Paddle length help

Howdy, I am in a pickle as to what size length paddle I should be using for my canoe. I bought an OT 119 this past spring on Craigslist (the boat is maybe 8 or 10 years old, wicker seat.) and have been using a 57" paddle with it. Now, I am only 5’3", and by all accounts I can find online, I should be using a paddle quite a bit shorter. For instance, on the Bending Branches website, they have a video of how long the paddle should be for your given size. (Sit on a chair with the handle between your legs, and the neck of the paddle should be at your forehead…I believe…) Well, I tried to use my 54" paddle (the boat came with a 54 and 57, respectively) but my hands/knuckles kept getting mashed on the gunwales while paddling. SO, I take out the 57", but it still seems too small for me. I haven’t fiddled with the depth of the seat, yet. But I am planning on it, as while I am kneeling, my butt is barely on the seat as my legs are pretty short. Well…there you have it. Any ideas? Should I look into a longer paddle? Maybe 60"? I am not really looking to get a double blade paddle, as I like the simplicity of making J-strokes and working on paddling techniques. Thanks for any insight/help you can give this noob.

You say you are bashing knuckles
and my first question is are you holding the paddle vertically? Or is the paddle across your lap sometimes. Also are you grasping the paddle shaft with your lower hand some eight inches above where shaft and paddle meet…or right at that intersection.

Clearly your seat is too high. You should be able to rest your butt against the seat if kneeling (even if you never want to kneel). That at least gives you the highest possible seat that you would ever want to use.

That your feet wave in the area does nothing for your bracing ability.

First lower the seat. At that point you can think of what paddle length is appropriate. I usually kneel, am a little taller than you and use a 54 inch paddle. The only length that matters is shaft length and through experience, I know I need a 33.5 inch long shaft.

When doing a j stroke both hands are over the side of the boat and above the gunwales…to get a good forward stroke. A side benefit is no knuckle bashing.

A couple thoughts

– Last Updated: Jun-30-13 9:47 PM EST –

Okay, it ended up being more than a "couple of thoughts", but I hope it helps.

First, you may have to lower the seat, but be aware that when kneeling, your butt won't be on the seat "as much" as when sitting. Further, until you get that seat tilted forward to match your kneeling posture, there's really no hope that you can kneel AND get much butt contact. The front edge of the seat needs to be lower than the back edge (personal preference varies, but I think mine are about 1.25 inches lower in front, maybe even 1.5 inches for my highest seat, since for any particular person, the higher the seat, the more slope it must have to get a decent fit for kneeling). You want the seat to be high enough that you can get your feet in and out from under it fairly easily, though the type of footwear you use will affect that too. But like Kayamedic already said, there's nothing to be gained by making the seat a whole lot higher than what's needed for foot convenience (and safety) either.

That 57-inch paddle surely must be too long for you. The "chair" method of choosing paddle length is a pretty good starting point, especially when you look at where the top of the blade and the shaft come together as a reference point, because as Kayamedic points out, only the shaft length matters. Total length of a paddle with the proper length shaft will depend on the style of blade. However, with "standard" blade size, and they are pretty similar across the board for the "basic" style that is most common, a chart that uses the "chair" method to figure out a total length is likely to be pretty close as well. Just be aware that beaver-tail and other traditional paddles will have a longer total length simply because the blade is longer. But finally, you'll need to tweak the shaft length to match seat height and personal preference. Personally, I find that I can use quite a range of paddle lengths with fair comfort, but even so, I usually take two lengths with me that are about two inches different, one for deep water and one for shallow water.

One other thing to think about regarding paddle length is that there's nothing to be gained by burying the blade of the paddle extra deep. Try that 57-inch paddle, and put the blade in the water alongside the boat just deep enough to fully submerge it. I bet that at that point, the grip end is quite a bit higher than your head, and if so, that's not good. I can't recall exactly how high the grip ends up while I paddle, probably about eye-level at it's highest point, and mostly a bit lower, but I'm not really sure. I do know that the "chair" method gives me a shaft length that I like, with no need for further adjustment.

Knuckle-bashing really shouldn't be affected by paddle length. If your grip hand is at the proper height while paddling, there is nothing to prevent you from placing your lower hand at the proper height as well. If you hold the shaft with proper hand spacing and the grip hand at the proper height, a paddle that's too long will have the blade too deep in the water, and a paddle that's too short will have the blade not fully submerged. If the paddle is too short, that will actually reduce the chances of knuckle-bashing, not encourage it, because with the blade not fully submerged, interference with the hull will guarantee that the shaft is farther away from the gunwale. At least, this will be true of you are holding the shaft quite near vertical, as viewed from the front or back. Bottom line, it's your technique, not the length of the paddle that's causing the knuckle-bashing.

For what it's worth, my personal style lets my lower hand glide along low enough that I often could bash my knuckles, but I never do. Haven't done so in many years. I even position my lower hand lower than the gunwale in certain special situations (like when reaching the blade beneath the hull). With my hand at its normal height though, I can slide or brace the heel of my hand on the top of the gunwale for a bit of levering action without actually prying the shaft against the gunwale itself (I avoid that because with square-edged vinyl gunwales, it puts big dents in the shaft). Again, the point is that it's all about technique, and I suspect if you get that shaft aligned more vertically, you'll stop banging your knuckles.

Also, in case you didn't notice, the "chair" method should provide one recommended length for straight-shaft paddles and a noticeably shorter length for bent-shaft paddles. For your starting length recommendation, make sure you are using the method for your kind of paddle (bent or straight).

I use a 60 inch paddle
but, I am 6 ft. tall. And, I doubt that the 57 inch paddle fits you, (unless it has a long thin blade). Like Kayakmedic said, the length of the shaft is key. And I agree with him that you probably should be using something in the 54 inch range. I’m going to guess that there is a paddling technique issue involved and that you are not putting the paddle into the water with it held vertically.

The length of the blade also comes
into it, and it might help if you tell use the length and width of your blade.

It isn’t just the length of the shaft. A paddle with a long blade will call for a different shaft length than a paddle with a short blade.

your paddling station in the 119 …

– Last Updated: Jun-30-13 10:49 PM EST –

...... seems somewhat wide to me at 32.5" and it doesn't have any tumblehome either . I'm guessing you find yourself either needing to heel over some or reach out .

Reaching out is probably what you do mostly . You may find yourself leaning your upper body over to the stroke side and still have trouble getting a nice vertical paddle stroke . Maybe you get tired of upper body leaning (can get uncomfortable) and let the paddle take a more angled sweeping type stroke approach as you try to keep your upper body more vertical .

I think a 32.5" wide paddle station requires some form of relief to aquire a comfortable vertical (or near so) stroke .

If what I have said seems similar to what you are going through , you might try to see if you can heel the canoe over some to the stroke side and cruise in that fashion . This will allow for a more comfortable vertical stroke . It will keep your knuckles off the gunnel . I'd find some still shallow (2') water (with a sandy bottom) and see how it goes paddling the canoe heeled over , just be prepared to roll over and fall out if that canoe or you doesn't do well heeled over .

If you find it stable enough heeled over , then you got a new way to cruise . Will take a little practice feeling comfortable with the heeled over balance , but people been doing it forever . Can't say how the 119 will react due to is shortness , but a 169 heels pretty good , both are Discovery hulls .

In a heeled position using a vertical stroke , your paddle doesn't need to be very long and both hands can be outside the gunnel . Wouldn't hurt to give it a try , you might like it .

A vertical stroke is easier on you too , less strain than an angled paddle shaft .

That boat is very wide for you.

what your paddling has a huge

– Last Updated: Jul-01-13 10:56 AM EST –

bearing on the paddle size. I'm talkin' boat design/type, environment, and paddlin' style, not just your own physicality.

I understand the need to come up with a quick fix to match paddlers to paddles. Whether its sitting in a chair, or the old school way of standing and resting the paddle tip on your foot and seeing if it comes up to your armpit or just under the chin, being able to come up with a reasonable paddle size quickly is advantageous for getting people out on the water.

In the end, it all comes down to what works best for you in the boat that you are using. I knew a short guy who used a paddle that was as long as he was, and he was good with it. He also liked to paddle standing up quite a bit.

I like a shorter paddle in the bow than in the stern. So position in the boat is a factor. Soloing from the middle requires a longer paddle than sitting in the stern for me, unless you're a heeler who likes to make do with just one paddle size. I'll use a shorter paddle if I'm hittin' and switchin', goin' for speed, running ww. Longer paddles excel for more relaxed paddling, touring. I also use a longer paddle in the stern of a raft just to reach the waterline because of the kick or rocker that the boat design incorporates. In a c1 I liked a short shaft and an oversized blade (Iliad).

So listen to "us" experts but know in the end the only real way to know what you'll like is by trying out different lengths of paddles and learning what feels right. I'm advocating trying different sizes and seeing what works for you. All the instructor types with definitive answers can once again let out a collective gasp and cringe. "It just depends" is the standard answer for everything.

I'd also tell you to buy something cheap and see how ya like it. Once you get some time in a boat, you'll know better what you want and your starter paddle will become your spare paddle. One advantage of heelin' boats is that when you're soloin' you can paddle 'em with shorter paddles without bangin' your hands on the gunnels, and thus eliminate the need to take a longer paddle. You can change the technique to match the equipment you already have.

My good natured detractors refer to this mentality as "tricks" but I think we should all aspire to feel a "spiritual connection" to duct tape. Versatility is a good thing.

Good Summary
I didn’t realize his boat was that wide. One of my canoes is the same width and it’s about as wide as anything I’d want to paddle, and I’m 10 or 11 inches taller than the OP. For the OP, I think paddling the boat while heeled, when practical, will help a lot.

While the boat IS wide IIRC
the seat is pretty far astern…more than four or eight inches aft of center. So the paddling station might not be 32.5 inches wide.

Thanks for all the input. Yes, the boat is pretty wide, and I do tend to lean out/over the side of the gunwale to paddle. I just got back from the hardware store and picked up 6 inch threaded bolts to lower the seat, but I took the thwarts off along w. the seat to sand and put some new poly on. I will put the 6 inch bolts in the front and leave the 5 inchers in the back for my next time out. I think, and forgive me for not remembering who mentioned it, that it is my noob paddle style that is causing my knuckles to bang into the gunwales. I have been trying to get out once a week in it. Perhaps with the lowered seat, it will be easier. I will bring the 54 along. I also have 2 48 inch paddles, but I assumed they would be too small?

I haven’t tried keeling the boat over on one side either. As I get more familiar with being in the boat, I may try it. I think I will just have to bite the bullet and try in some shallow area in case I have a tip over. Thanks for all your advise folks. I will post an update in a while to let you know the progress. Gracias. Pipe.

notice his vertical posture …

– Last Updated: Jul-02-13 12:10 AM EST –

..... notice his hands are often outside the gunnel . Notice his knees and legs are comfortably touching always , his thigh is resting and braced (support) against the side , one knee in the chine , notice his abdomen (stomach) is often rested (braced) against the center thwart ... doesn't this all look very relaxed and comfortable , very un-stressful . No need to lock feet under a seat , or constantly raise your body while on your knees , just comfortable relaxed w/butt against heels (braced) .

This guy is burning up some water here , just imagine all of it converted to forward only distance ...

Notice when he just wants to go straight ahead . Although his straight forward cruise is rather short in length (cause he's showing many other manuver type strokes also) , he could continue straight forward this way as long and as far as he wanted to . See his nice and easy vertical stroke .

I call it heeling a canoe and paddling , but it's probably called Canadian style paddling .

What this guy is demonstrating is real world canoeing useful , not Freestyle .

I think Freestyle canoe dancing is a related thing , but more dramatized for performance purposes , and they definately move all around in the canoe , legs and knees every which way , even backbends , hang 10's and splits ...

now that’s what I’m talking about,

– Last Updated: Jul-02-13 9:02 AM EST –

He's got lots of "tricks/skills." He's bein' versatile in that he's paddlin' in a position that the canoe isn't set up for. When the canoe becomes heeled/tilted/leaned it becomes much more maneuverable.

Messin' around in boats is a lot of fun. You can start by sitting in a similar position, extending your hands out over the gunnels, and cranking your control hand down and low bracing as you transfer your weight to the paddle blade. Your control hand is in a similar position to finishing a j stroke. You can slap and push your body up against the resistance of the paddle blade and then try to graduate to sculling the blade. Be careful to feather the paddle up as you finish the brace. You'll find out why in a hurry if you don't. The goal is to completely submerge the boat by taking on water over the gunnel while remaining in a stable position extended out over the boat. This simple exercise builds confidence and is a great way to begin.

Repeat the exercise using a high brace, which requires even more of your body to be extended out over the canoe. If you feel the high brace failing, crank it into a low brace and "save" yourself.

Bracing 101.

FreeStyle is the same thing with
cross strokes. All it is is precise placement of the boat and power paddling. One of its roots is Canadian Style.

You guys are all confusing FreeStyle with Interpretive FS. The latter done to music, requires very powerful and precise correction strokes.

Yall are deluded by the performance and are overlooking the basics.

I’m still figurin’ out the difference…
between figure skaters and hockey players. Which ones wear the tutus? You reckin’ they can have frilly little suits made out of duct tape?

And your point is…?
if there is one.

no point, just delusional…
but you already know that.

I do FS but in costume and with my
ham hock on the gunwale, I look ridiculous. So I don’t do that… just saying.

I’ve learned a lot from this website,
its broadened my horizons. For lots of folks “paddling” means something completely different than it does to me. If someone wants to wear a costume and paddle to music that’s cool. I can honestly see how that could be fun. When I suggest “messin’ around” in boats, I’m talkin’ about not paddlin’ from A to B but rather you focus on developing skills and balance in a fixed location, be it a pond, lake or river. Call it freestyle or something else, its just semantics. Put music to it or not, just have fun and learn.

Many moons ago, I wanted to cut down on the portages I did on the East Branch of the Penobscot. The scout groups I worked with paddled tandem OT trippers. I found I could eliminate the “pond pitch portage” if I soloed the trippers. It was a lot of boat to move around, so I started heelin’ them.

At hulling machine, I lined past the grater rocks and then paddled the runout to cutdown on the portaging.

Grand pitch and most of Haskell’s was a definitive walk.

So “It just depends”. I figure bein’ a Maine Guide, Kayak Medic, you can appreciate that kind of “versatility”.

What I’m suggesting to the OP is to go out and “play” a little bit. You’re gonna get wet, but so what. I’m assuming the OP is banging his hands on the gunnels because he’s paddling from a fixed location in the boat. If he or she utilized the 2ndary stability of the boat than they could learn something, gain more confidence, and utilize their existing paddle effectively. They stated they were a “newbie”. So I’m sayin’ “go out and mess around a bit” before you go and buy a “new” right sized paddle. Simple as that.

As far as hockey players and figure skaters…they’re all just “skaters”. One group chases a little black disk, the other group wears frilly costumes. They both got some serious skills. How about them ones that wear the shower caps?..