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What’s the best length for a Greenland Paddle?

Posted by Greg on January 20, 2012

Q: I have read different things about how to find the best length for a Greenland paddle and some of the methods result in very different sizes. Is there a traditional method to find the exact paddle size. Thanks! — Confused in Portland

A: Hello “Confused”. Greenland paddle sizing is usually done using anthropometric measurements. This type of measurement takes into account body sizing, and can be done directly, without a tape measure.

For the measurements below, an “armspan” refers to the full reach of your outstretched arms, from the extended fingertips of one hand, to the other.

  • The most commonly-used method for touring is one armspan , plus a cubit (the distance from your elbow to your extended fingertips).
  • For competition rolling, and kayaking in very windy areas, you may want a slightly shorter paddle — a common length is an armspan plus the distance from your wrist to your fingertips. A shorter paddle is easier to maneuver both underwater and in a strong wind.
  • For a very short paddle used with a sliding stroke (often called a “storm paddle”), the length is short  –  one armspan, with the loom only two or three fists wide.

The key is to treat these guidelines as a ballpark estimate ONLY and experiment freely. Your ideal paddle may be several inches longer or shorter than these guidelines  There is no “official/traditional” formula that will be perfect for all users. Don’t get too caught up in what is the “proper” or traditional sizing or what your friends use. By all means try many different sizes but what is important is that the paddle fits you, accommodates the dimensions of your kayak, and the type of paddling that you do.

Paddle length is affected by many things, including your torso height, arm length, kayak width and foredeck volume, height of your seat, and other factors, including your posture and technique.

If your paddle-length is not optimal you will have to compensate with technique, and your posture may be negatively affected.  A good instructor can observe you and quickly determine if  your paddle length looks good and if your posture and technique are sound.

Tip – if you make your own paddle, consider making your first one with the length slightly longer than what you think is “ideal”, and make the loom (paddle shaft) slightly shorter than what you think is “ideal”. This gives you room to experiment. After using the paddle, you can modify it as needed — by taking off some of the length or making the loom longer.  It’s easy to remove wood but not so easy to put it back on!

For additional information please see the sizing information that I posted at Qajaq USA.

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