This is my guide to choosing the best paddle to start with if you are a beginner multi-sport paddler training for the Coast to Coast Race.
Why Is Choosing the Right Paddle So Important?
There are only 2 pieces of kayaking equipment that have a direct impact on your overall performance. Those 2 items are the kayak, and your paddle.
While choosing the right kayak is crucial for maintaining your balance and control, choosing the correct paddle will allow you to maintain your efficiency over the entire distance of the Coast to Coast race.
Choose the wrong paddle, and you’re going to be wasting both time and energy.
Do You Need a Wing Paddle for the Coast to Coast Race?
There are two main types of paddles: Flat-bladed paddles, and wing paddles.
Wing paddles feature a blade with a special shape designed to generate additional lift during your forward strokes.
When used with the correct technique, a properly sized wing paddle can improve your efficiency by around 4%.
While 4% may not sound like much, over the span of a 70-kilometre (5.5-hour race) this could mean finishing your paddle stage around 12 - 15 minutes sooner using a wing (compared with a flat paddle).
Because of this advantage, you will see nearly everyone using a wing paddle at the Coast to Coast race.
It is worth investing in a good wing paddle and developing your technique with it from an early stage.
What Size Paddle Blade Should You Choose for Coast to Coast?
Choosing the wrong blade size is the most common mistake I see with people's paddle choices.
Think of choosing your blade size like selecting your gear on a bike. Choosing the wrong gear is going to mean working a lot harder than you need to!
A larger blade has the potential to generate more power. However, it is going to require a lot more energy (muscle power) to complete each stroke. If you are using a blade that is too large for you, then you will not be able to maintain a high enough “stroke rate” (tempo) to be efficient. The muscles in your arms will burn and you will be slow through the water.
A smaller blade is the exact opposite. It will generate less power with each stroke, but it will require less energy to complete each stroke. This means your stroke rate will be higher, and it will be easier to maintain over a long distance. The only downside is a lower top speed.
When considering your blade size, it’s important to factor in 3 variables:
The length of your race.
The model of kayak you are in.
Choosing the Correct Size Paddle Blade for the Length of Your Race
At 70 kilometres, the Coast to Coast race includes an exceptionally long paddle stage. Because of this, most (smart) paddlers choose a very small paddle blade. This is so they can maintain their stroke rate for the entire distance. Also, consider the fact that you will be fatigued from the bike stage and mountain run, and it makes total sense to size down your blades.
Choosing the Correct Size Paddle Blade for Your Fitness/Ability
This one is simple. Pulling on a larger blade requires you to apply more force. If you’re just starting out with paddling, your paddling strength is going to be limited, and your technique is going to need development. Therefore, choosing a smaller blade is going to make paddling a lot easier for you at this stage.
Choosing the Correct Size Paddle Blade to Match Your Kayak Model
If you are a beginner, then the chances are you are going to be (or should be) paddling a stable multisport kayak. Models of kayaks in the stable category are wider than the more advanced boats. This additional width is great for forgiveness in the river but creates more drag through the water.
Just like riding your bike up an incline, you need to match your gearing with the amount of resistance you are trying to overcome. Therefore, you will want to “gear down” to match your kayak's lower top speed.
The Ideal Blade Size for a Beginner = As Small as Possible!
Considering the factors above, it should now be clear that you will want your first multisport paddle for the Coast to Coast to have very small blades.
A great example would be the Gara Odin XS blades:
Blade Length: 472 mm
Blade Width: 159 mm
Blade Area: 675 cm2
A little extra blade size makes a big difference! The Gara Odin S is an example of the size of blade an elite-level male might use, in the fastest kayak, in an attempt to win the Coast to Coast:
Blade Length: 478 mm
Blade Width: 170 mm
Blade Area: 740 cm2
As a novice paddler, you’d be mad to use blades larger than the Gara Odin S for the Coast to Coast race!
Do You Need Re-Enforced Tips in Your Paddle Blades for Coast to Coast?
Most premium multisport paddles that are designed for the river, feature re-enforced tips in the end of the blades.
The idea behind this is to reduce the wear on the blades when paddling in shallow rivers like the Waimakariri.
Wing paddles designed for surf-ski or ocean paddling may not have any re-enforcing in the tips at all. If you use a paddle like this on the Waimakariri River, the blades can wear down very quickly - or even break!
Paddles that feature metal tips (stainless steel) can reduce blade wear when you scrape on rocks. However, big strikes have the potential to bend the metal tips beyond repair. Metal-tipped paddles are thought of as lasting slightly longer, but add noticeable weight to the blades.
Bi-axle fibreglass tips wear slightly faster than metal tips, but stand a better chance of survival during strong whacks. In general, bi-axle fibreglass tips are normally found in lighter paddles. This is the main reason many people prefer them, as the blades are lighter to swing around for 5+ hours.
When choosing a paddle, the main thing is that you choose a wing paddle with the correct sized blades in the correct length. I would recommend some form of tip re-enforcement, but the type of re-enforcement is personal preference and doesn’t matter all that much.
Should You Get an Adjustable Shaft, or Fixed Length Paddle for the Coast to Coast?
While a fixed-length paddle is going to be slightly lighter than an adjustable one, an adjustable shaft is desirable for most paddlers.
Being able to tinker with your paddle length through a 10 cm range is great. You probably do not yet know exactly what length paddle you want to race with, and your preferred paddle length will change as you progress in the sport.
Having an adjustable shaft makes changing your paddle's length super easy.
Adjustable paddles also let you to change the feather (offset) of your blades. If you are not sure what angle of offset to set your new paddle, I would recommend you start with 60 degrees.
With these things in mind, I would 100% recommend your first paddle be adjustable.
What Length Paddle Is Right for You?
In order to create a comfortable and powerful paddling stroke, you need your paddle to be set to the correct length for your height.
If you are looking to purchase a paddle now, then you can simply buy an adjustable paddle based on your height using the chart below.
|Your Height (cm)||
Your Height (in)
|142 – 157 cm||
4'8" – 5'2"
200 – 210 cm
|157 – 172 cm||
5'2" – 5'8"
200 – 210 cm or 205 – 210 cm
|172 – 183 cm||
5'8" – 6'
205 – 215 cm
|183 – 190 cm||
6' – 6'3"
205 – 215 cm or 210 – 220 cm
|190 cm +||
210 – 220 cm
Best Multisport Paddle for Beginners Doing the Coast to Coast
If you’re looking for a really good wing paddle to start with, I can 100% recommend the Gara Odin XS.
Blade Length: 472 mm
Blade Width: 159 mm
Blade Area: 675 cm2
Total Paddle Weight (Adjustable): 630 g
Blade Tips: Bi-axle fibreglass re-enforcement
Shaft Flex: 40:60 carbon/fibreglass
This is the smallest blade size in the Gara Paddles range. It suits paddlers who are expecting to race the Coast to Coast kayak stage in over 5 hours, are still developing their paddling fitness, and will be paddling a stable to intermediate boat.
Choose the correct length for your height using the chart above, and you’ll great paddle for maximum efficiency on the river.
Listen to the Podcast Episode
To hear my in-depth discussion around this topic, including my thoughts on shaft flex, then listen to the audio episode. You can click play above, or you can follow The Canterbury Kayaking Podcast and listen on your smartphone.