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Discussion in 'Research and History' started by Tom Little, Sep 25, 2020.
I have noticed some vintage are very long, maybe 65" or more. Why so long?
There are a variety of reasons, some people simply prefer long paddles, others paddle standing up as shown at https://s3.amazonaws.com/pastperfectonline/images/museum_370/037/14666-11.jpg occasionally, sailing canoes like the one shown at http://forums.wcha.org/index.php?threads/social-media-images.15877/#post-81243 use a long paddle as a rudder, etc. It is also possible that the short paddles got used more and wore out so a higher percentage of the long paddles have survived.
Sometimes it's a long way down to the water, like here in my little solo canoe. Long paddles can also offer more leverage and reach for turning maneuvers like sweep strokes, diagonal draws and others where you are reaching outboard - as long as you have enough water depth that you aren't hitting bottom with the blade.
There are lots of ways to size paddles to their owners. Rather than the old chin-hi, nose-hi or whatever rules of thumb, we used to size general purpose touring and whitewater paddles to their potential owners more by shaft length than by overall paddle length. Standing with your upper arms straight out to the sides from your shoulders, maintaining ninety degree bends at your elbows and your lower arms pointing skyward like goal posts we would position the paddle's grip in one hand (over your head) and the other hand on the lower shaft, just above the blade. That would be your shaft length. You could then stick whatever sort of blade on the bottom end and whatever grip style you wanted on the top end. Depending on what shape the blades had, the overall length of different paddles might vary by a foot or better, but they would all have similar shaft lengths and feel. This could then be adjusted a bit more as needed - maybe a bit shorter for very low seats, shorter still for marathon hup-stroke paddlers, etc.
There are also those who say that a long, skinny blade is less tiring to use. I'm not sure about that, but I like the way they feel. This one is 6' long. As long as they have good balance (aren't blade-heavy) I haven't really found one blade shape to be less tiring than any other shape.
The paddles we used growing up were all extremely long. They were my fathers paddles and that was what he preferred. When I bought my own paddles I opted for shorter ones but they were still longer than what most folks were using.
I once asked him why he preferred the longer paddles and his answer was quite simple, that was what he and all of the other guides used in the part of Maine where he was employed (Moosehead, Penobscot, Allagash). Paddling the long 20 foot canoes they used, he thought it gave him better leverage for hauling a client around and it also allowed him to paddle standing. The guys he worked with in the forest service also used the longer paddles. I still have a couple of his paddles. I have a hard time using them much as he had a hard time using mine. I can't even imagine what he would have done with a bent paddle. Possibly used it for kindling?
Another consideration is that while you can’t make a short paddle long, you can often use a long paddle as though it were short.
You do not have to hold a paddle over the end of the grip. Indeed, Northwoods-style paddles are designed to be held on the side of the grip, not over the top end, and the grip is purposefully long so the effective shaft length can be changed simply by moving your hand up or down along the side of the grip.
Further, there is no requirement to hold any paddle over the end of the grip – you can hold a paddle below the grip by simply wrapping you hand around the shaft just below the grip – effectively making a long shaft “shorter” by “choking up” on the shaft, just as you do when the only baseball bat available is too long or too heavy.
Early photos of native Americans paddling often show paddles that have no “grip” at all – the round shaft goes all the way up with no flaring – effectively a continuously variable-length shaft.
The photo below shows some of my paddles, with various blade lengths and shaft lengths, but all can be used comfortable and effectively if you are willing to move your upper hand up and down and sometimes around the grip/shaft. Note that the shafts of the four paddles on the left (2 Alexandra Conover Northwoods style, a Dale Tobey Grand Lake Stream style, and a Steve Cayard Malecite style) appear to be significantly shorter than the shafts of the next three paddles while the overall length is greater than the three -- a modern style Grey Owl paddle (multi-colored blade) and the two traditional Old Town and White paddles, the shafts of which are much alike and are conventionally “correct” for me. However, the effective shaft length of all of these can be virtually identical or vary widely, depending on where and how you hold the paddle -- which can (and should) vary depending on whether you are standing, sitting, or kneeling, and depending on what you are doing with the paddle. The next two paddles, much shorter, are used by my wife who is quite a bit shorter than I am. And among others not shown is one carved by Rob Stevens that is some 4-5 inches longer than any of these.
I can and have paddled comfortably and effectively with all these longer paddles (except the Conover paddle painted by Jerry Stelmok) – and while I have played around with my wife’s shorter paddles, they are just too short for me, and there is no way that I know of the make a short paddle longer. My absolute favorite to paddle with is Steve Cayard’s Malecite paddle, but it is much too nice to use regularly. Otherwise, my two favorites are the undecorated Conover paddle, and a Shaw and Tenney Penobscot paddle (not in the picture) – similar in appearance and performance to the Old Town and White paddles, but significantly lighter, being made of spruce instead of ash.
Overall length matters -- but so does shaft, grip, and blade length -- as well as other issues such as weight, blade shape, grip shape, material, etc., etc., etc.
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