Paddle Sizing

Canadian (Single blade) paddles

The Perfect Paddle?

Optimum paddle shape and length depends on purpose. For most paddlers, choice of paddle is a compromise between the various uses we put them to, though it is common to have more than one type. For example, a long bladed touring paddle is excellent for deep water, and a shorter one for shallow. Whitewater paddlers often have a wooden paddle for flat water sections and a strong nylon-headed paddle for rapids and shallow water. If you are limited to one paddle, many paddlers would recommend the classic beavertail; our version is called the Huscarl.

Single Blade Paddle length

A simple guide to personal paddle length is to kneel down and hold your arm out so it is parallel to the ground.  The distance from the bottom of your fist to the ground is the paddle shaft length you need.  The image to the left shows this method – the position mimics the power stage of the stroke, with the top hand extended level, holding the grip, which puts the blade below the level of the ground (i.e. underwater).

Note#.  Using the method where you stand and choose a paddle that comes to the level of your shoulder is not useful as it entirely ignores the length of the blade!

To illustrate the need to consider the paddle type when choosing the size of paddle: the shaft lengths for my own Viking and Huscarl paddles are 90cm. The long blade of the Viking means the paddle’s overall length is 164cm. The shorter Huscarl head makes its overall length 150cm. If my own Viking was 150cm long I’d be working with a very short shaft of 75 cm which would neutralise the benefit of the long blade. Your paddle length should vary with the blade length/type. Hope this makes sense!

Head size and blade shape

Simply put, a shorter, broader paddle head can provide more instant power per stroke, but is more tiring to use.  A smaller-headed paddle can’t generate the same amount of power per stroke but doesn’t wear you out so fast.  Racing a canoe over a shorter distance, and whitewater paddling, both benefit from short, broad, paddle heads, whilst touring or longer trips are more comfortable with longer, narrower blades.

Shorter heads are more suitable for shallow and rocky areas where short, rapid strokes may be required, whilst longer blades are useful in deeper water where the blade can reach into the less turbulent water below the surface.  When using a long-bladed paddle, the stroke tends to be slower and with a more gradual application of force.  This feels and looks more peaceful and can be less wearing on the wrists and shoulders.  The Valkyrie Viking and the Thane are long-bladed paddles, and the Valkyrie Huscarl is a short-bladed one.

Greenland Sea Kayak Paddles or ‘Greenland Sticks’

The Perfect Paddle?

Traditionally the Greenland paddle was made to fit the paddler. However, the paddler also paddled a boat made to measure. Unless you are paddling a boat that is ‘perfect’ for your size and dimensions, the perfect ‘made-to-measure’ Greenland paddle requires some compromise.

If you paddle a boat longer and/or wider than a Greenlander would have made for you, you will probably need a paddle that is longer than the ‘perfect’ measure.

If you want to use the paddle for paddling that requires lots of hard work (e.g. breaking out through surf or working against tide), you probably want a blade head which is wider than a traditional one.

Key dimensions

Length:  This is based on your full reach above your head.  When fully extended, but not overly stretching, your finger tips should just curl over the end of the blade.

Loom width: This is based on the distance from the inside edge of your ring finger on your
right hand across to the same place on your left hand.  There is a number of ways to take the measurement, but the simplest is to hold a broomstick or similar and adjust your hands to a comfortable paddle grip, and then get someone to measure the distance.

Shoulder profile:  The blade can be shaped to taper gently into the loom, or to have a more pronounced shoulder.  The more tapered profile is more comfortable for sliding the shaft through the hands for extended sweep strokes.  Some people prefer the more pronounced shoulder to help locate the hands on the blade for rolling.

Blade width:

The wider the blade, the more work you will need per stroke, but also the greater power you can transfer into moving the boat. Traditional blades are quite narrow.

  • Traditional: blade width (widest): 7.5-8 cm / 3 in
  • Half way:  blade width (widest): 9 cm / 3.5 in
  • I no longer make a wider western blade.

Why use a Greenland Paddle.

The key advantage of these paddles is the lighter and effectively more restful paddling rhythm that they develop.  The swinging motion develops greater use of the core muscles, reducing arm and shoulder fatigue, and largely eliminates wrist flex and ultimately wrist injury, particularly over long-distance touring.

Greenland paddles require a little practice to develop proficiency, but it is building familiarity, not overcoming complexity, that requires the practice.

They have a significantly simpler shape, without the variety of scoops, feathers and compound blade angles found in modern Western paddles.  The Greenland paddle’s narrow profile means that it is less prone than a typical sea paddle to flutter and twist in the water and the wind.  This makes paddling smoother, and combines to make rolling, bracing and paddling more straightforward; because the blades are symmetrical there is no need to search for the right position to prepare for the required stroke.  Many paddlers find the Greenland paddle easier to learn to roll with.

Once you develop familiarity with a Greenland paddle, you are unlikely to return to the modern Western imitation!  The ‘Greenland Stick’ is the ultimate sea paddle developed over centuries of use in a demanding environment.

Greenland Paddle in Action – Surfing with a Greenland stick

This video shows the Greenland paddle being used for surfing. Norman has been surfing with Valkyrie Greenland Blades since 2014. His only breakage has been when the paddle contacted the sea bed during a roll in strong surf.

Stand Up Paddleboard Paddles

There are various ways to determine the best length for a Stand-up Paddleboard paddle.  It depends slightly on the type of paddling you will be doing and personal preference.

If the paddle is too long you will tend to make wider paddle strokes which turn the board, and if it is too short you will need to bend at the knees and/or waist to get good water contact.  A paddle that is too short can also tend to make you lean forward, which can cause back strain. 

  • A good standard is between 6 and 10 inches longer than your overall height. 
  • You can also try this calculator.