Your paddle is the most important piece of gear in your paddleboard rig. It can determine how fast or slow you go, how well you turn, and how stable you are on the paddleboard. The flex of the paddle and the blade play a huge factor in determining the right paddle for your needs, so you want to make sure the paddle is cut to the correct length.
Determining the appropriate paddle length is not an exact science. Your personal preferences, as well as your technique and how it changes as you progress are big considerations. But some general guidelines will help you figure out what length your SUP paddle you should be.
Your height is the biggest factor in determining how long your paddle should be. For all-around paddleboarding you generally want go about 8 inches over your height- give or take a couple of inches.
The rail thickness of the paddleboard that you will be using needs to be taken into account. If you have a displacement style board with 7-inch thick rails then you might to want to add an inch or more to your paddle length. This will make up for the extra couple of inches you are standing above the water. If you have a planing hull paddleboard with 4 to 5 inch thick rails, you may want to keep your paddle length around that 8 inch overhead measurement.
What’s your main style of paddleboarding- surf, cruising and touring, race?
If you plan to primarily surf your paddle should be shorter than if you were cruising flatwater or racing. A shorter paddle will be easier to handle in the surf and you will be using it more for bracing than anything else. And you spend more time with deeply bent knees, so you are essentially shorter when you surf.
If you’re mostly recreational flatwater paddling then going a bit longer will help you keep the blade all the way down in the water without having to bend over. It will help you stay in a more comfortable upright position.
If you’re racing and race training then a paddle that is a little shorter than a recreational length paddle is a good consideration. Digging in and going fast means getting a lot reach toward the nose of your paddleboard and so you will be hinging from your hips on every stroke. A paddle that is slightly shorter will accommodate that more aggressive, forward posture.
Two things that you want to be aware of with paddle length if you are a beginner.
If you’re paddling and you notice that you’re arms have to rise 45 degrees or more before your blade is free of the water then your paddle is too long. Having a paddle that is too long puts undue stress on your shoulders and wrists, and that will lead to soreness, or possibly injury, in those joints. You will also likely whack your board a lot due to the unwieldiness of the paddle.
If you find yourself hunched over all the time to get your blade down into the water then you are putting a lot of unnecessary stress on your back- that means your paddle is too short. That will eventually lead to back trouble, which you surely want to avoid.
The idea is to have a paddle that will allow you to keep your back straight (hinge from your hips instead of bending your back) and your arms extended 90 degrees in front. And it should be long enough to completely submerge the blade in the water without having to hunch over.
You can use a cheap adjustable paddle to help you find your perfect length or you can demo a bunch of different length paddles at your local paddleboard shop. When getting a new paddle consider all the types of paddleboarding you will be doing with and experiment with different lengths to dial in your perfect set up.