Noyo Pacific Kayaking

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What is the Correct Blade Size For My Kayaking Paddle?
Kayaking - Kayaking Equipment

If you plan on primarily paddling easy flat water, small blades (junior or even kids sized) might be best, or at least okay, though "standard" sized ones will also work fine. If you paddle white water, and I include ocean rock garden play and ocean surfing here, you will usually want slightly larger blades than used for touring, depending on how strong you are, and what kind of shape you're in. Larger blades grip the water better for the repeated boat acceleration and deceleration done in white water and surfing. Flat water cruising is more efficient with smaller blades, as this allows a faster stroke rate, and you can rest even more by just slowing the pace some.

I would recommend 100 to 105 square inches of blade surface for a white water kayak paddle within its typical length range. A blade size about

7 inches wide by 16 inches long would be about right, though length / width measurements like these are seldom indicative of actual blade area. Dedicated racers might want blades slightly larger than that. 95 to 100 square inches would be a good start for a sea kayak paddle, though even smaller sizes might benefit many paddlers. White water sized blades are okay for a shorter white water paddle, but not recommended for longer flat water paddles. The longer length of a sea kayak paddle dictates smaller blades or the paddler starts to get more than a bit overwhelmed with the work they require. 125-135 square inches (8 inches wide by 18 to 20 inches long) is about right for the typical white water canoe paddle.

Blade Shape
There are three distinct aspects to blade shape: Blade outline -- Lengthwise curve -- Cross section --

Blade Outline:
Most flat water (touring) kayak paddle blades are asymmetrical in shape, where most white water kayak paddle blades are symmetrical. White water paddlers are learning, though, and more asymmetrical white water kayak paddles are being developed and marketed all the time.

Draw a line down the center line of the paddle shaft, through the center of a blade. If the blade halves on either side of the line are the same (actually a mirror image of each other), that blade is symmetrical. If the two sides are different, the blade is asymmetrical.

For either white water or sea kayaking, asymmetrical blades offer more and better boat control than symmetrical blades, especially for the aggressive paddler. The distinctions between symmetric and asymmetric in the physical feel during use might require a bit of acquired expertise for most paddlers to notice much difference. Deep water paddlers will notice the difference more than shallow water paddlers like kayakers into white water "creeking." Properly designed asymmetric blades seem to feather easier than symmetric for transitional strokes.

Symmetrical blades are usually more forgiving of mistakes than asymmetrical blades for the less aggressive "drifter" type white water paddlers. Very long, skinny blades do not offer as much grip on the water as shorter, wider blades when using a standard modern kayak stroke. Except for some experimental trials in very specialized racing applications, all canoe paddle blades are symmetrical.

Lengthwise Curve:
A paddle blade can have either a flat or curved shape when looked at edgewise, from the side of the paddle. Varying amounts of curve are possible, and different places on the blade might have different amounts of curve. The biggest advantage of the flat blade is forgiveness for beginners, and the biggest disadvantage is probably lack of grip on the water that more advanced paddlers prefer. Most kayak paddle blades (mid-priced and more expensive paddles) are curved, but there are exceptions.

Blade Cross Section:
Several different cross sections are available on paddle blades. Typical sections are flat, spooned, dihedral, and wing.. As a general rule (there are always exceptions) ribs on the side of the blade facing the back of the boat (power-face) have a detrimental effect, and ribs on the other side of the blade (non-powerface) don't matter very much.

A flat blade is flat, but a given blade might be more spooned or more dihedral than another spoon or dihedral blade. The dihedral, spoon, and wing above are exaggerated a little for clarity. The amounts of spoon or dihedral will probably vary in different parts of the blade surface. There might even be combinations of two or more of each section on the same paddle blade. For instance part of a blade is flat and the rest is dihedral, or there could be a little bit of spoon in an otherwise flat blade. The side of the blade that faces the rear of the boat (power face) points to the top of the screen in the above drawings.

There are advantages and disadvantages to each sectional shape. Both spoons and wings offer a very powerful stroke, but are also very difficult to control during a stroke, especially for beginners. Dihedrals can be very forgiving, but many are so forgiving that they might limit the capabilities of the paddler after the beginner learns the basics. Blades that are essentially flat across the face seem to offer the best balance between forgiveness, power, and control. I want to make a distinction between curved and spooned blades here. A true spoon blade is curved across the face, as well as lengthwise, like a soup spoon. Some blades are curved lengthwise, but are flat across the face. A curved blade is not necessarily a spooned blade. In fact, most blades that are called spooned, are not. A true spoon will hold water on the surface, where it will roll off of a flat blade that is curved lengthwise, only.