Thursday, February 28, 2008

How Long is Long

This is not SPAM. We're not talking manhood here. We're talking paddle length.
Back about a decade or so, John Heath published an article in Sea Kayaker mag on Greenland paddles and their anthropometrics. Ever since then, when you show a paddle to anyone, they reach over their head with their arm outstretched and their fingers curled over at the first joint from the tip and tell you that that's how long a paddle ought to be.
Yeah maybe. That's a good start if you're 5' 6" tall and paddle a Greenland boat with a 21 inch beam with a deck that's almost flat. If you paddle a boat that's wider or deeper or you're taller or shorter or you don't paddle for a living, you might want a paddle of a different length.
There are some websites that have developed algorithms for determining the right length of paddle for you. You answer about 20 questions like how wide your boat is, how fit you are, how strong you are, how tall you are and so on and then tell you what length your paddle should be. Maybe.
The truth of it is, there is no magic formula to determine what length of paddle is just right for you. Judging by the paddles that people are using and the results they're getting, people are not getting good advice on paddle sizing. The only way I think that you can get the right paddle for yourself is to try a bunch of different paddles and see what feels right to you. And nothing ever stays the same. The more you paddle, the stronger you get and the kind of paddle you can handle changes. If you get a boat with different dimensions, chances are, you need a different paddle.
So anyway, all this is a long pre-amble to the topic of long paddles. If I use the Heath anthropometrics, I get a Greenland paddle that's 87 inches long. But we know that the Greenlanders weren't the only ones making paddles. I used to make my Aleut paddles about 90 to 92 inches long. But some people with wide boats and people who felt more comfortable with a slower paddling cadence wanted paddles that were even longer. I made one Aleut paddle 102 inches long. But most recently, in corresponding with Jeffrey Dickrell of Unalaska, I found out that Aleuts made paddles that were even longer. I won't go into details here because Jeff has an article coming out in Sea Kayaker mag on the topic of long paddles and I'm going to hold off on posting any pictures until after his article is published, but in any case, I've made a nine foot long (108") and a ten foot (120") long paddle for purposes of testing the long paddle idea. Results will be posted in the not too distant future.

So here's a photo of the nine footer being glued up. I used redwood which has similar strength and density characteristics to red cedar and is available in discount lumber stores. The Aleuts supposedly used western red cedar for their paddles. Given the dimensions that they built them to, I'm not surprised.

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