Paddles for Folding Kayakers
last updated April 23, 2003 Kayakers need paddles. There are basically two kinds of paddles that can be used for kayaks: Greenland style paddles, and European style paddles.
The first kayakers made paddles that were long and thin. They had plenty of surface area to pull a boat through the water, but being narrow they weren’t terribly efficient at catching air. That’s good. Today this style of paddle is generally called a Greenland style paddle. Greenland paddles are generally used with a fairly rapid, low angle style of paddling, although there are a great variety of strokes possible with these paddles.
Another type of paddle emerged in Europe in the 1920s and 30s. These paddles were designed for paddling fast rivers, and needed to be able to generate a lot of power to overcome powerful currents. They were shorter than the traditional style, and had much fatter blades. Someone discovered at one point that if you set the blades at an angle to one another, the blade that wasn’t in the water didn’t have as much air resistance as it was swept forward. This is called feathering the blades, and became pretty much a standard for European style paddles. The earliest paddles were feathered at an angle of 90 degrees, but these days 60 or 70 degrees is more common.
So which type of paddle should you use? That’s hard to say. I started out with traditional European style paddles. I experimented with using them feathered and unfeathered, and gradually came to prefer unfeathered. I also began using narrower and narrower paddles until I eventually came to prefer the Greenland style. That’s due in part to using increasingly narrow boats. If you’re paddling a wide double, you need a long shafted paddle with blades that clear the deck- that’s why I still use European style paddles with my Klepper double. If you paddle a narrow boat you may find yourself enjoying the Greenland style paddle, but most kayakers use European style paddles. You should probably try a few out before buying if you can, or at least rely on the advice of the vendors who specialize in folding kayaks, or the Folding Kayak newsletter.
One thing will determine what kind of paddle you buy- generally, folding kayak paddlers need folding paddles. That’s not strictly true, of course; a lot of folder owners leave their boats assembled all the time. Some fans of folders like to build their own Greenland style paddles, and this is most easily (and inexpensively) done by building them in one piece.
Following is an assortment of some of my favorite paddles as well as some I’m anxious to try. Readers are encouraged to send in their favorites to be included here.
Aqua-Bound Expedition 2-Piece. This is a practically indestructible paddle that sells for around $135. They also seem very popular, being sold by just about every kayak vendor and used by many rental outfits. They’re tough enough that I don’t mind lending mine out.
Bending Branches Journey. A wonderfully light paddle, not as tough as the Aqua-Bound but tough enough. The molded urethane tips lets you push off and probe the sea floor without worrying about damaging the wood. The breakdown fitting on these paddles is snug, with no movement at all- it’s better than on some paddles costing twice as much. I own two of these, and keep them packed with my Aerius II. I think it’s the best value in a kayak paddle I’ve found. About $135.
Werner Little Dipper. The picture shown is the current version of the Little Dipper, but I prefer the old version, which was narrower and more symmetrical. I’ve seen these older ones discounted as much as half off; apparently they didn’t sell as well as the wider paddles. Around $230.
FLASH!Ryan Hanegan of Werner wrote to tell me that the original model Little Dipper is now available again by special order. It’s called the “Dipper Classic” and Ryan says it was reintroduced after the original Little Dipper’s “small but loyal following” convinced them it was a good idea. It’s not in the Werner catalog or on their web site, but be assured your dealer can order it from Werner.
Ultra Swift. This is a special Swift paddle model from Baidarka Boats designed by owner Larry Edwards, and originally available only from Baidarka Boats The paddle is no longer being made, but current Baidarka owner Eric Stromme tells me he still has a few in stock. At only 4″ wide and 18″ long, a lot of paddlers are probably doubtful that it can generate much thrust, but the combination of the wing design and a proper stroke can really move a boat. I had a loaner that I often let other paddlers try. They were usually surprised by the light weight- this is a light paddle- and its efficiency. About $240.
Carlisle Sea Kayak Paddle. Heavy, not the most efficient, but cheap- around $40. You should always carry a spare paddle, and it doesn’t have to be a $250 carbon-fiber wonder. This two-part paddle will get you back home.
Feathercraft Klatwa. I ordered this paddle from Randy Henriksen at New York Kayak based on his advice and my preference for Greenland-style paddles. It’s a little too short for wide boats like my Klepper Aerius I, but it is absolutely my favorite paddle for use with my Feathercraft K-1. It’s super light, can be used with a wide variety of strokes and makes you feel just a little bit closer to our Inuit kayaking ancestors. My first time with this paddle was paddling with a friend in his narrow (23″) hardshell kayak with a cranked carbon fiber paddle and I had no problem keeping pace with him.
The picture above shows the most recent version of the Klatwa; Feathercraft has a new paddle maker supplying them as of around 2001. This latest version is more symmetrical than the previous one, has a little more shoulder where the blade meets the shaft and has a matte oil finish instead of the glossy varnish of the previous design. The oil finish is preferred for Greenland paddles, as it makes them less slippery, particularly when gloves are worn. I gave mine a couple additional coats of an oil finish and a couple coats of wax as well.
Werner Arctic Wind. Another discontinued design from Werner, probably because it didn’t sell too well. And that’s a pity, because this is a fine low angle paddle of what some call a “pseudo Greenland” design. It doesn’t have exactly the shape of a true Greenland style paddle; rather, it has long, very narrow (3″) tapered blades on a standard Werner shaft. You can’t grip the blades as you can on a real Greenland shaft.
Like the original Little Dipper it’s a very comfortable paddle to use for long periods of time, and it gets a lot of stares from other paddlers! Interestingly, salespeople at two different kayak stores told me it was a favorite of theirs. If you ask around in shops you might find a new old stock example for a good price. The Arctic Wind is my favorite paddle next to the Klatwa, and it’s a good thing I have two, as a friend I introduced to kayaking in the summer of ’02 tells me it’s her favorite as well.
I found my first Arctic Wind in a store as new old stock, and purchased my second one used, thanks to Ralph Hoehn. who read here that I was looking for one. Thanks, Ralph.
Nimbus Greenland. This is one I haven’t tried, but would like to. It’s not clear from this picture, but when compared to the Klatwa the Greenland doesn’t seem to have quite as much of a shoulder where the blade meets the paddle. I’ve read various articles arguing which is better, but there are good arguments for both.
Elias Ross writes to recommend Lightning Paddles, Inc. – he owns two of their “Bargain Bin” seconds that they sell at reduced prices. They’ve got a wide variety of fiberglass and carbon fiber paddles in one, two and three piece versions.