you can easily determine a suitable kayak paddle length.