The definitive guide to choose your SUP paddle length
A post from April 2010 by RSPro's founder: "The definitive guide to choose your SUP paddle length", then improved by Ke Nalu's Bill Babcock. Both, a must read to help you choose your paddle length:
Edited: As some asked for reference, I'm 1m76cm, 5'9".
I’ll start by stating that there is no such a controversial and at the same time difficult gear selection in Stand Up Paddle than the paddle length.
At the end the right paddle length is that working for you, it’s personal, but let’s have a look at how can you get to that right measure, from different points of view.
Everything starts when I began to realise that my paddle was limiting my progress: it’s too stiff, the blade too big, and the shaft too long, or so it seemed to me. I realised that because when having to apply maximum power at critical moments like at late take off, or when I’m too tired, the excessive paddle length forced too much my injured right shoulder. So I began to analyse what was the right paddle length before buying a new one, arriving to “The Definitive Guide for choosing your SUP paddle lenght”.
The first method I was teached was the Starboard’s method when I bought my first SUP equipment: flip the paddle upside down, rest the handle on the ground, and where the paddle blade starts to spread from the paddle shaft it should be about eye level. That’s my current paddle length: 81,7 inches, 207cm. The paddle I feel too long.
Quickblade, specifies a rule of thumb: add 8 inches mores to your overall height for surfing, and 9 inches more for surfing/paddling, and adds a chart. What I do not understand is what means surf/paddle ... ¿¿??. Following their advice, my paddle length should be 77,3” or 196cm for Surfing and 78,3” or 198cm for whatever means surf/paddle.
Kialoa, the other big paddle manufacturer uses also the 8 inches rule of thumb, spreading a little more with 6-8” for surfing and 10-12” for racing. Following their advice, my paddle length should be between 75,3-77,3 inches long or 191-196 cm for Surfing and 79,3-81,3 inches long or 201-207cm for Racing.
Laird Hamilton, the legend, said at his blog that “Your paddle should be as tall as the reach above your head. If it’s too short you will be reaching forward – if it’s too big you will be reaching too far back. Tip: Raise your arms up as if you were doing a pull up and that should be the height of your paddle.”. Following his advice my paddle should be … surprise … the exact length it’s now: 81,7 inches or 207 cm.
David Kalama, another one of the world famous watermen, recommends the same method as his former tow surfing partner Laird Hamilton, so same measures.
Patrice Guenole, of GongSUP, one of the sport’s pioneers in Europe, recommended a chart combining board size and SUPer height. Using his chart, I get a recommended paddle lenght of 70,8-72,8 inches or 180-185 cm for Surfing and 74,8-76,7 or 190-195 cm for Racing
Bill Babcok, from Kenalu, has arrived at his own conclusions “... measure the paddle based on having your fist at the same level as your shoulder with the blade under the board and the paddle shaft straight down from your extended arms. You can even go a little shorter than that, with your hand down an inch or so below the level of your shoulder. Have your helper measure the distance from your hand to the bottom of the rail of your board. You want the beginning of the upper curve of the paddle to be right at the rail. Mark the point on the shaft to be cut by measuring the distance your helper got (from the bottom of the rail to your fist) from the upper curve of the paddle blade” … For racing: “…generally add 6 to 10 inches to the length of the paddle over a similar surfing paddle.” Following this method I arrived at a paddle lenght of 78 inches or 198cm for Surfing and 84-88 inches or 213-224 cm for Racing.
Marco, from Standupaddling, recommends adding 5,9 inches or 15 cm for Surfing and 8,3 inches or 21 cm for Cruising. Following his advice my paddle lenght should be 75,2 inches or 191 cm for Surfing and 77,6 inches or 197 cm for Cruising.
Eric, from SUP France , recommends adding 7,9 inches or 20cm for Surfing and 11,8 inches or 30 cm for Racing. Following his advice my paddle lenght should be 77,2 inches or 196 cm for Surfing and 81,1 inches or 206 cm for Racing.
For the calcultations I used:
My height: 176cm=69,3”
In the above table you have the different methods summed up, with the different results they arrive to.
All the methods that do not take into account the paddle blade length (Quickblade, Kialoa, Laid Hamilton, David Kalama, Patrice Guenole, Marco and Eric) are wrong. A bit presumptuous from my part, don’t you think?. But I really think so. In fact, they aren’t wrong, they are not precise enough, because the overall paddle length is greatly influenced by the blade length that varies from 16” to 20”. Laird Hamilton and David Kalama are wrong? … yes I think so as well. I’m sure their method works well for them, because both Laird and David are very powerful paddlers and use big and long blades, but if you use a normal or short blade (16-17 inches), you’ll end up with a paddle mast 3-4 inches too long. Patrice Guenole method gives me also too short paddle lengths. I’m sorry Patrice: method rejected!. At least for me!
So only Starboard’s method and Bill Babcock’s remain on the list.
The Starboard’s method takes into account the blade length, or best said gets the blade out of the equation, but I used it and feel my 81,7 inches, 207 cm paddle too long. If the blade of my 2008 Starboard’s paddle was shorter that it was, the overall paddle length would be shorter, but the sensation should be the same … or not? What do you think?
Bill’s method sounds a common sense one, and the measures for Surfing, 78” or 198cm is what I feel should be my next paddle length. And if you consider my blade length is quite long, is aligned with Quickblade, Kialoa and Eric’s method. On the other hand, the 84-88 inches or 213-224 cm length dimensions for Racing, are huuuuge, and doesn’t work for me, specially when trying to apply the Tahitian stroke.
The Final Conclussion:
My method will be Bill’s one for Surfing: “... measure the paddle based on having your fist at the same level as your shoulder with the blade under the board and the paddle shaft straight down from your extended arms. You can even go a little shorter than that, with your hand down an inch or so below the level of your shoulder. Have your helper measure the distance from your hand to the bottom of the rail of your board. You want the beginning of the upper curve of the paddle to be right at the rail. Mark the point on the shaft to be cut by measuring the distance your helper got (from the bottom of the rail to your fist) from the upper curve of the paddle blade.”
For Racing, my method will be … the same. I’m sorry paddle manufacturers, but unless it proves I’m really wrong in the following months, I’ll use the same paddle for Surfing than for Racing.
Obviously more “professional” SUPers will need to have different paddle for different activities and conditions in his search of continuous improvement and maximum performance. I’m like 95% of the users, a weekend warrior.
Ah, don't forget to add Paddle Grip and Paddle Blade Protection!!!