Adjusting one's paddle length.

I’ve been trying to tune up my wing paddle stroke with advice from various people. After a few weeks of working on suggestions from a class with Oscar Chalupsky, I’ve decided to increase the length of my paddle by a half-centimeter…

A half centimeter! It seems ridiculous that such a small change would even be noticeable, but in fact I have no doubt that if I closed my eyes, I could adjust my paddle to within a half-centimeter by feel.

So I was thinking… what does this mean for paddlers in general? If a half-centimeter is important, then should we all (if we can afford it) be using adjustable-length paddles and fiddling with them all the time rather than accepting the restricted range of lengths and ballpark estimates by salespeople that we usually rely on?

Or maybe it’s just a wing thing–since wings have a pretty inflexible stroke (more like paddling a bike, where the motion is fixed), perhaps getting a wing paddle’s length exactly right is especially important.


I’d say it’s a wing thing…
or a racing thing. A wing has one good stroke(when you really come down to it). Touring I use high angle, low angle, mid angle… what ever conditions or I feel like. I don’t think I could tell the difference of a centimeter one way or the other on a day long paddle…

Ther is an old story about a

– Last Updated: Jun-09-05 12:27 AM EST –

treacherous young martial arts sutdent who cut a tiny bit off each end of his master's staff.

He defeated his master in their next bout.

Doing a bit of math, the leverage change must be a pound or so eh?

Been a long time since that physics class but perhaps one of those folks fron Northeastern could work on it.

Since the wing is more highly leveraged, then the change in lever length is more noticeable.

Changing length and feather
I am very grateful I got a length lock Epic this past year. I have not only changed my paddle length and feather since buying it, but now experiement with various feathers (or completely unfeathered) as well as lengths.

Sure is a lot easier than buying many paddles (already own 4).

Too bad I have to buy another boat to easily play with various wanterlines and profiles :slight_smile:

Face it guys , we’re tinkerers . That’s
why we worry about half centimeters and extra paddles. We just have to change things.

i’m surprised you lengthened
almost all the time people need to go the other way with wings. the trend seems to be for really short paddles. i think it has more to do with being able to plant properly than anything else. i padded myself up in my ski and my kayak (effectively shortening my paddle in a sense)and have really been impressed with how much better my initial bite on the water is. you can also get a much more vertical stroke with a shorter paddle. why did oscar suggest lengthening your paddle?


Hi Andrew,
I’ve noticed that flat water racers seem to use fairly long wing paddles, so they can reach as far forward as possible, and twist around while keeping the blade in the water and the upper hand high. This isn’t so practical in wind or waves. Fiddle, fiddle, tinker, tinker : )


must be regional variation
the flatwater coaches here at lanier canoe and kayak seem to be strong advocates of rather short paddles. whatever works for you i guess.



– Last Updated: Jun-09-05 1:11 PM EST –

I've found that wings seem to be very sensitive to even small adjustments. A cm can feel like a foot! For many years I used a 218, then dropped to a 216 and more recently, a 213. A find that with the 218, I was really overgeared & was hard on my old elbows. While experimenting is fun, it can drive you nuts. I think the shorter wing is better into the wind, upstream, a bit better in shallows and seems to help me finish stronger over two hours. I've done some timing on flat water at approx 30 mins & find very little difference from 213 to 216. I'm 5'9", paddle a "Thunderbolt" & XR-5. I think once you go shorter, after awhile, it feels better. Try (great article on wing length). I wish I could get Oscar to dial in my length! I would love to know what your paddling, your height & what Oscar recomended? Good luck & have fun winging.

Go down, then up…

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Going shorter will reach a point of diminishing return with the wing paddle / stroke.
While it has a quicker release and it feels easier to 'spin' the paddle, going below (IMO) say 209/210 tends to start dropping the hands out of the best ergonomic position and the paddle entry angle is not really getting any steeper, rather your hands are just getting lower.
It is nice to feel this though as a foundation to work back up a little at a time.
Out of shape cyclist build 5' 10", 20.5" Boat, 212 Endurance Race Wing (19.5" X 6.5") here..... sometimes I think I could use a little more length in certain flat water + windy directions but I like the bump catching ability the shorter paddle affords me. Instead of getting stuck, the shorter length I feel lets me get that one last stroke to drop in. Still laughing to think that "Longer" to me would be 214/215 though.

paddle length was recommended for me also, by a reputable coach during a clinic. Right now I’m at about 218 cm. with a 65 degree feather on a mid wing. The coach specified the longer length based on physical strength, my arm length and the ability to bury the blade more quickly on the catch. The tradeoff is in the exit, where I have to consciously exit what feels like prematurely making sure to ‘square the blade,’ otherwise I end up dragging water.

I constantly fiddle
with my Epic signature. usually it’s just a few centimeters either way at the short end. I notice the changes immediately and then get accustomed to it quickly. Can’t say what difference it makes in performance. It’s like the car seat and adjustable steering wheel in my mini cooper, I make changes just for the sake of changes sometimes.

It seems most people’s
answer to my question is, “it’s a wing thing.”

Oscar improved my catch and shifted my rotation lower in my spine. Since this took me further 'round with each stroke, it seemed I needed a tad more length, or else my upper arm would drop as I ended the stroke.


Did you widen your hand spacing too?
I have rubber bands on the paddle shaft at the outside edges of my grip that help me keep a consistant hand spacing. I found that when I lengthened the wing shaft (215 to 216), I also tended to widen the grip by that same amount, i.e., still kept my hands next to the rubber bands which were now further apart. Wondered if you had a similar experience.

No, I didn’t, but
2 of the 4 people in the class did. I had always used a 90 degree angle at the elbow. Oscar said “85 to 90 degrees.”

It seemed a measure of the continued walls between the different aspects of kayaking, that on the night I attended, which was set aside for recreational paddlers, there were only 4 students in a class with one of the world’s greatest paddlers. I’m sure that the next night, intended for racers, was mobbed.


grip width

I have always put 90 degree tape rings on my paddles & adjust by gripping wider for a 216 than 213. On my adj. mid, the tape moves with the shaft. Put together a 212 round shaft kit last night & will give it a go today.


Adjusting paddle length

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Hi Sanjay,

I am with you, to be able to adjust one's paddle length is a great advantage.

To me, paddle length, shape of the blade (teardrop vs. parallel edge), and size of the blade are the most important variables, which determine how efficiently the power generated by the paddler is delivered.

Currently, after every workout I am recording in my spreadsheet-log (among many other data) the paddle I use Epic (teardrop) or Lettman (parallel edge), the length I am using (both has length lock system) and stroke rate per minute, average stroke rate, and number of strokes. (All these take only a couple of seconds to record). After keeping a very precise long for more than 3 years, I know it is the best way to analize one progress.

What I am able to say is that using my Epic in a light workout of 15 miles 2cm an increase in length from 214 to 216 reduced my average stroke rate (from the entire workout) from 89 to 81, keeping the same average speed. Also, using my lettman in the same conditions increased my average stroke rate to 95 per minute in 215 cm.

I think that the idea is to use a shape blade according waters conditions, teardrop for flat waters and parallel edge for rough waters.
The lengh and size of the blade should be used according to level of fitness of the paddler in order to keep a average stroke rate greater than 80 but no more than 105 if one is not sprinting.

Anyway, in a couples of months, I'll have enough data to arrive to a more scientific conclusion even though an experiment of one violates the 1º rule of an truly scientific experiment :D :D