The length of a paddle is one of the most important yet sometimes overlooked factors in efficient and safe paddling. A well-adjusted paddle helps increase the power and ease of your stroke and prevent back or shoulder pain.
In this article, we are going to look at the different aspects of paddle sizes and how to determine the right length.
- Why Is the Length of a Paddle Important?
- Estimating the Paddle Size (and Its Problems)
- Calculate the Right Length of Your Paddle (in 4 steps)
You can use this calculator to get a first idea of the right length your paddle should have.
Why Is the Length of a Paddle Important?
There are three main reasons why the size of your paddle matters:
- The blade needs to be fully in the water during the stroke.
- The reach (the first phase of a stroke where the blade dives into the water) should be long enough.
- You should be able to maintain a stable and comfortable position when you’re standing on the board. A stroke shouldn’t require unreasonable force.
What if the Paddle Is too Short?
If the paddle is too short, your blade might not be fully under the water surface or you would have to greatly bend over to get sufficient reach.
In either case, your stroke would probably be less powerful and your posture would feel unnatural. It might even cause sore or overstretched muscles
What if the Paddle Is too Long?
A paddle that is too long will also cause problems.
The blade could be too deep in the water which would require a lot of force to complete a stroke.
When you take the paddle out of the water during the exit phase of a stroke, you would also have to lift your arms unnaturally high which may cause fatigue or shoulder pain.
Advantages of the Right Paddle Size
A paddle with the right length will help you perform powerful strokes. At the same time, you will retain a good posture.
Thus, you’ll be able to paddle for a long time without back or shoulder pain.
Estimating the Paddle Size (and Its Problems)
There are 2 popular rules of thumb to determine the right length:
- When you’re using an adjustable paddle, some suggest that you put it in front of you and extend it until the handle is roughly a hand’s breadth above your head.
- Others suggest that you add a fixed length to your height, e.g. 7-9 inches or 17-23 centimeters (source), to determine the ideal length of your paddle.
In reality, both rules come with their up- and downsides.
While they can be quickly applied and don’t require much calculation, they’re somewhat imprecise.
If you’re using the first method and realize that you prefer paddling with a few inches more or less, you might have trouble replicating these adjustments the next time if you don’t know the exact length (some adjustable paddles show the length – in this case, write it down). It also does not take the type of activity nor the thickness of the board into account (we’ll cover these points later).
The second method might be working well for someone who’s 6 feet or 1.83 meters tall. But someone shorter or taller shouldn’t go with the same number of inches or centimeters. It is also not suitable for children.
In practice, you can use this rough calculation for an order of magnitude but it’ll need further adjustment for your height, the thickness of your board, and your personal preference.
The size of the paddle also depends on whether it is used for surfing, racing, or touring SUP. In general, paddles for surfing are the shortest while those for touring are the longest (to allow for long, deep, hence powerful strokes). The size of paddles for racing is usually somewhere in between.
To get a good first estimate of the right size for you, you can follow the formula and calculation in the next section.
Calculate the Right Length of Your Paddle (in 4 steps)
You can follow these 4 steps to determine the recommended paddle size.
If you don’t want to bother with the formula and calculation, use this paddle size calculator where you only need to fill in a few parameters to get the result.
Before we start calculating, bear in mind that the result is only a recommendation. Different stand-up paddlers have different preferences, different weights, different physical fitness, and different areas where they use their board. This requires individual adjustments to the calculated recommendation.
Even though the calculated number looks very precise, make sure that you test this length as well as a few inches more or less before you settle at your ideal paddle size.
1) Determine your height
The starting point of this calculation is how tall you are. Measure your height while you’re standing upright (without shoes).
2) Multiply your height with a factor for the intended use
Apply one of the following multipliers depending on the planned use of your paddle (source):
3) Adjustment for the board thickness
The abovementioned multipliers are basically applicable for boards with a standard thickness that is in a range between 4.5” and 5”.
If your board is thinner (e.g. some hardboards) or thicker (such as some inflatables that are up to 6” thick) than 4.5” or 5”, subtract or add the difference when calculating the paddle length.
This is because a thicker board increases your total distance to the water surface.
For those using the metric system: 1 inch = 2.54 centimeters.
4) Calculate the total length
The last step is to calculate the recommended length of the paddle based on the above parameters, i.e.:
Paddle length = Paddler height x multiplier + adjustment for board thickness
Example of Calculating the Paddle Length
For example, if your 5’11” (1.80m) tall and plan to go racing with a 4” thick board, your formula would be:
(5 x 12 + 11) x 1.10 – 0.5 = 77.6” or 6’5” to 6’6”
[metric: 180 x 1.1 – 1.27 = 196.73 cm]
If a 5’3” (1.60m) tall person needs a paddle for touring with a 6” inflatable board, the calculation is:
(5 x 12 + 3) x 1.13 + 1” = 70.2” or 5’10”
[metric: 160 x 1.13 + 2.54 = 183.34 cm]
Finding the right paddle length is critical for a healthy and efficient paddling experience. Yet, it is no rocket science. You can use one of the rule-of-thumb approaches and test different adjustments until you find the perfect size.
Alternatively, you can get a more precise starting point applying this calculation.
However, there is no single rule or formula that applies to all paddlers without testing it in practice. Make sure that you use the calculated size as a recommended starting point for testing different lengths with an adjustable paddle until you find the right one.
This is especially important when you consider buying a one-piece/fixed-length paddle which you should only do once you’re sure about the right length. This is because it might be possible to cut a paddle shorter but it’s definitely impossible to make it longer once you’ve shortened it.