Help me pick a canoe paddle length - bent shaft competitive

I’m looking for advice regarding bent shaft paddle length for both training as well as marathon canoe racing. I’m about 6’1" and the distance from a chair to the tip of my nose is ~32" . The ZRE website recommends a length from chair to nose tip + paddle blade i.e. ~ 19". So for me that would come out to 51". They also mention adding 1.5" if paddling a C-1. I’ll be doing most of my training in a PBW Rapidfire with a high seat so I assume that implies a 52.5 for paddling the Rapidfire. Obviously a quiver of several paddles will eventually be ideal but for the time being I’m focusing on an appropriate paddle to train with. Hopefully C-19 will soon be enough behind us so that there will be some end of the season events that occur this year.

Thanks for any replies.


Hi, Hugh,

Do you use a bent shaft paddle currently or is this your first time using a bent shaft paddle?

I’ve been using Zaveral paddles for a while and use one of three different lengths depending on how they’re being used and in which canoe I’m in. For me, Zaveral’s sizing advice is pretty spot on. Here’s what I ended up with:

For training (haven’t raced in years) in my fast solo canoe: 30" + 18" (PowerSurge) + 1" = 49" total length.

For recreational paddling in my solo touring canoe: 30" + 19" (Z Medium) + 1" = 50" total length. I prefer a paddle on the shorter side of what they suggest.

For recreational paddling in my tandem (stern) touring canoe: 30" + 19" (Z Medium) + 2" = 51" total length. I bought the wide (8-1/2") version. The extra length and width gives me better control at the stern. If I was paddling bow I’d use the 50" Z Medium.

Which paddle are you considering? In my experience go with the Z Medium as a good all-around paddle. It’s a lot lighter than the Rec paddle (10oz vs 14oz) for not much more money and it’s durable enough to use for touring if you take care of it. I started out with a Rec paddle and now use it as a spare. If you find you love racing then you could go with a lighter, more race-oriented blade. Oh, and if you don’t care about cosmetics you can get blemished paddles for a discount. That’s what I’ve been buying and you really have to look to see why they’ve been discounted.


Hi Tom,

Thanks so much for the quick and very helpful reply. Here’s a bit more info.

I just started paddling on a regular basis a couple of years ago after retiring to the crease between the Adirondacks and the Tug Hill Plateau and purchasing a Placid Boat Works Rapidfire to canoe camp with. I initially paddled the RF most of the time with a double bladed paddle but had the good fortune to be asked if I would be willing the fill a seat in a friend’s C-4 that was scheduled for the Adirondack Canoe Classic (90 miler) I began paddling exclusively with an older Zaveral paddle borrowed from friend. I paddled 3rd seat in a 4 seated Minn III and ended up enjoying the experience a great deal. In the Minn III I believe I used a borrowed 53" Z power surge medium. If the event happens this year I may be paddling bow in a C-4. Both Zaveral as well as Grass River as semi local to me and they both appear to make a good product. It seems likely that I’ll end up with more than one paddle going forward.


Did the 53" paddle seem about right? Is there a way to paddle with a 52" paddle for comparison? That would give you a good idea of which length you prefer. At least with a tandem canoe. Paddling the RapidFire as a training canoe for tandem racing will be a compromise of sorts since the seat heights and thus paddling positions will be different. And if I had a RapidFire I’d probably be more likely to paddle with a straight-shaft paddle or a double-blade paddle like you’ve been doing. Tough call. Can you borrow that older Zav bent-shaft to see if it’ll work for you?

If you’re kneeling you need a longer paddle than if you sit. I’m a touch over six feet and kneel and a 52 inch bent shaft fits well and I’d rather have it around 51-51.5 than over 52.

You can order a ZRE or a GRB Newman designs bent with the handle unglued. Order it long (like 53 for you). If it feels long you can trim the shaft 1/4" or 1/2" at a time until it feels perfect. The handle will stay firmly in place with just electrical tape. It’s super easy to cut a (hollow) carbon fiber shaft with a hacksaw or any fine toothed saw, just wrap tape around the spot you’ll cut to avoid fraying the edge. It really is super easy to trim the shaft and tune in the paddle length.

I think the GRB paddles are a great bargain compared to the ZRE’s; they are both superb paddles. If you get a ZRE I agree that the Medium lay-up is a good choice.

Great suggestion on buying a shaft length that can be modified to fit. I do that with straight-shaft paddles I buy. I’m assuming you glue the handle in place once you know the correct shaft length. I use epoxy but wish there was a way to glue the handle securely but also be able to remove and replace it or further modify the shaft length.


That’s an excellent idea. Buying a paddle on the longish end of the spectrum will give me the ability to custom test. On the other hand, it does also bring to mind the old saying " I cut it off twice and it’s still too short":wink: If I can’t borrow a couple of varied length length paddles to do some testing with I may well got that route.

Now if we can just get through this C-19 situation.

Paddle on


I have about 2" less torso height than you and I have used bent shaft paddles with an overall length of 48" up to 53". Optimal length will of course vary with seat height and paddling posture (sitting versus kneeling) and if paddling stern in an open boat a slightly longer paddle can be helpful for control as tketcham pointed out, and I have used a paddle as long as 53" in that position.

For seated solo canoe paddling using the usual sit and switch technique, which you will certainly be using in marathon racing, a paddle length of around 50" usually works best for me which would translate to 52" for you. Of course, trying paddles with different shaft lengths would be optimal, but if you are unable to do that I would suggest a 52" paddle.

I would tend to err slightly on the side of shorter rather than longer. One reason is the reduced weight. But with a slightly shorter paddle you are less likely to hit the gunwale during the switches.

In pregunta por favor. How many paddle strokes does it take to ascertain a 1/2" difference in length?

This handle is held onto this Zaveral with just stretchy electrical tape. It’s rock solid and has never budged. I have another Zaveral that I plan to shorten and I won’t reglue the handle I’ll just tape it.

Yep. Zaveral offers paddle lengths in 1/8 inch increments! So when I did the trial and error approach I trimmed only a little bit at a time and then used the paddle for a while. You can feel even small changes.

I agree with pblanc that a 52 should be a good fit for you. My 6’4" paddling buddy can use my paddles with no issues and your posts concerned me when I saw that you were considering going longer than 52. I’d also suggest that you go with the 8.25 inch width if you go for a Zaveral or 8.5 max if you want max power for exercise. If you live near SW Michigan you’re welcome to try some of my paddles. I’ll even disinfect them.

Zaveral offers custom angles too. So all you have to do is pick your length, lay-up, width, angle, and whether you want powersurge or not. :neutral_face:

One stroke. Duh. And I’m not pregnant.

And don’t know much Spanish, like my phone. I’m glad you aren’t pregnant although that would give us a lot to talk about.

6’ tall, I paddle my PBW Rapidfire in several different ways. I like to recreationally paddle toward no particular speed or destination, most often solo or with a non racing friend or with Boy Scouts while camping. In that case I will use one of a couple of different blade configuration (otter tail or willow leaf) straight thin edge blade cherry wood paddles. Nice to paddle at ease, maneuvering the canoe quietly with the custom paddle slicing through multiple strokes without thought as to which particular stroke is mandated at the moment.

Or, I may paddle the RF solo with the goal of training for races with others of my team in C2, C4 or voyageur canoes. I have the same high on rails seat that Joe Moore uses for racing. With that comfortable seat, sometimes even with the added elevation of a gel cushion, I train solo, but not as a C1. I do not hit and switch much if at all when solo in the RF, rather I like to spend many minutes on one side to build up strength on one side at a time with mild control strokes (usually a gentle pitch stroke is sufficient to maintain straight track). I find it good training for bigger canoe racing which of course will be hit and switch at the call of the stern paddler.

For my training and race paddle I most often am using a GRB bent carbon of 50 or 51 inches, sometimes I might use a 49 inch in the RF. My stroke rate is faster with the shorter paddle, but stronger and with more correctional control with a one inch longer paddle. Normally a bow paddler, my multi-seat canoe racing stroke rate is around 60-72 spm, or could be faster when a sprint is required. Depending on which canoe I am in, I might use anywhere from a 50 to a 51 or 52 inch bent GRB. When paddling in the higher freeboard canoe designed for the Yukon River races I can exert more control and power when needed by using a Black Bart (Bud Moll) or GRB 52 inch. My stern paddler will most often use a 53-54 inch GRB. Most other team paddlers in the voyageur will use a 50-51 inch GRB or Z, except for one exceptionally petit and short but powerful paddler who uses a 48 inch.

I very much dislike using a double blade kayak paddle in my CANOE. Unfortunately in the 90 mile race class that the RF fits in (solo-rec), a double blade paddle is required by the rules. The few times I have raced the RF in that mode, I pre-race minimally train with a carbon double blade, but don’t care for it at all even though I have done well in the 90.

I have not dealt directly with Z for paddles, but know the brothers Newman at GRB pretty well. Gene is a frequent racer and he and John are both are involved in making and designing new canoes and paddles. I am sure they would gladly accommodate any modification you desire.