Is it me or the paddle?

I’m new to kayaking. Only been out about 7 times now. I have a Wilderness Systems Tarpon 140 and love it except it turns like a battleship. Not complaining about that as it’s 14ft long and I expected it. I’m 6’5" 260lbs. My question is about paddles. When I got the kayak the guy recommended a Warner 240cm low angle touring paddle. After a few times on the water I felt it was to short. I found a Cannon fishing that’s adjustable. Took it out for the first time today and set it to 250cm. The length is great but it seems to take more effort to turn around in a cove. While cruising along I steer fine. Is it just me or can a paddle make that much of a difference trying to turn around?

I would say it’s your technique the Tarpon is not that bargy.
Have you taken any lessons?


Agree with gray…consider a lesson or two. My Tarpon 140 moves fine with me using a 230. At your height using a 230 or 240 should allow you to make that kayak dance once your paddling skills improve.

I am your size and use a 230 in my Tarpon 160. I think longer paddles put too much stress on your shoulders even when paddling correctly.
Tarpons will not turn on a dime, regardless of paddle length.
When I want to make a quick (oxymoron) turn, I grab the paddle blade with my pushing hand to make the longest possible sweep.

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Agree with string, shorter paddles are better.

6’ 2", paddle an Epic 18x rudder up, which loves to go straight and fast. Mostly use a 230cm BB Whisper. Definitely a large blade gives you more oomph on a sweep stroke than a thin blade.
I want to put miles on in a straight line most efficiently; IMO it doesn’t make sense to compromise that to optimize my ability to make sharp turns.

When I’m out in open water I can make it go where ever I want with no issues with either paddle. With the 240 I just keep hitting my knees and the boat. I took the foot rest off and it gave me enough leg room to clear my knees but I still kept hitting the boat. The other paddle stopped that and was much more comfortable. The only difference I noticed was turing around in a cove. Wasn’t sure if the paddle shape made that much of a difference then or it was just me.

I used wide blades for years and they definitely give you more push when needed. Had to switch to a narrow blade when an old shoulder injury started complaining.

I don’t think a longer paddle is the correct solution. You should work on your forward paddling technique instead.

Despite my limited experience with sit-on-tops (but plenty with sit-ins), I will claim that during forward paddling, your paddle should never be so far back in the boat that it has potential of hitting your knees. If it ends up there, it is usually because of a combination of:

  • Paddling with bent elbows
  • No torso rotation
  • Too leaned back upper body position

All of these are common for new paddlers, so nothing to worry about. It can be fixed if you work on it.

Hitting your knees indicates that your legs aren’t extended enough. Has nothing to do with paddle length.
I bet you have long legs . I removed the foot braces in my Tarpon and replaced them with minicell braces that I glued in . Gives me a slightly bent knee that stays below the paddle shaft.
In case you don’t know, minicell is high density foam . You will probably need the 3" thickness but just a couple of pieces. I use Weldwood contact cement to glue it in place.

I took my braces off and that helped with the knees but I kept hitting the boat. That’s the only reason I went longer. My paddling technique is on the higher side

Suggest you get an experienced paddler to watch or video your paddling.

Guess I’m gonna have too. The longer paddle is a lot more natural for me. Feels so much better. Could tell a difference right off until I made my first u turn. Cruising the lake was much more enjoyable all around

On your forward stroke I suspect you are pulling with the arm that is closest to the water. If your elbow on that arm goes behind you that’s not good. You should be turning some at the waist and pushing with the top arm farthest from the water instead. Bring your blade out of the water at the hip instead of far behind you. Pulling with the bottom arm is a very common thing to do, and so is letting the paddle blade go back behind you. Try not to do those two things, and see how it goes.

Your top hand should not cross the center of the kayak, or be above your eyes. Your elbows should be down by your sides. Think of forming a box (called the paddle box) with you forearms, paddle, and body. Much of your power should be coming from the waist as your turn a bit from side to side as you paddle.

To turn your boat a bit faster do a sweep on the side opposite the way you want to turn. This will extend the other paddle blade toward the front of the boat on the side you are turning toward. Drop that blade into the water at the front of the boat. It should be angled away from the boat, and just hold it in place in the water there. It will act as a rudder and turn the front of the boat more quickly toward the turn you are making. Kayakers call it a bow rudder, while canoeist call it a static bow draw. It works well for turning your boat.

Hmm. I’m a Barton forward stroke proponent and have his forward stroke DVD.

“With good torso rotation, your top hand will cross the center line of the kayak.”

On the other hand, my kayak is 21" wide.

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Castoff I will try that thanks. As far as turning in the cove already do that. I just noticed a difference between the two different paddles. The low angle paddle seems to be more responsive.

Rookie I have no argument with that. I am just quoting what I was taught years ago. Which should impart good form, and keep from forming bad habits. It’s not a high angle stroke.

It sounds like you are using your elbows too much. Try keeping your arms straighter.

I see too many people using paddles that look too long. To me that is just an invitation to paddlers elbow, a cousin to tennis elbow.

You found it more difficult to turn around in a cove with the longer paddle.
You are new to kayaking
Is it just me?
Well, there is some kind of reason you had that experience. If I paddled with you, I’m sure I could find some explanation. But it’s most likely some combination of the way you were using the paddle, and any wind, wave, and current conditions. A longer paddle gives you more leverage, a bigger blade sticks better, a more aggressive blade shape sticks better. But with skill, you come to understand that your most effective movement isn’t the result of swishing a blade through the water. It’s the result of planting a blade, and moving your kayak past it, or in this case twisting your kayak away from the planted blade during a sweep stroke.
You will find some differences in how much resistance different paddles provide. You will find that different kayaks respond to wind and even small waves differently. You will find that different strokes work better for different turns in relation to wind and waves and your weight in your kayak.
I would say that at this stage, it has little to do with the paddle. As a beginner, things are most often 10% equipment and 90% paddler.
Learning is rewarding. Try not to blame equipment. When you bonk the paddle into something, ask yourself “What do I need to do to stop that? What do I need to do to get the most out of THIS paddle” When turning, "How do I twist my kayak while holding onto this planted paddle? What turn stroke will my kayak respond to best given my current circumstance?

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The length of the paddle does not have a great deal to do with turning the boat. I suspect it’s more a question of technique.

First check out some videos or paddle with someone skilled who can critique your style on how to perform the forward stroke correctly. This will help eliminate any bad habits and make paddling more efficient and enjoyable. Once you have that down, for the correct paddle length with a Euro paddle when you are using the forward stroke, you want the entire blade of the paddle to be fully in the water for the majority of the paddle stroke while not hitting the side of the boat. No more and no less for maximal efficiency. Many people seem to start out being sold paddles that are to long for them and their boat. You start with a spear like motion near the bow and draw the boat forward, angling out slightly and ending near you hips. Going back too far is a bad habit I picked up. It feels like you are accomplishing a lot, but it is known as shoveling water. It just pulls that side of the boat down rocking you back and forth and not propelling you forward much.

The Tarpon 140 has a straight keel which makes it good for going straight, but not so easy to turn. What can help with this is edging or leaning the boat to the side in which you want to turn. The puts it on the curved side and reduces the resistance of the bow and stern to turning. A killed person can almost spin most boats in place using this technique. When learning this technique do it somewhere where a capsize will not be a disaster. I know from experience.

When turning and edging the boat, again start near the bow and sweep the paddle around almost 180°, again with the blade fully in the water. When doing so you can slightly angle the paddle blade to brace or provide some lift to control the lean.

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