There are a number different methods that have been suggested in books and by paddlers as the proper way to size a paddle but the most popular ones are;
- While standing, paddle on the ground, the grip at the end of the shaft comes up to your chin.
- While sitting on a chair with the grip resting on the seat the shaft ends at your eyebrows.
- While sitting on a chair measure to the chin and add 6 inches to find the shaft length.
- While sitting on a chair with the grip resting on the seat, measure the distance to your nose plus the distance from your canoe seat to the water to find the shaft length.
- While standing hold the paddle over the head arms bent at 90 degrees measure the distance from elbow to elbow or hand to hand to find the shaft length.
- Shorter for solo because you lean the canoe
- Longer for solo because you don’t lean the canoe
- Longer for Whitewater for more leverage
- Shorter for Whitewater for more speed and power
- Longer in the stern seat for leverage and steering
- Longer in the bow seat for more reach and power
- Beavertail 25-30 inches
- Ottertail 28-30 inches
- Tripper/Algonquin 30-32 inches
- Sugar Island 21-25 inches
- El-Cheapo plastic 20-22 inches
The main issue is that many paddle companies sell paddles based on the total length and the confusion soon complicates things. That 54 inch paddle we bought was an Ottertail which had a 30 inch long blade. That means the shaft is only 24 inches long. Well that's great if you are an 11 year old school girl but not if you are a grown man so it is back to the paddle shop.
“The 54 inch paddle was way too small, I need at least a 60 inch paddle”, You say.
The clerk says, “I have just what you need, this 60 inch Sugar Island.”
Ka-Ching… more money out of the wallet.
Great! You think, Now this is a mans paddle! So you get it to the pond and you hate this even worse. Is this a paddle or one of those things for taking bread out of wood fired ovens?
As it turns out that 60 inch Sugar Island paddle only had a 21 inch blade and the rest made up a 39 inch shaft.
That story is just made up. In truth most paddle makers and retailers are smarter than this and will try a lot harder to help you out and explain things; but the acne covered kid that works for them on the weekend while they are out paddling may not be too knowledgeable. For this reason only you can know truly how long your paddle should be. It may take a long time to find that sweet one too; and this means either you try a lot, buy a lot, or make a lot.
Most paddle makers and retailers will have paddles sized as follows;
- 48”-54” for short people and ladies
- 56”-58” for normal people and men
- 60”-63” for tall people
- 26”-34” for short people and ladies
- 34”-38” for normal people and men
- 38”-41” for tall people
Figuring out your ideal shaft length takes us into that contentious territory where everyone has something to say. A lot of these formulas seem to be regional and get modified often and then passed off as the one true way. Paddle length ends up being like religion and no one wants to talk about it.
In Maine USA for example it is not uncommon for paddles to stand 6 feet high but you don't see that elsewhere very often.
Let’s look at some of these sizing methods and debunk a few myths.
The first method described above with the grip under the chin is garbage unless you are an average person with a 25 inch blade. An average person with an average blade will indeed have the grip come up to the chin but swap the blade and the formula is now useless. It probably persists because it works as an easy all around average for things like children's camps.
Chair to chin add six inches sort of works but complicates the more simple chair to eyebrows so why bother?
Chair to nose plus distance from canoe seat to water line sounds cool but it too complicates the obvious and was probably dreamed up by an out of work engineer. It may work for some but you have to be pretty up tight to be that demanding.
The two most popular methods involve the paddle above the head with the distance from the outside of the left and right hands making the shaft length,
and sitting on a chair with the grip on the seat and the shaft ending at your eyebrows. Another proposes the distance to the chin is measured and 6 inches is added, but this is about the same as measuring to the eyebrows anyway.
Both add an 0-4 inches for different types of paddling such as solo tandem etc.
People often argue over which of these two is the proper method. The truth is they both work about the same but it is probable that the original Native paddle makers in North America who did not have chairs or yard sticks and used the paddle over head method.
So why do they both work? Well to answer that lets ask Leonardo DaVinci; he has the simplest answer. When you look at Vitruvian Man with a couple of equal size circles and lines added you see that the distance from elbow to elbow is the same as from the bottom of the hips to the eyebrows. The red and black circles are the same size. The Black Circle showing that elbow to elbow, the arms bent at 90 degrees with paddle over the head will more or less give the same shaft length as the Red Circle chair to eyebrows method.
Interesting eh? It seems those Native paddle makers and Renaissance thinkers had something in common when they started thinking about body proportions for measurements. It seems that the answer if there is one is more artistic than scientific but like most things in our modern world though we like to qualify and quantify everything so it becomes more complicated than it really is.
Now I am certain one could go to the National Research Council or Royal Society and be hooked up to machines and computers for an absolute down to the millimeter definitive answer to the question of their ideal paddle length but why bother. Grab a paddle with a shaft about the length of your torso and the blade of your choice and do your thing. Just remember to bring your tape measure to the paddle store.