Types of paddle are numerous and finding the right paddle for the right occasion is mind boggling. But broken down into several categories it isn't as difficult as it may seem. As this site is about sea kayaking or touring, I will go into detail about this area only, river paddling is not included here. I own seven sets of paddles giving me what I need for most occasions while paddling or training. I have different shapes of blade with different blade sizes and area. The shape of shaft is also important for some. They can come in one piece with a fixed blade angle, two piece where blade angles are adjustable and even four piece for convenience while traveling or for carrying inside your kayak.
The most common are tour paddles and are practical for most. The blade shape tends to be longer and thinner giving a reasonable amount of pull through the water without a large amount of strain on the arms and shoulders. Perfect for longer distance paddles. Many people today use 0 degree angle, that is both blades in line with each other. I still use between 45 and 90 degrees, years of river paddling with a blade angle of 90 it feels more natural for me.
The latest addition to my collection is a carbon performance paddle, thanks to Aquabound for my Carbon Whiskey paddle. Designed to give more torque in demanding situations I have another similar paddle with a bent shaft but my preference in rough water is a straight shaft with a 90 degree angle. The angle can be easily adjusted on this paddle The weight of this particular carbon paddle is only 652g!! This is the type of paddle I use most and it performs in all conditions, giving me the confidence I need in all types of paddling.
Another type of paddle is specifically designed for racing, the Wing paddle is used in kayak sprint races over short distances. But I have seen several people using them in paddle marathons over the last couple of years. Not a paddle to play in the waves, it is ideal for powering in a straight line. It requires a different technique with much more rotation of the trunk than other paddles.
Another paddle I use in two different situations is another performance paddle with a straight shaft. This paddle has a large surface area giving the shoulders an extra workout, I also like the security of a larger blade paddle when I am playing in white water or surf. Larger shoulders are needed for a large area paddle. The area on this particular paddle is 720cm compared with 612cm on the whiskey carbon but the whiskey is 200g lighter.
Another type of paddle common today is the Greenland paddle. Used originally by Eskimos and now common for sea paddlers. I have formally been a critic of these in rougher conditions where there is lots of white water. But more recently I have seen very proficient paddlers performing a variety of rolling techniques (flat water) which is an art in itself and requires a lot of flexibility, precise technique and coordination. The sport of kayaking rolling in tradional Inuit ''Qajak,'' is very popular here in Norway.
Once a year in the town of Røros, Norway they have an open market week with many tradional products on sale. I came across these lovely hand crafted Greenland paddles and as you can see on the left there is a Greenland bent shaft paddle. Something quite unique I expect.
The shape of a paddle shaft can also make a difference. The bent shaft is easier on the wrists and I often switch to a bent shaft for short journeys where there is little in the way of action. I much prefer a straight shafted paddle in demanding situations. But the bent shaft is easier on an old shoulder injury I have.
A straight shaft paddle is my prefered choice for rockhopping or surf, anywhere really where the situation is demanding. A former river paddler I am used to this and feel more comfortable with it. If the shaft is ovaled better grip is attained while paddling with the added benefit of knowing where your blades are at while rolling.
Paddles most commonly come in two pieces, for convenience or for adjusting the blade angle. Extra paddles are usually stored on the foredeck of a kayak, so a two piece is suitable. But with a four piece they can be kept inside the kayak. In a group today, everyone has an extra paddle, is there really a need to have so many extra paddles on their decks? In rough conditions they can be easily lost as I have seen other equipment such as hand pumps getting regularly washed away. Obviously there must be at least one with an easily accesible paddle within a group, but surely not all. I have a four piece which I take when paddling in a group, but solo I do need to have a two piece on my deck.