Why the length of your SUP paddle is important

September 17, 2015

Stand-up paddleboarding may look easy, and really it is. Balance on a board. Grab a paddle. Go.

But if you want to paddle efficiently and, more important, without soreness or injury, then spend a few moments considering whether you have the right SUP paddle length. The right paddle reduces stress on your joints and fends off fatigue. A poorly fit paddle could eventually lead to muscular injuries to the elbows, shoulders and wrists.

If your paddle is too long, you will tire yourself out from lifting your arms too high. If your paddle is too short, you will have to hunch over too far in order to reach the water, putting stress on your back and hamstrings.


Fit Guidelines

So what is the proper length? Well, it depends.

As a general guideline, most SUP instructors say the paddle should be your height plus 10 inches. So a 6-foot tall person would have a paddle length of 82 inches (72 inches + 10). However, personal preferences, board thickness, the length of your arms, the type of paddling you are doing and the conditions also come into play.

Types of paddling

– Touring paddlers would most likely stay in that height plus 10 inches range. They have a more upright stance and take long strokes over a long period of time. The right paddle length will prevent them from becoming fatigued too quickly.

– Racers want a slightly shorter paddle, maybe only 8 inches above their height. These paddlers typically have more of a crunched or bent-over stance so they are closer to the water and don’t need as much reach but they still have a decent stroke length.

– Paddlers who like to surf, or those in rough or choppy conditions will also want a shorter paddle length (maybe only 6 to 8 inches over their height), as they are in “higher” water.

Custom or adjustable

Custom cuts: Many people buy a long paddle from a shop and have the shaft custom-cut to length, then the handle is glued into place.

Adjustable paddles: Because you may face varying conditions on a given day, manufacturers also produce paddles with adjustable shafts. In addition, some people anticipate sharing their SUPs with other family members or friends, so an adjustable paddle that can lock in at different lengths might be in order. These paddles typically weigh a little more than a custom paddle.

Weight and cost

In general, the lighter the paddle, the less opportunity there is for the paddler to feel fatigue.

The lightest paddles are typically made of carbon fiber and come with a higher price. One 17-ounce carbon fiber paddle in our shop costs $309.

Paddles with fiberglass blades and shafts are not quite as light but still deliver a good balance of performance and cost. For example, we have a 29-ounce paddle priced at $219.

Next is fiberglass shaft with a nylon blade. We have a 31-ounce paddle at $149.

Finally, there is aluminum and plastic. These paddles typically exceed 31 ounces and we have a selection priced at around $99.

Get help from an expert

Because there are so many variables to consider in paddle length selection, Bill Jackson’s recommends visiting a reputable outfitter so you can enjoy adventure after paddling adventure for years to come. Call us at 727-576-4169 or come in to talk to one of our paddling experts.