Guidelines that use torso height plus blade length are most trustworthy, although specifics such as extra wide or narrow canoes and unusually high or low seat positions cannot be factored in. Such details are for the individual to determine. For the average width canoe with an average seat height, we have found the following method satisfactory for most:
Standard Canoe Paddles (WW Big Dipper, Big Dipper, Pintail, Heron, Dipper, Avocet, Lapwing, Little Egret & Little Grebe):
Sit up straight on a firm flat chair with legs at 90 degrees and measure the distance from the seat to your eye level or bridge of the nose. This figure should equate the required shaft length. Add to this the given blade length for your chosen paddle model and you have the figure for the full length of paddle (eg: 32″ torso = 32″ shaft + 26″ blade = 58″ paddle). Some allowance should be made if the paddle is intended for a dedicated position in the boat. Bow paddlers generally use shorter strokes, thus finding a shorter paddle more efficient. Stern and solo paddlers prefer a slightly longer paddle to assist in steering the canoe & aiding manoeuvrability. It is recommended that a +/- 2 inch adjustment for comfort be made if this is the case.
Speciality Canoe Paddles (Swan & Kingfisher):
The exceptions to the above advice concern both the Swan (Northwoods style) & Kingfisher (Algonquin style) paddles. Much myth & legend surround these paddles and in recent years there has been quite a bit of interest regarding their benefits. Size guides are few and far between, but we have found that adding 4″- 6″ for the Swan and 2″- 4″ for the Kingfisher works well for most, allowing both sliding overhand and conventional grip positions to be used.
Kayak Paddles (Shearwater & Fulmar): COMING SOON
Greenland-paddle fit is usually determined by anthropometric (body) measurements. Please understand that these are “ball-park” measurements only. Experimentation and experience will help you to hone these measurements to find the perfect fit for you.
For a full-size paddle, a common measurement is a full tip-to-tip arm span plus a cubit (the distance from your elbow to your fingertips). Another method is to ensure that you can just curl your fingers over the top of your paddle whilst standing flat-footed (no stretching!). “Storm” paddles (short paddles used with a full sliding stroke) are much shorter, being an arm span long, but with the loom most commonly only two fist widths wide.
The loom dimension must match your body AND the kayak you are using. A method for finding a good starting point is to stand upright, shake out your arms (relax), and allow your arms to hang at your sides. Lift your forearms so that they are parallel to each other and horizontal to the ground. Your arms should NOT be held against your sides — let them “float” (e.g. you should have enough room that a cloth rag stuffed under each armpit should fall to the ground rather than be held fast by arm pressure). Now make a “circle” with the thumb and forefinger of each hand. These circles indicate where the paddle-shoulders should be (where the roots of the blades begin).
Generally the loom must at least be as wide as your kayak — so if your kayak is much wider than a standard Greenland kayak you may have to improvise. Another method to determine loom length that involves your kayak is to sit in your kayak holding a broom-handle and discover where your hands naturally fall.