A kayak paddle is just a paddle, right?
No, not really.
Just like with all bits of kit for our sport, a lot of clever people spend a lot of time designing what they hope will be an ideal paddle for a very specific purpose.
We have been at the stage for a long time where you most probably wouldn’t choose to use the paddle you take on whitewater on a touring trip, and you certainly wouldn’t do so the other way round.
This article is designed to help you know exactly what to look for in a paddle – whether it’s for whitewater kayaking or kayak touring use – when you go out to buy one for yourself!
Whitewater Vs Touring Paddles
There are a few fundamental differences that make a kayak paddle suitable either for whitewater kayaking or for kayak touring. The most obvious are blade shape and shaft length.
Whitewater paddling is aggressive, and requires ‘high-angle’ strokes, where each time you plant the paddle at as steep an angle as possible, engaging maximum trunk rotation and body movement.
An ideal stroke is almost a ‘scoop’ with the shaft angled as close to vertical as possible. This gives you maximum power, allowing for quick acceleration and maintained speed through holes.
The best sort of paddle for this aggressive style is one with an asymmetric blade that has plenty of surface area without being too long.
You need to be able to switch from one side to the other quickly in order to maintain a high stroke rate, so ideally whitewater paddles shouldn’t be too long, between 190cm and 203cm is the norm.
Kayak touring paddles, on the other hand, are generally longer (usually between the 210cm and 240cm mark), and have much longer, narrower blades generally suited to a more relaxed and maintainable ‘low-angle’ style of paddling perfect for long periods of time spent paddling your kayak at as steady pace.
Obviously, these are general lengths, and choosing the right length for you is an important consideration to make when buying a paddle (see ‘Sizing Your Paddle’ box).
Often a manufacturer will make a model of paddle in a selection of