Philosophical question about paddle size

I selected “Kayaking technique”, but my questions pertain to both kayaking and canoing. It’s a long post, so thanks for hanging in there.

I’ve reached the point in my paddling “career” where it’s time to look for better gear, improve technique and perhaps get a little more aggressive.

I’ve been using a big, heavy 230 cm fiberglass Carlisle Magic as my main paddle for pushing my short, inefficient 10 foot kayak around. I’ve never felt that it’s weight has been an impediment, but since I’ve finally moved up to a modest sea kayak (WS Cape Horn 150), I’m thinking it’s time to change up the paddle. I’ve tried my smaller 215 cm fiberglass Bending Branches and my friend’s similarly sized all carbon Werner, but both felt like I was just whipping the blade through the water more than actually moving the boat. My canoe paddles are largely junk as well, but my favorite is a reasonably light, 62" beaver tail that has some flex.

I’m not a big guy at 5’10" (most of that in my legs), 160 lbs and certainly don’t have massive body strength (“lithe” has been used to describe me), but I feel comfortable slogging my 14 foot solo canoe down a slack river all day with that beaver tail. Same goes for the big 'ol Carlisle in the Cape Horn. Everything I’ve ever read says a smaller blade will be easier to maintain a constant, even pace with, especially for smaller paddlers, but I feel fine using a war club of a paddle

In both the kayak or canoe I more or less lock my arms and use my torso to rotate. If I really want to dig in, I also tend to lean forward a bit, plant the blade and rotate while sitting up. If I want to cruise in the kayak, I try to take up a fluid figure eight motion, taking care to plant the blade and release it from the water as smoothly as possible. In the canoe, I try to have the same careful plant and release. I do tend to carry the stroke too far back when I’m really pushing though. Whether it’s a single or double blade, I tend to prefer a wide grip.

I’ve noticed most folks seem to move towards smaller lengths as they progress (excepting whitewater) and I’m wondering if I’m going the wrong direction. I don’t have many opportunities to try various paddles (kayak or canoe) so I’d appreciate words of wisdom.



There is no spoon
that works as well as an ONNO. Pat makes a great paddle and nice adjustments for length and feathering.


My Philosophy

– Last Updated: Sep-04-08 5:09 AM EST –

Carry two paddles. One significantly shorter than the other. You have two gears at your disposal. One for a tailwind and one for a headwind. You're carrying a spare anyway, right?
I'm talking Greenland paddles. When I used Euros I carried two paddles with different surface areas.

Different paddles matter too

– Last Updated: Sep-04-08 9:34 AM EST –

The same overall length paddle from different manufacturers can feel different too. And 5cm make a big difference. Paddles that tend to lift more water on the exit should be shorter to allow for an earlier exit (e.g. ones that are shaped like a spoon rather than being flattish along the long axis). Wider shorter balded paddles feel different than narrow longer bladed paddle fo the same overall length. And if the shaft is a bent/crank-shaft that further complicates things as the bends can fall in the wrong place with the wrong blades attached (think 4-piece Lendal), depending on use/paddler/boat.

I can relate my learning experience about size of the blade - initially I thought large is better as I felt small blades did not offer enough resistance and speed. But as the other post says, once you are in a boat that glides enough b/w strokes but has slow average speed neverthless, a large blade is more of a problem than good - jsut tires you more with no benefit to average speed over a longer distance. Good for bracing of course, but where a large would do for bracing, a medium is almost as good but gives you lots more comfort while forward paddling. With a fast boat a larger blade can be OK but anything larger than a medium can be too much for most people (unless racing/hard workout is the goal of course).

Having an adjustable length shaft and using it for different boats/conditions is a real eye opener and can help you figure it out for yourself eventually.

I am 6'4" and seem to suffer wtih anything longer than 220cm in my 22" or 23" boats. Anything under 210cm is too short for me for efficient paddling, but since I happen to have a 198cm WW AT paddle (bent shaft) I do use it for rough water or if I decide to go play in the river with my sea kayak. Works OK for these things but a bit longer would be better there as well - better bracing and longer reach with a longer paddle.

For fast touring over relatively short distances (under 10 miles) I prefer to keep my Epic mid-wing at 220cm or close to it. Sometimes even 217 works. I think I could probably use may be 222cm max but not longer (and since I got the 210-220 cm version I can't really try that to tell for sure). When I go down to 215 cm on the Epic, I feel I do not have enough reach and the blade does not go in the water as easy, but I can perhaps close my hands a little and get the same result as with the 220cm setting but the effort to paddle is more this way.

On longer trips (15-20 miles) I tend to lower my hands, and shorten my extension forward so again 220 seems to work OK.

The 225cm AT XCeption I used to have until recently felt too long for most purposes (the guy who sold it to me claimed it was 220, where it turned to be 225 and I did not bother to measure it in time to return it). A 220cm Lendal Kinetic feels all right to me and about as long as I can tollerate - a few cm shorter might be OK.

I'd say the estimate I got from the Epic web site seems to be very close to what I find most comfortable for me.

Your mileage may vary

I like paddles with a
big blade, I’m more of a slow cadence, higher power, kinda guy. More upper body strength, definitely not “lithe”. I like to be able to dig in and feel that paddle bite.

Presently using an ONNO F.A.S.T. length lock paddle. It’s awesome. I may someday move up to a wing, we’ll see.

I’ve always heard that size dosen’t matter but rather what you do with it.

Stiffness of the material too …
… is of signifficant importance I hear as well -:wink:

Maybe you two guys ought to get together

What do I want to accomplish?
Maximum speed, endurance, strength and light weight while paying a minimum price. Of course I just violated the “better, faster, cheaper”, pick any three" rule. But seriously… I have spent a bit more time thinking about my goals.

I guess I do keep a high angle most of the time. For the long boat, I’d like a quality, affordable paddle that allows me to put power to the water when I want to, but doesn’t beat me to death on long or multi-day trips. I suppose I’m specifying a reasonably light, somewhat flexible paddle with a good bite that’s not overly aggressive. I have to admit that though I seem to like a slow cadence where I can feel the pull, I don’t have the upper body to utilize a really big blade. My strength is endurance, not raw power. I can keep up a high energy output for my body for quite a while when I’m moderately in shape (I’m on the low end of the curve right now).

Yes, I’ve done ok with that Carlisle, but wind up with sore hands if I push hard for a long time; I have to grip it like my life depends on it to keep flutter under control. That can’t be efficient.

Like so many before me, I’m looking for that elusive, “do it all” paddle. I know that’ll get me a “jack of all trades, master of none”, but this is a journey and I’m still at the beginning. Are the better Aquabounds decent second starters? Should I save my dimes and go straight for an Onno? My budget simply can’t bear a full Lendal; I could just maybe afford an Onno glass or carbon 2 piece, but it would largest single investment right behind my boats. You can probably gather that since my “new” kayak is an early Cape Horn, I could easily spend as much on a paddle as I did the boat!



In Conclusion
Get you a couple of GPs and fuhgedaboudit.

Try an adjustable-length
for instance, Bending Branches offers adjustable-length paddles in several of their models. The ranges are 215-230 and 225-240.

Also, pay a little more for a lighter paddle. It makes a huge difference.

trying different paddles
If you paddle with other’s, see if they will allow you to try out their paddles. See if your local outfitter has demo paddles to test. Try different blade sizes. I was amazed at what a little bit of difference in shape would do to how you paddle and how your muscles reacted after about an hour or so!! On my boat I have an ONNO and a Lendal Kinetic. The Onno is very light weight and I can paddle it all day long. The Lendal makes me work but if the water is ruff it’s the best thing to use. These are the paddles that work for me. Took me a few “test drives” to figure them out.

Aleut NM