The most important elements when adjusting the length and size of a paddle are the handle length and the blade size. Additionally, we need to take into account other factors such as the exact blade configuration and angle, as they will heavily influence the paddle's performance. If we do a quick search of the different manufacturers, you'll see that experts have their own theories as to what makes a good paddle and how to adjust the size. Most advanced riders already know their ideal size for surfing, touring and racing, so this post is geared towards those that are just getting started and purchaed their first or second paddle.
If you already have a paddle with a size that you feel comfortable with, take it as a reference point for adjusting your new SUP Paddle. If you don't, we propose some simple calculations that, after reading around on the web, have worked for us, specially the two parts Definitive Guide to Sizing your Paddle by Carles Carrera, where he analyzes the results from different manufacturers and famous watermen in order to achieve the option that best suited him. We look to simplify and streamline his process and to offer a more direct option with homemade tips.
When it comes to SUP Race, riders tend to favor longer paddles when compared to SUP Wave in order to get more reach. For SUP Wave, the paddle size will correlate to the size of the wave. The smaller the wave, the shorter the paddle, in order to allow for more maneuverability in close quarters. For large waves, 3 meters and upwards, it is advisable to use a longer paddle in order to take advantage of the increased reach and thrusting power to get into position at the take-off.
If you are using a long SUP paddle, you will need to make a more wide and open motion when it comes to the recovery stage of the stroke in order to avoid hitting the surface of the water and that involves additional energy consumption as well as the decrease of our pace. On the other hand, using a short paddle will prevent us from having a good reach and it will impact our lower back and cause lumbar pain as we will be forced to maintain a low stance.
It is important to remember that there adjustable and fixed SUP paddles, each with their pros and cons. The main difference between them is that while you can easily modify the height in an adjustable paddle, a fixed paddle can only be adjusted to its maximum height once, you can always shorten it by cutting and adding a new handle, but normally it stays the way it was after the first adjustment. Fixed SUP Paddles are normally delivered with a height of 210cm approximately and with the handle on the side so we can affix it after adjusting and prevent water from getting inside, which is the main problem in adjustable models.
The most important feature when adjusting a paddle is the size. A general rule or number to use is that it should be 15 to 20 centimeters bigger than our height, because that is a good approximation to having the arm completely stretched upwards. Going back to our advice about different SUP styles, if you want to SUP Tour in a bulky board with prominent edges, as in touring or race boards, we will need to increase that number to 21 to 28 centimeters above our height to ensure an adequate length.
We always recommend that you cut the paddle a bit on the longer side and try it our without affixing the handle. You can us tape as a temporal measure and try it out since people have different features (longer or shorter legs/arms) and if we need to cut it a bit more we can still do it. Once you use the paddle in the water and have your first feel for it, we will ultimately decide on whether to keep it as it is or shorten it a bit more.
Here's the scenario of a rider with a height of 1,78cm that wants to use his SUP for Surf / Paddling. According to our earlier advice, he should add 15 to 20 centimeters to his height, in this case we will use 22 centimeters (a bit longer, as we recommended earlier), and the paddle will measure 200cm. Here we will make an observation: we should also take into account the size of the paddle blade and the height of the board's edges, as they can add +/- 2 cms (1'') that you need to add to your paddle's height. We can assume that a 10'5'' board has a thickness of 4,5'' (approximately 11,43cm). We need to ensure that when on top of the board standing up, the paddle blade should comfortably enter the water and our hand on top of the handle should be around our shoulder, though not lower that 2,5 cm. This is hard to accurately measure, as each person is different and board is different. If your arms are a bit longer or your board is thicker, add a couple of centimeters to your calculations.
Remember that when we mention the full paddle size it means the measure from the tip of the blade to the top of the handle, so pay attention to the handle's size when cutting.
The rule we mentioned about 15-20 centimeters is a good approximation but we need to consider other elements as there are numerous conditions for adjusting the lenght and size of a paddle:
- A longer blade results in a longer paddle size, and viceversa.
- Depending on the the SUP style we practice, Wave, Race, Downwind or River, a centimeter could make the difference to achieving the performance you are looking for.
Lastly, don't forget about the weight and flexibility of the paddle, important factors when choosing a paddle though unrelated to its adjustment. A paddle's material should not influence the size of the paddle, but it is important for preventing shoulder and back injuries when paddling.
Do you want to share any advice or experience for adjusting your paddle? Do you prefer fixed or adjustable paddles? In the meantime, you can check our SUP Paddle offers, available on our online SUP store.