Kayak paddles can be made from a variety of materials and the shape of the paddles can vary according to the purpose for which they will be used. Plastic paddles, for example, are generally inexpensive and lightweight; they are great for beginner kayakers or light duty kayaking. Carbon or Kevlar® kayak paddles are far more expensive, much lighter, and much more durable than plastic paddles. They are usually used by more serious paddlers who race or paddle through treacherous waters. Wood paddles are heavier but aesthetically pleasing. They are most used by traditionalists who prefer the feel and look of wood.
The shape of kayak paddles can vary significantly as well. Flat paddles are fairly basic offerings that will push water effectively enough for recreational paddlers. These are the least expensive types of paddles. Curved or winged paddles are more efficient at scooping the water for greater power output, and the shape of winged kayak paddles will encourage the paddle to move upward in the water, making a person's stroke more efficient.
One feature that makes paddling in windy conditions much easier is feathering. The individual blades of the kayak paddles are set perpendicular to each other, or close to perpendicular, so when the blade that is not propelling the boat is raised in the air, it will cut through the air rather than act as a sail against it. This makes a person's paddle stroke quicker and less taxing on the arm. Some higher end paddles feature shafts that rotate to allow for an adjustable feather; the paddler can then tailor the feather to his or her paddle stroke.
The shaft of the kayak paddles can vary in shape, materials, and length. The most common shape for a paddle shaft is the straight shaft, though it can be tough on the wrists during longer paddling trips. Bent shafts feature strategically placed bends that make gripping the shaft easier on the wrists, though this design can shorten a paddler's stroke. Some designs work to counteract this shortening by carefully designing the location of the bends, though the overall results of this design are up for debate. The shaft materials can also have an impact both on wrist comfort and paddle stroke effectiveness; carbon, for example, is exceptionally rigid, which makes for a strong paddle stroke but increased strain on the wrists. Plastic will flex more, which means one's paddle stroke is likely to be less efficient but the wrists may be more comfortable.