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What Are the Different Types of Canoe Paddles?

Canoe paddles come in a variety of shapes and materials, each tailored for specific water conditions and paddling styles. From the wide, powerful blades of whitewater paddles to the sleek, efficient design of touring paddles, choosing the right one can enhance your canoeing experience. Wondering how each type affects your journey on the water? Let's explore the options together.
Sandi Johnson
Sandi Johnson

The stereotypical, traditional vision of canoe gear includes long wooden oars for paddles. A quick perusal of any sporting goods or other retail establishment offering canoe accessories reveals many other options in regards to different types of canoe paddles, however. In short, consumers have the option of wooden, synthetic, or metal canoe paddles. Specific option examples for canoe paddles include traditional all-wood, aluminum shafts with synthetic blades, synthetic-wrapped canoe paddles, or all-synthetic construction. Consumers also have choices in terms of overall paddle shape, with options for straight or cupped blades, as well as bent shafts.

Traditional wooden paddles are made of select hardwood. Typically, such paddles appear as one piece and are treated with a water resistant epoxy finish. The blade — the section of paddle placed in the water to push or pull the canoe through the water — is fashioned from several strips of wood, fitted together to provide a seamless surface. Although water-resistant, wooden paddles are not waterproof and are therefore subject to rot, mildew, seam separation on the blade, and other destructive elements.

The first canoe paddles were made from wood.
The first canoe paddles were made from wood.

Metal paddles typically feature an aluminum or other lightweight metal shaft. Handles, paddle blades, and other components are usually made from a synthetic material such as vinyl, plastic, or resin. Such paddles offer a lighter weight than wooden paddles. In addition, metal canoe paddles are not subject to the same mildew and rot problems as wooden paddles. Most mildew and similar damage is limited to paddle surfaces and easily cleaned off.

Synthetic materials are also commonly used to wrap canoe paddles or to serve as the basis for one-piece construction. Canoe paddles may have a metal or wooden core, which is then dipped in vinyl or other resins to protect the paddle from exposure to the elements. Alternatively, paddles may feature an all-synthetic design, with handles, shafts, and blades all made from synthetic material. In terms of durability, synthetic materials present the most protection from the elements, but such canoe paddles are not indestructible. Continuous exposure to temperature extremes and direct sunlight can weaken plastics, warp vinyl, and cause resins to crack over time.

Aside from material construction, today's canoe paddles also feature a variety of paddle and blade shapes. Wooden paddles have either straight or bent shafts, allowing for different water dispersion rates. Metal canoe paddles have options for straight or bent shafts, as well as straight or cupped blades. Cupped blades allow a shorter blade to disperse as much water as a full size blade, often with less physical exertion.

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    • The first canoe paddles were made from wood.
      By: Shchipkova Elena
      The first canoe paddles were made from wood.