Size Matters: Finding the Optimum Paddle Length That Will Give You the Best Stroke Possible
Let’s talk about paddle length. In this situation, size most definitely matters and when you are dealing with too many inches, it can be a major problem.
When your paddle is too long, your body does strange things to compensate for it while trying to get the paddle out of the water at the back end of the stroke in order to get the paddle back up to the front end of your stroke. This can result in either shoulder injury (what happened to me when I had a 50″ paddle), or, more likely, a poor stroke technique that uses your top hand to force the paddle negative to make it easier to take the paddle out of the water. This slows the boat down too much! We never want our paddles to be negative.
Obviously there are other factors that might determine your paddle length. For example, the type of water you are paddling in. If you are in choppy water, you would benefit from a shorter paddler. Various positions in the boat may affect paddle length, which is why many paddlers have recently purchased an adjustable paddle. A stroker, and even those in the front two or three seats, will benefit from a shorter paddle in order to get up over the wake of the boat. Those in the back of the boat will do better with a shorter paddle as well. The water comes fast in the back of the boat and a shorter paddle will allow for a quicker exit and recovery. If a boat sits lighter in the water (i.e. not a full boat of paddlers), you might need a longer paddle, but if your boat sits heavier, then you will need a shorter paddle. If your team has a high stroke rate, you will need a shorter paddle in order to have the necessarily quick exit and recovery.
So what’s the answer to the question of “How long should my paddle be?” I highly suggest that you play around with various paddles before you invest in one. There are several companies making adjustable paddles now (ZRE, Quickblade, Trivium, Braca), so that is an option, though typically more expensive than a standard paddle. Either way, I recommend that you invest in a carbon fiber paddle, so do your homework and find the best paddle for you.
Chart reposted with permission from Double Fifth Dragon Boating