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Overall paddle length is not as critical as shaft length. A 60” traditional style paddle with a 28” long blade will have 7” more shaft length than a 60” contemporary paddle with a 21” blade. That’s a huge difference.
Obviously, the best way to properly size and select a paddle is to get it wet and trial it. If you have this opportunity, take advantage of it. As you paddle, note the height of your top hand. Ideally, you want this hand to stay even and horizontal with your shoulder throughout the paddle stroke. If you find your hand dipping in mid stroke, it’s time to try something a bit longer. If your hand scribes an arc up by your ear, check out a shorter paddle.
It’s not always possible to test paddle so here’s a method that should put you in the ballpark in terms of length:
In terms of popularity, paddles in the 57” range are the most popular, followed by those around 60” and 54”. It’s rare to get a call for 51” or 66” straight shaft paddles, though stand-up paddlers are looking for much longer paddles.
Like the straight shaft, best way to go about this is to trial paddle some bents. If you’ve never tried a bent, you owe it to yourself to give it a try and get a taste. You never know.
If an on-water trial is not practical you can follow the procedure outlined below, keeping in mind that paddling position and type of canoe can swing the pendulum towards one length or another. Most bent shaft models are sized in 2 “ increments.
Sit in a straight back chair and keep you back straight. Take a paddle or your broomstick and place it upside down (grip down) on the seat of the chair between your legs. Sitting “tall” hold the shaft up in front of you. Note the measurements at your chin and your nose. These lengths will likely work for you and which way you ultimately go would depend on the same qualifiers used with straight paddles.
The most common length of bent shaft paddles is 50” with 52” not far behind. People use just about as many 54”s as they do 48”s. For a small adult or adolescent, consider a 46”.