Small shaft or regular

This is my first season paddling, and it is getting time for me to get my own paddle. Right now I have a borrowed paddle, an aquaterra with a fairly large blade, 220cm. When I went to examine the paddle today, I noticed that one of the blades seems to be coming apart so it’s time to choose something.

The paddle seems to have an ovalized shaft which is working for me. I tried a high end Werner paddle with a red blade. The weight was great, but after a few miles it was starting to bother my hand by my thumb. I was considering buying a used Aquabound Sting Ray Hybrid, but the regular shaft seemed huge after paddling both the Werner and my current paddle. The fellow who runs the LL Bean paddles recommended a small shaft paddle for me since I have small hands. From reading the various paddle sites it seems that I am inbetween and could go with either. I’m so confused.

I suppose I am too new to have a paddling style yet in terms of high or low angle. I paddle an Old Town Otter I got from a club member in June. It’s just 9.5 feet and I can stuff it inside my minivan. It’s my grab n’ go boat that’s gotten me started in this great sport. I’m considering getting a LL Bean Calypso, but I’m going to see where this all takes me. I am in my early 60s and am 5’ 3" and weigh 150 pounds.

I’m not adverse to “gear” - I have titanium road and mountain bikes. But I’d like to ease into the sport as I figure out what direction I’ll go in. The Otter is fine for paddling on the local lakes, though I have to keep paddling to keep up with longer boats and don’t get to rest much. I’ve taken it down my first trip on a river and it turns well. If I get a longer boat then I’ll have to futz with the roof rack and I have a minivan, and need to be able to handle the boat myself.

I’d be interested in getting feedback about small vs regular diameter paddles and anything else relevent. I know that I have so much to learn - I know that I tend to have a “death grip” on the paddle. Thanks.

Small shaft, modest ovaling of shaft.

From the Werner Paddle Fit Guide:

– Last Updated: Aug-16-14 7:36 PM EST –

"Small Diameter
If your hand is smaller than 6.5 inches from the base of palm to fingertip, you should use our Small Diameter shaft.
Standard Diameter
If your hand is larger than 7 inches from the base of palm to fingertip, you should use our Standard Diameter shaft."

Other paddle manufacturers share the same recommendation regarding hand size and shaft diameter.

The guides also consider not only your height, but the width of your boat when making a recommendation as to paddle length.

I would suggest not spending a lot on a paddle for use with the kayak you are using now because it is wide and deep and you will probably need a 230 to comfortably paddle it without smacking your hands on the deck. But, if you progress to a lower volume boat that will be too long. You might want to see if the guy at Pacific Designs paddles is still making his T-1.

I bought one a couple years ago. His standard size is 230 and the paddle was only $113. His paddles break down quite small so shipping was reasonable. He uses a slender aluminum shaft -normally I don’t like metal shafts but his is light and feels good. I recommend his smaller T-1 blade – you will have less fatigue with the smaller blade.

By the way, I’m the same gender/age/size as you (just a hair taller). I hope you get the chance to try some lower volume, more slender kayaks to appreciate how much more enjoyable paddling, especially with a group, can be. I was able to roof rack my kayaks, even some quite heavy loaners, on my last car, a Hyundai Santa Fe, similar height to yours, with the aid of a good rack and small folding stepstool. The pleasure of paddling a good fitting fast boat is well worth a few minutes of transport hassle. And there are many excellent light weight options, like folding kayaks, which are great for us ladies of a certain age. Take a look at the Pakboat Quest 135, for instance, the Orukayak or the Feathercraft Kurrent (25 lbs!). If you are into lightweight quality bikes, you will appreciate these kayaks.

Another great bit of technology for us older paddlers is Greenland paddles, but again, one long enough for the Otter would be too long for a touring kayak. Though, if you had a wooden one made it could be trimmed down.

Welcome to the world of paddling. As mentioned above, the Werner fit guide is a great resource for fitting a paddle to a paddler and her boat. To really answer your question about shaft diameter we probably need your glove size more so than your height and weight. In general, most people do fine with a standard sized shaft. If you wear size small (or smaller) gloves, I would consider a small diameter shaft. If you wear medium or large I’d say the standard size is fine. I have met very few (none?) people who “need” a small shaft although I’m sure they are out there. I think you hit on your real problem- your “death grip”. Loosen that up and a standard shaft should be fine.

Good luck and have fun!

I am in the same camp as jbernard…
“most people do fine with a standard sized shaft.” On Werner paddles fit guide I am exactly between the two sizes. I use standard sized shafts, but might consider a small shaft for winter paddling when I need a heavy glove.

A disadvantage of the small diameter shaft, possibly for someone like you, is that it allows for an even tighter grip than a standard shaft. If you are prone to a death grip on the paddle it will be even easier to do that on a small diameter shaft.

You need to train yourself to open you hands and relax your grip when paddling. This is very important to avoid wrist joint injuries. Seek some instruction of proper forward stroke - ask at a local independent shop about instruction (L.L Bean might be OK, but I wouldn’t count on anyone there being competent). There are some good DVD’s as well: Nigel Foster’s Essential Strokes (Vol. 2) and Forward Paddling (Vol. 5) of his six DVD set; The Brent Reitz Forward Stroke Clinic; The Kayak Forward Stroke by Greg Barton and Oscar Chalupsky; and others.

The Otter is pretty wide, but I wouldn’t go longer than 220cm on a paddle.

Personally, I prefer the Werner Paddles shafts over some of the Aquabound paddles I own. They are smoother feeling. I tend to get sore spots on my hands after all day paddles using the Aquabound, but for a few hours either are fine. I think the Werner Skagit is a great entry level paddle for the price.



Your size
I am almost exactly your age and size, with hands that also fall into the “in between” category of the paddle sizing guides. We have several paddles in our quiver, some small shaft, some regular, and I find the small to be more comfortable in the long run.

Having once owned an Otter, I can say that a 220 cm paddle is fine as long as you use a higher angle stroke and proper torso rotation. I’ve had a 220 Aquabound Stingray CF small shaft for years for use with a variety of boat widths and its the one paddle I’ve never considered selling.

You’ll soon get tired of trying to keep up with the group in your Otter, unless the rest of the group is in small rec boats as well. Depending on where you paddle, you might want to look into the world of light weight pack canoes.

Good luck!

Id’ say small shaft
I am lighter than you but the rest is pretty close. Hand size doesn’t change with some weight around the midriff. I went to a small shaft and it is much better - in fact your death grip may partly be because you are trying to hang onto too big a shaft.

That said, fix that before you blow out your wrists. Open the pushing hand at EVERY stroke - like fingers completely open and not around the shaft. 60-odd year old wrists can’t take that kind of abuse.

Small shaft and a tweak
I have a Werner paddle with the small-diameter shaft. I found it uncomfortable and slippery. So I bought batting tape – the stuff they wrap around the handles of baseball bats for grip – and that worked great. Gave me much better grip and offered a kinder surface.

Just a thought.

What’s your hand size?
I am small but have long, slender fingers. In fact, I have trouble fitting many gloves because my palm is too small for a man’s Small or woman’s Medium or Large yet those sizes best match my fingers’ length. Even when the finger length is good, often the diameter of the finger “tubes” is slightly too big. At least when it comes to paddle shafts, finger diameter doesn’t matter.

Standard-diameter shafts have always worked well for me. For a short while I used a paddle that came with a small-diameter shaft that I did not spec, and I intensely disliked the shaft’s feel. My fingers were too long for it, felt like curling too much instead of just gripping. Also, having paddled a few Greenland paddles that have larger-diameter shafts and finding those very comfortable, I’ll never go to a small-diameter paddle shaft again.

Size M women, size xs men
My hands are small but not tiny. I don’t have long fingers.

Thanks for all the feedback.

I second Celia’s suggestion about
using a “death grip” and having an open hand when pushing your paddle forward. We should never, unless maybe a white water paddler, have a ‘death grip’ on our paddle as it tends to cause issues with your muscles and tendons. I also tend to limit use of my ‘pinky’ finger; whether pulling or pushing on the paddle. I use a relaxed grip and have had no forearm/hand issues for many years.

Welcome to the world of paddling and may you thoroughly enjoy yourself.

Those are my glove sizes
Same as you, and I find a small shaft more comfortable.

I didn’t even know about the risk to my wrists. Wow. Thanks for all the input. Yesterday I tried an Aquabound small shaft Stingray hybrid and liked that. I would like to try it for a longer period of time before I commit.