Paddles-- law of diminishing returns?

OK, now that I’m close to actual boat shopping, I’ve decided that we’ll start with a rec boat (tandem – that’s not negotiable) with the understanding it will be replaced in a year or two as our skills and hopefully interest improves. I’ve been watching CL and see a few that I might check out after reading the reviews.

Anyway, I see no reason not to scale our accessory purchases to a boat that will eventually leave – why not get “good” PFD’s and paddles, for instance, and keep them when I get a better boat (unless they come “free” with the boat as a package)?

Q: At what point and I getting most of the benefits of a “good” paddle and not purchasing esoterica? Can we, for instance, get a nice one for $250 each? (No whitewater use, intending flatwater) One plan might be to shop for a decent used one to save $$$ and once I find one, match it with a new one (I have a large gift card I can expend on this) of the same brand/model. Which reminds me, reading up a bit and with our differing sizes, my wife might best use a 220 and me a 230… can they differ in size on a tandem or should one of us compromise?


– Last Updated: Mar-28-13 9:01 AM EST –

I have two paddles. One is a $300 carbon paddle and the other $130 hybrid paddle. When I paddle the bays or the gulf I like the carbon paddle. When I paddle the rivers and creaks I like the hybrid paddle.

An over simplification is that the lighter the paddle the higher the price. I would recommend a middle ground paddle for a start. If you decide to upgrade paddles later the middle ground paddle would be a good spare.

A PFD is the one piece of equipment you should never comprimise on.


You should be able to get a nice paddle
for that price.

Just remember, the lighter that a paddle is, the easier it is on the bod.

The easier it is on the bod, the more you will enjoy paddling

You won’t get a cheap one that is light.

On the other hand, if you are going to buy a $300 boat, it would be stupid to buy a $300 paddle

Jack L

Used is good, but as a first buy
You may not know what is good or you and if the price is fair.

You also do not know how to paddle, if this is your first kayak, so you can’t really say that the paddle that works for you today will be good for you in a few seasons.

A 230 or even 220 cm paddle, if used with anything but the laziest and most inefficient low angle stroke is too long in a single kayak that is under 3 feet wide …

Get adjustable length paddle, err on the side of small or medium size blade. Epic Relaxed Tour, Aquabound something or other adjustable, etc… The lighter the blades, the easier on you. Werner Kalliste or Cyprus would be great choices too, but they are not adjustable and they are $$$.

No, it’s not stupid
If you can only afford high quality in one of the two items, the money should go into the paddle. Better to paddle a cheap boat with a good paddle than a nice boat with a crappy paddle. Besides, the OP intends to keep the paddle and upgrade the boat.

I disagree, Jack.
Bad paddles suck, regardless of the boat.

Good paddles improve the experience in any boat.

Too heavy or wrong sized paddles can ruin a paddling outing and one’s perception of paddling.

I enjoy paddling my beat up solo canoe that I bought for $250 with my ZRE paddle that retails for about the same as I paid for the canoe.

I dislike paddling my $2500 canoe with any paddle larger than the 8.25" wide by 19" ZRE blade.

Proper sizing matters as much as weight.
Your wife may prefer a smaller blade, if she is a weaker paddler.

I’m a guy, but not immensely strong and prefer the blade size of the Epic Relaxed Tour of the Swift Wind Swift, which are relatively small blades. The Werner Athena, Onno Feather and Bending Branches Evening or Twilight paddles also have relatively small blades.

For you, the average size blade on common models like the Werner Comanno, Swift Mid Swift, etc. might work fine for you, but you’d also likely be fine with the smaller bladed paddles listed previously, if you’re paddling tandem and want to have the same stroke cadence as your partner.

Adjustable length is very much appreciated, if you can afford it.

Lighter weight definitely matters - especially in the Epic paddles: My full carbon Relaxed Tour is much more pleasing to use than my hybrid Relaxed Tour of the same size.

Paddles that have too large of a blade or are too long or too heavy will adversely effect your paddling experience.

Wait on buying paddles for now

– Last Updated: Mar-28-13 9:54 AM EST –

I would not buy paddles until you purchase the boat. Boat width and depth of hull has a big impact on the proper length. it's a question of geometry.

In fact, I would recommend, if possible, to first buy the kayak, PFD's and other safety gear (good quality bilge pump at minimum) and then take them to an area with kayak rentals and see if you can rent paddles in a couple of lengths to see how they work. Or see if friends can lend some to you. Rec boats, especially tandems, can be real barges width-wise, and a shorter person sitting down in a deep, wide boat, can end up bashing the heck out of their knuckles wielding a 220 cm paddle, even a 230. I'm 5' 5" but being long-legged, shortwaisted and short-armed, from a functional paddling perspective I am closer to 5' 3". I normally paddle low volume kayaks with low profile decks that are from 20" to 22" wide and use a 213 cm paddle. But I used to have a 25" wide boat with high gunwales and had to use a 230 to be comfortable. The last time I used a tandem rental I tried several sizes and actually found the 240 was the only size that would allow me to comfortably reach the water without hitting the wider deck in the stern position.

You can get a decent Bending Branches, Harmony, Werner or Aquabound paddle for between $100 and $200 new. At the moment, REI has the Aquabound Stingray for $140, the Harmony Deep Sea on sale for $120 and even the Werner Skagit, which is often part of starter kayak packages and has always been a decent paddle (I have two of them) is only $130. You can even get a carbon fiber Skagit for $180 or an Adventure Technology bent shaft for $185.|13029|kayak%20paddles||S|b|19596106325&ef_id=UNNkNwAAClec-Fkf:20130328132910:s

There are also a number of makers who produce Greenland paddles (my personal favorites) for under $200 -- look on Ebay for a sampling.

I would not count too much on finding a used mid-price paddle. I scan kayak gear want ads almost daily in several geographic areas (friends and relatives have me on alert to find stuff for them) and solitary paddles for sale are rare, except for high-end models. I believe most people keep moderately priced paddles as spares or sell them as a package deal when they get rid of boats. That's how I came by half my paddles.

I have to politely disagree with the contention above that a 220 is "too long" for anyone using a solo kayak under 36" wide. This may be true for the average man, 5' 8" to 6' with normally proportioned arms. But if you have a short upper body and arms, even a high angle stroke and proper rotation doesn't always get the blade in the water from a deep and wide cockpit.


We’ve always enjoyed tandem paddling

– Last Updated: Mar-28-13 12:09 PM EST –

Laine and I have always seemed to enjoy tandem paddling. I've had an Old Towne Loon 160T for years, likely similar to what you're looking into, and now have a Current Designs Unity, a sleek fancy one. I'm 6', she's 5'6". I have all kinds of paddles these days, but when using the Loon, I still usually grab a 230 cm, because it's a wide boat, and it usually goes out on pretty relaxed paddling days with a lower angle stroke. Laine sticks with her 215 cm paddle regardless of what she's paddling, and likes it just fine.
That said, if I were going for a 1 paddle solution, I would be happy in the 215 - 220 cm range, but wouldn't go 230. So depending upon heights, I might recommend scaling down to a pair of 215's, a 215 and 220, or somewhere in the 210 to 220 range depending upon your sizes and the kayak width at your individual seated positions. The paddles don't have to be the same length, same size, same kind. What's most important is that you can match your strokes if you're going for efficient travel. Giving the weaker person a longer paddle or bigger blades would slow things down, cause the weaker paddler to slow their cadence, which the stronger person must match, only they have less leverage (shorter paddle) or less purchase on the water or more slippage (smaller or less aggressive blades). Not a great way to go about things. Give the stronger person a bit more leverage, or better purchase on the water, and they can still match the weaker person's cadence, only do a little more work. And when the boat's moving faster because of the work, the weaker person's cadence can pick up without experiencing any more resistance. This is my experience anyway.
Now, have you ever heard folks say tandems are divorce boats? I don't buy into it. But I will give you a couple hints. The kayak in general will be easiest to control with equal weight in the front and back, but taking that possibility away, will be easiest with the heavier person in back.
Probably more important, the person in the stern controls direction. So if the person in the bow complains that the stern paddler isn't keeping things in the right direction, the person in the stern has to take it. If the stern paddler complains to the bow paddler that they aren't keeping things straight, they're almost always just wrong, beyond the bow paddler doing something obvious to create a strong turning force, such as dragging their paddle through the water or agressively sweeping one side - highly unlikely scenarios. The stern paddler can only become frustrated with themself if there are directional control issues. Now the bow paddler can start using bow rudders to help turn the kayak as you get good at it, but for beginners and the reasons they call tandem kayaks divorce kayaks, the stern paddler needs to handle directional control. As an example, I can put anybody you want into the bow of my Loon, and have, including kids, first timers, 2 dogs, and have no directional control issues. But I have watched a few different couples jump in and do nothing but snake back and forth in large S's, and get frustrated with each other, until I explain to them, and even demonstrate to the stern paddler, that they need to handle directional control. One fun thing to do to avoid all that would be to go out on flatwater a couple times working on nothing but turning strokes. Once you figure out how to turn a kayak, directional control becomes much easier.
Have fun. $250 a paddle should be more than adequate.

Agree on the wait
Not only could your next boat have a different beam measurement, but your paddling technique could change. For example, if you migrate to high angle, you’d want a shorter paddle with a larger blade. Get something decent now but save the bigger bucks until you’ve settled into your groove.

Paddle you choose for a rec tandem will not be the best paddle for a better solo boat later. I would stick with a hybrid type paddle that is decently light. In other words, no aluminum. Plastic blades are fine for now, but a good design is important. In other words, no completely flat wide looking thick plastic blades. You should be able to get one for a good bit less than $250.

Ryan L.

Width, depth, height
If I were you I would not spend a lot of money on a pfd or paddle at this point. I don’t mean go out an buy cheap ones, because generally more expensive paddles and pfd’s are just nicer to use and wear. But, your heights (torso and arm), boat width and boat depth all are important considerations on paddle length, and the height of the seat back in most recreational tandem kayaks will have some impact the comfort of many pfds.

So, if you are looking for a used kayak and don’t specifically know the model you are going to find, I would wait on paddles and pfds. There are a lot of used paddles and pfds for sale at reasonable prices too. Maybe go to a local shop and rent some different pfds and paddles to see what you like and what will work well with your first kayak. Talk to the staff. A good shop will have at least tried or used the products they carry and should be able to provide good feedback on various models. Personally, I would avoid the big box stores. Also, some outdoor specialty store chains may give you good advice, but it’s really a gamble finding a sales person with any experience.

If you find you really like kayaking and do upgrade boats you may find you’re ready to upgrade paddles and pfds as well. I went through four different paddle lengths over a few years before I found the proper paddle. All of these were good quality paddles and I still have several of these I use as demos and loaners for others to try. Same thing with pfds. I’m on my third pfd at this point, my first is used in the pool and has been badly degraded by chlorine over the years, my second is set up for canoeing and my third for sea kayaking.



PFD’s and paddle

– Last Updated: Mar-28-13 11:02 AM EST –

I would get the nicest PFD you can afford, in terms of comfort and features. Badly fitting ones can chafe, well fitting ones can be comfortable enough not to much notice they are there. And they don't vary with the boat unless you get too long a torso length for the eventual boat - but if you look at full out sea kayaking PFD's the length should be fine.

As some have mentioned below, boat width is part of getting a paddle. Rec boats are wider than more performance oriented boats that you may want later by at least 4 inches. That is probably why you are getting 220 and 230 cm lengths when you try the calculators (like on Werner's site etc). Frankly both of those are long against current thoughts for each of you in a narrower sea kayak. (Though as willowleaf mentions above, someone who is truly short in the upper body dimensions may need that 220 to get a good catch.)

So there is no reason to break the bank on paddles right now, just get as lightweight as you can within your price range.

But - and you could get lucky here - that 230 length is so long against current thought, you might be able to score a great deal on a 230 cm paddle that was originally $400 plus off of EBay. The last time I looked, there were some good lightweight paddles out there in a 230 cm length. It appears that some folks were putting their used ones up for sale rather than spending the bucks to get them shortened.

One other thing - do NOT get your wife a big blade paddle on the thought that it will give her more power. It works exactly the opposite - the smaller the engine, the smaller the blade size should be. Joints have limits. A smaller person may need to set up a faster cadence, but that is near impossible to do with a blade that is too big. It is a breeze with a smaller blade size.

When you want a "really nice" paddle, you'll start seeing price tags new of near $500. Best to wait on that kind of investment until your skills and the boats have come up some.

If one of you wants to start doing wet work sooner than the other - rolling, that kind of thing - look for a cheapo used WW boat, either an old school boat or one of the newer Jacksons. It'll get you going in that stuff for a few hundred bucks tops.

Similiar discussion
See thread

Recreation is all about enjoyment of the activity.

Decent equipment helps the experience

Plenty to digest
Good info here and not even all contradictory – not a bad start. I might need to re-think SOME of what I’m planning.

My wife is much shorter than I but that’s mostly my legs… I need to read more and maybe a pair of same-length (220? less?) matched paddles makes more sense. I guess the analogy is you wouldn’t want to ride a tandem bike with mis-matched chainrings!

Anyway, until I get to the $6K range of boats, none of this is uncorrectable, if I buy the wrong item, just sell it and move on.

adding to willowleaf
When my wife and I started paddling, we took an intro class, rented, went on tours with outfitter, paddled with local paddlers with borrowed gear.

That gave us really good exposure to equipment options, let us test drive a variety of boats, paddles, pfds.

It also convinced us not to go tandem, but that is besides the point.

Anyways, in the rental fleet of company that I instruct and guide for we have SINK and SOT tandems, everybody manages to get by with Werner 210 Tybee. It might be not the most ideal boat/paddle combination, but it gets the job done.

For the actual paddling - in tandem same cadence, or strokes per minute, for both paddlers is desirable. If paddlers are quite mismatched power-wise and have same surface area blades, one of them is going to slack off, the other get exhausted.

A really good resource for trying out equipment is local paddler groups and outfitters. Perhaps you could ran a search for online groups?

Go to ACk
Instead of test paddling pixels go to Annapolis Canoe and Kayak and pick they’re brains and ask to test paddle a few models that they think would be likely candidates. They are on the water and they might even have something in the way of a used tandem that you’re in search of. Use your local experts first, unless you’re killing time at the office I suppose.

See you on the water,


The River Connection, Inc.

Hyde Park, NY

Only you can make that determination. IMO once you get past decent design and materials (no aluminum), it all depends on distance traveled and personal preferences.

I think Marshall offers excellent advice. Personally I wouldn’t buy a top-line paddle for my first boat for a number of reasons.

what do you use for that QCC?
QCC, right? Are you using a wing, and which one?

How do you like it?

Rent before you buy …
try renting three or four times with different kinds of boats and asking to try different paddles, try different lengths. Attend a demo day this spring where you can try boats and paddles on the water. New Kayakers start out looking at the lowest priced NEW equipment they can afford. It’s usually a better idea to buy a used boat and the owners often throw in the paddles in the deal. Use them for a while and then buy a decent paddle. Aquabound makes decent entry level paddles. Also look at Onno Paddles for a good price on a quality paddle.