How to Choose SUP Paddles

You can buy the best board out there, but you won’t get very far without a good paddle.

Getting a quality paddle that works well with your body and style will make stand-up paddle boarding (SUP) a lot more fun. Does that mean you have to buy a top-of-the-line paddle? Not necessarily. To choose the right SUP paddle for you, consider these factors:

  • Length: Getting the right paddle is key to maintaining proper paddling form and efficiency.
  • Material: The materials used to construct a SUP paddle play a role in determining the weight and stiffness of the paddle. Generally, a lightweight paddle is preferred, but remember that you usually pay more for less weight.
  • Blade size, shape, and offset: The paddle blade’s size, shape, and offset define how the edge moves through the water. You’ll choose a knife based on the paddling you do, your body type, and your personal preference. Usually, the larger you are, the bigger you’ll want your blade to be.

SUP Paddle Length

Getting a paddle that is the correct length for you is essential. A paddle that’s too long will be cumbersome; one that’s too short will require you to lean over in an awkward position to get the blade into the water.

To choose the right size paddle for recreational touring:

  • Stand the paddle vertically so the tear-drop-shaped blade is touching the ground.
  • Reach an arm above your head and notice where it lands on the paddle.
  • With a properly sized paddle, the T-grip handle will rest in the bend of your wrist. (If the paddle is adjustable, adjust the shaft length to fit.)
  • If you’re ordering a paddle online, add about 8–12 inches to your height and choose a paddle of that length.

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

Adjustable-Length vs. Fixed-Length Paddles

Adjustable-length paddles are popular because of their versatility. They let you easily experiment to find what length works for you, and you can fine-tune the size for surfing, touring, or racing. Another plus is that you can share your paddle with shorter or taller friends and family members. Many manufacturers make the same paddle in a few different adjustment ranges, so make sure the one you select will meet your needs.

Fixed-length paddles: Some people prefer non-adjustable, fixed-length paddles because they tend to be lighter and stiffer because they lack the adjustment mechanism. Some fixed-length paddles are designed to be cut down so you can get the exact length you need. Before buying a fixed-length paddle, try a few different sizes to determine what you like.

SUP Paddle Materials

Most people will take a couple of thousand strokes in just two hours of paddling. Lifting a heavy paddle that many times can quickly tire you out, which is why most experienced paddlers will invest in the lightest paddle they can afford. The weight of a SUP paddle is primarily determined by the materials used to make it.

The material of your paddle will also determine how stiff it is. A stiff paddle is more efficient at transferring the power of your stroke.

While pondering your material choices, consider these points:

  • Do you need a light paddle? You’ll appreciate a lightweight paddle when racing or setting out on long tours. If you only paddle a few times each year, weight doesn’t have to be your top concern.
  • How much do you want to spend? Lightweight materials, like carbon and fiberglass, cost more than heavier ones, like aluminum and plastic.
  • Stiff paddles can be jarring to your muscles and joints. If you have had previous shoulder, arm, or wrist injuries, you may want a paddle with some flex.

Here are the most common options for shafts and blades:

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

Aluminum: Used in the shaft of SUP paddles, aluminum is affordable and lightweight but not as light or stiff as fiberglass or carbon. Aluminum shafts are frequently paired with plastic blades; these paddles are an excellent choice for beginner paddlers.

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

Carbon fiber is the lightest, stiffest material, 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 paddle’s blade. High-end paddles use carbon fiber throughout the shaft and blade. At the same time, more-affordable designs sometimes feature a composite construction, such as a blend of carbon and fiberglass or a carbon shaft paired with a fiberglass blade.

Wood: Some SUP paddles are made entirely from wood, while others use only a veneer on the blade. Wood paddles are beautiful, but they can sometimes weigh and cost more than those made from other materials.

Blade Size, Shape, and Offset

The blade is the part of the paddle you dip into the water when you’re taking a stroke. The edge’s size, shape, and offset all affect how the paddle performs.

Blade Size

There’s no hard and fast rule for determining exactly what size paddle blade you need. Over time, you’ll probably develop a preference for a particular size blade based on the type of paddling you do and other factors, like your body type.

But, if you’re brand new to SUP, use this guideline: The larger you are, the larger your blade can be. This is because bigger paddlers typically have the strength to pull a larger knife through the water. An easy way to compare blade sizes is to use the blade surface area measurement (given in square inches) that is provided on REI product pages.

Here are some approximate surface area recommendations based on body weight:

Small/medium body types (less than 150 lbs.): 80–90 sq. in.

Medium/large body types (150 – 200 lbs.): 90–100 sq. in.

Large/X large body type (200+ lbs.): 100–120 sq. in.

With these recommendations in mind, here are some other things to think about:

  • Large blades are more powerful: A large blade moves a lot of water, allowing you to quickly take powerful strokes to get your board up to speed. For example, if you’re a SUP surfer, you might like a larger blade (100–120 sq. in.) that will allow you to take a few powerful strokes to position your board to catch a wave quickly.
  • Small blades are more efficient: A small blade moves less water with each stroke, but it’s easier to pull the knife through the water than a larger blade, which means you use less effort with each stroke. An edge in the 80–90 sq. in. range might be an advantage if you’re a SUP racer or long-distance tourer and want to preserve energy for the long haul. A small blade is also better if you like to paddle with a high cadence or if you need to be more gentle on your joints and muscles.

Blade Shape

The shape of the blade can affect how the paddle moves through the water and how powerful the edge is. The performance differences between blade shapes can be subtle, but as you gain experience, you may develop a preference for one form over another.

Tear-drop: This shape is most comprehensive at the bottom, meaning that when you put the blade in the water, you’re immediately pushing water with most 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 edge in the water. Because of this, these blades can promote a gentler stroke and be easier on your body. They also allow for a higher cadence stroke.

Offset

Offset describes the degree to which the blade angles forward from the shaft. The size of that angle affects how vertical the edge is when it travels through the water, which can affect how much power you get out of each stroke.

You don’t need to spend much time scrutinizing offset angles unless you enjoy analyzing the finer details of your gear. That being said, here are some general offset recommendations based on different styles of paddling:

  • For SUP surfing: approximately 7 degrees
  • For all-around paddling/mixed-use: about 10 degrees
  • For SUP racing: about 12 degrees

How to Choose a Stand-Up Paddle

Choosing the right paddle to propel your SUP board makes a tremendous difference in your paddling experience. The more often you paddle, the more critical it is to pick the best one for your paddling style.

More excellent paddles mean lighter swing weights and stiffer blades. A more rigid shaft and blade efficiently transfer more of your paddling energy to the water. These features lead to longer, better paddling sessions. Depending on your paddling style, that could mean more exercise, fishing, shoreline exploring, wave surfing, or fast running.

To illustrate the importance of swing weight, take the broom and shovel test. Stand on a chair and hold a household broom as you would a paddle. Take “paddle strokes” for ten seconds on each side, then switch to a garden shovel. Feel the difference? Now imagine how that difference would add up in a long paddle session.

Paddles with aluminum shafts and plastic blades can work for the infrequent paddler. However, upgrading to fiberglass or carbon-fiber paddle is an intelligent investment if you often paddle. A better paddle isn’t much more expensive, and you’ll swim farther, tire less quickly, and smile more often.

Paddles with fiberglass shaft and blade are rugged and your first choice for whitewater paddling where you’ll encounter rocks. They’re also great for deep water paddling, but carbon-fiber shaft and blade paddles, which are lighter and stiffer, excel here.

Blade Size and shape are also important. A smaller, narrower blade is best for dynamic surfing and turning. But since they’re easier on the joints and let you paddle with a faster cadence, they also work well for flatwater paddling. A larger, wider blade puts more power into a lower-cadence stroke.

Choose paddle length for your type of paddling. For touring, fishing, or fitness paddling, look for a paddle about 10″–12″ longer than you are tall. A slightly shorter paddle works best for river running or surfing — approximately 8″ longer than your height. A longer paddle provides a longer, more vigorous stroke for flat water, while a shorter paddle enables the quicker, shorter strokes needed to navigate more challenging water. Adjustable-length paddles are great for all paddling styles, plus people of different heights can use them.

What size paddle should I get for SUP?

The general convention for determining the correct paddle size is to take the rider’s height and add 9-10 inches. If you’re 5’11”, ideally, you should get a paddle about 80-81 inches, or 6 feet 8 or 9 inches. This is the recommendation for the average user.

What is the difference between SUP paddles?

The size of a SUP Paddle’s blade can be compared directly to the gears on a bike: the higher the equipment or the smaller the edge, the less effort each stroke requires with less forward motion generated. The lower the gear or, the more significant the blade, the more energy is needed, and the more forward motion is generated.

What is the best material for a SUP paddle?

Fiberglass: An excellent lightweight choice, fiberglass is used in the shaft and blade of some SUP paddles. Fiberglass is pretty stiff, making it efficient at transferring the power of your stroke.

How do you know what size SUP to get?

The general rule of thumb when determining what size stand-up paddle board is correct is to add 9-10 inches to the paddler’s height. In addition to the crown, consider the paddler’s weight, experience, and where they will paddle.

Do SUP paddles float?

Yes, paddle board paddles should float. Although you can’t see it, the foam within the paddle provides buoyancy. This way, should you lose hold of your paddle in the water, it won’t sink to the sea floor, likely never to be recovered.

How much should a SUP paddle weigh?

A proper performance carbon paddle should weigh under 25 ounces for a 3 Piece Adjustable paddle with a large carbon blade or under 30 oz for a hybrid paddle with a 50% carbon blend shaft and a plastic/poly blade.

Can you use a kayak paddle for a paddle board?

Simply put, your stand-up paddleboard becomes a kayak. All you have to do is add the seat and modify your paddle. The best SUP companies design their boards so a kayak seat can be easily added and your paddle effortlessly modified.

What size SUP do I need for my weight?

If you are over 100kg, look out for 10’6 x 10’8 boards that are 6″ thick in high-density drop stitch, these boards are between 32 x 34 wide. If you are over 100kg with good stability and balance, go for a 32″ wide board but if you prefer a higher degree of stability goes for 34″ wide board.

Is a SUP faster than a kayak?

Out of all kinds of watersports, stand-up paddle boarding (SUP) and kayaking are some of the most popular. While both serve similar purposes, they each have different strengths and weaknesses, such as speed. A kayak is faster than a paddle board.

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