If you are looking for a comprehensive guide on how to choose the right SUP paddle length, then you have come to the right place. This guide is going to focus on finding the perfect length paddle with some side notes on paddle width, materials and professional recommendations. You may also want to have a look at our selection of the best SUP paddle.
I believe that we all SUP differently but we all share one goal and that is to be efficient in the water. The paddle can make or break your surf trip or your weekend fishing on the river. The best way to ensure a good time out on the water is by choosing the correct paddle.
Know yourself to choose the right SUP Paddle Length
Types of SUP Paddles
There are many different types of paddles and choosing can get confusing. So I’m going to break it down for you into two vital characteristics that you will need some knowledge on and they are: materials and blades.
Firstly let’s take a look at the different types of materials. Each material has its advantages and disadvantages and prices can vary from $30 to $300. Check our guide to the best SUP paddle to make sure to well spend you money.
- Wood: Wood is classic and looks great in photos. You can purchase a paddle made entirely of wood or just the blade. It is warm, light and stylish. Wood paddles are for short leisurely trips and for SUP enthusiasts.
- Fiberglass: Fiberglass is a great choice for those who don’t want to spend too much money but still want a reliable yet light and strong paddle. Great for the intermediate and recreational paddle boarder.
- Aluminum: Aluminum is still strong but it is much heavier. It is usually a beginner’s choice because it is economical.
- Plastic: Another beginner favorite is plastic because it is cheap. However plastic does break easily, but is heavier than most other materials.
- Carbon Fiber: Carbon Fiber is the best material around because it is the lightest and the strongest. It is great for those who enjoy long trips on the water because it will reduce fatigue but it is also the most expensive material on the market. Carbon Fiber is perfect for those looking to compete or take their paddle boarding to the next level.
Design of the paddle blade
The design of the paddle shaft is not such a big deal but the material is something that everyone needs to consider. The design of the blade on the other hand is important. There are blades for surf, racing and there are blades for cruising or touring.
- Surf: A surf blade has a much larger surface area. This allow for more power in the water. To use this kind of blade you must be a strong paddler and know how to handle rough water. Surf paddles can also be used in white water paddling.
- Cruising/touring: A cruising or touring paddle has a smaller surface area. This puts less strain on the arms especially when you are out on the water all day long.
- Racing: The racing blade has a flat bottom, high aspect and is narrow. This blade is great for someone who wants speed as well as power with little effort.
How to Choose the Correct Paddle Board Paddle Length
Choosing the right stand up paddle board paddle length might seem easy, but it is actually more complicated than you might think. The length of the paddle contributes to many aspects. It can be the difference between comfort and an injury and the difference between spending energy and easy maneuverability. Most websites will simply tell you the general rule of how to choose a paddle, which is that the full paddle length should be 7-9 inches (17-23 cm) taller than your height. This might be the right equation for a beginner, as a shorter paddle is better, but for everyone else it is not correct.
I really like what Steve West (one of the world’s leading ocean sports writers and athletes) said; “Too long and you will be constantly working from ‘behind’ the stroke, compromising the compression you can generate…while over working and straining the rotator cuff. At an optimum length, there should be balance between reach, leverage and compression so as you can apply weight ‘over’ and ‘into’ the stroke. Too short and reach and leverage will be compromised with over emphasis on compression.”
So here is a step by step guide on how to find your optimum length:
Step 1: Find your base length
Each style of stand up paddle boarding requires a different length paddle. The reason for this is because the correct length will improve your comfort, speed, balance and maneuverability.
- For racing: 10-12 inches taller than your height
- For cruising/touring: 8-10 inches taller than your height
- For surfing: 6-8 inches taller than your height
Step 2: Board thickness and volume
If you have a low volume board then you feet will sink into the water a few inches. On the other hand if you have a high volume board then you are actually above the water. So you need to measure how much you sink or how much you are raised and either add or subtract that from your base length.
Step 3: Physiology
Everyone is build differently and so your SUP paddle length should reflect that. Some people have longer or shorter arms than others. If you are heavier, the SUP might be deeper in to the water and you might want to check our guide on SUP weight capacity. To test whether you have chosen the correct SUP paddle length for your arm length, stand on the ground and place one hand into the air straight up. Place the paddle you have chosen next to you with the blade on the ground. The very top of the paddle should come to about your wrist. If the length is shorter or longer then you might need to adjust accordingly.
Another point you need to consider is whether you want your shaft to be bent or straight. Most of the shafts that come out of the factory are straight and for beginners this is best. However a bent shaft is great for those thinking of taking long trips because it puts less stress on the wrists and produces a longer power phase. They are more expensive but they are worth it.
Final tip: There are also adjustable paddles that extend out and lock into different lengths. There are different blades and different materials to choose from. This is a great choice for families and those sharing the paddle.