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.

Many paddlers feel that a longer paddle will allow them to have more reach up front. Really, all it does it allow the paddler to be lazy in their reach. It’s easy to get a long paddle farther out into the water without doing much work with your body. The problem comes at the end of your stroke when you need to take the paddle out of the water. The rest of the team is counting on you to be injury-free and we also need you to not allow your paddle to go negative! So, instead of sitting back and letting the paddle do the work for you up front, our goal is to build up your core strength so that you can reach and rotate and use your muscles instead of your extended paddle to get that paddle in the water far up front.
I have attached a chart from Grey Owl Paddles that tells you what your paddle length should be. You simply need to find your height in inches on the left side, and then scan across the chart to see what color your region of the chart is. The chart gives you a bit of a range of paddle length. For example, I am 5’11” (71″) tall and my paddle length if I were novice would be 48″,  for an intermediate it would be 48″ to 49″ and for an advanced, perhaps a 50″ (though I don’t ever use that long of a paddle). I prefer a 49″ for practice and typically use a 48″ in races, especially in a mixed boat where the boat sits lower.

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.

I also came across this cute Apex Paddle Beaver that will find your right paddle length for you, while taking into account extra  factors. It’s kind of fun to use.

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

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8 Discussion to this post

  1. Marisa Marcelle says:

    Hello Paddlechica!

    Actually, I have a question about paddle brands…. I am trying to find a new carbon fibre paddle. I have used a Jet (quite heavy and a bit stiff) and I have also used a ZRE XL (nice feel but quite light for my weight of 115 lbs…. I actually prefer the weight and feel of the older ZRE’s). I am considering purchasing a Burnwater Pyro but from what I have found online, the blade edge doesn’t appear to be as thin as the ZRE’s which in my experience gives a cleaner entry. The Merlin 2d also seems to have some good specs but I don’t know how the “feel” and “flex” compares to the ZRE… Hoping that you or anyone out there with knowledge of these brands can offer some advice.

    Thanks in advance

    • paddlechica says:

      Thanks for your questions! Have you considered the ZRE Z 202a? Their paddles with a red dragon are XL and the ones with the green dragon are the Z 202a which are a bit heavier and may be what you are looking for. They have a new “Razor R-1” that appears to have a great blade tip, but I haven’t tried it myself. Personally, I race with the XL and love it.

      I would also suggest the new QuickBlade dragon boat paddle. I tried one out and REALLY liked it, especially if you are looking at blade tips. It had an impressively clean entry and really grabbed the water well. My teammates who tried it out while I had it as a demo loved it as well. I think that will be my next purchase.

      Also, I was recently introduced to Hornet Watersports’ dragon boat paddles. I haven’t tried one out yet, but I am intrigued by their specs. I will keep you updated when I give one a spin.

      Good luck and thanks for your questions!

      • Marisa M says:

        Many thanks!

      • Jeffrey Kuo says:

        Im thinking about buying a paddle from Hornet, have you had the chance to try it out? If so what did you think?

        • Paddlechica says:

          Jeffrey, I love all of my Hornet paddles. I have them in various sizes and designs, and I have a Hornet SUP paddle as well. They are lightweight yet durable and enter the water so cleanly. I find them to be an excellent paddle!

      • Paddlechica says:

        Update: I absolutely adore my Hornet paddles and I don’t paddle with anything else now.

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