What equipment do you need?

Are you interested in learning? Most clubs have a trial period of a few sessions so that you can see if you enjoy the sport before joining. The equipment you will need to begin with is very minimal. You should bring a water bottle for the session, and be sure to dress for the weather conditions, prepared to get wet. Wool and synthetic fabrics are best for most water in our region, as cotton can make you cold if it gets wet, even in the warmest of California waters. Dress in layers that can be put on or taken off as conditions change. It is not unusual to have to remove clothing as you warm up from the exercise. Be sure that you are wearing shoes that can get wet. Beyond this, most clubs provide the rest of the equipment you will need until you are ready to buy your own. Here are some notes on more advanced equipment, with some manufacturer links. PacDBA does not endorse any particular brand over another.

Bucket-o-paddles commonly seen for loan at races

PFD – A Personal Flotation Device, or life jacket, is essential and often required to participate in our sport. Your club will have basic, inexpensive ones that they can loan you until you decide on your own. When you choose to buy your own, you’ll want to look for PFDs designed for kayakers and outrigger paddlers. They are cut with roomy openings for your arms that will allow full motion of your shoulder. They are generally less square and better-fitting than basic jackets, and you will soon feel out of place without it. Be sure to look for a few handy pockets to keep things like keys, money, gum, or lip balm. Many clubs have rules against inflatable PFDs, so check with your club’s regulations before investing in one.

Some providers of good paddling PFDs are:

Old Town (Formerly Extrasport)




Many of these companies also sell useful clothing items you might like, such as rashguards with SPF protection, neoprene gloves, socks, and booties for winter, board shorts, caps, and other similar equipment designed for water athletes.

Paddles – Your club will have basic paddles for loan until you are ready to buy your own. Expect to change paddles several times over your paddling career. You will bang your first one up colliding with the boat and other paddlers, and your length can change as your technique improves. Try different loaner paddles for length. The coach can help you decide.

When you are ready to buy your first paddle, many opt for an inexpensive wooden one. Grey Owl is the most common, and it is a light but durable paddle for beginners that costs around $60.

Once your technique has stabilized, you may wish to upgrade to some of the lighter competition paddles. Some choose paddles made of carbon fiber for their lightness and stiffness. Others prefer the flexibility of a hybrid, where the paddle shaft is wooden and the blade is carbon. These paddles can cost $200-$300.

Experienced paddlers are usually happy to let you try their paddles, and can talk to you about why they choose the ones they use. Reliable paddle companies are:

Grey Owl