Of all the gear that a kayaker uses, one of the most important is the kayak paddle. The most important, of course, is the kayak. But even the kayak won’t be going anywhere without the help of a proper paddle. Kayak paddles come in many varieties – they can be made from many different types of materials, come in different lengths, and can have different blade and shaft shapes. The most popular materials from which to make them are aluminum, plastic, wood, fiberglass, and carbon fiber.
The cheapest paddles you can get are made from aluminum and plastic. These are cheaper materials that are still strong enough for use in kayaking. A typical aluminum and plastic paddle has a tubular aluminum shaft and plastic blades and both ends. Sometimes, these very basic models come with the kayak as part of a package. Inflatable boats and rafts also come with similar paddles. While most kayakers prefer to spend a little extra money to get something nicer, these are still good for use as backup paddles, in case a primary one gets lost. If you want to use a plastic and aluminum paddle as a backup, simply stow it in your kayak somewhere you can reach it in case you lose your primary paddle. Some paddlers keep their spare paddle under their deck bungees, for example.
Wooden paddles are stiff, lightweight, and in the opinion of many are the most attractive looking paddles. With many wooden paddles, the workmanship is apparent from the finish. However, you may be surprised that the cost of acquiring a wooden paddle is really not much more than the cost of a comparable fiberglass one. Wooden paddles typically have both their shaft and blades made of wood; however, some of wooden paddles that can be taken apart into two pieces have a middle section made of a composite material such as carbon fiber where the joint is. Wooden paddles are made from stiff and lightweight woods such as basswood and alder.
Composite paddles are made from materials such as fiberglass and carbon fiber. These paddles are very strong and lightweight because they are made from woven fibers with a high tensile strength. The woven fibers are soaked in resin, which is very stiff when it hardens. The resulting paddle has the strength and light weight that is appreciated in a kayak paddle. Fiberglass paddles are cheaper than carbon fiber paddles, but are also a little heavier. The last few ounces are the hardest to eliminate, and the cost of a carbon fiber paddle is substantially higher than that of a fiberglass paddle. Carbon fiber paddles are almost always black, and usually allow the carbon fiber weave to show through for a high tech look.
Most kayak paddles are breakdown paddles, which means that they can be separated into multiple pieces for easy transportation and storage. Since a kayak paddle can range in length from about 210 to 240 centimeters, this is a useful feature to have. Ideally, a breakdown paddle should have a joint that is secure enough that the paddle feels like a single piece when it is assembled.