Two factors you don't consider when choosing your paddle length

“What length should my paddle be?”

This is one is the most frequent questions I receive during my clinics.

In fact, it is probably one of the top three topics of all the discussions at the Sup clubs, and between athletes and enthusiasts. 

There are many theories about the right answer – so let’s clarify them.

Even better, let’s start with a question: why are there different theories and opinions about this topic, and not just one simple rule to decide the best paddle length?

The first aspect we should consider is the different uses of paddleboards nowadays.  

Different acrivites - different equipments

We use sup boards not just to surf waves, but even to travel around for leisure, and to be fast and compete in racing events. Each of these three activities require specific equipment, different kinds of boards, and different paddles.

Even the techniques used to paddle in these three different disciplines of SUP are not the same, and consequently, neither is the paddle length. 

If you want to catch a wave, you should paddle fast before take-off. It’s like a sprint, and you need a short stroke length and high pace. 

However, if you want to reach the highest speed in a competition lasting an hour or so you should execute long, fluid strokes.

So it’s easy to understand that in these two situations you need paddles with different shapes and lengths.

But that’s not all.

There are two lesser known factors affecting the length of your paddle: your board, and your technique.

[tweetshare tweet=”There are two lesser known factors affecting the length of your paddle: your board, and your technique.”]

The features of your board

It may seem obvious, but the dimensions of your board affect what length your paddle should be.

I’m not referring to the length of your board, but its volume and its thickness.  For example, the thicker the board is, the more the distance will be between you and the water surface. We can say the same about the volume of the board. Sometimes we can see boards with the same thickness but with different volumes (wider boards or boards with bigger volume on the nose). In this case the volume affects the way the board floats, requiring different paddle length.

You’ll see this quite often if a friend of yours decides to change their board, especially if it’s a racing board. If the new board is bigger in volume and/or it’s thicker, your friend will start paddling more strenuously, bending their back, trying to reach the water surface which is now further away. In this case, the paddle has become short.

Paddling technique

Most paddlers do not realize how important this factor is when we speak of paddle length.

As you know, there are different paddling techniques. You can see it easily when watching the race field during a Sup regatta. If you pick five athletes, you’ll find each one of them has a unique way of bending their torso, turning their body, using their arms, their shoulders and their core muscles during the stroke.

These differences affect the correct paddle length for each one of them.

Try it on your own

Jump on your board and try some strokes varying the action of your torso by using deep bends and shallow bends during the traction, or rotating your shoulders with a wider or smaller angle during the catch.  These variations will allow you to move your paddle deeper into the water and vice-versa.

Depending on your current paddling technique you may find you need to change your paddle length, even if you haven’t changed your board or anything else. 

That’s why, during my clinic, I suggest changing the paddle length once your technique is stable and not when you’re trying to modify it.

But what happens when your paddle is short?

We’re paddlers, right? So, our aim, despite the paddle length, is to paddle!

So, even with a short paddle, you will always try to reach the water and get some good speed. To do that, you’ll probably bend down deeper putting excess force on your spine.

One of the most common issues coming from having a paddle that is too short is back pain.

[tweetshare tweet=”One of the most common issues coming from having a paddle that is too short is back pain.”]

And what's if your paddle is long?

In this case, reaching the water is easier than ever. But the problem is releasing the paddle from the water. To do that, you will need to lift the stick as high as possible, and this will mean pressure on your upper shoulder.

The most common issue caused by a long paddle is shoulder pain.

[tweetshare tweet=”The most common issue caused by a long paddle is shoulder pain.”]

I know, most of you are thinking:  Why am I able to keep paddling even though my paddle is too short or too long?

In the real world, it happens more often than you think.

It’s because your body adjusts it’s movement in order to keep paddling.  Even if your paddle is 4cm longer than you need, your body will stretch, rotate, and compensate so you can keep going. You will only realize this is happening later on when some issue with your body pops up, or maybe before – if you participate in one of my clinics!

You might be surprised, but what I have described here happens really often, no matter what level of  experience the paddler has.

So, please, even if you’re a beginner, take your time to analyze your paddle length in relation to your board dimensions and your technique. Ask an expert to have a look at you on the water, and check it once in a while as your technique improves.


If you prefer, contact me, and I’ll analyze it for you.

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