Choosing The Right SUP Paddle Length

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When looking for the right SUP Paddle Length there are a few things you need to factor in to finely tune the paddle height to what you need it. 

For those article skimmers looking for an immediate answer on Whats the Best SUP Paddle Length:

“For about 80% of paddle boarders in flatwater settings, the average paddle length should be 8” to 10” taller than the paddler’s height. It’s recommended that you get a 2 or 3-piece adjustable paddle for your first SUP paddle as you will easily be able to experiment with what length best suits you.” 

To get more in-depth with this, the main factors that determine your SUP paddle length are your body composition, height, and strength, as well as the board’s thickness and the SUP activity you choose. 

Take a look at our guide that shows a variety of different paddles for a bunch of different budgets, skill sets, and uses in our Best SUP Paddles Guide. 

Different Ways to Measure SUP Paddle Length

There are a few different ways to measure the length of a SUP paddle that we will provide below. For these methods, we suggest getting a paddle that has an adjustable shaft so you can try out each one and see which feels more comfortable for you. 

The “Laird Hamilton” Method

For this method, you simply stand your paddle upright with the blade on the ground. Adjust the length to be 3-4” above your head or about a fist length. Laird comes from a surfing background so he has great overall mobility and core strength.

This method puts more focus on your back and core muscles and is a good method for those who are shorter. 

Hands Up Method

This is the way I was taught and is the method I use to personally size my paddle. I like to raise my hand at about 100 degrees (sometimes 90) and flatten my wrist horizontally. The paddle will be stood upright blade down. I then adjust the height of the handle until it fits comfortably under my hand. 

This is a great method for those who are taller and prefer to be more upright while paddling. It’s also a good method for those who own inflatable paddle boards as well. For those with back problems or shoulder injuries. This is also a good method to use as it allows you to stand taller and bend over less. 

The Shaka Method

For those new to paddle boarding or even surfing for that matter a “Shaka” is a hand gesture you use Where you make a fist and extend your thumb and pinky. Don’t worry I had to google this one too when I started out!

Once you make your Shaka and become a super suave guy or girl you place your Shaka over your head with yout thumb at the top of your head and the pink extended upwards. You then place the paddle upright with the blade down. Adjust the handle so that it extends to the tip of your pinky finger. 

The Shaka method is an in-between to Laird Hamilton’s and the Hands Up method. It’s an ideal place to start for amateur SUP racers or performance touring. 

Paddle Blade Up Method

If you are more focused on getting the most out of the stroke by focusing on how much of the paddle blade is in the water then I suggest using the Paddle Blade Up Method. 

Unlike what you would do in previous steps, take the paddle and flip it around, making the handle rest on the ground while staring straight at the paddle blade. You want to adjust the paddle blade where it meets the shaft and make sure its within horizontal eye level of you. 

It may take a few times bending over and adjusting to get it just right. 

The Boards Thickness Matters

Another factor that will come into play when adjusting the paddle to your specific height is how high are you off the water. Heights between a hard board and an inflatable paddle board sitting in the water can range anywhere between 2-4” so it’s important to account for that. 

  • For Inflatable Paddle Boards You Want a Paddle Height of At Least 8.5”
  • For a Hard Paddle Board You Want it to be anywhere in the Neighborhood of 2-8” depending on the SUP discipline.

What are some examples of SUP disciplines? Read on below. 

Paddle Sizing for Different SUP Activities

In general, different SUP activities will warrant different paddle lengths. Below is a general recommendation. Use these as a starting point and not the end all be all heights as everyone has different preferences and strengths in their body. 

Recreational/ Flat Water Paddling

me paddling Atoll

You want the height of the paddle to be 8-10” above your head. Some people feel more comfortable propelling using their arm strength while others prefer to use their full bodies. 

In general, if you prefer to use your full body more then your paddle will be in the shorter range. If you prefer to use your arms then the paddle will be in the taller range.

The key here is trying out different lengths and seeing what feels comfortable for your SUP stroke. 

Touring/ Long Distance Paddling

For longer-distance paddling, I would recommend trying out about 10 – 12” higher than your head. The point of long-distance paddling is to go as long as possible while still paddling at a decent rate. As a result, you will want to conserve energy by being a bit more upright and using a bit less of your body pulling through the strokes. 

I would also highly recommend getting a smaller blade like something in the 79” – 85” range so that you feel less pressure on your back and shoulders while allowing yourself a bit of a faster stroke rate. 

Racing Purposes

Depending on the kind of SUP racing you are doing, usually for sprints, you will be using your full body to get the most out of your paddle stroke. As a result, you will be looking for a paddle that is 4 inches above your head.

If the race is a bit of a longer distance then I recommend a paddle that is about 6” above your head starting out

Remember, for sprint-type races you want a bigger paddle blade in the range of the 95- 100” range to get more power out of that stroke!

SUP Surfing 

SUP surfing will be highly dependent on what kind of surfing you are doing and your board’s dimensions. SUP surfing demands a lower height as you are constantly bending over and getting low to best control the boar. This also allows you to make tighter turns.

As a rough estimate, it’s usually safe to go about 2-4” although some may prefer a paddle length that goes to your brow. But try out a few lengths and see what size best fits your surf stance. 

Add Some Personal Preference In There

Oftentimes you will find many guides that will have the exact height you need for each discipline of SUP activity and call it a day. While good in theory these charts fail to take into account people’s strengths and weaknesses. 

An example of this is If you recently injured your back and are just getting back into SUP. You will be wanting a longer paddle to take pressure off of your spine and lower back to alleviate potential pain as you paddle for longer.

However, if you are of a shorter/ stockier build you may find yourself moving your whole body more which means your preference would be a paddle that is 7-8” above your head height. 

“I personally like a paddle that is longer because I’m a taller individual who generates more power from my arms as opposed to my back and core. Will I be winning any SUP races with my technique? Probably not, but the extra few inches allows me to paddle comfortably for a longer time period. My friends and I are notorious for extending a SUP trip from an hour to just over three hours!”

– Editors Notes

SUP Paddle Length FAQ’s

Below are some common SUP Paddle Length FAQs I get asked.

Should I Get A Fixed Or Adjustable Paddle? 

For about 90% of the time you should get an adjustable paddle. Especially if this is going to be your first SUP paddle. This allows you to adjust the paddle to the height that you feel is best for you. This also allows you to adjust it on the fly when you are paddling on your knees or trying another SUP activity. 

Fixed Paddles are best for riders who already know what they want. They want a lightweight paddle to extract as much performance out of their stroke as possible. 

How Do I Know If The Paddle Is The Right Size? 

You will know that the paddle is the right size for you if you are not sore during your paddling trip. It will take a bit of experimentation to find the best SUP paddle height for you. My main recommendation is to use specific measurement guidelines as a starting point and tweak the height based on what feels best for you and your paddle stroke. 

Is A 2 Piece Or 3 Piece Paddle Best?

For most people, a 3 piece paddle will work just fine as it is more portable and can be taken apart and put into a SUP bag. A 2 piece paddle weighs a bit less and will give you more performance benefits. 

What Is The Best SUP Paddle Shape?

The Best SUP Paddle Shape will come down to personal preference. Wider SUP Paddle shapes will give you more power while narrower SUP paddles will give you less fatigue and greater paddling cadence.

We go more into How to Choose the Best SUP Paddle in our detailed guide.

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Hey, My name is Derek Lenze and I'm the owner of Inflatable SUP Authority. I've had over 20 years experience with watersports and over 10 years of various paddle boarding experience. My new-found passion is bringing my stand up paddle boaring knowledge in an explainable and actionable way all the while giving you my unbiased takes.

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