Paddles are sized by overall length: tip to grip (or tip to tip). However, it is far more accurate to measure your correct size by using only the shaft (and grip in the case of canoe paddles), as the blade can vary greatly in length. The part of the paddle that is out of the water is what needs to be measured correctly to match your body size.
Paddle length numbers refer to a measurement from the very tip of the blade to the center of the shaft. While you’ll sometimes find lengths in inches, the most common measurements are metric. Paddles tend to range from 180 to 260 cm (which is roughly 6 to 8.5 feet). There are a lot of factors that influence paddle size such as the type of paddling you do, the width of your boat and many others. For a quick way to roughly measure a kayak paddle, grip the paddle so your elbows are just inside 90 degrees. If you imagine a line from the centre of the shaft to the throat, your hands should be two thirds of the way down the line. Remember, this is a very rough measure!
It is essential you take the width of your boat into consideration, and whether you are buying a low-angle or high-angle paddle.
Kayak Paddle: Straight Shaft
With the correct length of canoe paddle your upper hand will be in front of your face and the blade will be buried just to the shaft as you take your stroke. To size your paddle, sit on a chair with back straight (your legs don’t factor in how tall you sit in the boat). Place the paddle with grip down on the chair between your legs. The throat of the paddle (where the shaft meets the blade) should come to the top of your forehead (approximately).
For Whitewater Surfing
There are a lot of differing opinions on how to correctly size whitewater kayak paddles. Factors include whether you paddle with your lower hand above the gunwale, how high/low you sit in the boat, whether you are on a seat or saddle, whether you are paddling solo or tandem, and on and on.
Generally speaking, start with your straight shaft paddle length and figure these factors in to determine whether you need to go longer. Most whitewater canoe paddles are 56" to 58" long.
For Stand up Paddle Boarding
An easy way to find the correct length of SUP paddle is to flip it upside down so the grip rests on the floor. The throat of the paddle should be at approximately eye level. Another way of measuring is to pick a paddle about 10 inches taller than you, overall. (If you are surfing or doing whitewater in your SUP, pick a paddle 8 inches taller than you.)
For Canoe: Bent Shaft
Sitting on a chair as above, the throat of the paddle should come to about eye level. Your bent shaft paddle length is often about 4 inches shorter than your straight shaft length.