Paddles are one of the most crucial pieces of equipment that you can have to snsure you go as fast as you can with the least possible effort and as safely as you can. I have spent a lifetime studying, designing, training and racing with paddles. In the 1970s with some Kiwi mates we revolutionised paddles by changing to fibreglass from the now redundant wooden blades. We spread them through Europe. Since then they have changed a thousand times.
So what do you use then? There are so many to choose from! Wing blade or conventional? But what type of wing blade or conventional blade? Flat blades, thin blades, short blades and long blades. Carbon, glass, plastic or graphite? There are so many new shapes and materials coming out all of the time.
Then you must decide what overall length of paddle to use and what type of shaft. Furtunately most of us don't realise that there is such a large choice and buy whatever we are offered off the shelf and recommended by the retailer. At least you get a paddle and can start training.
However, you probably don't have the paddle that makes you go fastest with least possible effort.
So here's a pile of information that I have discovered that will certainly help you make a far more educated guess at what you need.
Wing paddles versus Conventional paddles
Wings are certainly faster than conventional paddles. They lock on and hold the water in its big scoop on the front face. The large lip on the leading edge does not let the water escape, and forces it only off the trailing edge. Conventional paddles let the water slip from all edges and therefore slip back through the water more than the wings.
You may ask what is wrong with the blade slipping back a little as you pull. Well, it is like running in soft sand, if your foot slips back in the sand as you drive your body forward you won't reach the same speed as if you were on a hard surface getting good traction.
My educated guess is that a wing paddle will give you about 5% increase in speed if you are a reasonably good paddler. If you are not a very strong paddler then it won't make much difference, as you must pull reasonably hard to cause a paddle to slip backwards in the water before you get slippage.
This very same argument can be used when deciding on the size of blade to use. A person with very little strength is better to use a smaller blade than a stronger person. And again the same person doing a long marathon type race can use a smaller blade than when they are doing a short sprint race. When you are sprinting you pull much harder than you would if you are going a long distance.
So lets start making decisions. If you are reasonably sure you will do a lot of paddling and you want to get faster, get a wing paddle. The negatives against a wing are:
Incidentally, one thing you must do with a wing, when in the pushing phase of the stroke is to push forward all the way at forehead level, and don't drop that hand until the pulling blade is just leaving the water. Then you will get your 5% increase in speed. If you don't keep that hand high then save your money and buy a conventional paddle.
Different makes of each model can still be a problem, so I can only suggest you buy from a shop that has people in it that race kayaks. They will not stock dud paddles.
Carbon is the best as it gives a strong rigid blade that is nice and light. A rigid blade is prefered as it doesn't buckle, bend and wobble in the water. Fibreglass is a little heavier and not so rigid. Plastic is the cheapest and most durable but quite heavy and bulky. However there are some new plastcis just coming out that are much stronger and lighter than before (almost as light as carbon).
Once you have decided on the right type of blade you must then work out what length you should use. Here are the rules:
So lets assume you are a multisporter of 6 foot in height, well trained, strong and in a fast racing boat doing a longer distance. You should use a wing paddle of medium blade size and 216-218cm in length.
If he changed his boat for a slower entry-level boat (say an Intrigue) he would shorten his paddle to 214cm.
The same (strong) paddler sprinting only a 500m race would use a larger wing blade with a length of 218-220cm.
A smaller person of little strength and skill in a slower multisport boat may find it best to use a small conventional blade at only 208cm in length.
The average guy aiming to get into multisport and try his best should use a medium wing 212-214cm in length.
If sea kayaking is your choice, the average bloke would use either type of blade at 212-214cm in length. The average female would have 210-212cm long.
Some traditional sea-kayakers like to use the long skinny narrow blades at around 225cm in length. These are fantastic for fair weather easy cruises but they don't cut the mustard if the wind comes up and you must make a dash for home.
As a final recommendation when buying a paddle, ask to try them out first. If they are close to the water like my shops are, they won't mind you trying some different blades for a few minutes each.
If you are still not sure what length paddle to use, pay a little extra and buy an adjustable shaft so you can change its length as you wish.