canoe paddle blade width
Posted by: pblanc on Dec-06-12 2:11 PM (EST)
If you are using an inexpensive straight shaft paddle with an overall length of only 48", you are probably using too short a paddle, unless you have a very short torso and sit very close to the water.
I still prefer wide bladed paddles (up to 8 1/2" wide), especially for whitewater, but the trend has been toward shorter paddles with narrower blades. There are some good reasons.
First, a paddle with a larger blade is going to be heavier, regardless how light the wood is. All canoe paddles are somewhat "unbalanced" in that the blade is always significantly heavier than the grip. This is increasingly true for cheaper paddles and those with large blade surface area. The weight difference might not seem that significant, but it does add up over the miles and hours and increases paddler fatigue.
Second, a paddle with an extremely wide blade may force you to take your stroke too far away from the keel line of the boat, to avoid hitting or scraping the side of the boat. The further lateral from the keel line of your boat that your stroke is taken, the greater will be the tendency or your stroke to turn the boat, and the more correction you will need to use. The more correction you are required to use, the less efficient you will be.
Third, any racer will tell you that one of the most important factors involved in going fast is paddle cadence. The more strokes you take per minute the faster you will go (99% of the time, anyway). A heavier paddle with a larger blade will tend to slow your cadence. If you paddle "sit and switch" or use cross strokes, the paddle with the wider blade will be somewhat more awkward and somewhat slower to swing across the boat from one side to the other. Wider bladed paddles are also more likely to be adversely affected by a strong wind.
Having said that, I do like wide bladed paddles for whitewater use. This is largely due to their improved bracing effect, since the wider blade simply provides more support. Also in whitewater it is often important to get a maximal amount of forward force out of a single stroke, or a couple of strokes. That is virtually never the case in flat water canoeing. In flat water touring it really doesn't matter much if you need to take an extra stroke or two to get the boat up to speed. More important is the ease with which you can keep the boat maintained at cruising speed once you get it there. And most folks seem to find that it is easier to do that with a somewhat narrower paddle blade.
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