Oar length questions for bad shoulders. - Mountain Buzz

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Old 01-06-2015   #1
athelake's Avatar
Newman Lake, Washington
Paddling Since: 2010
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Oar length questions for bad shoulders.

I've been paddling sea kayaks, hardshell ww kayaks and IKs for several years and I'm buying my first raft this winter. I'll be doing day and multi-day floats in the NW as well as some in CO when I visit family. I've got some questions on sizing oars.

I'm planning on getting a 14 footer with an NRS Bighorn frame. I'm leaning towards Cataract SGGs with Sawyer laminated fir blades. I've used SGGs on a cataraft that I use several times a year and like them. I am planning on using open locks and like the idea of the thinner Sawyer blades for easier feathering.

I'm 185 lbs and have had both shoulders surgically repaired as well as having three neck vertebrae fused. I also like the idea the longer, skinnier Sawyer blade to keep me out of my ortho surgeons office.

I was thinking of getting some 9.5' oars, but with the longer Sawyer blades and my injuries, would a 9.0' or even an 8.5' be better?

I can't be the only 50 something with several surgeries, so what works for you?

Thanks for any advice and suggestions!

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Old 01-07-2015   #2
Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Paddling Since: 1987
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Aire 143D 9ft. oars Aire 156D 9.5ft. oars I like a tall back tractor seat to rest the old back.
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Old 01-07-2015   #3
Jenks, Oklahoma
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I am in a similar situation physically as you describe except older, with 4 fused (number 7,8,9,10) and more metal elsewhere including the shoulder issues with added pelvic issues.

I had been rowing a 18 ft Aire Catboat and 14 ft Aire self bailer. Hard shelled kayaks for many decades.

For what it is worth, I think it is mostly important on how you use your rig after you find out the rig that works for you. Just be aware what worked before will probably have to be looked at a bit differently.

For me, I got rid of the 18 and 14 ft rigs plus the hardshell kayaks. I might could have used them but the potential for miss use was just more than I felt comfortable with. Rafts just way too heavy for me to manage off the water and the issue of making moves on the water that would cause further injury with the rafts and hard shells.

I ended up with a Jacks Plastic Cutthroat catboat that Jack worked with me to set up like I wanted. Key points are the individual parts are sized so I can handle them. After I get parts together, I swallow my pride and ask for some help to move around. I also row open oar locks. On this rig I went to cataract 8 ft oars with weights so the oars are basically weight less in the oar locks. The Cutthroat in the water is very easy to control and I do not overload it like I did both the other boats. I boat with a very good bunch and after I do my setup or derig, I can always get help to move really heavy stuff. Instead of the big gear bags, I use multiple bags. I also get started early and take my time avoiding the rush and the things being in a hurry create.

Couple more things, to me the hardest part is off the water moving heavy things, on the water making moves with a big load and in general paying a lot of attention to stroke technique. Technique in raft, canoe and IK's to avoid twisting moves under a heavy load. I do not know about your spine but mine has the cage and I suspect it will stay in forever. The Spine Doc allowed me to row and paddle but advises a reasonable forward and back motion is the most safe moves for me. Being a long time ACA WW kayak instructor, I have always been big on torso twists. Well, I found out a person can do decent strokes with much less torso twist than the ACA technique seems to advise. No hard shell kayak rolls for sure.

Bottom line, I went to the light weight oar rig, easier canoe trips in a Winona Rendezvous, finally inflatable kayaks first one a Thrillseeker and last fall added an Aire Outfitter IK.

I still do trips just not some of the ones I used to do IE mellow floats here in the States as opposed to four or sometimes four plus down in remote areas of South America.

The main thing for me has been lighter weight gear, pay attention to technique and not overdo it. Sounds reasonable but for most boaters who have boated as long as people like you and I have - hard to accept and harder to do. As my wife told me "you are still running rivers, just differently" Wise lady and good advice for me.

Hope this helps. Every body is different and every situation is different. But there is a way to stay on the water. If I can give you more feedback, contact me off the board and we can email back and forth.
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Old 01-07-2015   #4
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Charleston, West Virginny
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Your injury/repairs obviously might be different, but I have a terrible left shoulder (most of the rotator cuff is gone and a torn ligament)...it dislocates backwards easily and has done so literally close to 100 times. It's particularly susceptible when my arm is raised above shoulder height. Haven't gotten it fixed yet but will someday. I also broke my neck in a car wreck and that gives me issues sometimes as well.

I row a 14' w/ 10ft counterbalanced cataracts. I like the leverage I get from the 10 footers (even though in big water the stiffness can feel like you are prying against a mountain)....and I could do un-counterbalanced 9's but the shorter the oar the higher my oarstroke gets...so it actually bothers my shoulder some if I go shorter than 9. Otherwise I have no issues, in fact the rowing helps my shoulder, neck and lower back issues tremendously.
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Old 01-07-2015   #5
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Belgrade, Montana
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If I had bad shoulders the last thing I'd do is buy laminated fir blades... I think your on the right track with skinnier but keep your oars light in the hand and as light as possible over all. I'd get the narrow (6" I think) dynalites and then do as okieboater and balance them. You shouldn't need 4 or even 2 lb weights (that the manufacturers sell) in the handle to balance properly sized oars. Oar length will depend on your frame set up to a point. If you go with cataract shafts and sawyer blades you'll end up with oars that are 3" longer than whatever they're supposed to be - sawyer blades are 30" vs cataract's 27".

My shoulders are fine, but my wive's have both been rebuilt and she loves our set up. Even with good shoulders, I see know reason to hold up extra weight all day so take the time and balance your oars. You will be happy in the end. FWIW I have 10' shafts with 7" dynelite blades and 1.5 lbs of lead in the handle and 9.5' with duramax blades with 1 lb of counter balance. Both are sawyer MX F/G shafts. I don't balance mine so that they literally balance in the locks, I like a little weight in hand so when I let go they fall to the water.... I had them perfectly balanced once and didn't care for it. I'm guessing I hold 1/4 to 1/2 lb if that makes sense.
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Old 01-07-2015   #6
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Belgrade, Montana
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Sizing oars isn't rocket science and really anything from 8.5 to 10' will work, but there will undoubtedly be something that works best for you. That will ultimately depend on your set up. As in your overall boat width (not all 14's are alike) as well as frame width, oar stand and seat height and your own physical geometry. I would suggest getting your boat and frame and then see if you can barrow/demo a few different oars.
"If you dont do it this year, you will be one year older when you do"
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Old 01-07-2015   #7
athelake's Avatar
Newman Lake, Washington
Paddling Since: 2010
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Thanks for the responses!

I guess I need to make one clarification. Both shoulders have been surgically repaired, and at this time they are "almost" symptom free. I am looking for the best set up to keep them symptom free as long as possible. I have plenty of other activities/hobbies/work requirements that stress my shoulders.

I have gotten to the age where I value finesse/skill over strength and stubbornness. It hurts too much any more! I love to play in an ww with kayaks, but it is one of the hardest things on my shoulders. I have given up my idea of doing any more ww overnights in a hardshell, now I'll have to go in comfort with the kitchen sink.

The one thing that bothers me the most is my neck and trap muscles when I pull on things with my shoulders. I'm changing my paddling style to a quicker tempo, lighter pull and it seems to help in my kayaks. I'm thinking that a quicker tempo with oars will also be best for me. I know myself, if I have 10' oars I will dig in and try to muscle my way out.

Keep the suggestions coming!
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Old 01-07-2015   #8
East of the Pine beatle, Colorado
Join Date: Jan 2012
Posts: 1,385
Good.choice.of oar shaft- they have a nice smooth flex without too much of a hard pull. I have both the SGG and a set of Sawyers- both good oars that I am happy with- but the Cataracts are "softer". Paired mine with dynalite blades- great combo

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Old 01-11-2015   #9
Anchorage, Alaska
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Shoulder Stabilization and Strength

Seems like lots of knowledgable advice on oars and oar length.

For a number of years after turning 50 (I'm now 66) I had recurring shoulder issues. I had the good fortune to meet up with a really good physical therapist and a really good massage therapist. They helped in many ways. Besides treatment they directed me to a series of shoulder stabilization and strengthening exercises. They also pointed out that since everything is connected upper chest, upper back, biceps, triceps and core were also critical in healthy shoulders - let's face it pretty much everything we do involves the shoulders.

I won't bore you with information or links. But if you're interested I would advise contacting some of your athlete friends about finding a good massage therapist. Also google "shoulder stabilization and strengthening". There is a ton of good information available. If you've got the dough join a club and get a personal trainer to help you develop a routine that works for you. Good luck. I think many of us are realizing that growing older and staying active is not for wussies.
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Old 01-11-2015   #10
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The point of the shorter oars putting you up higher is the best point made. There may be less force on a shorter oar but it will put you in a better position to get hurt. Go with 9.5' squaretops and forget it. Light, perfect balance, forgiving flex, best you can get.
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