canoe paddle sizing question

After reading several how-to articles, I have a general understanding of how to properly measure for paddle selection.

That being said, let’s say you fall between two available sizes — is it better(safer) to pick the shorter or the longer option?

I’m looking at the Bending Branches “Special” … my option seems to be either 52" or 54"

no good answer
So many things go into paddle sizing that it is not really possible to give an answer.

First realize that it is the paddle shaft length rather than overall length that you must fit to your size, boat, seat height, paddling posture and intended use.

The BB Special is a bent shaft paddle with a 19 inch blade length so the 52" has a 33" long shaft and the 54" a 35" shaft.

If you consider a forward stroke, the shoulder joint is in its strongest and most stable position when the hand is directly in front of the joint and at shoulder level. So a good starting point is to find a shaft length that places your grip hand right at shoulder level at mid stroke with the paddle blade just fully immersed. But that length will depend on more than your torso length. It depends on whether you sit or kneel, your seat height, what boat you are paddling, and how much water it draws, which in turn will depend on load.

Whitewater paddlers will often opt for a somewhat longer blade to exert more leverage on braces and turning strokes. Marathon racers who nearly always sit and switch will often go with a little shorter blade that makes for a lighter paddle and easier switch from side to side.

I would try to borrow a bent shaft paddle with a 33-35" shaft length, get in your boat and see how it feels. Check your grip hand height and decide whether a shaft length toward the upper or lower end of that range is best. If you can’t do that I would say that if you plan to use the paddle in the stern of a tandem and/or plan to do much river paddling go with the longer length. If you plan mostly solo flat water paddling go with the shorter length.

You must be tall
The shaft length is what counts and most guys go for 50-52"

If you have a straight shaft paddle already usually the bent is about 5 inches less overall in length.

Lots depends on your seat position…

I would never buy a paddle that I could not return…

Noting on the BB branches how they measure a bent… is beyond me… I size all paddle shafts the same… The shaft for lots of people works best when just at the top of the nose.

The shaft of either is not in the water so I fail to see their reasoning for sizing straights and bents differently. The shaft lengths should be the same… LOA would of course be different

thanks for the advice
Thanks for the advice everyone.

I figured that it’s more complex than simple measurements and then placing an order.

Unfortunately, I’ve looked around here at all of the shops and nobody seems to have a decent paddle selection.

And NOBODY has bent shafts, which probably indicates that this market prefers a straight shaft — lots of people paddle the Ohio river since it’s right there in our back yards. I plan to do some of that, but I think lakes and calm waters are our thing.

My cheapy straight shaft paddle worked out to about 3" too long based on my measurements (next size down would have been 3" too short), but in the water it actually seems to be about 5" too long.

I think I’ll just order the smaller end based on my measurements and hope for the best.

One thing is certain: I’m so new to this that a nice paddle is probably going to impress me even if it’s not the ideal fit.

The main priority for me is comfort rather than optimal efficiency. It’s very important that I get my wife a comfortable setup, as she’s had nothing but bad experiences doing rental river tours in the past.

She also falls between sizes.

My guess is that a paddle that’s too long leads to arm fatigue from holding it unnaturally high, where a short paddle has impact on back fatigue that is probably less noticeable in the end. Just a guess, really.

54 is
54 is too long unless you’re very tall (6’4" or more), the boat sits very high (like in a OC-6 outrigger canoe).

52" should likely be fine. I am 6’1" and have a 48" and 51" depending on the boat. (48" for a racing pro boat because they sit low, 51" for a MNII or normal tripping boat.)

So without knowing how tall you are and what boat you’ll be in, probably 50-52"

I’m 6’1 and paddling a Wenonah Odyssey, which I understand is an MN II with more freeboard.

That being said, my 6’1 is all in the legs.

Depends on how “burly” the paddles are.

– Last Updated: Sep-12-15 9:24 PM EST – $.01..the "Subject" title isn't relative to your request...but can be useful(sometimes).
Try paddling both laminated and one-piece paddles if you can! Different densities/"burliness" to each = making for different comfort zones for different paddler physiques. Going with a laminate is least if you don't have one this will get you started. Paddles CAN be like skis....sticking with one, instead of finding your "ultimate" love, can be either fine or boring...
Grips can always be shaven down...and shafts can always be lightly sanded to remove poly/varnish(or not!..;-))
If you are faced with purchase to get gotta start somewhere....and will then learn what a good size is or what a not too good size brings you. Sizing up a paddle is well documented online...but, imho, it's still physical makeup. Going shorter will put more demand on your shoulders/arms..for the same amount of power/energy put a more muscular guy or a guy that works out will do well with the often the case with marathoners...they use a lot of arm because of the racing advantage of a rapid cadence = do you want to paddle like that...y/n?

not burly
Neither of us are burly.

Thanks for your insight.

Since 52" is my low end and also her high end (according the crude at home measurement method), I think I’ve decided to acquire a 52" and see how it works for both of us. Hopefully the 52 is a good fit for one of us and can help inform us on what size we need to order for the other.

That’s great! A 52" should work for at
least one of you two…

bent, straight, bow, stern, efficiency
calm waters, rivers, etc, etc

many considerations. My head is spinning.

I think bent works for us because we are planning on calm waters mainly.

I’ve read a few things that concern me:

  • stern paddler can have a more difficult time with bent during steering maneuvers, etc

  • if one is paddling with straight and the other bent, then there can be a phase difference in efficiency during stroke which can cause headaches.

    Am I overthinking this?

Bent Shafts are Great For Tandems
Recommend both paddlers use bents, if mixed, it defeats that 14 deg. power advantage of bents. Leave the straights for the solo paddler. I’m guessing, but I assume your wife will be up front, at the bow and you’ll be at the stern? Right? If that’s the case, go with the 54" or 52" length for yourself and 50" or 48" length for your wife. Bending Branches makes those sizes for the Special and the 48" paddle is $25 less. No worries, your wife will appreciate the 48" paddle and will be able to paddle all day with it sitting up front.

I personally start my canoe season off paddling a 54" or longer bent shaft paddle. I appreciate the leverage and ease of paddling using gentler strokes with the longer paddle. It give my body a chance to break in afters layoff. However, after a month, my conditioning improves along with my flexibility and I switch to shorter 51.5" or 52" bents.

Fitting Canoe Paddles

Fitting paddles requires consideration of paddlers physical size, the canoes width at the paddler’s station and the seating arrangement. With blade dimensions variable and wanting the blade to pass closely under the canoe, fitting a paddle is a function of selecting optimal shaft length to paddler torso height, stance in the boat and the boats depth in the water.

With the paddler seated on a flat bench or step, invert the paddle with the grip on the step and the blade at the paddler’s face. When a step isn’t available, get a good grasp of the top grip and drop that hand in front of the body. The standing fit should yield the same dimension unless the grip hand lodges, or slips around the grip. The wrist needs be bent tightly.

The paddle throat is where blade shoulders intersect the shaft. Straight paddles should be fitted with the throat to the paddler’s hairline or an inch longer, the extra length allowing more forward reach to the catch and cross strokes. Bents are fitted with the throat to the bridge of the nose, shorter than straights, compensating for sitting rather than kneeling, closer location of power phase and minimal cross stroke use.

Lower seating in the canoe, such as in marathon boats, suggests fitting bents a couple inches shorter yet; to the tip of the nose or lips. The low stance and reduced reach generally works poorly with straight paddles. Tripping loads usually sink the hull an inch or more in the water, so paddles might be shortened.

You are probably overthinking this.

You will probably be well-served by a 52 inch BB Special paddle.

For what it is worth, I am around 5’ 10 1/2" with a slightly longer than average torso length for my height. I have used bent shaft paddles with overall lengths from 48" to 54", but for most purposes a 50" or 52" works best.

I find that bent shaft paddles work fine for most control strokes required of the stern paddler on calm waters. The blade angle will require a bit of adjustment of your grip hand position for a J stroke, for example, but most people figure that out pretty quickly. The one stroke that I find a bent shaft disadvantageous for is a pry, and if I am paddling with a bent shaft and need to execute a stern pry I will often palm roll the paddle so as to pry off with the power face.

I wouldn’t worry about a phase difference between the bow and stern paddler’s strokes. The length of the stroke really does not differ between the straight shaft and bent shaft. What differs is where you plant the blade. The bent shaft allows you to plant the blade a bit closer to your body which most sitting paddlers find advantageous for maximum efficiency.

An obvious solution to your concern about executing control strokes is to simply bring along both a bent shaft and straight shaft paddle. You probably want to have a spare anyway. If you find that you are required to do strokes that you find difficult with the bent, just switch to the straight shaft as needed.

I use that method…
for sizing my straight solo paddles. One day I noticed my paddles were getting longer. I finally figured out why… my hairline had moved. :wink:

thanks everybody
After reading all of the responses here and a lot of consideration, I decided to just jump in and order the paddles that will hopefully work.

The 52" BB special that I had ordered will be for me in the stern, and a 48" BB for her in the bow.

I’m not one to drop $ like that, but I also understand the value of getting things like this sorted out sooner rather than later.

Fingers crossed.

We’ll be camping and paddling this coming weekend with the new paddles.

I’ll report back

thanks again

CE’s will be good info…but also my
added $.01, as one becomes a better paddler…particularly in improving tandem performance, canoe-wise, the bow paddler, more and more, takes on the role of steering meister(initiating turns, precise sideways movements…etc)…with the stern paddler being the manager and providing forward momentum. Check out some tandem info anywhere…Wenonah(or someone/company) might have something online somewhere).

tandem division of jobs
each takes car of his or her end… Bow sets cadence. Stern follows cadence.

On the river if the bow paddler moves the bow in a certain way, the stern if wise will move the stern in a corresponding way to keep the boat free of obstacle.

Bow cannot initiate a turn all by him or herself. The stern must skid to make a turn work… so on twisty rivers its good to have a communication plan… it could be a bow initiation and a butt shift simply. Kind of a language between stern and bow paddler.

Sounds arcane but this is what tandem Freestyle is all about… not tutus and music…

and well be a practicing in October in the Pine Barrens.