You may think that a kayak paddle is a kayak paddle and there aren’t any key differences between brands. However, there are several types of kayak paddles that have distinct differences that affect performance, usage scenarios, and efficiency on the water.
The different types of kayak paddle may seem confusing at first and with so many variants of each type making a choice can quickly become overwhelming. Although there are many different shapes and sizes when it comes to kayak paddles, the paddle shape itself is what affects performance mostly.
Once you know what the four main types of kayak paddles are, how they differ from each other, how they work in the water, and what type of paddling they can be used for, you will be able to choose the right paddle for your scenario. In this article, we’ll provide you with everything you need to know about kayak paddles and the four main shapes: Dihedral, Flat, Spoon, and Wing.
What are Kayak Paddles & How are They Different From Other Paddles?
Kayak paddles differ from other paddles and oars. The main difference between a rowing oar or canoe paddle and a kayak paddle is the number of blades (or paddles). A typical rowing oar has only one blade that’s used to push water in order to propel the vessel forward. A kayak paddle has two blades connected to either end of the handle so the water can be pushed simultaneously from either side of the vessel.
The double-bladed kayak paddle makes it easier for the kayaker to control the boat quickly. The small nature of the vessel means that one blade can be pushed lightly through the water to adjust the course of the kayak dramatically. This is extremely handy in whitewater, tight places, and rocky sections of river where precision paddling is needed.
The slower pace of the canoe and the longer, wider nature of the vessel makes using a double-bladed paddle pointless. In fact, using a double-bladed kayak paddle in a canoe or rowing boat is more of a hindrance than anything else. A single-bladed paddle or oar is far more effective. Having two hands on one paddle and being able to lean your weight into it makes turning a larger vessel quickly much easier. The seating position in a canoe or rowing boat makes using a single paddle or two single paddles much more efficient than a kayak paddle.
So, now you know the differences between a kayak paddle and canoe or rowing boat oars and paddles you’re probably wondering what the differences between specific kayak paddles are. The shape of the kayak paddle’s blades differs slightly between each. These shapes have been well thought out to cater to certain environments, situations, and kayaking styles. Read on below to find out what these subtle differences are and how they effect the performance of a kayak.
1. Dihedral Paddle Shape
Dihedral blade kayak paddles have a slight angle on each edge of the blade that angle down and away from the shaft of the paddle. This slight lateral angle increases the power plane of the paddle and is designed to guide the water flow over the surface easier. This paddle design helps reduce water flutter and allows the kayaker to use the paddle with more precision. This makes tracking much better and allows the user to turn and control the kayak more efficiently and at shorter notice.
The dihedral paddle is great for long-distance paddling and is also an excellent paddle for the beginner. The flutter-reducing qualities of this paddle make it comfortable to use over long periods of time on the water. The reduction of flutter also helps reduce stress to the arms and wrists as well as reducing the chances of developing tendonitis over extended use.
2. Flat Paddle Shape
A flat paddle is exactly what it sounds like — it’s flat! The surface of this kayak paddle has no indents and isn’t concaved dramatically however it may have a very slight curve across its length in order to catch the water better. Flat paddles usually have a rib down the centre in the form of a raised bar but this is purely for strength and to help guide the water to the edges of the paddle. This rib does not affect the water-moving performance of the paddle but it does help the paddle cut through the water sightly easier and helps reduce flutter.
Flat blade kayak paddles are excellent for the beginner and are usually the type of paddle that comes included with a kayak purchase. During a capsize, inexperienced kayakers will find it much easier to flip the kayak back upright with a flat paddle. Other shapes require a bit more skill and may restrict the beginner during a potentially dangerous situation.
3. Spoon Paddle Shape
The spoon paddle adds a significant curve across the width of the blade. This curve (or sweep) affects the bite of the paddle — meaning it’s designed to catch the water earlier at the beginning of the stroke. This sweeping design makes this paddle extremely powerful in the first one-half to three-quarters of the paddle motion. However, a spoon-shaped paddle should be removed from the water earlier than flat or dihedral blade kayak paddles to prevent the water from being pushed upwards. You should never follow through the stroke with a spoon shape paddle as you would with other shapes as this will reduce efficiency.
When used in the correct manner the spoon-shaped kayak paddle is incredibly efficient and moves a lot of water — meaning faster propulsion with less effort. They are great for kayakers that are in need of a paddle for racing or moving fast across rivers, lakes, and coastlines. A little practice is needed to get used to spoon paddles and they aren’t recommended for the beginner.
4. Wing Paddle Shape
The wing blade is a variation of the spoon shape kayak paddle. It cuts through the water quickly and moves a lot of water due to its curved design. Where the spoon blade edges curve upward and outward, the edges of the wing blade curve up and inward slightly. The rounded edges are similar to an airplane wing and require a twist in the torso during strokes to use it effectively. The paddle is used to angle the water away from the vessel rather than long like other conventional fast-paced paddles such as the spoon.
Wing-shaped kayak paddles are used primarily by professional kayak racers in competitions. The paddle is designed to move through the water quickly and capture plenty of water to propel the kayak forward quickly. They aren’t recommended for beginners or long-distance tourers as the kayaker needs skill and incredible endurance to use the paddle over long periods of time.
Bottom Line: The Different Kayak Paddles — Which is the Right Choice for You?
The right kayak paddle choice for you will ultimately come down to what style of paddling you intend to use it for. Whether you are into kayak touring, casual paddling, racing, or competitions will affect which paddle-type you choose.
If you are a beginner in the kayaking world we recommend going for a flat paddle. This will enable you to get used to controlling the kayak and will suit you well for casual adventures during the start of your kayaking career. The dihedral paddle is also another good choice for the beginner that wants something a little more powerful for their paddling. These paddles are also excellent for long-distance touring.
If you’re a little more experienced and want a fast paddle for racing or tearing up the local waters on shorter paddles, then the spoon paddle is an excellent option. If you’re more serious about racing and want a competition paddle, then we recommend going for a wing-shaped paddle or something with a similar shape.
We hope this article has given you an insight into kayak paddles. Although the information here is pretty thorough, we’ve barely scratched the surface on this topic. Stay up to date with the chats for more information on kayak paddles and their uses.