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Canoe Paddle Length - Choosing the Proper Fit
Paddling a canoe can be an extremely relaxing and satisfying experience that enriches your mind, body, and soul. A peaceful summer evening watching the sun fall below the tree line on your favorite lake while paddling a canoe can revitalize you as it melts away the stress of a busy life. However, not having the proper equipment can turn this picturesque setting and wonderful experience into a difficult and painful excursion. One of the best ways to ensure a pleasant paddling experience is to have a canoe paddle that fits your size and paddling style, and overall paddle length is often an overlooked key factor in paddle performance.
Choosing a proper paddle length can be very confusing and frustrating, especially if you are a novice or even a casual paddler. There are many suggestions and “rules of thumb” that you’d need several hands to fit them all. The main thing to remember is nothing trumps comfort when it comes to paddle length. If your comfort level does not fit a “rule of thumb”, forget the rule.
Proper paddle length starts with overall body size and, more specifically, arm length. The taller you are, the longer your arms will be. The longer your arms are, the longer the paddle should be to have the proper fit and length. There are several ways to get a proper fit, and I will discuss a few of the more popular methods that have worked well for me and my customers.
This is a simple method that works very well for most people that use it. The first step is to locate a broomstick or something similar to that. You can perform this method alone, or with a partner. If you are doing it alone, a mirror is very helpful. You will want to hold the broomstick with two hands over your head (with a similar grip/stance to holding a paddle). Using the mirror or your partner, ensure that your elbows are bent at roughly 90O angles. Once at the proper angle, make a mark on the broomstick on the outside of each hand. Next, measure the distance between the marks. This will give you your proper handle length. You will next start shopping for the proper canoe paddle with that number in mind. When deciding on paddles to purchase, pay close attention to the blade length. Most are right around 20”, but can vary. When you decide on the style you’d like, add the length of the blade to the length of the handle length you determined using the broomstick. This will give you your overall paddle length that should fit your size almost perfectly. As you become more experienced with paddling, you may notice that a longer or shorter handle will fit you better, so keep that in mind for your next paddle.
This is a very common technique to determining paddle length, but I find it to be less exact than the Broomstick Method described above. To use this method, sit on the floor with your back straight and tall. Measure the distance from the floor to the tip of your nose. This measurement gives you the handle or shaft length that should suit your needs. Add the length of the paddle blade to this measurement to get your overall paddle length. As I said, this technique is less exact, but does work well for the traditional, straight shaft paddles. With the newer Bent Shaft Paddles available on the market, this technique often is void since Bent Shaft Paddles are typically quite a bit shorter than Straight Shaft ones.
In Canoe Method
This method combines the Seated Measurement with the actual canoe you will be paddling. With the canoe in the water, sit comfortably on the seat as you would when paddling. Measure the distance from the water to the tip of your nose. This gives you the handle or shaft length. Add the blade length and you have your overall paddle length. This method is fairly accurate and is my second favorite method to use, behind the Broomstick Method.
Now that you have some ideas of how to find your ideal paddle length, you will want to keep a few more hints in mind before you go out and purchase a high quality paddle. These hints will help you to fine tune the measurements you have come up with from the above examples.
* If you decide on a Bent Shaft Paddle, these paddles are typically shorter than their Straight Shaft counterparts. Bent Shaft Paddles typically are available in sizes from 48” to 56” and are about 2”-4” shorter than a comfortably fit Straight Shaft Paddle.
* Canoe size and style can affect paddle performance and length requirements. In general, the wider and/or taller a canoe is, the longer the paddle should be to allow for the proper reach and fully submerse the paddle blade. A short paddle will require extra bending to fully utilize the entire paddle blade properly.
* Canoeing style also can affect overall paddle length. If you typically paddle in shallow, rough water, a shorter paddle is often better to avoid damage of hitting the bottom constantly with a longer paddle. Whitewater paddles typically have shorter, wider blades to avoid these problems.
Now that you are armed with this knowledge, you can accurately and intelligently choose a proper paddle length that will fit your size and paddling style. A properly selected paddle is a joy to use and allows you to be more efficient with your time on the water. You will get more out of each paddle stroke and have less fatigue if the paddle fits properly. Once you have your ideal paddle, hit the water and enjoy your own picturesque summer evening and watch the worries of the day melt away.
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