Intertidal algae are exposed to the potentially severe drag forces generated by crashing waves, and several species of brown algae respond, in part, by varying the strength of their stipe material. In contrast, previous measurements have suggested that the material strength of red algae is constant across wave exposures. Here, we reexamine the responses to drag of the intertidal red alga Mastocarpus papillatus Kutzing. By measuring individuals at multiple sites along a known force gradient, we discern responses overlooked by previous methods, which compared groups of individuals between "exposed" and "protected" sites. This improved resolution reveals that material strength and stipe cross-sectional area are both positively correlated with drag, suggesting that individual blades or populations can adjust either or both of these parameters in response to their mechanical environment. The combined effect of this variation is a stipe breaking force that is positively correlated with locally imposed drag. Owing to this response to drag, the estimated wave-imposed limit to thallus size in M. papillatus is larger than previously predicted and larger than sizes observed in the field, indicating that factors other than wave force alone constrain the size of this alga on wave-swept shores.