The Best Kayak Paddle and Stroke


A paddle should be selected with the same care you buy a shoe, since it is your connection to the water. For long-term cruising a spare may be good idea. A good economical choice is the Aquabound Manta Ray Fiberglass (about $100).

Walker Bays two-piece aluminum paddle is a little heavier than fiberglass and carbon paddles, but the blades are very nicely shaped and it proved white-water durable in extended testing. The paddles are only feathered (offset) in two positions 0- and 60-degree feather only. The Hobie paddles had an inefficient flat shape and a jarring entry. Sea Eagle and Sterns paddles are similarly bulky. Wilderness Systems, Ocean Kayak, and Perception expect you to buy the paddle separately.

To Feather or Not to Feather

Common sense suggests the blades should be aligned. Most whitewater paddlers prefer them this way, because it is simpler to keep track of the blade rotation when paddling furiously, making quick adjustments, and doing an Eskimo roll. But for flat-water kayaking, an offset (feather) of 30-60 degrees makes paddling easier on the wrists and more efficient into the wind.

First, hold the paddle in the position you will stroke on the side of your dominant hand, keeping both wrists in comfortable, neutral position. Notice that the upper hand is rotated about 45 degrees clockwise (if you are right handed) from the lower hand. This is the amount of feather you want. Adjust the upper blade that amount, but in the opposite direction.

When you paddle, hold the shaft with the dominant hand (control hand), allowing the paddle to rotate in your non-dominant hand as the paddle crosses over and stokes on the opposite side. The paddle will rotate about 45 degrees in your hand and the blade on the non-dominant hand will magically enter the water at the correct angle.

While this may seem a little complicated at first, efficiency is improved and your wrists will thank you. Gloves also help, either light coated gloves or your sailing gloves.

Darrell Nicholson, editor of Practical Sailor, grew up boating on Miami’s Biscayne Bay on everything from prams to Morgan ketches. Two years out of Emory University, after a brief stint as a sportswriter, he set out from Miami aboard a 60-year-old wooden William Atkin ketch named Tosca. For 10 years, he and writer-photographer Theresa Gibbons explored the Caribbean, crossed the Pacific, and cruised Southeast Asia aboard Tosca, working along the way as journalists and documenting their adventures for various travel and sailing publications, including Cruising World, Sail, Sailing, Cruising Helmsman, and Sailing World. Upon his return to land life, Darrell became the associate editor, then senior editor at Cruising World magazine, where he worked for five years. Before taking on the editor’s position at Practical Sailor, Darrell was the editor of Offshore magazine, a boating-lifestyle magazine serving the New England area. Darrell has won multiple awards from Boating Writer’s International, including the Monk Farnham award for editorial excellence. He holds a U.S. Coast Guard 100-ton Master license and has worked as a harbor pilot and skippered a variety of commercial charter boats.


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