SELECTING THE RIGHT PADDLE
Choosing the right paddle has a significant impact on your canoeing experience. Your new Souris River Canoe many glide through the water effortlessly, but if your paddle is too long and too heavy, paddling will still be a chore.
Some Tips to Consider
Choose a light paddle.
It will cost you a little bit more, but you will be swinging your paddle over 50 times per minute, so even a few ounces makes a big difference. Try to keep your paddle under 20 ounces. If you plan on packing on the miles, try for something closer to ten ounces.
Look for a blade with a reinforced tip.
Many paddles have plastic or epoxy tips for extra protection where it matters most. It is hard to avoid hitting the bottom with your paddle, or pushing off from a rock that sneaks up on you. This extra reinforcement will add years to the life of your paddle.
Don’t buy a paddle that is too long.
We see a lot of people paddling with paddles that are too long. Your upper hand shouldn’t have to be above your eyes when you are paddling.
When sizing your paddle, it’s the shaft length, not the overall length of the paddle, that matters. The shaft length should be roughly the distance from your shoulder to the waterline. Sit in a flat chair, and measure the distance from the seat to your shoulder. Add about six inches to account for the distance to the waterline, and you have a good starting point for shaft length.
A solo paddler may want a slightly longer shaft. If possible, try a few paddles of different lengths before committing, and remember that if your upper hand is above your nose during the stroke, your paddle is too long.
It can be tempting to buy a blade with lots of surface area to pull you through the water faster. This can be great for whitewater canoeing, where you are paddling short, intense intervals requiring dramatic manouevres. However, for canoe tripping, a smaller blade is often far more effective. Remember, the paddle will only move you as fast as you can pull. For most of us, a more rapid stroke with a smaller blade is far more efficient than a slower stroke with a large blade.
The traditional paddle was a beavertail. For canoe tripping, this remains an ideal shape. This long, lean blade still has enough surface area to move you along, but generally with a faster, more aerobic stroke. The rounded tip ensures the paddle enters and exits the water silently without splashing. Since the blade is narrow at the top, the paddle can be held closer to the side of the canoe. Variations on this design, such as the ottertail, are equally effective.
Bent shaft paddles often opt for a rounder teardrop blade, but still with roughly the same overall surface area. This overcomes the one drawback of beavertail and ottertail blades: shallow water. Because these traditional paddles are long, they cannot be fully inserted in shallow water.
Square blades will splash when entering and exiting the water. This is a waste of energy, not pretty to watch, and potentially annoying if your paddling partner gets splashed. A square blade is also more likely to want to twist in your hand if not inserted vertically in the water.
Traditionally, paddles have been made from wood, of course. Depending on the design, a wood paddle may be solid or laminated. Do not be worried about the strength of a laminated paddle. A well-made laminated paddle is not likely to break. Further, a laminated paddle can save weight and maintain strength by putting lighter wood in the centre, and stronger wood along the edges. Wood paddles remain a solid choice for their beauty and strength. While it is difficult to make a wood paddle as light as a carbon fibre paddle, they can still be well under 15 ounces.
Carbon fibre paddles are very strong and can be remarkably light – weighing as little as ten ounces. Their aesthetics are in the eye of the beholder.
Plastic – just don’t.
Bent Shaft or Straight Shaft
If you are new to paddling, start with a straight shaft. It is easier to learn to paddle effectively, and you will not have a problem transitioning to a bent shaft later on, should you choose.
Having said that, a bent shaft paddle can improve your efficiency, giving you a little extra speed. The bent shaft ensures that the blade stays more vertical for most of the stroke. It is designed for a short stroke that ends when the shaft reaches your hips.
Most bent shaft paddles are around 12 – 14 degrees. These work well for bow paddlers, but in the stern, a paddle with a seven to eight degree angle makes performing steering strokes easier. In the stern, a flat blade versus a scooped blade is essential, as the latter makes performing steering strokes very difficult.