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Why The Parts Of A Kayak Paddle Matter

If you are in the market for a kayak paddle, it’s essential to know how the parts of a kayak paddle come into play.  The paddle transfers energy and propels you through the water, so selecting the right paddle is very important to get the most out of your kayak. 

In this article, we discuss the parts of a kayak paddle.  You will gain a better understanding of how to choose the paddle that is best for you.  The right paddle will help you have a more efficient and effective stroke, so you can enjoy your time on the water.

Next to your kayak, the paddle is probably the most important purchase you will make.  It might even be more critical than your kayak if you think about every stroke you take. 

Your shoulders, wrists, arms, upper back can all be affected by the paddle you are using. If you paddle one thousand strokes in a mile, you want a lightweight and efficient paddle. 

Although it is crucial to understand how a kayak paddle is designed, it doesn’t have to be complicated.

Parts of a kayak paddle

At a high level, it might not seem like there is much to a kayak paddle.  When you take a closer look, there is more than you might think. There are a few kayak paddle parts to become familiar with, including:

  • The blade (power face and back face)
  • The shaft
  • Drip rings
  • Ferrule

There are also nuances to these parts, and we will get into all of this next.

Blade

The blade breaks down into two sections, the power face and the back face.

The power face

This part of the blade is very appropriately named. The power face is the spoon side curved upward and faces the paddler. This is the part that catches and pulls against the water when you are paddling forward.  The power face generates power and propels you across the water.

The back face

The other side of the paddle is the back face.  The back face has a raised ridge with a “spine” down the center. 

Note that most recreational kayak paddles are asymmetrical.  This means the long edge is on top and the short edge is on the bottom as you paddle. Kayak paddles usually hit the water at a shallow angle, and this asymmetrical shape allows the blade to get deeper into the water, creating more power.

Blade materials

There are different materials used to make kayak blades, and it depends on what kind of performance you are looking for.  Prices, and the weight of the blade, vary depending on the materials. Some blades are more flexible than others, so it really depends on how and where you paddle.

Think of the blade as a weight on each end of the paddle.  The more weight, the harder it is to paddle.  This is where different materials make a big difference.

Polypropylene, also known as “plastic,” is a variety of inexpensive blades.  These blades are durable, flexible, and will take a beating. These are great for beginners or anyone looking for an inexpensive blade.  Plastic blades are not as efficient (heavier) as other materials.

Fiberglass is used with polypropylene to create a lighter and stiffer blade than a standard plastic blade.  A fiberglass-reinforced polypropylene blade gives you a more efficient stroke since the blade does not flex as much.  Fiberglass blades are lighter and more expensive than plastic.

Carbon blades are on the high end when it comes to price and performance.  These blades are lightweight, ultra-stiff, and give you a very efficient stroke.

The shaft

Kayak paddle shafts come in different shapes and materials, just like blades. Let’s take a look at the different shafts next.

Straight shaft

A straight shaft is probably what most people think of when it comes to kayak paddles. These are lightweight and pretty easy to swing if you don’t have any hand or wrist problems.

Bent shaft

A bent paddle shaft is ergonomically correct and is excellent for folks with hand and wrist issues.  Bent shafts are generally more expensive but are more comfortable for some people to use. They are curved so that your hands are at a more comfortable angle while you are paddling.

Shaft materials

Kayak paddle shafts are often made from aluminum, carbon, or fiberglass. 

Aluminum is the least expensive, but it can get hot or cold depending on the weather. You might want to invest in a pair of gloves with an aluminum shaft. These paddles are durable and will get you around just fine.

Fiberglass and carbon shafts are lightweight, strong, and durable.  If you put one of these shafts with a carbon or fiber blade, you will have a high-performance paddle. These also carry a heftier price tag.

Lower end paddles made with an aluminum shaft and plastic blades are very durable but not the most efficient for paddling.

Drip rings

Drip rings are designed to shed water away from you to keep water off your hands. Drip rings also keep water from running down the paddle shaft, on your upstroke, and dropping water inside your kayak (or your lap).

Drip rings are adjustable, so you can place them where you want.  Typically drip rings will go on the paddle’s throat (about three finger widths from the blade), which is the space where the shaft and the blade meet.

Ferrule

Paddles will often come in two pieces, which makes transporting and storing the paddles much easier.  The point where the two pieces meet is called the ferrule. If your paddle is adjustable in length, the ferrule is where you make this adjustment.

Other kayak paddle terms

Feathering

Feathering is when your paddle blades are offset from each other they are not on the same plane.  Most shafts have increments (usually about 15 degrees) that allow you to control the feathering.  Some people like to have the blades offset to improve the paddles’ effectiveness.

Swing weight

Basically, swing weight refers to how heavy the paddle is. To narrow it down a little more, swing weight is often talking about how heavy the blades are. Heavy, plastic blades will have more swing weight than lighter weight materials like carbon.

Paddle configurations

Paddles come in various material configurations and price points.  On the entry-level side, you have an aluminum shaft with plastic blades. As you progress, you can get a fiberglass shaft with plastic blades, which is lighter and more expensive. 

Fiberglass reinforced blades with a carbon shaft are even lighter yet. As the materials improve, the paddles get lighter, and the price goes up.

Conclusion

Parts of a kayak paddle - kayak paddles in a store

The parts of a kayak paddle play a role in how much the paddle costs, how efficiently you paddle, and fatigue.  Some kayaks come with an entry-level paddle, and that will do just fine for the average weekend outing. 

If you want a paddle that will give you higher performance, you want to choose a lightweight and stiff paddle.  The decision comes down to things like what type of paddling you do and how far you will travel on the water.

If you are paddling long distance, or speed is your game, then a lightweight, stiff paddle will help you be more efficient with each stroke.

If you are in the market for a paddle, check out my article here for more information. 

Let me know if you have any questions.

Steve Morrow Founder of Paddle About
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Steve is an avid kayaker and founder of Paddle About. When he is not on the water, Steve enjoys outdoor activities, including fishing, camping, and hiking with his family. Read more.