High Angle vs Low Angle Kayak Paddle: Different Paddling Styles Call For Different Paddles

Do you struggle to keep momentum while paddling your kayak? The wrong paddle can slow you down without realizing it. Learn about differences between high and low angle paddling styles to determine what's best for you. With the ideal blade shape and angle for how YOU want to paddle, you’ll glide smoothly, powerfully, and fatigue-free every time you hit the water!
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Sam OBrien

Founder, Kayaking & Paddle Boarding Expert

Sam is the founder and editor of WaterSportsWhiz. With over 20 years of experience across various water sports, he provides trusted reviews and expert advice to help others pursue their passion for getting out on the water. When not working, you can find him kayaking, paddle boarding, or planning his next water-based adventure with family and friends.

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Nessa Hopkins

ACA-Certified Kayaking Instructor

Vanessa is a certified kayaking instructor, has taught over 500 people how to kayak, and is a senior member of the American Canoe Association. By combining her deep understanding of the sport and a background in journalism, she offers a wealth of experience and expertise to our growing water sports community, promising to educate and inspire paddlers of all levels.

The choice between high-angle and low-angle kayak paddles is something 99% of people won’t consider until it’s time to buy their first paddle. The store clerk will ask you a simple “high angle or low angle” question – and you’ll suddenly feel just as confused as if someone asked you an obscure math question out of the blue. 

Most of us don’t walk around with strong opinions on paddle angles at the ready! But having some basic knowledge can make the decision less intimidating.

In essence, the “paddling angle” refers to your preferred paddling style – the angle at which the blade enters the water – and is influenced by the placement of your upper hand during a forward stroke: 

A high angle means your upper hand goes above your shoulder, and a low angle means it goes below.  

Depending on that, you can choose between two types of paddle designs – high angle vs low angle paddle.

Today, I’m teaching you the key differences between the two paddling styles, what the angle is all about, and how you can figure out which style works for you! 

Key Takeaways

  • Paddle angle: The angle at which the blade enters the water, determined by the height of the paddler’s upper arm during a forward stroke.
  • High-angle paddling style: The upper hand is at or above shoulder height, and the paddle enters the water at a more vertical angle.
  • Low-angle paddling style: The upper hand remains at or below shoulder height, placing the shaft at a more horizontal angle, with the blade entering the water further from the hull.
  • Key differences between high and low angle paddles: High-angle paddles have wider, shorter blades and a shorter shaft. Low-angle paddles are the contrary of that – narrower, longer blades and a longer shaft.

Understanding High Angle And Low Angle Paddling Styles

But First – What Is Paddle Angle?

Kayaker with low angle paddling style

The paddle angle is defined as the angle at which your paddle’s blade enters the water and is influenced by the height of your upper arm during a forward stroke. 

With high-angle paddling, the upper hand is at or above shoulder height (ideally at eye level), so the angle at which the blade hits the water is more vertical and aggressive. Low-angle paddling tends to be more horizontal, with the upper hand at or below shoulder height – and doesn’t put as much emphasis on paddling technique. 

So, it has nothing to do with the blade’s construction or the angle between the blades. 

The difference comes down to your paddling style; the upper hand’s height dictates the angle of your paddle’s shaft relative to the water.

Paddle Angle & Position - Ivan Lawler Kayak (Canoeing) Technique

You could take a break from reading and assume the paddling position if you’d like. It might help you get a feel for it and understand these concepts better. 

Every recreational kayaker will be faced with the high or low angle paddle choice at one point or another – and it’s one of the most critical choices you will make as a kayaker. And when you do, your paddling style should be one of the deciding factors.

What Is A High Angle Paddling Style?  

A kayaker races down the whitewater of a river using high angle paddle

High-angle paddling means that the paddle goes into the water at a higher, more vertical angle – led by a more powerful stroke – and glides through water closer to the kayak’s hull. More of your paddle’s blade goes below the surface, providing a better “bite” and generating more power with each stroke.

It’s considered the more “aggressive” of the two styles: 

High-angle paddling lets you play around with a wider variety of stroke types, delivers more force, and enables you to paddle at a higher cadence – taking your performance to a whole new level.  

Sprint Kayak Stroke Analysis
Top Tip

Use a wider grip while paddling high-angle style, but not too wide, as it can lead to instability. I have two grips perfectly positioned on my high-angle paddle. Finding the right width for your grips involves some experimentation, but with a bit of adjustment and practice, you’ll find the perfect fit.

Who should consider high-angle paddling? 

You should consider high-angle paddling if: 

  • You want to improve your technical paddling skills, go beyond the basic forward stroke, and learn how to achieve quick changes in momentum and direction – a must for whitewater and surf kayaking – using powerful, aggressive strokes, looking for dynamic control.
  • Paddling is your go-to form of exercise; fast-paced high-angle strokes make for a killer workout
  • Your goal is to cover long distances swiftly
  • Your kayak has a narrow beam since high-angle strokes place the blade closer to the hull 
  • You’re a kayak angler in an elevated seat; the added height complements a high-angle stroke
  • You often paddle in dynamic environments where control and quick maneuvers are a priority (you’ll never see me running whitewater rapids without my trusty Werner high-angle paddle)

It’s not all about power and speed, though: 

Powerful strokes and the overall dynamics of high-angle paddling may sound tempting, but they often place more pressure on the shoulders. So, remember to practice proper torso rotation to avoid injuries.

What Is A Low Angle Paddling Style? 

Kayaking paddling touring kayak with low angle paddle

Low angle paddling style places the shaft at a more horizontal, almost 45-degree angle, with the upper hand at or below shoulder height. The blade enters the water further from the hull in a smooth and sweeping motion, like a heron’s beak.

It’s a more relaxed paddling style that requires less effort, provides more stability, and allows the paddler to conserve energy – a welcome benefit for recreational kayaking and long-distance touring. 

Low-angle strokes were inspired by Inuit people’s paddling technique. The goal was to lessen the strain on the paddler’s body and increase endurance – without compromising efficiency. If you think about it, that’s pretty much the same reason why most recreational and long-distance kayakers prefer low-angle paddling to this day. 

Basic Flat-Water Kayaking

Who should consider low-angle paddling? 

You should consider low-angle paddling if: 

  • You need to conserve energy during long-distance sessions 
  • You’re not focused on power and speed and want to keep your stroke relaxed 
  • You’re a beginner and still developing your technique 
  • Your kayak has a wide beam, and you need to extend the paddle further out to avoid hitting the side of the hull
  • You’re experiencing chronic shoulder and back pain; you’d benefit from a gentler stroke and less upper body pressure 

Key Differences Between High and Low-Angle Paddles

A pile of kayak high angle and low angel paddles on the beach close up.

When trying to decide between a high- and low-angle paddle, there are two key differences you should keep in mind – the blade shape and shaft length

Your paddle’s design should compliment your paddling style – and not the other way around. 

So, before you make that choice and buy a paddle, take the time to understand the unique “requirements” of your paddling style. 

Blade Shape

High-angle paddling style calls for shorter and broader blades that have a larger surface area and a more symmetrical shape. High-angle paddle blades are designed to work hand in hand with rapid, powerful strokes: 

A larger portion of the blade comes in contact with the water, providing a more aggressive “catch and hold” and making the high-angle forward stroke more efficient – which translates to propelling your kayak faster. The blade’s performance goes both ways; you’ll also be able to stop, slow down, and change direction quickly and efficiently – this is why this type of paddle is preferred by white water kayakers. 

Low-angle paddle blades are longer and narrower, with a more asymmetrical shape. They’re more appropriate for sweeping, easy-going strokes – typical for the low-angle paddling style. 

The blades are designed to move through water with ease – almost like a knife through butter – and don’t require nearly as much energy and effort with each stroke. Less fatigue means a more relaxed paddling session; you won’t feel like you just did 20 sets of military presses.

Shaft Length 

Your paddling style clearly dictates your choice of a paddle – but when it comes to the paddle shaft length, you should consider your height and the width of your ‘yak, too. 

High-angle paddles have a shorter shaft – typically have a paddle length ranging between 190 and 230 centimeters – that works well with a more vertical paddle stroke. 

Here are some rough guidelines: 

  • If you’re up to six feet tall, go with a 210-centimeter paddle.
  • If you’re over six feet one, go with a 215-centimeter paddle. 

On the other hand, low-angle paddles have a slightly longer shaft – typically between 210 and 250 centimeters. 

Here are some general paddle shaft length guidelines for low-angle paddles: 

  • If you’re up to six feet tall, go with a 220-centimeter paddle. 
  • If you’re over six feet one, go with a 230-centimeter paddle. 
Top Tip

If your kayak’s beam (width) is over 28 inches, add another 10 centimeters to the paddle’s length after determining what works for your height.

High-Angle vs. Low-Angle Kayak Paddle: Which Is Right For You?

Man carries high angle paddle on shoulder

There’s no “better” or “worse” option when it comes to this whole “high angle vs. low angle paddle“ matter. Your choice of paddle design depends solely on your paddling style and goals: 

If you have a more aggressive forward stroke and want to focus on speed, a high-angle kayak paddle is your best bet. But if you’re more into relaxed paddling – or want to conserve energy for longer trips – then low-angle paddles are the way to go. 

I’d like to wrap things up with a simple message: 

No, a paddle is not a paddle – not in the sense that your choice of paddle design doesn’t matter or won’t affect your on-the-water performance. 

It does – and it will. 

Photo of author

Sam OBrien

Sam is the founder and editor of WaterSportsWhiz. With over 20 years of experience across various water sports, he provides trusted reviews and expert advice to help others pursue their passion for getting out on the water. When not working, you can find him kayaking, paddle boarding, or planning his next water-based adventure with family and friends.

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