Choosing the correct paddle

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I did a search and couldn't find any topic discussing this, and I wanted to get some clarification before making a big purchase (if, indeed, that's warranted). Before joining here, I assumed that a paddle was a paddle. Clearly, that assumption was incorrect :). I am a solo paddler, having an Old Town 119, and currently use either a big box store paddle, or my kayak paddle. I do day trips mostly on rivers, and some lakes, but am looking to extend that to overnights, on rivers or large lakes next spring. I've already learned quite a bit regarding paddling technique, and even modding my canoe to make it a little more user friendly. I want to get a paddle that is efficient, and will work well on the variety of water courses I'm paddling. Reading up, it seems that the otter tail is ideal for what I want to do, but seems to be a bit of a holy grail to find one. Another shape I was looking into, and seems a little easier to come by, is the voyageur. However, it looks, at least from my limited research, that the paddle design seems to be somewhat loosely interpreted. Some of the traditional sites show this paddle as very close in blade shape to the otter tail: others, especially modern manufacturers, have a more squared off blade, similar to what I am seeing is the beaver tail blade.
Needless to say, the several different types confuse me, and I'm looking for a little clarification. I am leaning towards the voyageur style, if I can find one that is more classical in shape. Ideally, I'd love an otter tail, but it seems that there are very few manufacturers that make these-and the couple that do, are out of the US, and shipping is cost prohibitive. I have seen a couple people post that I can simply make one-I wouldn't know where to begin. My father has a complete wood working shop, so I suppose it could be a great winter project, but want something before then. The question boils down to, is the voyageur style paddle a good all around paddle to use for rivers, lakes, etc, for day trips? Thanks!

Mods, if this is in the wrong forum, I apologize. I took a guess between this one and general discussion :)
 
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Ottertails and voyageur paddles are deep water paddles. Its not surprising that most US paddle makers lean toward Sugar Island type shapes. River paddlers like shorter blades and wider blades to make maneuvering more effective. And most US paddling is on rivers.

If you go down to Collinsville Canoe and Kayak in Collinsville CT they should have a selection of ottertails. They are allied with Algonquin Outfitters out of Canada.

I have quite a few paddles because each one does a different job.

Your first challenge is to find and go to a paddle store. It really pays to feel what you buy and test for balance.

Caleb Davis of Tremolo Paddles makes the ottertails and the voyageur shapes you covet. He is in Long Lake NY. If you like you can make your own under his supervision at Maine Canoe Symposium in Bridgton next June.

http://tremolopaddles.wcha.org/treme...s/Welcome.html
 
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Thanks. I will check out Collinsville, maybe this Friday. I will also look into that type of shape. Again, I am still in the learning phase, so this is ALL new to me!
 
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I went through a long phase of playing with differnet types of paddles. I ended up not being a big fan of animal tail paddles, and now paddle sugar island style paddles exclusively. However, the evolution of your paddling is the fun thing, so try as many different paddles as you can until you find a few that suit your style and trips.
 
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First we need discuss your stance in the canoe. If you kneel you want a straight shaft; sitting you'll need a bent. If you do both, well, you need one of each. Top grip and shaft should fill your hands at their angle of repose. If either force expansion or contraction of grip they will encourage fatigue.

The entire group of canoe racers, marathon, wildwater, slalom and sprint have arrived at an optimal blade width of 8 5/8", plus or minus an eight. Blade length seems to be coalescing too, as the whitewater guys and gals are discovering that cadence is the key to speed. Marathon paddlers blades are about 18"/45cm long, wildwater blades maybe 22"/55cm. FreeStylers who use their blades to brace and torque the canoe at the same time may inch bigger to 24"/ 60cm.

Tips are always rounded except for sprint and slalom, because most of us are a little sloppy at catch and shoulders need to be relieved to work closer to the hull.

Straight blades need equal camber, where the reinforcing ribs fair into power and backface and out to the edges, on both sides so in water recoveries and slices run true. This is less important on bents because we don't do in-water recoveries with them.

Fit? Get a good grip on the top grip in one hand and invert the paddle in front of the body, blade up. Without allowing the grip to lodge, the straight paddles neck, where blade and shaft meet, should be at hairline or an inch above for those using cross strokes. Bents fit a little more boar specific due to variation in seat height, but sitting in a Bell or Swift we want the neck about the bridge of the nose; those sitting lower in Wenonah's place the neck at nose's tip.

Shorter paddles yield a shorter stroke and higher cadence, usually increasing hull speed but they are problematical for cross strokes and cross maneuvers. Sterns don't do that much, kneeling bows and soloists need the length.

Those animal tail things were a function of what diameter tree could most easily be hacked down into something useful with an axe and crooked knife. Most of those poor guys died beside portage trails of strangulated hernias; we try not to do that either anymore.
 
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Learning through pictures:

10626598_10204676260847257_8546249293624303398_n.jpg


Two guys sitting in a Swift, both the same height within about an inch. (5'-9"/5'-10").

Bow is a 56" long straight, stern is a 52" bent. Both sitting. Both paddles work.

You can see the difference. Bow isn't quite stacked vertical (stern probably isn't either, but closer) but top hand would be higher, stroke is much longer.

For me, the shorter paddle is faster, easy to control and more comfortable. The longer is sluggish but is tolerable in the bow. More tolerable kneeling.

Also not shown is a 54" straight, which bridges the gap. Good for kneeling, OK for sitting, and faster stroke rate than the 56" with a bit better control. According to the manufacturer or outfitter I should use a 56" for my torso height.

The moral of the story: I don't think there is one answer, and many paddles can do the job. Depends a bit on what you prefer.
 
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LO. Get a or make an arrow with a suction grip tail. Stick on paddle. You will see why Charlie says what he says when you air paddle with a straight then a bent from a seated position. Watch where the arrow points on catch and recovery. Charlie's air demo in person is quite illuminating
 
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LO. Get a or make an arrow with a suction grip tail. Stick on paddle. You will see why Charlie says what he says when you air paddle with a straight then a bent from a seated position. Watch where the arrow points on catch and recovery. Charlie's air demo in person is quite illuminating

I'm a bit confused by this. Where do I stick it? Wait, don't answer that... no really...
 
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Easier to take a pencil. Glue a suction cup to the eraser end. There is your arrow. Stick the suction end to the paddle blade flat surface. Now paddle and you will see where the force is directed during your stroke
 

Glenn MacGrady

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Asking what's the right paddle is like asking what's the right vehicle, footwear, dress, flower or music. There is no right answer. It all depends on your size, your functional usage, your aesthetic preferences, your paddle snobbishness, your weight tolerance, and your budget.

I'll stay with the vehicle metaphor. If you don't know how to drive, all vehicles will be uncontrollable, no fun and probably dangerous. If you are an excellent driver, you can drive any vehicle with competence and some measure of enjoyment. So it is with paddles. If you don't know how to paddle with a single blade, no paddle will improve that state of muscle memory ignorance. If you do know how to single blade paddle, you can do so with any paddle, though you will like some more than others for various reasons.

So, the first thing to do is to learn how to paddle with a single blade. Lessons are helpful. If you don't want to do that, you can just get a double blade for your short boat and be done with it. Double blading requires virtually no experience or practice.

You won't be doing whitewater or racing in that canoe, so for basic flatwater travel and enjoyment you don't need more than two good paddles--one straight and one bent. The proper lengths are dependent upon your size, but the bent should be much shorter than the straight. Anyone who tells you that you need more paddles than that, or that they have more paddles than that, are simply gear sluts and addicts . . . and . . .

. . . my name is Glenn, and I'm a paddleholic.

The last time I was in the Collinsville store, I didn't see any quality canoe paddles nor much of an inventory of anything. Lots of kayak and SUP paddles, though, because that's what they mostly sell.
 
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I believe that there is a lot to be learned by building paddles. It forces one to research different paddle styles and sizes before committing to the time it takes to make one. It is different that looking at what is available in a shop and choosing one.
 
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I will definitely second what YC said above and highly recommend Caleb Davis if you want to go with the ottertail or similar hand crafted wood paddle. I have used his paddles for more than 20 years, ottertail, beavertail, and willow leaf blade shapes. I like that he makes the blade edges thin and sharper than most other paddles on the market, making slicing strokes absolutely silent, but the paddle is still stiff and strong enough to not flutter.

Caleb's prices have actually dropped over the years. But if you attend one of his paddle making workshops, it will cost you $100 for not only the whole day of hands on personal education, but you get your own hand made paddle to take home. That is considerably less than what he charges for a ready made paddle. Caleb is not the best web page maintainer of events... it might pay to give him a call to see if he has an impromptu paddling making class coming up.
 
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A lot of manufacturers use "Voyageur" as a buzzword to apply to paddles of all different designs that bear no resemblance to the traditional narrow, squared-off blades of traditional voyageur paddles.

What type of paddle you choose will depend on your style of paddling. But if I was looking for a go anywhere, do anything paddle, a long bladed thing like a voyageur or otter tail would be my last choice. Paddles with long, narrow blades are rather poorly suited for many river environments where shallow water prevents the paddler from immersing most of the blade.

My guess is that you are not likely to be paddling an Old Town 119 from a kneeling position. Assuming you are sitting you might choose either a bent shaft paddle or a straight shaft paddle. Yes, the bent shaft is a bit more efficient for straight ahead paddling and is particularly well-suited for sit and switch style paddling which is the most efficient way to drive a canoe in a more or less straight line. The shorter length of a bent as well as the angulation of the blade/shaft junction provide a bit more clearance when crossing sides over the gunwales as well as optimizing the orientation of the blade during its excursion through the stroke. But canoeing is not just about maximum efficiency. Unless you are racing or otherwise paddling against the clock, it should be about what brings you the most enjoyment.

Plenty of paddlers who paddle from a sitting position will choose a straight shaft paddle, especially if they paddle using traditional technique in which the paddler sticks to a designated "on side". The straight shaft paddle is more versatile for maneuvering. Some will argue that any stroke that can be done with a straight shaft paddle can be done with a bent shaft, but the fact is that many strokes are awkward with a bent. Some paddlers find J strokes more difficult to perform with bent shaft paddles. Some paddlers like to move along relatively silently with an 'Indian stroke' using an in water recovery and palm rolling the grip during each recovery and that style calls for a symmetrical, straight-shaft paddle.

There are too many variables to suggest what type of paddle is best for you. In addition to straight shaft versus bent shaft, other important variables apart from blade shape are blade area and grip style. If you choose a bent shaft, there is also the shaft/blade angle to consider. As well as construction materials.

If I was forced to choose a good all-around first paddle for you I would pick an all wood, straight shaft, symmetrical paddle with a so-called Sugar Island blade shape (blade with roughly parallel sides and a squared -off bottom with radiused corners at the lower end of the blade), a blade width of about 8 to 8 1/4 inches and blade length of 18-20 inches with a modified (elongated) pear grip. Overall length and shaft length will depend on your torso height and what seat height.
 
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My feeling about buying your first good paddle is to not sweat it and just buy something you think you might like in what seems like the right length. If the paddling bug bites you it won't be long until you have paddles coming out of your ears. If the first one you buy is too long, too short, too heavy, wrong shape, etc. then no big deal. It turns into your backup paddle or it serves a specific purpose. Once you have more experience with the paddle you get a better idea for what you do and don't like so then you buy another one.

I really sweated when I was buying my first ZRE. I couldn't believe I was spending that much on a paddle and agonized over shaft length, blade width, and layup. I didn't really know what the heck I was doing with a single blade back then and it took me a while to figure out that it was too long for me. So I bought another one and had it shipped without the grip glued on. That way I could tape it in place to try it out, cutting off 1/2" at a time until I thought it felt right. Now I've probably got over 1/2 dozen of them in various lengths. Mostly bents but a couple straights as well. They all get used depending on what I'm paddling, where I'm paddling, and how I feel like paddling. Even that first one that I thought was too long has its place now.

Alan
 

Glenn MacGrady

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There are different points of view on everything in the paddling world. I wouldn't use a slim animal tail paddle for anything, much less as a first paddle. Nor would I want one made out of solid cherry or walnut. I've examined and used these paddles. They look nice, but I don't care for their weight, balance or limited performance versatility.

After 50 years of wood paddles, I now use just two ZRE carbon paddles for every aqueous venue. Light weight in an empirically proven racing blade shape trumps all other considerations for me now. It also trumped my bank account.
 
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The day after tomorrow I will be racing in my 18th Adirondack 90-miler. Of course I will use a carbon bent shaft as I do in every other race, a GRB made ultralight paddle in my case. I have five different sizes for multiple different boats and load conditions. The same kind of paddle as I use during the Yukon River 1000 mile races.

However there is just something so very nice and completely satisfying with the ability of doing many different strokes with a well balanced cherry ottertail when I am otherwise enjoying paddling on an Adirondack lake and not in racing mode.
 
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I'm not as experienced with all the new style paddles as many here are, but in years of using wooden paddles I have Glenn beat. Here I am in the bow of a canoe in Ontario with my two older brothers 59 years ago this summer, using an old beavertail paddle.



I use a 57" Dri Ki ash beavertail paddle. I'll never win a race or bag more miles with it, but I consider the beavertail a fine choice for a tripping paddle and worth a look.

http://dri-kiwoodworking.com/id1.html
 

Glenn MacGrady

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Actually, I started paddling in 1952 in a Grumman canoe in Maine every summer. We had two beavertails with that canoe, and I used them for ten years until the canoe got stolen. So the beavertail was my first paddle, and I still own three of them. I don't consider a beavertail to be a narrow animal tail paddle. They are probably the widest animal tail and the most versatile.
 
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I'm not as experienced with all the new style paddles as many here are, but in years of using wooden paddles I have Glenn beat. Here I am in the bow of a canoe in Ontario with my two older brothers 59 years ago this summer, using an old beavertail paddle.



I use a 57" Dri Ki ash beavertail paddle. I'll never win a race or bag more miles with it, but I consider the beavertail a fine choice for a tripping paddle and worth a look.

http://dri-kiwoodworking.com/id1.html

Robin,
You haven't changed a bit!!
Dave
 
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