Paddles come in many shapes and sizes. The first thing to understand is that a paddle is a tool and like any tool it is designed for a specific job. You need to know what this specific task is to determine what paddle is best for you.
What do I mean by task? It is more then just moving the boat. We all have our own best style, one that is matched to our body size and natural movement abilities. Therefore we should have the paddle that helps us maximize our personal best style.
A paddler selecting a paddle should do so with a specific technical adjustment in mind and match the paddle shape to best accomplish this. We all strive to constantly make adjustments to become more efficient on the water. Each modification and adjustment we struggle with can be hindered or helped by the paddle shape we select.
Tear Drop Paddles have much of their surface area near the tip. This means you can get a good hold on the water very quickly rather then needing to wait for the paddle to fully submerge for a 'firm water' feeling. Basically this helps you get a good thrust into the boat early in the stroke. Below are 5 Jantex blade shapes along the continuum from the more evenly distributed (parallel edge) shapes to the very aggressive (tear drop) shapes.
Twisted Blades are paddles that progressivley twist from the blade stem to the tip. The greater the twist 'within the blade', the quicker the paddle will want to exit (pop out to the side). Paddles with little twist within blade will generally stay closer to the side of the boat longer. Below we can see the difference. Selecting a paddle that favours early exit or later exit will depend on what element of the stroke is more important to your style.
To be honest most of us don't think about this nearly enough and we often try to force a paddle to move in a way it is not designed for. A very good paddle is only good if it helps you paddle they way you want. For example if you and perhaps your coach are working to keep your paddle in the water longer. For a more evenly distributed stroke you may be best matched with a parallel edge design with little twist within the blade. However, if you are looking for a paddle to grab the water early and exit quickly the aggressive tear drop and extreme twist in the blade may be best. Choosing a paddle to fit the design of your stroke style or strategy is important. Choose poorly and it will make your task more difficult rather then help your success.
My advice is to ask what part of your technique you are struggling with most. Selecting the paddle designed to help be successful in the element you are trying to modify makes sense.
I don't want to comment on blade size too much as this is largely depending on strength and size of the paddler. However, I suggest that selecting the size of blade is a lot like selecting the gear on a bike. You can select a light gear and accelerate very quickly but then end up spinning at high rates or you can select a very heavy gear that may see you hit higher speed, if you have enough strength, but take longer to accelerate. In a bike you may have many gears and are able to start light and shift to heavier gears. But paddling is more like having a bike with only one gear. In this case you need to choose wisely. You may get some hint to adjust your blade size based on a review of your race performance. If your start ability or acceleration is poor then perhaps try a slightly smaller blade or a shape that exits quick so you can take another stroke sooner. If your travel speed in the middle is too low or you need a very high cadence to hold it then perhaps select a larger blade.
Select the paddle for your needs not only one that you see another paddler use. That may work for them but not be the best for you. We are all different. If you are working with a coach it is wise to reflect back on what they are most telling you to fix. Select a paddle that targets the problem, that helps the solution.
Something to consider.... please consider it.
If you have any questions I am happy to lend advice where I can.
Enjoy your paddling!
Mike Robinson, Chartered Professional Coach.