How do I select a proper conoe paddle

What is the best way to determine what size canoe paddle I should use?

Flatwater? Whitewater?
Easy cruising? Maximum speed? Are you going to sit, or kneel?

Sorry to complicate the issue, but you can end up with very different paddle types and dimensions based on these issues.

Flatwater? Whitewater?
Mostly Flatwater, Slow rivers and Canals. I’ll be taking my 10yr old with me mostly. We are planning to do a lot of fishing. Since he has only been in a canoe twice I’ll be teaching him the basics of paddling.

paddle size
Quick and dirty was is to sit on a flat surface with the paddle grip on the seat inbetween your legs, The throat (place where shaft turns into blade) should be between your nose and forhead.

Second method is to hold paddle above your head with one hand on grip and the other on the shaft about 6"-8" above the throat. Arms should form ninety degree angles.

This is a very rough way to do it and you will find your correct size only through use.

Boats with higher seats require longer paddles, boats like Wenonahs typically have lower seats and a shorter paddle works better. I used to adhere to a rough rule of thumb of using a straight paddle that came up to about nipple line while standing. Worked fine for years until McWood here on talked about how short paddles allow a faster, more efficient stroke. As I’ve never been “In to” speed, I never thought much about it until he got me to experimenting. I’m 6’2" and my favorite paddles right now are 48" and 50" bent shafts, and I may even try a 46" for a few of my boats with low mounted seats. Just out of curiosity I just measured, and my two favorites are about 4-5" below nipple line. As we’re all different, and boats are all a little different, you may have to experiment a bit to find what feels best to you. But a few inches under nipple line should be comfortable for most boats in most situations, for most people. BTW, if I hadn’t said it before, “Thanks Mick!” for making a short-paddle believer out of me. WW

bent shafts do need to be much shorter
but for a general purpose straight paddle, somewhere between 56 and 60 inches will work out well. Davey Hearn and Jon Lugbill, our legendary C-1 slalom paddlers, sat very low and used 59" paddles with short blades. In a similar boat, at my height, I use a 61.5" paddle. I use the same or similar paddles when solo or tandem in open boats with higher seats.

54 inches
That’s the most common size for straight blades and often it is the most practical for all around paddling for beginners. Look for a smaller 48 incher for your 10 year old. He’ll do better with it.

Frank, I don’t see why a new paddler
would use a shorter paddle than an experienced paddler. I have never seen a newbie struggling with a paddle that’s too long, but I often see them struggling with paddles that are too short. My wife can get by with a 54" straight shaft, but she has no trouble with a 58.

Whitewater slalom is a different use
The paddles used are much longer, reach matters more and the blade needs to get down thru the foamy stuff to water below to offer a good grip on the water. Flatwater paddling with such a long blade will put your knob hand way above your head and yield poor form and a tired paddler. The slalom guys don’t go very far and need the long reach to make their moves in the current to get thru the gates.

You do not understand what you are

– Last Updated: Jul-09-06 12:52 AM EST –

talking about. I paddle in all situations, from slalom to flatwater, low kneeling to sitting in tandem. I use the same paddle in my slalom c-1, my WW open boat, and in the stern of our tandem. Far from forcing me into distorted mechanics, this 61.5 inch slalom paddle feels just a tiny bit short when kneeling higher in the WW open, so I sometimes use a 62". The 61.5 is ideal in the stern of our tandem Bluewater. My upper hand never has to rise above eye level even when driving hard.

Any slalom c-1 paddler I know could take his or her slalom paddle, sit in the bow or stern of a tandem, and paddle correctly and naturally. A few of them would ask for a longer paddle, and some would ask for a short bent shaft.

Let’s go over a few points, so we
know when we are on the same page.

  1. If your main need is to paddle straight ahead, your paddle can be shorter. The mechanics of bent shafts allow paddles to be shorter still.

  2. If you do a lot of turning, whether in whitewater or in freestyle, you are going to want a longer paddle. This is even more true for effective cross strokes.

  3. When you paddle sitting, you may prefer a shorter paddle than when you paddle kneeling, even though the seat height remains the same. This is a matter of body mechanics.

  4. How long a paddle >feels< depends in part on the distance from the handle to the center of pressure of the blade. A long blade has its center of pressure farther down than does a short blade. Paddle lengths can’t easily be compared in the store unless you have an idea where the center of pressure is going to be. Obviously this depends not only on blade length, but on the shape.

  5. Bent shaft paddling works best with boats that love to go fast and straight. Such boats are not used much in whitewater, and not used much in freestyle. There will be times when a paddler of such boats could use the leverage of a longer straight paddle, but perhaps not that often.

  6. Boats designed with higher turning capability, whether for freestyle or whitewater, are mostly paddled kneeling for control and body leverage. Longer straight shaft paddles are used for leverage. Some freestyle boats are amenable to bent shaft use when just covering ground. Whitewater boats can actually be moved faster with a long, straight paddle, though I personally use a 5 degree bent shaft at times when I am just cruising.

    We have a tendency to assume that our modern discoveries are better in all ways than older methods. Yet old time paddlers, with their long paddles and long blades, could cover water pretty effectively, day after day, and having used similar paddles, I can say they are quite easy to get used to. They do not favor a high stroke rate or a maximum cruising speed, but they do not let you down when a low brace is necessary or when you have to lever a loaded boat around in a sudden change of wind or current.

    I would also point out that it is fortunate that almost no one would learn to canoe only with short bent shaft paddles, because there are some things you cannot learn at all with paddles like that. If I am teaching someone proper paddling mechanics, I am likely to start them out with a paddle just slightly on the long side for their body size and sitting or kneeling position. I want them to feel how far the paddle can reach out, and how reassuring it feels to lean on a properly extended brace.

Paddle size for all seasons
I use only one paddle, a 62” Clement When turning I prefer a longer paddle to complete a one handed pry, inside turn etc. I also use a longer paddle when I am using my total body for acceleration. For straights and speed I like a shorter paddle. There is a famous saying: You can make a long paddle short but you cannot make a short paddle long. A long paddle can be shortened when required by holding the shaft below the butt (with thumb down) instead of the butt itself. By adjusting where on the shaft you hold the paddle will determine its effective length. Try it. You will not like it at first but after you get the hang of it, it will be part of your portfolio of paddling strokes.

I actually have a 62" Clement, highly
modified after various repairs. Will have to try choking up, but my way of altering the stroke for straight-ahead speed is to lean a bit forward, plant more toward the bow, and make sure I end the stroke as my lower hand nears my hip.

Agree with all 6 of your items
I still maintain that the original poster will not need the 60" length you are accustomed to using. A recreational canoe will have seats closer to the water than your WW boats and will be paddled seated.

I paddle quite frequently with a group of paddlers who are ACA trained and whitewater oriented. They paddle everything with the same long heavy WW blades they trained with. When i took ACA flatwater instructor school the teacher did all his demonstrations in a fully outfitted Mohawk WW solo and he used a 60+" paddle. He was adamantly against bent shaft paddles for anything but racing. Paddle kneeling, stay on the same side, J-stroke and use a long straight paddle was the only accepted method with this instructor. But none of the above group paddles more than 12 miles on an outing and its downstream. A 10 mile lake paddle is an hard days paddle for them. And its lifting those long heavy WW blades that helps to tire them out.

Yes the voyageurs used long blades and long paddles, but remember their paddle width was limited by the single piece construction and the manual woodworking tools of the time. As you pointed out, moving a heavy canoe requires a lot of blade surface; and stroke cadence will be slow. Those paddlers were strong men who paddled hard,did rapids in birch bark canoes, portaged amazing loads, and died young.

Most of my paddling buddies can do a 30 mile day of lakes and portages and repeat it three days in a row. We would probably swim a rapid you could paddle with an open drink in hand. Different preferences and different skill sets.

We are on the same page, we just read it from different sides of the book.


I never specified a length for the
original poster. I certainly would not specify a 60" paddle for a guy whose height I did not know.

Whenever people start talking canoe paddles on, the discussion quickly slides to the wonderful experiences a few people are having with 52" bent shafts. Then, somehow, some people think that any sort of canoe paddle ought to be almost that short, for any purpose. I see many more people on Georgia waters who need a longer paddle than I see people who need a shorter one.

Some Good Points
You can always “Make do” with a longer paddle, but a paddle too short for you in a boat with higher seats will be very difficult to use. The “Loaner paddles” I keep are 56" as that works fairly well for most boats. Paddle strokes are much easier to learn with straight paddles, I’d never suggest a new paddler start with bent-shafted paddles. That said, I rarely paddle lakes; I paddle twisty Ozark streams with the occasional class II and use bent shafts pretty much exclusively. J’s pry, cross draw, even draw are easily do-able. Maybe not as easy, not for beginners, not for consistent Class II or class III, but bent-shafts are not good only for “Sit-n-switch” flatwater paddling. And, after some experience, I would suggest experimenting with shorter paddles sooner than I did. Took me almost 25 years, but I’m very happy McWood got me to try them, but not suggesting anyone buy a short, bent-shaft paddle for their first paddles. WW

WOW!! That’s a lot of information…
Any way, to help clear things up. I would should say that I am not a beginner. I have canoed lakes and rivers in NJ. Mostly the Delaware River and Lake Hopatcong. But, this is my first Canoe purchase, I’ve either rented canoes or barrowed canoes from family. My son on the other hand has only been in a canoe twice and at Sit on Top Kayak once. I’m 5’8" so I think a 60" paddle should be good. I’ll definetly look at a 48" paddle for my son. I’m planning on stopping at a shop in the area that sells canoes to actually determine what will be comfortable. I don’t want to go to short on a paddle for myself as I don’t want a back ache. Thanks again for all the information it has been very helpful.

Paddle length, type
Doesn’t matter how tall you are, unless you paddle standing up. Sit in your boat, on the water, in your typical paddling position. I’m guessing you don’t kneel. Have someone measure from your shoulder to the water. Did I specify shallow water? Anyway, that’s roughly your shaft length. Then choose a blade you like. I’m partial to otter tails for flat water, square ends for WW. YMMV.

Type of paddle: Cheap, strong, and light. You only get two of the three. Go for strong and light if you can.


Hopatcong - OT
I grew up a few blocks from Lake Hopatcong in Mt. Arlington. Are you from that area originally?

You didn’t read what I said about the
center of pressure, did you??