I am looking to upgrade to a nice wooden paddle. I have a 14’ Old Towne Hunter model that I use for lakes and slow moving rivers. How do I determine the length of my paddle and best style. I am a male 6’.
Shaft length is what you need to decide
Since different shaped paddle BLADES have different lengths, what you need to decide when choosing a paddle is not its overall length, but it's SHAFT length. This is because the blade, no matter what length it is, needs to be completely buried in the water, leaving only the shaft protruding up.
Sitting on a chair as in the linked Bending Branches video is a way to estimate the correct shaft length. However, picky paddlers will disagree as to whether the shaft length should come up to your chin, nose, forehead or higher.
A more direct method is to sit or kneel (whichever you do) in your actual canoe on the water with your average expected gear load. Hold a broomstick in the water in your paddling position. Measure the length of the stick from the water to its end in your top hand. This is your shaft length . . . in that exact boat, in that exact position, with that exact load.
But how high up should your top hand be?
Experienced paddlers differ somewhat in preferences, especially depending on what type of water they're paddling and what type of shaft the paddle has, straight or bent. My preferences, which are probably fairly common, are:
-- With a bent shaft paddle, I like my top hand to be slightly below my shoulder, so my top arm will go slightly downward on my push stroke.
-- With a straight shaft paddle on flat water, I like my top hand to be at or very slightly higher than my shoulder, so my top arm will go straight outwards on my push.
-- With a straight shaft paddle in whitewater, I like my top hand to be up around my high forehead for extra paddle reach and leverage on high and low braces.
Once you decide on a shaft length, or different shaft lengths for a straight and bent paddle, you can choose paddles with any shape of blade. Take a tape measure to the store with you to verify shaft lengths, or make sure the shaft length is clearly specified if you order online.
Chossing the right size paddle
I can see can be very subjective. Looks like I might need to visit a good shop and see what is available and see if I can test a few out. Went thru this with my kayak paddle and found I liked a shorter stick then what my specs called for.