Beginner vs. Int. vs. Advanced Paddles

I’ve paddled off and on since I was small, but always rented or borrowed canoes. Now that I have my own tandem on the way (a Polaris from Bell, Yost, Yost, et al), paddles have become an item of serious interest.

I was gifted with two Caviness 60" RDs, which is great. Free paddles! But while I’m over 6 feet, my other paddlers are 5’, 5’4", and 5’7", and I want to make sure we have a couple paddles that these cats can use comfortably.

Looking at Bending Branches’ line up, I am perplexed by their classification of paddles into beginner, intermediate, and advanced categories. “Freestyle” handles seem to earn an immediate bump to intermediate+, but it seems to me that this symmetrical kind of grip would be best suited to a beginner, as you don’t need to worry about which way you are holding the thing! I’m not married to any brand here, I’m just trying to learn about paddles.

In addition to the paddles I have been gifted, I would like to get 1-2 calibration paddles - paddles we can use to figure out ideal sizing, preferred shape and grip, etc. One of these needs to be comfortable for use by a 5 foot paddler. A 54" straight, maybe? Does that seem right?

I’m also especially interested in paddles which reduced shoulder fatigue/pain, as I have torn labrums. Any particular shape recommended?

Do you have duct tape?

– Last Updated: Apr-08-16 4:46 PM EST –

you have 60 inch paddles already. I suspect they are too long for you too.

Sit in your boat. Take ONE stroke, end it at the hip and pick up the paddle right away( No letting it drag back) and keep the blade vertical. Do NOT raise your hand on the grip any more than you usually would.

The distance between the grip and the wet area is your shaft length. Its going to be different than the shaft length of the paddle.

Measure that. Add the length of the blade of the paddle you are looking at. That is your overall length.

This method works for all heights of folks.. Bending Branches also has a paddle sizing guide which is a good guess

You indicate you want a symmetrical palm grip. Its meaningless to segregate paddles into beginning to advanced. You might not be happy with a really wide paddle( 9 inch or so) on trips. They can be more tiring.

Also a straight shaft paddle is not the best from an efficiency standpoint for a seated paddler. Something to keep in mind. Bent shafts are sized differently

People starting out find narrower paddles easier to manage but weight is not a concern for casual use.

Later on you will find that weight matters more and you may be able to tolerate a wider paddle. Such milling adds cost..

Beginner paddle
There ought to be a better way for retailers to explain this. There really shouldn’t be anything described as a “beginner paddle”, IMO. What you usually see thusly labeled would be more correctly described as paddles for the llimited budget of the person not yet committed to paddling. That’s a mouthful, ain’t it?

Even - no, especially a beginner will find more enjoyment with a high quality high performance paddle. You’re on the right track, IMO, looking at symmetrical blades and symmetrical grips for all-around beginner paddles (see how hard it is to avoid saying that?). More specialized designs may be called for later - or not.

BB is a decent brand. Look for faired blades with relatively thin edges, comfortable (symmetrica) grips and shafts, and a smooth finish. Any deviation from that should come with a specific reason.

For Your Canoe I’d Go With 50" & 54"
BB Cruiser +11 @ $129 or the BB Special @ $99 with free shipping from REI. Since they only give you 3 length choices, you can also get the 52" as a spare?

BB paddles last a long time and I just gave away my 7 degree bend, 48" long by 9.5" wide outrigger paddle, that I owned for over 20 years, to my neighbor’s daughter for her high school races.

Don’t overthink it
I think you are putting too much thought into it. There is no such thing as a “beginner” paddle, unless you are referring to the cheap aluminum paddles with the foam grips. Bending Branches, Mitchell, Grey Owl and others all work nicely unless you are a serious racer or out for very long paddles where weight can be an issue.

Since my front paddler is usually not very skilled I usually give them one of my bent shaft paddles because all I expect from them is to paddle straight ahead and I will adjust from the back (If your front paddler is skilled, your mileage may vary).

Because I almost always paddle in the rear, I prefer to bring both. I use the bent shaft for lakes and straight sections of rivers and switch to the straight shaft for rapids or tight, winding streams.

But unless you are racing or tripping, nearly any decent wooden paddle will do the trick.

paddles for bad shoulders
If you have shoulder problems and anticipate putting in some longer days and covering some miles a good paddle becomes important. A lot of factors come into play in determining paddle shaft length, so it is probably best to wait until you have your boat to decide.

Most single-blade paddlers who paddle on one side of the boat predominately find that the stress is greatest on the off-side shoulder. That is the shoulder that has the grip hand attached to it. During a forward stroke, your grip hand shoulder will be in its strongest and most stable position when your grip hand is at the same height above the water as your grip hand shoulder and your grip arm is horizontal during the mid-portion of the stroke.

Marathon canoe racers who paddle at a very high cadence and switch paddling hands every few strokes will often choose a little shorter paddle for lighter weight and to make it quicker and easier to swing the paddle over the gunwales for the switches.

Whitewater paddlers and freestyle paddlers who need to perform cross-strokes and need enhanced leverage for pries and draws will often choose a little longer paddle.

Paddle weight also becomes a very significant issue for longer days. High end carbon fiber paddles like those made by Zaveral Racing Equipment (ZRE) are very expensive but nearly everyone who has gone to using them has never looked back. You probably want to nail down the shaft length, blade area, and design with cheaper paddles before spending that kind of money, however.

What type of paddling you anticipate doing makes a big difference. If you plan on paddling mainly in the stern of a tandem canoe, mainly on flat water or easy streams, and in a traditional style (where the paddle stays pretty much on one side of the boat) then you will find a bent shaft paddle more efficient and easier on your joints. Bent shafts are a bit less effective for draws and pries, however, so you may want a straight shaft paddle if you plan to paddle twisty streams that require quick maneuvering.

If you plan to paddle sit and switch, where both bow and stern paddlers switch paddling sides simultaneously to maintain heading, a bent shaft is a clear choice.

I would look at paddles with a blade width of no more than 8 1/2 inches, and 8 to 8 1/4" is probably better still.