Paddle length for 5' paddler?

Greetings All,

Reading the sizing charts from various paddle producers - they all seem to say if you are under 5’5" with a boat beam under 23" to get a 220cm paddle…

In my case I have a paddler that is 5’ in 21.5" beam boat with an 11" depth. She is using a 220cm paddle and it seems too long for her (doing mostly touring, but she also likes sprinting). I was debating on getting a 210cm, but thinking perhaps maybe still be a bit too long…maybe a 200cm?..or for that matter maybe one of the “kid paddles” at 190cm?

Opinions? Comments?

Thanks in advance!,


If you can’t find a shorter paddle to
try, get a 1" x 2" board to use as a faux paddle. It should be simple to do some progressive shortening so you can determine the optimum length without knuckle banging.

Try a 205cm
Werner makes them down to that size as a stock length. She’ll probably like it a LOT more than 215 or 220.

While you’re at it, if she’s demoing, have her try a WW paddle. They come stock in shorter lengths. Werner has Sherpa down to 191cm, plus 194cm and 197cm for comparison.

“Kid Paddle”
I am 5’8" and use a 210 Windswift as my main paddle. A few years back after a shoulder injury, Sing gave me a small bladed 190cm Cricket that I use a lot. I also have a 210 Werner Sprite kids paddle that works pretty well and was less than $100 new. Really don’t need a large bladed paddle to tour but whitewater paddles are ok as well

5ft tall and paddle length
I have been happy for several years with a 205 Werner Cyprus - having started with a 210 Kalliste. last week, however, I tried a 210 Ikelos and it was sweet - I am going to try a 210 Cyprus today. I too am in a low deck, narrow boat. So yes, 220 is probably too long for someone my height. Just a few days ago I ran through the Epic paddle wizard, which based on the info I provided, recommended a 204 paddle-length, go figure!

No more than 205, maybe even shorter?

– Last Updated: Sep-17-12 9:54 AM EST –

I am 5 ft 3.5" and paddle 21.5 to 22 inch beam boats with a 205 cm. It is the right length, high angle but if your paddler wants to sprint that is what she needs to be doing. I don't see any way she can get a stroke that is effective for what she is using with a 220 cm.

If you can find one, it might be worth putting a 200 cm into her hands and see what happens.

Another option is to get a paddle with adjustable length, say 200 to 205 or so, and she could expriment effectively.

Also, at most a medium blade size, maybe small. Otherwise she can't get a good cadence.

Look at shaft lenght …
Different paddle blade shapes result in different overall paddle lengths that might be equivalent interms of optimal length for you. So you must look at the padle shaft length, not the overall length. Unfortunately, no manufacturer lists that …

It seems I keep going shorter and shorter (as do many others that I know of). A few years ago I started with a 225cm (was supposed to be 220 but only later found out it was 5cm longer). That felt too long almost immediately so it was definitely too long (I’m 6’4" and at the time had a 22" boat).

215cm seems the longest I can work with nowadays (Werner Cyprus bent) in my 22" wide sea kayak for general paddling. I still feel that is too long for whitewater and rough water use in the same kayak, where a 200cm white water paddle seems to work much better. For true white water even 200cm seems a bit too long in my 26" wide white water boat…

On my 19" wide surf ski I used to paddle with a 218-219cm wing, I went down to 215cm last year. Soon, that felt too long too and I shortened that to what is now about 210cm - and that still felt too long yesterday against stiff breeze and waves. On the ski I have a very vertical stroke and good body rotation so I can reach well forward and also tend to apply a lot of power to the water so I can feel the effects of different paddle lengths in terms of speed and effort (subjectively and with the help of a heart rate monitor and GPS occasionally)…

So what’s the “rule”?

Lately I’m beginning to think that the “right” way to determine paddle length for active style of paddling (e.g., more vertical and with good body rotation) depends on only a few things:

(1) Setup. With your favorite paddling angle and in your favorite boat of certain width and seat height, setup yourself in the position at the beginning of the storke where you have just dipped the entire lower blade in the water (almost to the top of the usable blade area) and are ready to begin the power phase of your stroke. At this position, no matter your paddling angle (lower or higher when seen from the front), when seen from the side your shaft should be about vertical. You should rotate well to setup this way - don’t just stretch your forward arm forward and bend your upper arm to reach with the paddle.

To sum-up: the lower blade is next to the boat and submerged almost to the neck with paddle shaft about vertical as seen from the side, both arms almost fully stretched at the elbows.

(2) Hands spacing on the paddle shaft. For me, for active paddling (e.g., I want to put some power to the water), the outside of my hand needs to be within about 1-1.5 fists away from the blade. The harder I paddle, the closer to the blade I need to be, but less than about 1 fist away seems to have a negative impact on how far I can reach at the setup of the stroke and elsewhere; more than 2 fists, and the stroke becomes inefficient for a number of reasons and my bracing becomes weaker and slower.

(3)Upper hand placement. Hold your paddle with your lower hand in your favorite position, say 1 fist away from the blade, and setup setup as described in (1) above. At this moment I feel that my push (upper) hand should be no higher than chin level. If it is higher or lower there is wasted effort: imagine the simple balance of vectors of forces that forms between the paddle and the arms and your torso and legs (actually, not so simple, there are several “power circles” as some coaches describe them). You want to keep your arms in such positions relative to each other so that most of the force coming from your torso is directed to the water. If your arms are too wide apart, you waste energy to effectively try to “stretch” your padle shaft and your upper arm is fighting your lower arm: imagine you are doing a push-up with your arms wide apart - during most of the push-up this way you are actually pushing sideways instead of down; Try and see what spacing results in the easiest way to do pushups - more likely than not it will be somewhere between your hands being under your shoulders and being wide open and outside of your elbows (if we assume your elbows are all the way to the side). You can’t effectively push fully perpendicularly down (with hands close together falling under your shoulders) because then you engage weaker muscle groups rather than the bigger ones, but if you go to wide then you begin to waste energy on pushing sideways too much. Try it and you canfeel it where if seems the most powerful: there is a sweet spot somewhere between fully wide open and fully vertical. Similar with the paddling position - if you place your paddle on top of your head, your elbows will be bent at near or somewhat less than 90 degrees toward your head.

This is the paddle shaft length that you need: both hands placed within that 1-1.5 fists away from the blades on the outside and spaced as far apart from each other as to have the upper hand at about chin level in the setup position as described above.

The blades can be long or short and that does not matter much as their lenght is all in the water/air: what matters most is the shaft length, which determines the leverage you have on the paddle.

Of course, the blade shape and how you paddle matters too: for a more relaxed, longer mileage paddling, you might keep your arms closer together with a lower style paddling and with less body rotation. In this case, your hands will shift away from the padde blades and you might even need to lenghten your shaft a bit to gain reach. No rule there - whatever feels comfy over the long paddling day -:wink:

I don’t agree that the blade length
makes “no difference.” Experience with canoe paddles shows that blade length changes the distance to the center of pressure on the blade.

With kayak paddles, sea and ww, “high angle” blades are fairly short and have a similar distance to the center of pressure. But throw in a Camano low angle blade and the whole equation changes.

My recommendation for kayakers is, choose high angle style, and get and use a high angle paddle with short blades. I have a longer torso than any of you, and I’m quite happy with a 206 cm paddle in my Necky touring kayak.

Blade length does make a difference in determining where one places their hand relative to the blade due to the generally increased lever action with longer blades. But it is not just the blade length - it is also the blade shape and width as well as overall area: two blades of the same length and even the same area can feel very different, depending on where the bulk of the blade’s area is placed.

It is hard to quantify all possible scenarios…

4’ 11
My wife’s normal boat is 21". We got a Onno mid tour plus in carbon signature, very, very light. Adjustable from 195-205 so we could see what she preferred. She has been keeping it on 7 so 202 cm. She much preferred the smaller blade size of the mid tour + to my full tour. We also have a couple of 190 cm kids paddles that she has borrowed from the kids. Realistically they are too short, the blades too small and they are heavy.

That’s way too long…
for her height and the boat width

Get her a paddle under 200 - around 197


Thank you all!

– Last Updated: Sep-17-12 8:48 PM EST –

Can't really demo around here...

Guess we'll try a 200cm first and see how it goes...
If you had to pick which one would be the better option:

- Bending Branches Splash 200cm
- Werner Sprite 200cm
- Carlise Kids Saber 190cm (thought I'd just throw this one in)

They all seem to weigh about the same - between 31-32 oz. Can anyone comment on them? It looks like they have different paddle shapes - does one have a significant advantage over the others? general workmanship/quality?

Thanks again!,


Actually a complicated question
I paddle a lot of WW and WW boats tend to be wider and you need a paddle blade that provides short term power with a high angle stroke. Boat width by itself would indicate a longer paddle but as it turns out WW paddles that most people use are quite short. I am 5’ 10" with an average torso and arm length and find a 194 works best. On the other hand I have a 21" wide sea kayak and use a wing paddle with a high angle stroke. It is adjustable from 205 to 215. After experimentation I have settled in on the longer length. What are the crucial factors in the equation? Well one is obviously being able to paddle efficiently for longer periods vs. being able to paddle strongly for short periods. Boat width actually may not be a factor so long as you are in a boat that is the proper size (i.e., you are not a 5’ woman in a giant cockpit boat). You say, what about low angle stroke in a narrow sea kayak? I say, you can use almost any sea kayak paddle with any angle stroke, and probably should to adjust to conditions. So my conclusion is to get a paddle whose length matches your purpose and paddling style. So if you are paddling a sea kayak for longer periods and mostly use a low angle stroke then get a paddle designed for low angle and chose the longer end of the length recommendation. Shorten the paddle if you paddle mostly with higher angle. If you are paddling rivers, especially WW, get a shorter paddle and use a high angle stroke.

I don’t know the paddles you list from use, but I’d suggest that you go for whatever one seems to be geared towards the highest performance level. For example the one that is called a recreational paddle by the manufacturer - I think it was the Bending Branches but not sure now - maybe not the best idea.

But that’s just to get them into a paddle of appropriate length. For the longer hold, I’d suggest that you start sitting on places like EBay and look for a paddle like the Werner Cyprus or its heavier alternatives like the Tybee (same blade shape if I have the names right), a mid-blade high angle paddle, grab one used and pay some bucks to have it cut down to size.


I didn’t know paddles could be cut down. Just curious whats the average cost to do it? You would need a kayak specialty shop to cut the paddle and reattach ferule?

Greenland Paddle?

– Last Updated: Sep-18-12 11:38 PM EST –

Thinking more about it....maybe a greenland paddle is the best option? I can tailor it to fit in her hands better (her dive gloves are xs - and they are still a bit too big on her) and overall length as well...can even paint it to match the kayak (yellow with red trim)

We are still fairly new to kayaking and probably don't have all that great of form - from reading the posts on here, it looks like Greenland paddles will force us to rotate the torso and not rely on the arms?

It seems the only cons (for me) would be:
- I have no real wood working experience beyond really basic projects
---- so probably need double the working hours
---- high liklyhood I'll mess up the first attempt
- Would need to buy some tools (wood plane, combination square, etc)..cost of tools I need to buy may be more than just buying a werner sprite new...
- Would need to borrow a sander and maybe jigsaw.
- Would need to clear out the garage for enough space to work (I guess this is really a plus, the kayaks deserve 4 solid walls and a roof - right now they just have a roofed patio...especially the new to us fiberglass Tchaika)

Good Idea? Bad Idea? Horrible Idea?

Manufacturer can usually do it
Werner, Swift (Eddyline actually) and Epic have all cut down paddles for us. We started paddling when recommended lengths were longer than now.

Cost will vary depending on exactly what they have to do, which will vary by how fancy the paddle is in terms of adjustability that is allowed. And there are limits to how far a paddle can be shortened, so don’t figure you can start with a 220 in this case. Best to call the manufacturers of likely candidates and find out what length you need to start looking for.

But all that said, a very light paddle is a wonderful thing and will be worth the bucks in terms of paddling pleasure. My husband and I both have Euro spares that are as light and pricey as our main paddles, but not because we had money to burn on them. Each of us had a day where we actually had to paddle with our original spares, which were heavier and less nice paddles than our primary ones. It sucked and we hurt by day’s end. We each came back more than ready to spend money on spares that were as pleasant as the others.

It’s fun
I made a couple for my kids and got them to help with the project. Don’t do it if you are just looking for a cheap paddle though as it does take a fair bit of time.

My experience: For the small paddler do not follow the sizing instructions you find on the web. The one I built for my daughter I sized for my wife following the arm span plus elbow to wrist. That way she would have a little growing room. Unfortunately they turned out too short to be used effectively. I just picked up the wood to make a couple more for my wife and I. This time I will make hers a fair bit longer and a little wider.

Comments on GP sizing
My first GP was sized correctly on length, traditional measurements, but the thing that made it awkward was my small hands. Native folks were short but apparently could tolerate broader widths than me. The second try was perfect - we added an inch to the length on each end and fined out the edges more to accommodate my hands but still give me some blade.

exactly where you found a sizing that recommended span plus elbow to wrist.

It is usually span plus elbow to tip of outstretched fingers.{cubit} or standing with the paddle just so your fingers curl over the tip. or another method is to use your preferred euro paddle and make the Greenland 1 to 2 inches longer.

All these methods work to get you a “ballpark” after that you have to determine if it works fine for all the maneuvers that you like to do.

Best Wishes