Gear Guide: Materials Matter

They type of paddle you choose will help shape your paddling experience. 

They type of paddle you choose will help shape your paddling experience. 

Though possible, traveling by kayak, canoe, or paddleboard becomes decidedly more difficult without a paddle. The first thing to consider when choosing this important piece of equipment is the material. Paddles come in many materials, but there are four that are most commonly used.

The first, wood, makes a gorgeous a paddle, but it is heavy. Wood is ideal for the paddler who values aesthetics over weight. Aluminum is the primary material for beginner’s paddles. It is durable and inexpensive. Aluminum, like wood, is also heavy. Fiberglass paddles are lighter than the previous two materials and tend to be a bit pricier. However, for those who spend more time on the water, a lighter paddle could be worth the investment. Fiberglass is also durable, so damage becomes less of a worry. Carbon fiber is the lightest and most expensive material on our list. For frequent paddlers or those who make long trips, this material will greatly reduce fatigue and will be worth the extra money.

One other component to consider is stiffness. Fiberglass and carbon fiber are stiffer than other materials. This means that more power from the paddler is transferred to the water with less effort. Materials like aluminum and plastic (not discussed here) will give slightly with each stroke, reducing your energy transfer. More stiffness equals less work, and less work means more fun.

Paddles are your connection to the water, so finding the right material for your paddling pursuits and for your budget is the first step to gearing up properly for the most enjoyable paddling experience. Buying your first paddle is a daunting but exciting task. Choose wisely, and have fun!

Walter Cheatham is an experienced paddler and ACA-Certified Paddling Instructor. Ocean Tribe Paddlers is a club founded by Sanibel Sea School to help the SWFL paddling community better explore, enjoy, and understand the ocean. Visit or follow us on Facebook to learn more.