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Paddles for canoeing solo

Discussion in 'Paddles and Paddle Making' started by beeman86, Jun 9, 2012.

  1. beeman86

    beeman86 Curious about Wooden Canoes

    Are there paddles that are better for or designed specifically for canoeing when solo as opposed to tandem?
  2. Giiwedin

    Giiwedin Gouvernail

    If you kneel when you solo and lean the canoe in the Bill Mason way, your paddle shaft should be roughly 2" shorter than your tandem paddle (assuming you're normally a seat sitter). This is not overall paddle length or blade length - but shaft length.
  3. Larry Meyer

    Larry Meyer Wooden Canoes are in the Blood

    The only shape I’d stay away from is Sugar Island (straight edge). Once you get a C stroke or Northwoods stroke down, either a beaver tail or otter tail works fine. I have two paddles I made, one a beaver tail and the other an otter tail, and I use them pretty much interchangeably. I don’t think you need be to exact about shaft length. There’s so much variability in other factors in a stroke, 1,2,3 inches one way or the other don’t make much difference. My two paddles are slightly different lengths, but I couldn’t say which is better, the longer one or the shorter one. Sometimes my paddle shaft is perpendicular to the water. Sometimes it’s angled in like the oar on a row boat. I can C stroke at either angle.
  4. Greg Nolan

    Greg Nolan enthusiast

    Not paddling the Bill Mason way, but when paddling solo usually just sitting backwards in the seat that is the bow seat when paddling tandem, I find that a longer-length paddle of some help when needing to make quick or hard turns -- the longer length makes sweeps and other steering strokes more effective.
  5. kayamedic

    kayamedic Kim Gass

    Paddling a tandem solo, you get way better control more in the center of the canoe heeled over almost to the rails than you do steering ala shopping cart style from the bow seat, facing sternward.

    I have found a modified Voyageur paddle with rounded end works very well. Also a very long bladed Ottertail. The key to avoiding joint fatigue is to avoid wide paddles. Sugar Island shapes are very hard on you as they transmit and magnify turning forces (due to their width) too well. Those same Sugar Island paddles work far better on narrow dedicated solo boats. The difference is all in the mass of the boat being captained.

    What the right shaft length is is highly variable. You know the length is correct when the shaft is not immersed under water and the entire blade is. Depends on the height you hold your top hand and your seating stance or height of seat.

    Northwoods stroke is easier to do with an ottertail/Voyageur shape than a Beavertail. But I have made even a Sugar Island shape work. Those wide blades are very tiring at a fast cadence as in a true Northwoods stroke.

    Sweeps are ineffective steering stroke as they provide too much forward momentum. Sure in some situations that is all you need but a good draw and good pry are far more quick turners. Both can move the boat sideways and also if directed at the bow or stern, turn the boat.

    The only length that matters is shaft length. Normally I take a 33 inch shaft. I take a 26 inch shaft for soloing a tandem, Canadian Style. The blade is some 31-33 inches long. Those are far different proportions from your normal off the rack store bought paddle.

    If you are coming to Assembly I would be happy to share some paddles/technique with you. Also Becky Mason is doing a session on soloing a tandem canoe Canadian Style.
  6. Greg Nolan

    Greg Nolan enthusiast

    Well, I use a sweep only when I want forward momentum -- it has its place, as does a draw or a pry, which strokes are more effective for turning the farther you are from the center of the canoe (though concomitantly less effective for pure lateral movement). Sometimes I even use a backing stroke while turning. I've even been known to stand up (gasp!) in the canoe, the better to see what's ahead. Depends on what's going on.

    The leverage advantage from a long (shaft/blade) paddle is gained, of course, at some expense -- heavier weight, and less nimble handling.

    My chief problem with Canadian Style or free style paddling is the continuous kneeling -- my knees can take it, but the rest of my joints can't, at least for any extended period of time. I am in awe of those who have mastered free or Canadian style, and appreciate the control that can be had. Indeed, I have been known to move into the middle of the canoe on my knees from time to time, but it is not my preference. And when in the middle of a lake when a high wind raises a good chop, I usually like having equal freeboard on either side of the canoe. As they say, different strokes for different folks.

    As for paddle length, my usual paddle is a northwoods style, with a shaft length that varies between 26" and 36" depending on where I grip the long grip with my upper hand; the blade is about 30".

    It's just a little silly to say than the only length that matter is shaft length. Just as blade width can matter, so can blade length. My wife, who usually paddles avant, almost never paddles solo, and is several inches shorter than I am, happily uses a paddle with a 22" long blade.

    I would be happy to meet you at assembly -- I will generally be around except when sequestered at the Board meeting, and you can't miss our canoe (see avatar). I expect to be at Becky Mason's demonstration -- and I'm always happy to learn more about different ways to paddle.
  7. kayamedic

    kayamedic Kim Gass

    Its not silly to say that paddle shafts should end at the water. That is the first guide for sizing. Length depends on many factors. Some of that is paddle area. A paddle four inches wide gets the same power as a shorter blade that is wider...if the length is there. Your wife would not be happy with a blade that is Sugar Island shape and eight inches wide and 22 inches long. That puts incredible stress on the joints. She could probably do well with a four inch wide blade that is longer than 22 inches..more like 28 or 30.
    Most of us who use a wide blade at all shorten the blade as we age. But the shaft length does not shrink..unless we do.

    Not all folks like to kneel. There is a difference in kneeling styles. Canadian involves sitting on your heels. That is uncomfortable for those many who do not spend the winter watching TV on their heels. FreeStyle is far mor upright and uses a saddle or a high seat or kneeling thwart and a very thick pad. Its possible to grow into kneeling in five minute increments. But we digress.

    As to that wind..its safer when broadside at least to lean into the wave. And not sit. While not everyone wants to do this and would rather sit.. the pitching boat beneath you is more apt to get out from under you if you sit. There is less flexion possible in your hips to help keep your torso upright when you sit.

    Its normal to stand up in a canoe if its a tandem. SUP paddling has been a fixture in the north forever.
    But in wooden canoes..not plastic or glass boards.

    I just got a Ray Rietze Northwoods paddle and also have been playing with a Maine Guide paddle that is over six feet long. It would be fun to have a mess around with different paddles session at Assembly!
  8. pklonowski

    pklonowski Unrepentant Canoeist

    I think the key point about the shaft length is that, if the blade is exposed above the water line, why have it there? It's not doing any good, as far as pulling on water is concerned. If the shaft extends into the water, that part of the shaft is also doing no good -- it's just getting the tip of the blade closer to the rocks. If the waterline sits where the blade meets the shaft, it's perfect.

    I have two almost identical ottertails, both of which I love dearly. The grips and blades are virtually identical, but the shaft of the one is two inches longer than the other. Which one I'm using depends on how I'm situated in the canoe, relative to the water line. I kneel on the floor, but my backside is perched up on the seat... so how high the seat is located determines whether I want the longer or shorter paddle. Also coming into play is whether I'm paddling flattened out, or heeled... I play with that most times that I'm out paddling, whether it's a river or a lake. And this is why I have so many paddles... the longest of which is 5'9"...

    ...which is pretty specifically for standing in a canoe... I do this in both tandems and solos, though the solos that I stand in are considerably more stable than solos that I don't stand in. If it works, just go with it...

    Playing with different paddles is a lot of fun!
  9. Greg Nolan

    Greg Nolan enthusiast

    Kim --

    I agree – it is not silly to say that a paddle shaft should end at the water -- but that is not the same as saying "The only length that matters is shaft length." And of course on paddles where the blade tapers into the shaft (most paddles), it is not always clear just where the blade ends and the shaft begins.

    When in high wind causing serious waves, I do generally kneel, whether paddling solo or tandem, but when heading into, or quartering the wind, I prefer not to have the canoe heeled over à la Canadian style, especially in a chop where the wave pattern is not consistent. Taking serious waves broadside is its own skill, and the dynamics of leaning into a broadside wave are not the same as paddling along Canadian (or free) style with one rail down. I do kneel sometimes even in calm water – I just like to change position from time to time – being able to do so is one of the major advantages of a canoe over a kayak.

    Paul –

    Playing around with different paddles, and playing around with how to use them, is definitely a lot of fun. I have four different paddles that I use from time to time (and I recently also got a bent shaft paddle to experiment with) although my “go to” paddle these days is an Alexandra Conover Northwoods paddle that is 66” long. Having learned that it is not necessary to hold the grip with my hand over the top end, I find that the paddle’s graduated, flared grip makes “shortening” the paddle shaft quite easy when desired.

    I think Kim’s suggestion of having a “mess around with different paddles session” at Assembly is a great idea – something like last year’s “mess around with different Rushtons.” We should raise the idea with Rob Stevens as an Assembly activity for next year. I’m sure we would have no trouble rounding up enough different styles and lengths of paddles to make it interesting.
  10. Rob Stevens

    Rob Stevens Wooden Canoes are in the Blood

    "We should raise the idea with Rob Stevens as an Assembly activity for next year. I’m sure we would have no trouble rounding up enough different styles and lengths of paddles to make it interesting."

    Considering I have carved about 100 paddles, I am happy to schedule that as an acitivity, this year.

    Paddle Exchange (Stevens) Come out and share your paddle, so others have the opportunity to try a variety of styles, shapes, lengths, materials and construction types.
    (Fri 10-11:30) [Waterfront Dock / Launch Ramp]
    Last edited: Jun 12, 2012
  11. kayamedic

    kayamedic Kim Gass


    I can be there!!! I will bring a couple of long skinny blades of various shape and a few "modern" paddles as a contribution. I think in the paddle shed I have some four dozen paddles but that qualifies as bringing a lumber yard.( Curiously he does not yell at me for another pair of shoes. But raises eyebrows at yet another paddle..some folks make it through life with one of something and others do not.)

    There are so many styles of paddles I bet we will have no duplication. Thanks Rob for doing this and thanks Greg and the original posters and respondents for getting the discussion going.
  12. Chuck Hoffhine

    Chuck Hoffhine Wooden Canoe Nut

    I learned to paddle somewhere in the middle of the last century using Old Town beaver tail paddles. Still a favorite, timeless and practical. I sit on the seat and kneel only when I have to. I don’t paddle standing up and I don’t do trick paddling. So for my kind of general use paddling my rule of thumb on paddle length is the ‘rule of nose.’ If the blade is on the ground and the grip comes somewhere close to my nose when I am standing up it’s a match. River and lake conditions change constantly so having a different paddle to match different conditions or for different strokes I don’t think is practical. I can deal with a longer paddle but a short one is like paddling with a wooden spoon. I like a springy strong ash paddle for a river and a nice light spruce (if you can still find them) paddle for a lake. What ever you do, HAVE A SPARE AND TIE IT DOWN.

  13. pklonowski

    pklonowski Unrepentant Canoeist


    Ya think it was too hard to convince Rob to do this at Assembly...? lol Now I'm REALLY unhappy that I can't make it this year...
  14. kayamedic

    kayamedic Kim Gass

    I carry two paddles. One is a bent shaft for sitting and the other a straight shaft for kneeling. Bents are funky to size. Straights easier. Grab one by the throat and let your arm hang and the grip should be somewhere between eyes and nose.

    Longer if using many cross strokes which I see few members doing. I do not know what trick paddling is. I use a variety of active and static strokes and the same paddles will do the same job. There is no need to carry a wardrobe on a trip.

    I think Mr. Hilton's name was Mike. Some years ago I bought a light modified Ottertail from him. Beautiful artisanship. He was at one of the Assemblies at Keuka and then passed on very suddenly. Anyone remember him or if I got his name correct?
  15. pklonowski

    pklonowski Unrepentant Canoeist

    I've been known to take as many as four paddles for a downriver day trip... but that's just for playing with them...
  16. Benson Gray

    Benson Gray Canoe History Enthusiast Staff Member

    I suspect that you mean John Hilton as mentioned at and in the article from Wooden Canoe attached below.


    Attached Files:

  17. kayamedic

    kayamedic Kim Gass

    Thank you Benson. John Hilton. I only got to meet him once. He lives on for me in the paddle.
  18. David McDaniel

    David McDaniel Canoe Dude

    I have paddles and a Thompson Indian canoe that I bought from John. I miss his friendship, not to mention his craftsmanship.
    I feel his presents often while paddling.
    ......Dave ow4.jpg
  19. Rob Stevens

    Rob Stevens Wooden Canoes are in the Blood

    I have revised the name of this Assembly activity to be "Paddle Share", so folks don't get the idea they'd be expected to "exchange" or give away their favourite paddle. Hopefully that's clearer and more conducive to folks participating.
  20. Andy Hutyera

    Andy Hutyera The Red Canoe Guy - Life Member

    Hi folks,

    I really enjoyed this thread and am really looking forward to seeing you all on Friday. Rob, thanks for putting this together. Paul, sorry you can't make it. I'll miss seeing you and getting to see some more of your paddles.

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