greenland paddle sizing question

-- Last Updated: Jan-28-08 3:30 PM EST --

Hey there,

I received a GP for a gift, a Betsie Bay Greenlander, 84" length. I have a question regarding sizing: I had read some quick and dirty measurements were standing reach (for which the 84" is about perfect), and loom length spanning your shoulder width, so that when you grip the paddle normally, your grip overlaps the beginning of the blade. Since then, I've heard the loom can be longer. Kayaks are an NDK Greenlander and a Valley Pintail.

The loom on this paddle gives me an inch or two from the end of my grip to the beginning of the blade. I'd like to keep it as it was a much-appreciated gift (I plan on making my own once I become afflicted with the GP virus shortly). Is this fit close enough?

Wiggle Room
You don’t want the loom to be way shorter than your boat’s beam. When I was hashing out dimensions with Don Beale for my first GP I measured 17" for the loom length, but he recommended opening that up to 20" for my 21.5" wide boat.

The wider loom can also let you apply more power if you need to in waves or whatever, if I recall Don’s words of wisdom accurately.

Those are traditional
ways to measure, not etched in stone. Since it is a shouldered paddle, you would normally grasp the loom loosely between the thumb and forefinger,(both hands) then slide your hands outward until the thumb/fingers contact the shoulder. Then just close your hand and go paddle.

Betsie Bays are different…
While most GPs are sized so that you hold the loom only with the thumb and forefinger with the remaining fingers on the blade itself, Betsie Bay GPs are different in that they utilize a more “Euro” style hand positioning. For your paddle, it is designed for both hands to be completely on a loom. While that style is not my personal preference, it is a fine paddle and it’s a perfectly acceptable way to get started with Greenland style paddling. Definitely keep it, learn from it, and if down the line you would want a more conventional greenland style paddle, you can always carve one or order one.

Tim, you should give the paddle to me.
You know, the gift that keeps on giving sort of thing. I hacked one out a couple of months ago using the instructions at and it came out pretty nice. I won’t use it until I am thoroughly proficient with my swifts. The St. Clair River was really beautiful on Sunday, calm ,clear, moderate ice flows. You need to come down. Maybe this weekend?

It seems like it will
fit you pretty well. By holding your hands closer together allows you to use a more relaxed paddle stroke that doesn’t put a lot of movement on your shoulders. If you want a more aggressive stroke for catching a wave or fast exceleration a wider grip will help. I use paddles with a 20" loom on kayaks that range from 19"-22". It works fine for me with a little change in my stroke. Use it for a while and also try paddles of different sizes to see if something else might appeal to you. I use greenland paddles of all different sizes and I like them all.

I could never do that to you
…my ex gave me this paddle (only woman to have given me the shaft TWICE). So I’m sure there’s some leftover bad karma attached and I would never want it to screw things up for ya!

I may be down week after next. So the river’s still open? BTW, is it the Detroit River or the St. Clair River? I want to post our paddle on my blog and I’ve made far too many mistakes on it already.

I’ll drop you a line if and when…

thanks all
…I knew the answer before I asked: as usual, get out on the water and try it! But I’ve never used one of these before so I want to make sure I’m not setting up wrong because of a mis-sized paddle.

Thanks again!

You and I hit the Detroit River, last
weekend was the St. Clair River. Lake St. Clair is Frozen up and so is the Detroit River for the most part. The St. Clair River is mostly open, usually for two reasons. First, Lake Huron won’t let its ice down, and second , the current in the St. Clair is stronger than the Detroit River. FWIW the St. Clair has several power plants that all have warm water discharge and I think this could have an effect on freezing. The St. Clair is near perfect right now for a safer paddle with ice. There is room to maneuver and as long as you paddle up, you can always run down away from something ugly.

Thoughts on GP length
After making paddles for a number of friends (and a bunch for myself), I recommend modifying the general length guidelines. For tall people, I shorten up from the “arm-span plus a cubit” or the “reach with cups fingers” measure. My paddle length from those guidelines would be around 96". I made my first one that long and have been shortening up ever since. My 87" paddle feels good, but it lacks a bit in power. I’ll settle in between 88 and 90".

On the other end of the stick (so to speak), shorter people should add some to the guideline. I’ve made a couple for friends of quite short stature, and their paddles would be way short if we had not added a few inches. Same goes for the loom. A couple of these folks would have a 16" loom using the body measurement. I’ve used 18" as a minimum.

Don’t wait too long to carve your own - it’s a gas!

Cheers, Alan

Yes, but …
don’t breath the gas - you’ll get an allergy! :slight_smile:

Just how long
is that loom anyway? Betsie Bay doesn’t give much info.

They use a different technique, too
The BBK paddle is designed for Doug Van Doren’s “knuckles scraping the deck, blades perpendicular to the water” technique and not for the way Greenlanders actually paddle. The loom is too long for traditional Greenland technique (for most people) and the the way the blades are tacked onto the loom results in poor water flow over the blades if you try to use it with canted technique. It’s really a one-trick pony that’s designed to work with one technique. It’s neither Greenland nor Euro, but something in between.

In contrast, a more traditionally shaped paddle will be efficient with a variety of techniques and at any paddling angle. It has an organic feel in the water and the technique is fluid, as opposed to the much more rigid, mechanical technique espoused by Mr. Van Doren, for which the BBK paddle was designed. While his paddle design and technique are certainly effective in moving a kayak, they are no more Greenlandic than most so-called “Greenland” kayak designs.

While I can certainly appreciate the sentimental value of your gift paddle and the dilemma it creates for you, it will limit your technique choices to what I would consider an unacceptable degree. I suggest that you try a paddle that’s sized and shaped more traditionally and spend some time working on the canted stroke and other traditional techniques. The differences will become apparent when you do. Please don’t think I’m trying to be a “purist”; it’s not about that, it’s about versatility and efficiency.

thanks, and a follow up question

– Last Updated: Feb-01-08 9:13 AM EST –

I thought I had heard that somewhere about BBK paddles, thanks. The loom on mine is about 24", which seems a bit long for my boats, and my hands are at least 2" from contacting the blade. If I'm going to pursue this, I want to develop a traditional stroke I can use interchangeably with other GPs.

So, a follow-up question: The store where the paddle was purchased only sells BBK GPs, but they have a storm version (which was almost bought for me originally). So, I was considering trading this paddle for the storm paddle and getting - or making - a more traditional GP. What do you think?

Yep, I’ve got it
After carving 20 or so paddles I learned to use the respirator when sanding or using the band saw. The dust stuffs up my head for days…

that would work well…
Storm paddles are a lot of fun to use both for paddling and rolling and are great backup paddles. As for ordering a nice traditionally sized wood GP, there are many nice paddle makers out there including Novorca (, Beale (, Superior, Lumpy, etc.

How do the blades fit your hands?
One of the keys to a storm paddle is that it must allow your hands to slide comfortably. You should be able to judge that based on your full-size paddle. The Storm should make a decent spare, if it fits your hands comfortably.

Kill 2 birds with one stone.
You should trade that GP for the storm paddle that your ex was considering getting you anyhow, and then show her that you traded it and remind her that she always makes the wrong choice.

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