The importance of Length – and other SUP Paddle Points
Having the correct paddle length is key to efficient SUPing, avoiding injury and performing at your optimum across all areas of stand up.
A plethora of information exists about the best length of a SUP spoon, but it’s not always as clear cut as some would have you believe. There are many different elements that come into play; technique, rider style and board type – to name a few. Tez Plavenieks puts SUP paddles under the microscope and suggests what you should be aiming for.
Paddles, paddles, paddles
If you’re serious about stand up paddle boarding, there are no two ways about it; you’ll need a quiver of kit. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a staunch downwind speed demon, a podium seeking racer or cross between surf and white water SUP; you’ll need a choice of kit to make the most of a continually fluctuating watery landscape.
Many already own more than one board, which helps to maximise time in the brine, but how many SUPers stash a quiver of ‘sweepers’ in their kit box? Take a peek into any pro’s gear bag and you’ll come across a whole selection of scoops, rather than just one.
It’s appreciated that most recreational SUPers won’t be in a position to accrue a vast number of paddle sticks; however, it’s realistic to own more than one. You may still end up having a favourite, but two will give you a wider choice of options and help you get the most out of your stand up sessions.
At this point it’s worth mentioning blades. As a general rule of thumb, thin is better for manoeuvre orientated stand up paddling while fatter/fuller spoons are better for acceleration and speed over distance. It’s therefore safe to assume that one of each type would cover your bases; whether you fancy some flat water SUP fun or bashing a few lips. A great compromise would be an adjustable paddle where you can test different heights without worrying about going too short!
As you improve, and really begin to understand your kit, these ‘rules’ can sometimes go out the window – which is fine. Nothing is set in concrete, when it comes to SUP. The sport is still evolving, kit is always being refined, new techniques are being pioneered and there’s still a long road of development ahead before we reach the summit.
If you’re confident and proficient enough then break the rules. Follow your own path, but ultimately, understand your reasons and be able to justify your choices – if only to yourself. This, over time, should make you a better paddler.
The important thing to remember, when deciding on shaft length, is to not go too long OR too short. Overzealous hacking with a saw or too conservative a judgement will not only make your stand up sessions more arduous, it can also lead to injury – the worst possible scenario.
You’ll be over the moon at taking delivery of your brand spanking new propulsion tool and usually, it’ll be a quick sprint to the water to try out your new toy. A word of caution though; most paddles come supplied in over long form. For the majority this will be too much, unless you’re seven feet tall. Paddles with a shaft length soaring into the sky can cause all manner of issues – not least back and shoulder tweaks. Take a moment to cut your shaft down to a more sensible size before heading out. This way you’ll at least feel happier after your first session and not want to bin your new piece of kit.
That rule of thumb thing again
To start with, it’s worth using one of those so called rules of thumb – unless you’re experienced and know exactly what length you need.
When you’ve ‘reached’ forwards, during the ‘catch’ part of your paddle stroke, your knuckles should be (more or less) level with the bridge of your nose. Too high can cause strain, unless you’ve developed a technique that accommodates this. Any shorter will see you hunched and squat, again, unless your paddling is of such a level that you can overcome this issue.
If you need to shave any more length off then do so bit by bit – small incremental adjustments only. Once you’ve paddled for a while, you can start experimenting with different set ups. Just as with all your SUP gear, the length and shape and blade shapes will affect your sessions – in both positive and negative ways, depending on what you’re trying to achieve.
Over time my own paddling has developed to a level where I’m familiar with what works and what doesn’t for me. I tend to base my SUPing around surf, for the vast majority of the time, and only indulge in flat water stand up if I’m out for a leisurely or looking for a quick exercise burst. As such I tend to favour certain bits of kit and set ups.
My paddle length is on the shorter side. It’s a stiff carbon shaft with a full and wide blade that has less angle (rake) on the scoop. I tend to sit right on the peak, when I’m surfing, and require lightning quick acceleration – something this design gives.
As I take off I’m already in a surf stance and slightly crouched – if my shaft was longer I wouldn’t be able to paddle like this. The full blade and reduced angle helps boost me into the wave. I have an explosive take off and pump (bounce) the board, with my legs, to get it into the drop early. (I favour SUPs of less than 8.5ft, with around 100L volume, 29” or less width and small fins to also aid with manoeuvrability).
Even though the blade is full, which goes against everything a SUP surfer should need, I find I can still turn hard, change from rail to rail quickly and, more importantly, keep speed going on slower waves, with less exertion.
Obviously this set up won’t be to everyone’s taste. It does highlight how , after you’ve gone through the early stages of SUP, you can start experimenting and find your own perfect configuration.
Start off with the basics and then, as you find your feet, start tinkering – who knows what you’ll discover! Some of it will work, much of it won’t, but sooner or later you’ll stumble across your ideal gear.