Choosing the right kayak paddle

Att välja rätt kajakpaddel

There is an abundance of different models of kayak paddles and it can therefore feel difficult to find the right one. Having the right paddle for your purpose is important as it enables better technique and less unnecessary energy loss. In this way, you get more out of paddling.

To make a rough generalization about how a beginner can think about choosing a kayak paddle:

  1. As a beginner, it is often good to start with a standard paddle. The most common is to buy a flat paddle in aluminum with a length of 210-220cm. This is an affordable and impact resistant paddle to start with.
  2. Some people want a lighter paddle right from their first kayak purchase and then buy a fiberglass paddle 210-220 cm. This is lighter than the aluminum paddle but also slightly more expensive.
  3. Those who have started their paddling properly and want to develop their paddling technique often choose a carbon fiber paddle with an adjustable length. This is the most exclusive paddle that, thanks to its low weight and torsional rigidity, provides a very pleasant energy-efficient paddling.
  4. If you want to start exercise paddling or develop your paddling technique further, you can buy a wing paddle. These usually come in carbon fiber.

Below is our more detailed guide where you can read in more detail about what to consider and what differentiates the different kayaks.

When you choose a paddle there is three main factors to consider:

  • Paddle length (read guide here)
  • Paddle model (e.g. traditional flat paddle or wing paddle)
  • Material (affects weight, durability and flex)

We have written a short and clear one guide on what pad length you should have. If you are unsure about the length, please read that article first. In this guide you will find everything you need to know about the paddle model and material.

Once you have decided how long your paddle should be, you need to decide on two additional things:

  • Which paddle model - i.e. which design do you want on the blade.
  • What material the paddle should be made of (aluminium, fiberglass or carbon fiber).

Paddle Model Summary:

Traditional flat paddle : Easy to use and good grip in the water, excellent for beginners.
Wing paddle : Optimized for powerful paddling and speed. However, requires more "advanced" technology.
Greenland Paddle : Energy efficient model used with low paddle motion.

Paddle Material Summary:

Carbon fiber : The lightest material most often used for high quality paddles.
Fiberglass : Mostly light and with low stress on the wrists thanks to natural flex.
Plastic/aluminum : Relatively light and durable, good as a first paddle. Wood : The paddles are often heavy, rigid and not adjustable.


Paddle model (flat paddle, wing paddle or Greenland paddle)

There are three different popular models of paddles. The traditional flat paddle, the wing paddle and the Greenland paddle. Of course there are mixes between these, and other more unique models. It is the shape of the paddle blade that gives the paddle its characteristics.

Type of paddle

Traditional flat paddle, wing paddle and Greenland paddle (Eskimo paddle).

1. Flat paddle – two different models

The most popular model of kayak paddles is the flat paddle also called European paddle and standard paddle. Often the flat paddle has large blades and a relatively flat shape on the blade, hence the name flat paddle.

Price: approx. SEK 700-2500

+ Easy to use, good choice for beginner
+ Popular, large range of different models : Narrow oblong blades, large blades, fiberglass, aluminum etc
+ Ideal for tour paddling but suitable for most types of paddling

- Not as effective as, for example, the wing paddle

The flat paddle is ideal for beginners as it is easy to control, often shock-resistant and is available in several different materials (aluminium, glass fiber and carbon fiber). Good choice for those who want to go out on both shorter and longer trips.

For the flat paddle there are different models where the shape of the blade varies. The two most common forms are larger traditional blades as shown below for Aluminum kayak paddle and narrower longer leaves as shown here for (Kayak paddle carbon fiber) .

The model shown above with wide and relatively large blades is suitable for touring paddling but also has good all-round properties. The blade provides a good grip even in messier water and provides the opportunity for good control.

The paddle model fits a traditional paddling style.

Carbon fiber flat paddle

Carbon fiber kayak paddle. Tour paddle in carbon fiber. 215 ± 10cm, 730g.

Another model of flat paddles are they with narrower and longer leaves . These are well adapted to longer trips and sea paddling. With this model, you have a lower paddle position, that is, you paddle with a more horizontal style, this paddle style is suitable if you are out on longer trips. An advantage of paddles with narrow and elongated blades is that they usually have low air resistance.

Many flat paddles are separable which means that the angle between the paddle blades can be adjusted (more about angles further down), it also becomes easy to transport.

2. Wing paddle

The wing paddle is a newer model that was developed by Swede Stefan Lindeberg in the 80s. It has become the most popular model for exercise and competitive paddling thanks to its effectiveness in the water. The paddle also works for tour paddling for those who want better speed during the trip.

The wing paddle has, as the picture shows, bowled blades, optimized to use the body's larger muscle groups and get a efficient paddle pull .

Price: SEK 2000-5000

+ Enables good speed and control
+ Minimal wobble during powerful pulls
+ Usually very light and made of carbon fiber
+ Good grip

- Requires a technique that differs from that of the traditional flat paddle
- More delicate

The concept behind the wing paddle is that you should get a good grip and be able to use larger muscle groups than you can with the flat paddle. With the wing paddle, the torso, hips and back are used to a greater extent than with the flat paddle, where mostly the arms and shoulders work.

The leaves usually have a leaf surface of 630 cm 2 – 750 cm 2 . If you get the technique with the wing paddle, the shape of the blade will give great advantages compared to other models. The technology that involves a higher paddle movement and that the paddle is pulled diagonally backwards instead of along the kayak means that you move larger volumes of water. This also gives you a better grip and more efficient paddle pull.

The shape of the wing paddle also means that air resistance is small, which can be good if you are paddling against the wind. Before one has learned the special technique, the wing paddle is often experienced as more unstable and difficult to control. Once you know the technique, you instead get good control and better speed.

It is debated as to what purposes the wing paddle should be used for. It is quite possible for a beginner to start with the wing paddle straight away if you intend to use an effective paddling with good speed. However, the technique is more difficult to learn and the paddles are often more expensive than flat paddles. For those who feel unsure, it may be smart to start with a traditional flat paddle and then switch to a wing paddle when you have started paddling properly.

The wing paddle is the most common model for exercise paddling and basically the only model used in a racing context. Today it is common to use the wing paddle also for tour paddling and sea paddling. Then it is good to choose a wing paddle with smaller blades in the range of 600-700 cm 2 . Many experienced paddlers use the wing paddle for sea paddling as well as exercise paddling.

3. Greenland paddle

The Greenland paddle, also called an Eskimo paddle, is a narrower paddle that is usually used for shorter trips, sea paddling and rollerblading (Eskimo swing). They often have a smaller blade surface, which can mean that you get a high frequency when you want to get up to speed.

Price: SEK 2500-4000

+ Minimal air resistance
+ Low load on shoulders and wrists
+ Energy efficient

– Not optimal for effective paddle strokes
- Less possibility of acceleration and speed compared to other models

Greenland paddle

Wooden Greenland paddle. Price approx. SEK 2,500.

The paddle is popular with canoeists who roll a lot and sea paddlers. The relatively short shaft means you hold tighter and the blades also have no angle, therefore a different technique is used. Works well for beginners but personally I would have gone with a traditional flat paddle or a wing paddle.

If you are looking to make your own paddle, the Greenland paddle is the best option as it is the easiest to make. There are also good drawings and guidance online.

The most common materials for paddles are plastic, aluminum, carbon fiber, fiberglass and wood. Mixtures between these are common, for example aluminum shafts with plastic blades. The material plays a role mainly for weight, durability and flex. For those who are picky, the material is also important in terms of water resistance in the water. However, most paddles today have a sight of, for example, varnish, which excludes that factor.

1. Carbon fiber paddles

Carbon fiber is perhaps the best material for paddles mainly because of it low weight . Today, most exercise and competition paddles are made of carbon fiber, but also many touring paddles. As you take a number of thousands of paddles per trip, the weight matters.

Even though the material is light, carbon fiber paddles are strong and stable at the same time, but you need to be more careful with them than with, for example, an aluminum paddle. On a hot summer day you should not rather, leave the paddle in the sun for too long, this also applies to many plastic and fiberglass paddles.

Most carbon fiber paddles flexes slightly, by this we mean that the shaft naturally bends slightly when you take strong paddle strokes, which reduces the strain on the wrists.

2. Fiberglass paddles

Like carbon fiber, fiberglass is a common material for paddles. Fiberglass is heavier compared to carbon fiber but still light enough to fit a paddle.

Fiberglass paddles are the most natural material flex and is therefore forgiving on shoulders and wrists.

The material is relative sustainable and withstand minor shocks. The blades are often made of harder plastic instead of fiberglass and are therefore usually durable.

3. Aluminum/plastic paddles

A mix of basically aluminum shafts with plastic handles and blades has become relatively common among many sellers, renters and canoe clubs. The advantages are mainly the durability and the lower price.

The weight is usually higher than for glass and carbon fiber paddles, but at the same time the durability is better and the price tag is smaller.

A beginner will not notice a major difference in the material other than the weight and possibly the model of the paddle. The properties mainly depend on what type of paddle it is, e.g. the shape of the blade (wing paddle or flat paddle) and not material.

4. Wooden paddles

Paddles made of wood were pretty much the only thing used before the 80s. Today, they still keep up with older generations and those who appreciate the looks of the wooden paddles.

Wooden paddles are stiff and most have no flex.

A wooden paddle weighs more than paddles made of other materials, but there are also lighter wooden paddles. Many Greenland paddles, so-called Eskimo paddles, are light and made of wood.

Today, the range of wooden paddles is quite small, but there are some out there on second hand markets and also a few manufacturers.

Angle and length cannot be adjusted on wooden paddles and the shaft is mostly oval in shape.

Adjustable length and angle

Read about paddle length here.

By the angle of the paddle is meant the relationship between the two blades. If both blades "lay flat", the angle is 0 0 C. An angle between 30-60 is most common 0 C. As a beginner is 0-45 0 C a good start. For the more experienced and if a wing paddle is used, it is upwards of 55-65 0 C suitable.

Other features to consider when choosing a paddle are whether it should have adjustable length and angle . The advantage is that these paddles are more adaptable, therefore you can saddle it to the right length and angle for the paddler. In other words, one and the same paddle can possibly be used by both a child and an adult.

In addition, an adjustable paddle is good when you want to develop and find what is right for you. As you improve or change your technique, you can also change the length and angle of the paddle.