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Thread: Paddle Sizing: How to complicate the obvious

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    Default Paddle Sizing: How to complicate the obvious

    Paddle Sizing: How to complicate the obvious

    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.
    This is further complicated by formula additions such as;
    • 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
    More Complications arise when we select the blade type;
    • Beavertail 25-30 inches
    • Ottertail 28-30 inches
    • Tripper/Algonquin 30-32 inches
    • Sugar Island 21-25 inches
    • El-Cheapo plastic 20-22 inches
    So you listen to all of that come up with a number decide on a 54 inch Ottertail paddle. The clerk grins when you give him about 16 hours worth of pay, but when you get to try it out, you absolutely hate it right off. Where did I go wrong? You wonder.
    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
    They are assuming a blade length of 20-22 inches like you would find on most modern laminate or sugar island paddles. This would translate into the following shaft lengths.
    • 26”-34” for short people and ladies
    • 34”-38” for normal people and men
    • 38”-41” for tall people
    Those shaft lengths based on assumption seem to get really long really fast. I am 5’ 10” and my paddle shaft length is usually only 30”-32”. I do not consider myself short, I figure I am quite average; so I also figure that 30"-34" would be an average shaft length, below that for shorter people, and above for tall ones. These assumed and arbitrary paddle lengths rarely work in the real world so it is best to ignore them totally or else you will end up paddling with something way too long.

    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.
    Lloyd

    Sometimes you're the windshield, sometimes you're the bug...


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    You forgot the colour which adds another complication.

    Now I need to digest what you have written.
    Chris


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    Yep, that's complicated it, well done mate

    I suggest the easiest and least ambiguous measurement to take for shaft length is I the distance between your elbows when you hold your arms out straight. This has the virtue of being clear and easy to understand as it is related directly to arm length.

    This gives exactly the same measurement as the traditional picture holding a paddle up but avoids differences due to how vertical the forearms are. Sizing up a paddle as in the picture it is quite surprising how you can get two paddles a couple of inches different in length both 'OK' until you look very carefully at the angles those arms are at.
    Happy paddling ,
    Rob.


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    Quote Originally Posted by WhyAyeMan View Post
    ........ so it becomes more complicated than it really is.
    You forgot the complication of whether you sit or kneel.

    Its like buying trousers - try on a likely pair, then go bigger or smaller until they feel right!
    Keith

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    Both of my primary paddles have long shafts, at 40 and 42 inches, & both have fairly shovel sized blades. I have arms kinda like a less hairy spider-monkey (although in proportion of course, being that spider-monkeys are maybe what,no more than a couple of feet tall ?), so lots of shaft length is good. Plus I tend to lever quite a bit too against the tide, not much low angle paddling here abouts.

    If I used a long slender ottertail, I would still go for the same length of shaft, which would then make the whole paddle maybe 70 inches, and not the 60-62 inch I use with the shovel blades. This strikes me as the more useful way of sizing a paddle, shaft first, then the blade size just follows it's function, and is whatever the size it is for that purpose.

  6. #6

    Default Paddle sizing

    A formula will only take you so far because everyone and their canoe (and its loading, etc) is different. There is another way if you really want to arrive at the perfect length. Make/borrow an adjustable paddle (see Canoe Paddles) and fine tune length for you personally, in your own canoe. You certainly learn a lot about how paddle length affects your paddling.

    Graham
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    so my table tennis bat tied to a broomstick is out then
    barry
    the things we do for love,paddle,paddle,then paddle some more

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    Quote Originally Posted by KeithD View Post
    You forgot the complication of whether you sit or kneel.
    No I left that out on purpose as well as any mention of a bent shaft. One project at a time

    Quote Originally Posted by Moosehead View Post
    if you really want to arrive at the perfect length. Make/borrow an adjustable paddle (see Canoe Paddles) and fine tune length for you personally, in your own canoe.
    Ah the adjustable paddle; now if only every shop had those...
    Last edited by Lloyd; 27th-April-2007 at 02:49 PM.
    Lloyd

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    Quote Originally Posted by Moosehead View Post
    A formula will only take you so far because everyone and their canoe (and its loading, etc) is different. There is another way if you really want to arrive at the perfect length. Make/borrow an adjustable paddle (see Canoe Paddles) and fine tune length for you personally, in your own canoe. You certainly learn a lot about how paddle length affects your paddling.

    Graham
    ______________________________________________
    http://homepages.tesco.net/~moosehea...Page/Home.html
    The only adjustable paddles I have had were nasty plastic and aluminium things that came with inflatable beach toys. These did indeed provide valuable lessons - but the lessons were that I didn't want to paddle with nasty plastic and aluminium things that come with inflatable beach toys rather than anything about paddle lengths

    But if anyone has a decent adjustable paddle .......
    Happy paddling ,
    Rob.


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    I think Graham was talking about a wooden paddle with a metal collar that can adjust the length by a few inches. Lets just say they are not mass produced but they are not hard to make.

    I am currently working on a Frankenstein paddle of sorts...I will show you all later.
    Lloyd

    Sometimes you're the windshield, sometimes you're the bug...


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    what about those of us that quite like standing up to paddle (rather than pole).

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    Quote Originally Posted by eds View Post
    what about those of us that quite like standing up to paddle (rather than pole).
    Did you read about the 6 foot paddles from Maine? that is what they are for.
    Lloyd

    Sometimes you're the windshield, sometimes you're the bug...


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    Quote Originally Posted by KeithD View Post
    Its like buying trousers - try on a likely pair, then go bigger or smaller until they feel right!
    Yes I fear your summary is spot on. But as it is pretty impossible to try a good range of paddles, even with friends offering theirs, this becomes a pretty expensive process. As I think I am about to find out .
    Matto

    Ours was the marsh country, down by the river, within, as the river wound, twenty miles of the sea.


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    came across whilst flipping through main page of forum thought id bump it up for new users as is is good advice

    shaft length
    elbow to elbow or a*** to snout
    KISS
    nature is m X-box

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    I tend to roughly size mine by running it shoulder to hand; that seems to be a nice size for me. I also tend to have a shorter paddle if I can that comes to below armpit on my (so about a total length of 56" or so, as I'm 6'4" tall)

    I've got various blade shapes, but tend to run a Waterstick WW blade most of the time; very little flex, but not very good for Indian stroke/knifed J/Canadian, but hugely powerful!

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    Wow Ed, 56" is short for you! I'm 5'11" and paddle with a 57 or 58" blade. My deepwater blade is 60" I think (although it might also be 58")

    I use a Voyageur Blackwood in the moving stuff, which is a couple of inches shorter than it started life as, so is probably about 56" now.

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    Again you get big numbers if you measure the blade too. Subtract the 30 inch or so blade length and you get numbers that are easier to work with.
    Lloyd

    Sometimes you're the windshield, sometimes you're the bug...


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    So all my paddles are size 2.

    2 small
    2 long
    2 narrow
    2 wide
    2 heavy.


    On a more serious note i completely agree that you need to consider shaft length and blade seperately.

    this makes all my paddles size 2. 2.

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    Now this is what I really needed. Have just spent two weeks sourcing a computer. To give you an idea of the work entailed, the last PC i owned, had a PII and an 8x CD was a fast item. Got the PC, monitor, printer and software from three different places and in a week's time, I should know if it all fits together. But now I can think of paddles, not for myself but for my brother. Thank you_ I htink .

    TGB
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    May all your winds be gentle. And for ww - May it rain the night before.

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    Damn!!

    I've just read Lloyd'd measuring formula and realise my paddles are different lengths!!! Even my favourite and most comfortable paddle is not the right length.

    The only reason for this must be my body is wrong and out of proportion. and not suited to paddling. (I'll go to the doctor tomorrow!!

    However, after much experimenting I've discovered that If I put my right leg over my right arm whilst bent double and lean forward a little whilst turning my head to the left I've discovered that the distance between my left foot and my ear equates to the length of my favourite paddle shaft.

    As my other paddles are all different shaft/blade lengths but entirely suited for paddling a canoe I'm going to spend the evening devising other suitable ways for ascertaining the correct lengths using other body measurements.

    (I might be a while doing this and if I get stuck I'm going to tell the fire brigade I was doing yoga) - if I can reach the phone.
    http://www.davidwperry.blogspot.co.uk/

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    I think you may want to re-read. It is not complicated at all and is very obvious that "perfect" does not exist; only comfortable. Which you seem to have already discovered.

    But I agree; Better living through sarcasm.
    Lloyd

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    Sorry Lloyd, my previous post was meant to be humorous not sarcastic!.
    Indeed I agree with all you said.
    http://www.davidwperry.blogspot.co.uk/

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    Oh; I got that. Sarcasm is humor in my world.
    Lloyd

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    Quote Originally Posted by EdL View Post
    I tend to roughly size mine by running it shoulder to hand; that seems to be a nice size for me. I also tend to have a shorter paddle if I can that comes to below armpit on my (so about a total length of 56" or so, as I'm 6'4" tall)

    I've got various blade shapes, but tend to run a Waterstick WW blade most of the time; very little flex, but not very good for Indian stroke/knifed J/Canadian, but hugely powerful!

    OK, I converted Imperial into using a base of 10 instead of 12, therefore converted 5'+ into 4'8"... ooops

    Tis not my fault that I'm young enough not to have been taught Imperial

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    Quote Originally Posted by Lloyd View Post
    Sarcasm is humor in my world.
    THATS where I go wrong on the internet.... I assumed everybody realised that

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    the variable that could add up to a couple inches is the height you sit relative to the water in your canoe. any method that doesn't take that into account could be off a good amount.
    Regards,
    Mike

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    So whats a good general purpose paddle, canals, lakes, easy rivers......a VW Golf workhorse sort of paddle

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    Just like all roads leading to Rome all paddle formulas go to about the same place too. Some formulas are less complicated than others to get there.

    Personally I have different paddles for different jobs but for folks that are not that specific I always recommend the paddle over the head method and assume they kneel.
    Lloyd

    Sometimes you're the windshield, sometimes you're the bug...


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