Choosing a SUP Paddle
Newcomers to the sport of stand up paddling are faced with an important question, regardless of whether they are renting or purchasing equipment; how to choose their SUP paddle. At first glance, the long shafts and angled blades may all look pretty similar. Sure, it makes sense for a taller person to use a longer shaft. But how long should it really be? Similarly, the size of your blade can have a profound impact on your experience.
There is not one concrete formula to calculating how long a paddle should be. Factors to consider in addition to your height are the type of paddling you will be doing: surfing, touring or racing. As a general guideline, paddles are between 7-9 inches (17-23 cm) taller than your height.
If your primary use of the paddle will be surfing, then you may opt for a length on the shorter end of the scale to provide more torque which will enable you to quickly power up to catch waves. Additionally, SUP surfers are routinely bending their knees and waist to balance which lowers their position on the board relative to the water, thereby necessitating a shorter paddle.
SUP racers tend to prefer a slightly longer paddle than a surfer, although the current trend is for shorter lengths than were common in the early days of SUP. Although the lengths have trended towards shorter paddles, paddles primarily used for racing are generally still longer than a dedicated surfing paddle.
If your primary use of the paddle will be recreational touring, then you will be best served with a paddle at the longer end of the scale. The reason for this is the longer paddle will allow your body to remain in a comfortable upright position while paddling and taking in the sights.
Too short of a paddle can cause a strain on your back over time. Similarly, using too long of a paddle will cause your top arm to remain in an awkward elevated position which can put a strain on your shoulders. Lastly, paddle length is always a matter of personal preference. If you are comfortable using it, then that is the “correct” length for you.
Paddle Blade Size
Now for the blade. SUP paddle blades range from 60 sq/in (152 sq/cm) all the way up to 120 sq/in (305 cm/sq). As your height is to a paddles length, your weight is the measurement used when fitting the most appropriate blade size. A child or lighter paddler will use a significantly smaller blade than a 225 lb (120 kg) paddler.
Like the paddle’s length, there is not one formula for calculating blade size and not all paddle manufacturers make their blades in the same size specifications. With that in mind, we have found that blade sizes in the 80 sq/in (203 sq/cm) to 86 sq/in (218 sq/cm) range are best suited for paddlers 150 lbs (68 kg) and less.
Blades from 87 sq/in (221 sq/cm) to 97 sq/in (246 sq/cm) are best suited for paddlers between 150 lbs (68 kg) – 180 (82 kg). Moving up, for every additional 30-40 lbs (14-18 kg), you may want to consider a blade that is approximately 10 sq/in (25 sq/cm) larger.
As with a paddle’s length, the size of the blade is ultimately a matter of personal preference. Blades with a smaller surface area will enable paddlers to maintain a higher stroke cadence – an important factor for SUP racers. Some paddlers may prefer a larger surface area if they primarily use their paddle while surfing for increased torque and thrust while maneuvering in and out of the surf.
Many dedicated paddle manufacturers such as Quickblade Paddles and Kialoa provide customers with a chart to assist in determining a recommended paddle length, other manufactures may provide similar fitting tools. Quickblade Paddles has gone the extra step of providing a chart that matches a paddler’s weight with a recommended blade size accompanied by a list of products meeting the recommended specification.
As with choosing a board, SUP Examiner recommends you try as many different types of paddles as possible, making note of the blade size and overall length, before making your purchase. Visit SUP Examiner’s Reviews section for our take on some of the popular products in the industry. If you don’t find what you are looking for, let us know, and we’ll do our best to obtain a sample for evaluation.