Hmmm... shorter might just be the ticket

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Jan 22, 2012
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I'm 6'-2", ape length arms and paddle from the knees mostly, sit when I need a stretch. I'm a single sider even when sitting and paddle a Wenonah Wilderness thus have the boat heeled only slightly. I use a 58" paddle with 20" blades, mostly Bending Branches. Always followed the Cliff Jacobson school of thought regarding paddle length.

I've a pretty good J stroke, more of a pitch J with very little pry once under way. You know what I mean. I also enjoy the Indian stroke when I'm exploring shorelines and taking pictures. My Canadian stroke has always had troubles, primarily during the recovery. Its always felt awkward and seemed to fall apart if my concentration wavered. Felt like I was pickin' fruit from a tree with my offside hand. My pitched J was easy and did the job thus I gave up on the Canadian.

Picked up a 56" BB Espresso, their lightweight 20" paddle, for a friend. I took it out for a paddle this weekend and quite liked its nice corners and lighter swing weight. It worked my pitch J nice and quietly.

The breeze picked up a bit and I was a touch stern heavy. As my bow began to wander with the wind I needed a bit of pry at the recovery which of course slows the program down. And then I inserted the Canadian recovery as the wind increased and I found the magic. I could tune the recovery to perfectly match the wind without puttin' the brakes on. And the stroke felt good without the previously experienced clumsiness. That shorter shaft was keeping my offhand at a height that wasn't doing battle with my anatomy.

I was so surprised by the difference 2" could make that I took the paddle out the following day to see if perhaps I was imagining things. Nope... I paddled about for several hours doin' the Canadian leftside, rightside, kneeling, sitting - it was all good. Didn't really feel like I had lost anything in terms of reach for turning or maneuvering. My side slips & sculls also seemed more controlled.

Can 2" really make this much difference? Have I really been paddling for years with a stick too long for my style? I'm beginning to think so. I had to hand this paddle over to its new owner but I ordered one o' my own. I'll report back once I determine truly whether or not I'm full of beans... :)
 

Glenn MacGrady

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And then I inserted the Canadian recovery as the wind increased and I found . . . . I could tune the recovery to perfectly match the wind without puttin' the brakes on.

That's exactly what you can do with the Canadian--even turn the boat to your on-side. I combine a Canadian recovery with sort of a slightly pitched C stroke, so none of the components require tiresome stress.

I don't know what Jacobson's paddle length theory is. My experience is that if I'm paddling flat water with a straight paddle, I prefer a length such that my grip hand punches straight out from my shoulder--not upward. If I'm using a bent shaft, as I usually am, I use a shorter paddle so the grip hand punch goes downward. The shorter length paddles require very little fore and back motion of the grip hand, which more or less just goes around in a fat oval or circle.
 
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I'm now 5'8.5", formerly 5'10" tall, so that's what goes on in one's sixties. My straights run 58" plus, because, when kneeling, I use cross strokes and maneuvers. I try to minimize J correction and never use pitched, in-water recoveries because it creates excessive drag and can easily miss direct the hull, and ruins any function, high repetition, cadence. I am a technical paddler; function over art. My straight shaft lengths, for kneeling, run +/- 34", my bents for sitting ~high are +/- 30" with bents for Placid boats, with much lower seats, +/- 27". Cross strokes or maneuvers don't work sitting with the bents; neither do sliced in-water recoveries.
 
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Joined
Jan 22, 2012
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I'm now 5'8.5", formerly 5'10" tall, so that's what goes on in one's sixties. My straights run 58" plus, because, when kneeling, I use cross strokes and maneuvers. I try to minimize J correction and never use pitched, in-water recoveries because it creates excessive drag and can easily miss direct the hull, and ruins any function, high repetition, cadence. I am a technical paddler; function over art.

There's not much about my paddlin' that could ever be considered technical :)

Cliff Jacobson believes many paddlers are using sticks too short for them and for the reasons you refer to - cross strokes, maneuvering and reach on moving water.
 

Glenn MacGrady

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Cliff Jacobson believes many paddlers are using sticks too short for them and for the reasons you refer to - cross strokes, maneuvering and reach on moving water.

Moving water is different. My post above was deliberately limited to flat water paddling.

I was and am now the same sizes as Charlie Wilson. On whitewater I use a much longer straight paddle, 58"-59", for reach, cross strokes and bracing. On moving but not whitewater, I'll usually use a straight paddle that's sort of an in between size. Actually, all my present paddling in all waters is done with two ZRE's: a 57" straight, which is sort of a compromise length, and a 48.5" bent shaft, which is my primary traveling paddle.
 
Joined
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I believe many people use paddles way too long for them. When I see someone holding their grip hand way over their nose, either they are feathering wrong on recovery or their paddle is too long for extended use.

I find the 56 inch BB Espresso way too long for me. Part of that is that the shaft is 37 inches long! That paddle has a short blade. I can paddle with it OK but not comfortably . I find it interesting that a 6'2" guy is fine with it.

But that does make sense when you consider the shaft length, not the overall length. It pays to know what shaft length you like for various applications. Me I like 33.5 for flat and 35 for white.

Yes size matters.
 
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Jan 22, 2012
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Yup, shaft length is the figure to work with. I have a heck of a time getting that across to paddlers of the kayak persuasion.
 
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I'm now 5'8.5", formerly 5'10" tall, so that's what goes on in one's sixties. My straights run 58" plus, because, when kneeling, I use cross strokes and maneuvers.

Charlie, are you using cross forward strokes while tripping / touring on flat water? To me cross strokes are some kind of awkward still, so I use them only on rivers - and even then, only when it is really unfavorable to loose a bit of speed.
 
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Charlie, are you using cross forward strokes while tripping / touring on flat water? To me cross strokes are some kind of awkward still, so I use them only on rivers - and even then, only when it is really unfavorable to loose a bit of speed.
Yes he does and so do I. Feels awkward at first but gets you where you want to go
Also great for fine boat control as in doing an inside circle or an outside one. I expect to do a fair amount of them in the Pine Barrens in Oct
 
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Jul 21, 2015
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Interesting discussion. I've been using 60" paddles -- a redtail otter tail -- for the last couple of years for mostly flatwater solo/tandem and I'm only 5'7"-5'8". I've recently come to the conclusion that they are probably too long and are hurting my neck, so it might be worth it to try something shorter...or maybe just stop sitting in an uncomfortable chair at work all day! So I'm trying out a 57" beaver tail for a little while.
 
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Ontario
I'm 5'10" and my paddle lengths are all over the place! It depends what canoe I'm using, how I'm paddling (Canadian -short, sit and switch- longer) and whether I'm tandem, solo, bow, or stern. Paddle lengths don't mean much anyway, it's shaft length that matters. For newbies who don't have their own boat, I suggest the over the head method; Grab the paddle by the grip, Hold it over your head, grab the shaft with the other hand, lift it over your head, until the paddle is parallel to the floor, and slide it until your arms are at 90 degrees. If your hand is at the throat you're in the ball park. I use that method for all the youth I teach and it seems to work the best
 
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Most people use a paddle with too long a shaft length. I am not surprised. The only thing that should be in the water is the blade.. Shaft in the water creates a lot of turbulence and not much power. Too long a shaft makes your neck and back muscles ache.. They shouldn't be involved anyway.. The aim is for your top hand to never go above the bridge of your nose.

Long ago we stopped advising holding the bottom hand at the junction of the shaft and the blade. It tends to pull you over and to curve your back off vertical.. No wonder aches and pains could result. In a narrow solo boat doing so invariably results in a poor corrective stroke and a bath for the learner.

Try a friends paddle which has a shorter shaft length and see the difference.

My ball park measure is to hold the paddle by the throat at the confluence of the blade and shaft and the grip should be somewhere around your nose to maybe a little over.

I simply do not understand where shoulder width has a thing to do with paddle length. I have a long skinny narrow shouldered friend who uses a 37 inch shaft. He is 6'3" and 135 lbs. And mostly long torso. Long torsos are a key to length. I have other six footed friends who use the same length as I do and a shorter person than I uses a 35 inch long shaft.

There can be a lot of variation. I have 26 inch long shafts for Canadian Style and 45 inch long variable grip shafts on Maine Guide Paddles . Normally I run 33 inch shaft. A little longer if I will be using lots of cross strokes.

This leads to the need for a paddle shed.....
 
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southwest Indiana
Whitewater open boaters and C1 paddlers have traditionally used relatively long straight shaft paddles for increased leverage and stronger braces. But I think a price is paid for doing so. Using long paddles for off-side strokes puts the off-side shoulder in an awkward and potentially detrimental position. The shoulder joint is most stable when the humeral head is well down and back in the glenoid (shoulder joint socket). Crossing over to execute cross forward strokes moves the gleno-humeral joint to a high and forward position where it is weakest, and any impingement issues are most likely to be exacerbated. The situation is made worse if one lifts the blade out of the water to recover on linked cross forward strokes, and if less than perfect form is used, as is likely to occur in the heat of the moment.

I am around 5' 10.5" and for many years I used whitewater paddles with an overall length of 58" and a shaft length of up to 40". This placed my grip hand at around brow height at the middle of an on-side, forward stroke, which was a common recommendation. A couple of years ago after experiencing increasing issues with my off-side (left) shoulder, I switched to 56" paddles with shafts around 36-37" and noticed improvement. I am now experimenting with a 54" paddle with a shaft length of around 35", which is probably as short as I could go.

Many other whitewater open boaters have reported similar experiences with off-side shoulder pain improved by using a shorter paddle.
 
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Short works for me for flatwater paddling. Depending on the seat height from the water on a particular boat, I use a 32-33" shaft length. I find I have become very fussy on paddle length. I'm 5' 10" average build.
Turtle
 
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Feb 1, 2013
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For years I paddled with paddles that were too long. I generally use a 54 inch paddle now, and find anything longer to be quite awkward.
 
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Aug 23, 2013
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Red Lake, Ontario
Paddles are measured all wrong. Handle to throat should be the measurement, paddle shapes vary drastically and a 54" River paddle would be drastically different than 54" otter tail, so the discussion is moot in my opinion. I was always of the opinion that if you hold the paddle up at the handle and the throat your arms should be at about 90 degrees. I may be wrong but this method has worked for me.
 
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Paddles are measured all wrong. Handle to throat should be the measurement, paddle shapes vary drastically and a 54" River paddle would be drastically different than 54" otter tail, so the discussion is moot in my opinion. I was always of the opinion that if you hold the paddle up at the handle and the throat your arms should be at about 90 degrees. I may be wrong but this method has worked for me.

No one is disputing that paddle marketing sucks. And the LOA is no matter. Only the shaft length matters. However the mass market paddle makers persist in listing length overall.

Small builders do not like Quimby and Dog Paddle.
 
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