Choosing the right SUP paddle

You've got your board and it's likely you'll also have a paddle but you want a new paddle or the brand you brought isn't at the top of the tree and inevitably it's got salt rust and can't be adjusted anymore or broke - but let's face it: there's a lot of very sexy paddles out there and well, you fancy a new one.

What do we look for in a SUP paddle?

Paddles are your engine and they do make a difference. There's a few materials to choose from ranging from exotic to basic and roughly speaking you got your...

There are other more exotic materials but in general these are your top 4. Some are also a mix of these materials with the aluminium shaft paddles more than likely come with plastic blades.

Then of course you have your...

But which paddle is right for me?

Well, trial and error always the best way if possible and of course PRICE! Some of these engines come with the associated exotic price tag so set your budget and your proposed use. A £1,000 full carbon race paddle is utterly wasted on a seafront paddle with the kids and dog right?

Lastly - what shape blade do you need?

Blades come in a few shapes and there's no real rule about what shape does what nor should we worry too much because if you're getting anything from this article chances are you won't even feel any difference anyway so you can safely assume you'll pick one that you simply "like" the look of.

How to choose the right paddle

Getting a quality paddle that works well with your body and paddling style will make stand up paddle boarding much more fun. 

There are essentially 3 considerations when choosing your new paddle - length, material, blade (rake, offset & size). Notice the brackets after blade? We will detail those later.

First of all is the paddle the right length? Many adjustable paddles suit a wide range of people but too small and you'll be walking bent over for a few hours after exiting the water and too long you'll be falling in and flailing about!

Generally look at the paddle like this:

  1. Stand the paddle up vertically so the blade is touching the ground.
  2. Reach an arm up above your head and notice where it lands on the paddle.
  3. With a properly sized paddle the grip handle will rest in the bend of your wrist (If the paddle is adjustable, adjust the length of the shaft to fit.)
  4. If you’re ordering a paddle online, add about 20 to 30cm to your height and choose a paddle of that length.

If you’ll be doing something other than recreational paddling, such as surfing or racing, you may need a different length. SUP surfers usually choose a paddle that’s a bit shorter than touring length, while racers typically go a bit longer.

Adjustable or not?

These are the most popular as they suit almost all your riding styles, shapes and sizes. They let you easily experiment to find what length works for you and you can fine-tune the length for surfing, touring or racing. Some manufacturers make their adjustable in two or three different adjustable lengths so choose your weapon wisely.

Fixed-length paddles: Avoid these if you're new to the sport! These are made to the length you want and are generally lighter and stiffer with no adjustment do-dah to get in the way. They can be very lovely though.

What material?

You are likely to pump out a few thousand strokes on a good days paddle so there are considerations when choose the right paddle. For example - a heavy paddle as supplied as default with some less expensive brand SUP will certainly feel heavy after a good days paddle. This is why it is best to invest in the lightest paddle you can afford but there is a caveat to light weight materials such as the exotic all carbon paddles - stiffness! 

An extremely stiff paddle lays down the power superbly BUT after a few hours paddling you'll feel it in those arms where as a degree of flex will help cushion the stroke - less aches! This all rather depends on your strength and what you want to do and for how long. 

My personal paddle is a Pole Star Surf 2 piece full carbon adjustable. It is 3+ years old and as good as new. Love it! Only issue being the company no longer exists...

Do you really need that ultra light blade?

Probably not unless you're going in to racing or endurance paddles. The lightest paddles being carbon are extremely stiff which people with waist or joint injuries might finding quite jarring. If you suffer with dicky shoulders or have had shoulder injuries a more flexible blade might suit you best.

Plastic: Used in the blades and grips of entry-level paddles, plastic is durable and affordable. It’s almost always paired with an aluminium shaft. 

Aluminium: Used in the shaft of SUP paddles, aluminium is affordable and lightweight, but not as light or stiff as fibreglass or carbon. Aluminium shafts are frequently paired with plastic blades; these paddles are a great choice for beginner paddlers.

The one issue is that aluminium gets salt rot which can freeze the adjustable mechanism unless maintained and serviced regularly. I have broken 3 so they aren't as strong if you lay down a goodly amount of horses!

Fibreglass: An excellent lightweight choice, fiberglass is used in the shaft and/or blade of some SUP paddles. Fiberglass is fairly stiff, which makes it efficient at transferring the power of your stroke. But it is a bit less stiff than carbon fiber. A paddle made with fibreglass is often more expensive than aluminium/plastic, but more affordable than carbon.

Carbon: This is the lightest, stiffest material available, and often the most expensive. The weight savings can be worth the added cost if you’re a frequent long-distance paddler. The stiffness of carbon fiber results in excellent power transfer from your muscles to the blade of the paddle. High-end paddles use carbon fibre throughout the shaft and blade, while more-affordable designs sometimes feature a composite construction, such as a blend of carbon and fibreglass or a carbon shaft paired with a fibreglass blade.

Wood: Beautiful! Some of these paddles are regular works of art. The drawback is they often weigh and cost more than your average SUP paddle.

Blade Size, Shape and Offset

The blade is the engine that powers the SUP through the water. Too small and your strokes are wasted, too larger and you'll be wasted!

The size, shape and rake of the paddle is what makes the paddle perform so when you know a material for your new paddle you'll want to be looking at the blade next.

Firstly there's no real rules about these and it will come down to personal choice and experience. The general rule is the bigger you are - the bigger the blade wants to be. It's not unusual for manufacturers to provide a square inch dimension for blade sizes so that's the rule - big SUP people want a bigger blade and small SUP people a smaller one.

Larger blades allow you to shift a lot of water. That requires power. An example of a larger blade is for SUP surfers who will need to accelerate onto a wave faster hence need a larger blade area.

Small blades are more efficient and are good for SUP racers and endurance/touring folk. They help preserve energy and are more relaxed to use. They are also good for putting in more strokes if you're. paddler who prefers the shorter stroke - a small blade is for you.

Blade shapes

Tear-drop: This shape is widest at the bottom, which means that when you put the blade in the water, you’re immediately pushing water with the majority of the blade’s surface area. Using lots of surface area translates to a powerful stroke, which is sometimes preferred by SUP surfers and paddlers who enjoy a slower-cadence, more-powerful stroke.

Rectangular: Blades with a rectangular shape are narrower at the bottom than a tear-drop blade, which means less surface area is engaged when you first dip the blade in the water. Because of this, these blades can promote a gentler stroke and can be easier on your body. They also allow for a higher-cadence stroke.

Offset/rake

No we are getting technical. You'll notice your blade kind of kinks at the end? This is the rake and is one of the most important aspects of blade design. The rake is the degree offset of the blade from the shaft and has a direct effect on the power the paddle can deliver.

It's a science you could spend quite some time digging about in but generally here's the deal:

Best thing is to go out and borrow your mates paddle see how you get on. Spending silly money won't always get you the best paddle - here's my paddle history for example:

  1. O'Shea aluminium/plastic 2 part supplied with board - salt freeze broke adjustment after 4 months
  2. O'Shea carbon/plastic £190 - snapped 6 months
  3. RRD Carbon/wood £250 - snapped
  4. Contra all wood £199 - snapped
  5. Pole Star 2 part full carbon - £120 - 3 years old and as good as new!

Considerations with carbon

Carbon blades can crack! The blade edges can and do crack so look after your blade if you regularly paddle where the water is shallow. The Pole Star has a fixed rubber band around the tip of the blade that stops this so it is worth looking out for that feature on your new paddle.

Carbon is sexy - keep your eye on your blades as your mates might pinch it!


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