This is the most commonly asked question when it comes to SUPing.
There is lots of confusing information out there when it comes to paddle length and we’re going to help simplify it for you.
The length of your SUP paddle is mainly determined by your preference and what discipline of paddleboarding you will be doing. Until you know what you prefer, start with 6 – 8 inches above your head height.
Having the wrong length paddle not only impacts performance but, like having an ill-fitting bicycle, can cause injury. So it’s good to make sure you’ve got it right before you head out on the water.
Table of Contents
What size SUP paddle should I get?
SUP paddles usually come in two options, an adjustable length paddle or a set paddle length in the form of a one piece.
The adjustable paddle means you can change the length and height of the paddle as and when you need it. This is helpful if you are sharing the paddle with friends and family of different heights or frequently switching between SUP disciplines.
Adjustable paddles are easy to change the height of, and can even be done mid-session, on the water.
One-piece paddles can be cut down and set to a length, but are then not able to be lengthened if desired. A good option for performance if you know exactly what length you need.
How to measure the length of your sup paddle
When you are going to measure the length of your sup paddle, never assume the measurements written on the box, blade or website are entirely accurate. There can be disparities from brand to brand.
Always get the tape measure out of the draw and measure precisely, especially if you are cutting the shaft down to size.
If you are cutting a paddle down to size, always err on the side of caution and cut it slightly longer to start with, as you can always do additional cuts but you can’t add anything back on the paddle once it’s been cut.
To establish the correct paddle height, situate yourself on flat ground, blade at your feet and the paddle vertically above you.
Go barefoot, or with wetsuit boots on, depending on which one you will be wearing most frequently when riding.
Pick any arm and bring it to the top of the paddle.
Wrap your palm around the handle and then close your fist.
Check that your paddling elbow should be at around 90 degrees at a bent angle just above your head.
NOTE: This is the simplest way to find approx paddle height. The exactness of the height can be altered later.
SUP paddle length tips when you’re on the water
When you’re on the water and physically standing on the board, depending on the board thickness you are going to be approximately 4 inches higher than you were standing on the ground. Make sure you pop the paddle in the water next to you and see if the measurement is still accurate.
Is the full blade underwater? Bring the height of the paddle up.
Is only the base of the blade in the water? Bring the height down.
Is the shoulder of the blade underwater? Pretty good!
What height should your SUP paddle be for different types of paddleboarding?
For easy breezy, paddling about and cruising, the paddle should sit approx 6-8 inches above the head and can be tweaked to the individual’s specific needs.
- Not too short to make the paddler overly bend down and bend back
- Not so long that it’s tricky to manoeuvre when swapping sides
- When you are at mid-stroke, the handle shouldn’t be higher than eye level
- The shoulder of the blade should sit comfortably in the water
- The paddle will stay close to the rails of the board in flat water conditions and having it too long will make that more challenging
More height is needed for racers. 6-10 inches above the head ideally. Similar to being on a rower, allowing full height and expression of the paddle stroke will result in more efficiency and power output per stroke.
- Higher height for further paddle stroke reach
- Higher height for more power output and full body flex per stroke
- Height height to gain more distance over the water in a shorter time frame
- If paddling a dugout race board, you are technically closer to the water so the height of the paddle will need to be adjusted down to that height
For SUP surfing you want the paddle to be slightly shorter, ideally 2-4 inches above the head.
- Shorter length for quicker lateral changes on set up and wave approach
- Shorter length for high cadence paddle strokes when paddling for a wave
- Shorter paddle length for fast and dynamic turns on the wave
- Surf stance lowers the centre of gravity of the body on average, therefore the paddle should match this
What size paddle do I need?
If you are exclusively a SUP racer then a longer paddle will suit your needs most.
But, if you are a flat water cruiser when there are no waves yet spring into action at the sight of any swell and want to SUP surf then maybe stick to an adjustable paddle that you can interchange between the two.
Beginner? Stick with the general 6-8 inches above the head with a slight bend in your arm to start you off on the right foot, or arm…
We strongly recommend using an adjustable paddle a fair few times before committing to a one-piece.
If you are committing to a one-piece, especially if it’s carbon, take it to the pros in the surf shops and have them help you do it for a piece of mind.
Signs your paddle is too long
- Painful trap muscles
- Awkward twist when paddling
- Slow and rhythmic paddle swaps
- Having to overreach when trying to gain power
Signs your paddle is too short
- Missing the water on strokes and finding you notice some instability
- Lower back pain from over-flexing the lumbar spine
- Blade not fully underwater
About the author
Indie is the keenest watersports and fitness coach you'll ever meet. Whether it's windsurfing, paddleboarding or surfing, if there is any kind of wind or swell you'll find Indie charging on the water. She runs her own fitness and watersports instructor business called trainwithindie.com.