n. [In L. batillus is a paddle-staff; in Gr. a pole.] A usually wooden implement having a blade at one end or sometimes at both ends, used without an oarlock to propel a canoe or small boat. (Dictionary.com)
Pictured to the right is a typical recreational canoe paddle, with an aluminum or fiberglass shaft and plastic grip and blade. Wooden recreational paddles in the same basic style are also quite common.
When you are sitting in the canoe with your paddle in the water, the top of the paddle (the “grip”) should be roughly at eye level. When you are standing up, if the top of the paddle reaches your mid chest then it’s probably about right. If it comes to your shoulders or higher, it’s definitely too long: it will tire you out and make you feel (and look) like a goof ball who doesn’t know what the heck they’re doing. If that’s you’re only option though, it will get the job done.
If you are paddling on the right side of the boat, then your left hand should be holding the grip, and your right hand should be holding the shaft somewhere in the middle. And of course, when you switch sides to paddle on the left side of the boat, your right hand is then on top holding the grip, and your left is holding onto the shaft.
To determine where on the shaft your bottom hand should go, put the grip of the paddle right up against your shoulder like you would the butt of a rifle. Now hold that arm out against the shaft of the paddle, while your other arm supports the paddle, and wherever your hand reaches to along the shaft, that’s where you should grip it. That distance will be the most comfortable for you, and will give you the best leverage, which will make your strokes more powerful and effective.
Paddles made for racing or long distance paddling are much lighter (hence more fragile) and are usually made of wood or carbon fiber. These paddles also have a “bent shaft”, though in reality the shaft is strait, it’s just that the blade is attached at a forward angle that improves the efficiency and comfort of your stroke. If you find you really enjoy canoeing, you should check these paddles out.
Equipment Recommendation: Paddles
Try to find an aluminum or plastic paddle to start with (instead of wood); they are very durable, a bit more comfortable than cheap wooden paddles, and it’s easy to find one for $20 – $30 brand new. Carlisle is a popular brand you can look for.
If you want to upgrade your paddle at some point, check out the wooden bent shaft paddles. We love ours.