I have just bought a Dagger Katana 10.4 and am 6ft. I plan to spend about 80% of my time in class I waters with the other percentage in class II and low class III. I tend to high angle paddle. This will be my first paddle and first kayak. (I have extensive experience in canoes)
General charts and consensus is that around 200cm for whitewater and 220/230cm for touring are ideal paddle lengths for measurements considered.
Which length paddle would you recommend? Should I just split the difference at 210cm? Should I just go with the 220/230 as I would paddle that the most and suffer through whitewater trips? Will it even make much of a difference to a beginner like me?
The charts you are looking at are for sea & rec kayaks I suspect. I am 6’1" and occasionally paddle a Liquid Logic Remix 10 (comparable to your Katana) in surf and similar WW conditions as you…and use a 197cm paddle (which often seems too long). Have you talked to any experienced paddlers in a WW shop about paddles since you will be paddling those conditions?
Thanks for the response and taking the time to read. I just used Werner’s guides. These are the recommendations from them for both touring and whitewater conditions. Obviously these are considerably different measurements and understandably so. Hence my question.
I have not spoke to any professionals, that is what I am hoping to accomplish here.
I am 6’ tall, and began paddling low angle with a 230, then dropped to 220, which seemed about right. I switched to the high angle style with a 210. It felt a little short, and moved to a 215, which seems right for me. At 6’, I have a tall back and sit fairly high up out of the Tempest 170 at 215 lbs and a 32" inseam.
I think you will discover there is some personal variation in kayak paddle length based on technique and your build. I suggest using the posted paddle length guides as a starting point.
Class II & III WW calls for aggressive paddling. I’m primarily a sea kayaker, thus recommend chatting with some WW folks at a shop as they will understand your local waters better than from afar on a forum. Or, hopefully some experienced WW folks will join in this tread.
@Cmid Class I is generally defined as something like “Class I rapids are defined by moving water with small waves that tug at the boat in a downstream flow”. This is not flat water, though many people mistakenly equate the two. If you really are referring to Class I with this moving water definition, then I’d be working off the the white water paddle length suggestion. The longer suggested lengths would be more appropriate for flat water.
The challenge is that they can give guidelines, but it all comes down to personal preferences. That said, In general, I find most people end up moving to shorter paddles than suggested over time (as their skills and experience increase). Petty rare for someone to move to longer paddles (unless they totally change paddles to something like a Greenland paddle - which would be very rare in white water). So another reason to perhaps lean toward the shorter length.
You also say you are a high angle paddler, which would also suggest a shorter paddle length and larger blade size than low angle paddlers would use.
I am a similar height and inseam to you. I use a 205 cm Werner Shuna for pretty much everything. Usually in a Dagger Achemy or Stratos, in conditions varying from flat water to surfing and rock gardening waves. I had a Jackson Karma RG (cross over white water boat, somewhat similar to your Katana) that I took down Class II rivers a few times. I used the 205 Shuna for that, but perhaps could have benefited some with a slightly shorter paddle. But it is a personal preference, so YMMV.
I just realized that they made adjustable paddles! @Peter-CA what are your thoughts on these? Seems like there must be a catch such as they are less reliable or not optimal otherwise, why wouldn’t everyone have one?
2-piece paddles are nice for transport, but the connection is weak point and adds to weight. The standard Werner 2-piece just allows adjustment of feather. Any that also allows adjustment of length will be even more weight and a greater weak point,
If you will be doing Class III at all (even Class II), you really should go the other direction and get a one piece paddle. Much stronger.
Because you say you are new to WW kayaking, if you have a white water outfitter near you, I would strongly recommend signing up for a class. Any WW canoeing experience will translate over in river reading and the like, but learning to roll and how to handle that double bladed paddle is important to know. Added benefit is that you should be able to use their paddles in the class, so can treat it as a paddle demo at the same time.
When I first started whitewater kayaking circa 1990 most all of the kayaks were 11’ in length or longer. Back then the most common length for a whitewater kayak paddle was right around 200 cm give or take 5 cm. I still have a vintage Silver Creek that is 202 cm in length.
Over the next several decades whitewater kayaks got progressively shorter and paddles did as well. These days a 10’ 4" kayak like the Katana would be considered a “long boat” but it would not have been in the early 1990s.
Paddles got shorter for a couple of reasons. One is that the shorter boats were easier to spin and turn and you did not need as much “reach” on your paddle to get the blade out to the end of the boat. Another reason is that as acrobatic maneuvers like cartwheels became commonplace, a shorter paddle could be more easily and quickly “windmilled”. And a higher stroke cadence is also required for many other playboating maneuvers such as flat spins and 360s. Nowadays for most whitewater applications many would consider a 200 cm paddle “too long” and awkward.
Of course, all of this pertains to whitewater and I doubt you will be cartwheeling your Katana. On the other hand, a paddle length that was of appropriate length for a river running kayak then will still be appropriate for a 10’ 4" kayak today if indeed you plan to use that boat in whitewater.
For what it is worth, the link below includes some recommendations from Werner Paddle for paddle length for a non-playboat kayak used for whitewater river running. As you can see for a 6 footer for river running a paddle length of 197-200 cm is recommended.
Having said that, as others have said paddle length is subject to individual preference and if at all possible it would be desirable to try out some different paddle lengths in your kayak before buying.
Try a cheaper paddle first to get a good feel for what the right length should be. For example a Bending Branches Whisper runs about $70; its a bit heavy but otherwise good quality. Take your best shot at the length, buy it and try it, with the intention of blowing bigger bucks on a nice one once you’ve tried it out for length. It will also give you a feel for whether you want more or less square inches on the blade, and it becomes your backup paddle.
Thank you everyone for all the great insights and information, it has been immensely helpful.
It sounds like I should look to around the 200cm for my needs then based on all the info. @Peter-CA , you are correct. It would be in class I although I definitely thought flat and class I was the same! Thanks!
Just a random side question if I may to anyone that is interested: how hard is it to track a ww boat (say a Nirvana) on class I? I am starting to wonder if I should switch my purchase to a true ww boat. I selected a Katana because I was told a ww boat is fairly hard to track on flatwater. Being as I thought flatwater basically meant class I, I went with the Katana for the skeg and low class ww ability. The majority of paddling would be class I with small forays into class II and maybe III but never above. Did I make a mistake?
Katana is ultrastable. You might miss some eddies or surf spots (more than Nirvana) but really only if the water is pushier. Either boat is a great choice all the way up through class III (and higher). Hidden plus factor on Katana is that you can throw your lunches jackets etc in the dry hatch for easy access. I’m 6’ 5" and fit easily in the Katana. I do not fit in the Nirvana. FWIW, on ww I use a 196cm Aquabound Shred FG. Cheap, reliable, and durable. Do not use a two piece paddle on ww. I’ve seen them break, and I even saw one sink to the bottom (go figure). Also, write your name/info on your boat and on your paddle. Sooner or later you’ll be separated from these items and will want to get them back.
Lots of people equate Class I whitewater with moving flat water and it is a bit of a pet peeve for me. Class I whitewater means that there are rapids. The rapids are generally easy and straightforward but there have to be rapids for it to be Class I.
Moving flat water can present many of the potential entrapment hazards as whitewater, however. Moving flat water is sometimes graded A. B, and C. There are various velocity definitions for these but most commonly Class A moving flat water has a velocity of around 2 mph, something that the average paddler could fairly easily paddle upstream against, at least for a while. Class B would be a current velocity that a reasonably proficient and fit paddler could maintain their position relative to the bank by paddling upstream against. In other words a current velocity that you would be able to execute a forward ferry from one bank directly across to the other side. This might be 4 mph for some and 5 mph for others. Class C would indicate a current velocity greater than the paddler can match paddling upstream in which a forward ferry would result in hitting the opposite bank somewhere downstream of the starting point no matter how hard they paddled.
Keep in mind that many, if not most Class I rivers have rapids interspersed with long stretches of moving flat water or even pools with little or no current. In other words, on many Class I rivers you are only paddling rapids infrequently. That is because Class I rivers generally have relatively little gradient.
I have never paddled the Katana although I have had a fairly critical look at one and I have paddled similar cross-over designs such as the Liquid Logic Remix XPs and I used to own a Pyranha Fusion which my daughter now has. I think the Katana will be fine for your intended use.
This is amazing information, thank you! I can see how this is probably an irritant to many as the designations aren’t ever concisely and clearly presented to those who are relatively inexperienced; and flatwater/class I always seems to be used interchangeably especially in the ww resources I have found. It can lead to a lot of confusion. So thank you for taking the time to clarify.
The whitewater I-VI classification scheme originally put forth by the American Whitewater Association was originally devised to describe individual rapids but has been expanded to describe whole rivers or sections of rivers. It works better for describing individual rapids than stretches of rivers.
Applying the classification to rivers or stretches of rivers can become a bit awkward. How would you describe a run that has only Class I and Class II rapids except for one Class V that almost everyone portages? It certainly wouldn’t be right to call it a Class V run.
Likewise, the nature of the river can make the run somewhat easier or more difficult than the individual rapids. A run with a couple of short rapids that are technically Class III in terms of difficulty but have nice, big recovery pools below them might require much less skill and endurance than a stretch with virtually continuous rapids that are technically Class II that offers little opportunity for rest or respite in the event of a capsize and/or failed roll.
If this is your first kayak and kayak paddle, how do you know you will tend to be a high angle paddler? I used to think that until I found out how tiring it was, at least for me, when cruising long distances especially in varied waters.
I therefore have no opinion on what length paddle you should use, except to agree that both whitewater and sea kayak paddles have shortened in length since I first began kayaking 42 years ago in one of Tom Johnson’s Hollowform River Chasers.
I also agree with everything pblanc has written above regarding the alphanumeric classification of currents, rapids, sections of rivers, and entire rivers. Using that terminology, I personally would feel comfortable using the same length paddle— whatever that may be—in smooth water class A’s up through easy class 3’s.
Feather angle is another thing you have to decide upon. Whitewater kayak paddles almost universally used to be feathered at 90° last century, but I now see various experts advocating various lesser angles—everything from 75° to 15°. I personally ended up at 0° for all waters, but that probably remains a small minority position for so-called Euro blade paddles.
An inexpensive but tough two-piece paddle with variable feather, such as a Mohawk, may be a worthwhile investment so as to experiment with feather angle in different waters.