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Sizing a kayak paddle

Deciding which size of kayak paddle is right for you should be an easy task. But, the more you read on the subject, the more confusing it gets, thanks to unspoken biases, old wives tales and kayak voodoo rituals. Using math, physics and the best teacher of all, experience, I’ve found the following system works!

First, have a friend measure your torso length as follows. Sit on the floor with your legs in front of you like in a kayak and with a book precariously balanced on your head. If you have served in the military, then you can sit ramrod straight. Everyone else, sit with your usual amount of kayaking slouch. Measure from the floor to the underside of the book, in inches.

Next, you have to decide which style of paddling you enjoy most often; “all day touring”, “fitness/racing” or “adventure racing.”

If you typically paddle at an easy pace that you could do all day, or if you are in a kayak to “be” rather than to “do,” then you are what I call an “all day tourer.” During your stroke, the shaft will stay fairly horizontal and your fists will draw small circles in the air. Use “The Chart” to determine your paddle length. Then, if you paddle a kayak wider than 24″, add 5cm. You should use a long and thin “quill-style” blade.

If you race or paddle for fitness or can’t let go of your “type A personality” when you’re on the water, then you are what I call “fitness/racing paddler.” During your stroke, the shaft will be more vertical and your fists will draw larger circles in the air. Use “The Chart” to determine your paddle length, but subtract 10cm. You should choose a blade shape that is a little shorter and wider than a “quill.”

If you are not having fun unless your vision is blurred by sweat and you are bleeding from at least one orifice, then you are what everyone calls an adventure racer. Use “The Chart” to determine your paddle length, subtract 20cm, get a wing blade and cut back on the coffee!

Given all the scientific resources and years of study I sacrificed to develop “The Chart,” you still have to listen to your own body – it knows! According to “The Chart” my beloved should use a 235cm paddle, but prefers a 240cm. “It just feels better,” she says. Who am I to argue?

The Chart
Torso Length (inches) 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40
Paddle Length (cm) 215 220 220 225 225 230 235 240 240 245 25



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Waterproofing Systems

Olive Barrel with Harness

Olive Barrel with Harness
There are a wide variety of waterproofing systems out there, each with its pros and cons.

If you want to do it on the cheap, you can double bag your gear in garbage bags. Use bags marketed for yard waste, as they are heavier duty than the regular ones. Tie each bag separately and then put them inside a duffel bag or knapsack to protect the garbage bags. One small prick or tear and the whole system will fail.

Used olive barrels have become popular in the canoeing community for waterproofing gear. They are available at Greek or Italian restaurants and markets. They used to be free, but these places are on to us and now charge a small fee for them. Or, you can buy a barrel of olives and get the barrel for free! Occasionally the O-ring on these barrels is ruined in opening, but removing the old ring, cleaning the grove and laying down a small bead of silicon caulking will fix it.

Drybags come in a huge variety of shapes and sizes. Most use a roll down system to seal them and keep water out. Be sure that the material is flat when rolling. Any crease will allow water to work its way inside. Others seal with waterproof zippers. While more expensive, they are easy and quick to use.

Dry boxes are extremely durable but more expensive than other options. Most dry boxes seen on the water are used to protect expensive items like your camera or vital gear such as the first aid kit. They use an O-ring to seal out the elements and are extremely dry. Every time you close the box, be sure to check the seal for cuts or debris. A single hair or a small accumulation of dirt can foul the O-ring enough to let water inside.

I use all of the above systems from time to time, but when canoeing my favourite waterproofing piece is the big blue barrel. They hold 70 to 75 litres of stuff and fit perfectly two abreast in a canoe.

Whichever system you use, take the extra moment to close it properly and it will serve you well. And if it does get wet, don