What to Look for in a Paddle Board Paddle | Read Before You Buy


Two Stand Up Paddleboards on a Beach

When my first SUP paddle broke after years of use, I needed a new one. So I started doing some research, and I found that SUP paddles aren’t as simple as I had first thought. They come in many shapes and sizes. They can be made from a number of materials. A SUP paddle can be fixed length or adjustable. Heck, even the amount of angle in the blade affects its performance. After digging deep for weeks, I was able to narrow down my criteria into three categories. Then I created a quick chart and did my pros and cons and bingo! I had a new paddle.

When looking for the right paddleboard, you must first determine how you will use it. How the paddle is made and out of what material is key. These 2 components will determine the price range. A beginner SUP paddle costs between $20 and $200. But you can spend $600 plus for a specialized paddle.

The truth is, there are a lot of things consider when looking for the right paddle board for you. The good news is that I have a ton of experience in this arena and can help you make an informed and smart choice.

What Type of Paddling Will You Be Doing?

Let’s take a look at how you will be using your paddle. There are five categories of uses that I will also breakdown into smaller sup-categories. It is essential to determine how your paddle will be used because that will affect its construction. So, the five main uses for a stand-up paddleboard paddle are:

  1. Recreation
  2. Racing
  3. Touring
  4. Surfing
  5. Whitewater River Paddling

Let’s take a look at each.

1. Recreation

Paddling for recreation is why millions of people get into stand-up paddleboarding. While I would consider all uses of a paddleboard recreation, For the purposes of this article, recreational paddleboarding is just enjoying being on the water. No real hurry to get where you are going, you are just happy taking in nature and all the sites.

So, for recreation paddleboarders, there is the least need for a specialty paddle. You really don’t need the lightest, most efficient paddle with precisely a 17-degree curve in the blade. For the most part, any paddle will do. What you do want to look for is quality, and I’ll discuss this further when I talk about how SUP paddles are constructed.

Yoga

I placed Yoga in this section because paddling in SUP yoga is somewhat secondary. With SUP yoga, you are merely paddling out to a suitable anchor spot, dropping your anchor, and cranking up the poses. There isn’t a need for a specialty paddle for SUP yoga. Now, if you plan to race your paddleboard 20 miles after your yoga session, that is a different story.

Fishing

The same goes for fishing. While you might be traveling further chasing fish than you do finding a yoga spot, fishing doesn’t necessarily take a specialized paddle; Just an all-around good quality one. You might want to consider a lighter paddle with all the extra gear you bring to fish. Again, we’ll get to paddle weight in the sections below about paddle construction.

A good paddle that will not break the bank can be found here. This paddle is constructed of rugged aluminum for the shaft with a plastic blade. It is adjustable, so everyone in the family can take a turn.

A step up in quality and cost would be a paddle with a carbon fiber shaft and blade. Here is an excellent example of a higher quality recreational paddle.

2. Racing

When you need to get the most out of each stroke, a light-weight, durable paddle is absolutely necessary. Blade size is also crucial. For SUP racing, you want to be able to have a high cadence with as big a blade as you can handle. Let’s take a closer look at two different types of racing.

Keep in mind, paddling a SUP is a lot like a 10-speed bike. The smaller the blade, the easier it is to paddle, but the less progress you make with each stroke. That’s the same as peddling in a low gear. If you move to a higher gear (paddle with a bigger blade), you will be able to propel yourself farther with each stroke, but you start slower.

Man Without Shirt Paddle Boarding on a Lake

Sprint Racing

For Sprint SUP racing ( usually around 200 meters), you want to get up to speed quickly. To do this, you have to paddle with a rapid cadence. Therefore, a sprint racer is looking for a strong but light paddle, with a smaller blade. This will ensure she can make each stroke as quickly as possible.

Long Distance Racing

For participants in longer races (anywhere from 5k to 20k+), the start and first 200 yards are much less critical. What is essential is stroke efficiency. Once you have gotten up to speed, a long-distance racer wants each stroke to propel him as far forward as possible. The quick cadence isn’t as important as maintaining the pace. Because of this, long-distance SUP racers will want to choose a light and robust shaft, (just like the sprinters) but will usually opt for a larger blade size to move more water with each stroke.

Fixed length paddles are preferred in racing for their firmness. Of course, they also need to be strong and light as well. Here is an example.

3. Touring

Touring is really just recreational paddling, only longer. Folks who say they are going on a paddle and come back hours later, never having stopped, are called touring paddleboarders. A touring paddleboarder likes to go from point A to point B, just not necessarily quickly. They want to get out and put some miles in but take in the scenery as they do it. However, due to the time spent paddling, efficiency is just as important. So, these paddlers might choose a similar paddle to a racer.

4. Surfing

Surfing on a SUP is a lot of fun, but very different than flat-water paddling. Foot placement, stance, the board size, and of course, you would probably want paddle suited for surfing.

A paddle similar to a sprint racing paddle would probably be best because you need a quick burst of speed to catch waves. Also, because you are using the paddle as a rudder once on the wave, it needs to be firm with little give. Weight, in this case, is not so important. Most SUP surfers also prefer a shorter shaft than those who tour.

Surfer und Stand up paddler in den Wellen in der Abendsonne am Strand von Sylt, in Norddeutschland.

5. Whitewater River Paddling

Just like you would want a rugged board in this situation, you would also want a sturdy paddle, capable of hitting river rocks time after time and not breaking. Like surfing and sprinting, this type of paddling requires bursts of speed, so a paddle that you could stroke quickly would be in order.

SUP Paddle Construction

Now that you have a good idea of how you will be using your paddle, it is time to look at how SUP paddles are constructed. Just FYI, SUP paddles are built to float, but I always test mine before I go out just to make sure. The multi-piece paddles can become waterlogged and sink. Just keep that in mind.

Parts of a SUP Paddle

A SUP paddle has three main parts; the handle, the shaft, and the blade. On some paddles, these are interchangeable. But on most paddles that you buy, you will be getting all three in one package, already put together and ready to go.

Handle

The handle of a SUP paddle is pretty straight forward. Most come in a T shape. Some are curved to fit your palm better. And some are ergonomically designed with indentations for your thumb or fingers.

The main thing with SUP paddle handles is they should be comfortable for you. For instance, if you have small hands, don’t get a handle with a large diameter.

Shaft

The shaft of the SUP paddle is the long piece between the handle and the blade. This is where a lot of paddle variation comes in to play.

Shaft Material

The five most used materials to make a sup shaft are:

  1. Plastic is inexpensive and durable, making it the perfect fit for a beginner. The downside to plastic is that it is heavier than other materials.
  2. Aluminum has similar characteristics of plastic, cheap, and durable.
  3. Wood is generally the heaviest of the shaft materials. Usually, Wood paddles are one-piece paddles.
  4. Fiberglass shafts are strong, firm, and light. They are more expensive than aluminum and plastic, but not as expensive as the last material.
  5. Carbon Fiber is the strongest, lightest, and best performing material for a SUP paddle. It is also the most expensive material to use.

Shaft Length

Your paddle length will depend on what you are doing on the water, but a good rule of thumb is to add your height plus 6-12 inches. Shorter paddles would be for surfing, whitewater, and sprint racing.

If you know exactly how long you want your shaft, you can buy that specific length. A fixed-length paddle is generally firmer because it does not have the adjustment mechanism that multi-piece paddles have.

Adjustable paddles have the obvious benefit of being able to change the height. This is especially useful if you are sharing your paddle with others.

Blade

Your SUP blade is the part where the paddle meets the water. The material a blade is made of, it’s size and shape, significantly influences how the paddle functions.

Blade Material

A paddleboard blade can be made from the same materials as the shaft with the same properties. Carbon fiber is strong, light, and expensive. Plastic is inexpensive and durable, etc.

Blade Shape

There are two types of SUP blade shapes: Teardrop and Rectangular.

A teardrop blade is short and wide. With a teardrop-shaped paddle, you will be able to move more water with each stroke.

With a rectangular shaped paddle, you will be able to have a higher cadence with your stroke ( you can take more strokes per minute).

Blade Area

The blade area is measured in square inches. The blade area for most paddles is somewhere between 50 sq/in and 200 sq/in. The more area your blade has, the more water it will move, but it will also take more effort for each stroke.

A large blade area with a powerful paddler requires a strong shaft.

Blade Angle

The offset angle of a blade helps to provide power when needed in each stroke. The more angle the blade has, the more power will come from the middle to end of your stroke. The lower the angle, the more power will come from the start of your stroke.

This is important because a surfer, or sprinter (someone taking quick strokes and not necessarily finishing the stoke before starting the next one) will want to have immediate power as soon as the blade hits the water.

How Much does a SUP Paddle Cost?

Next to your Board, a good Paddle is the most essential item needed for a fun day on the water. But which one do you need? How long should it be? What should it be made out of? And, possibly most importantly, How much does a SUP paddle cost?

There is a wide price range for SUP paddles. However, on average, a beginner SUP paddle costs between $20 and $200. But you can spend $600 plus for a specialized paddle.

Why such a range in price? Well, there are several factors that you have to take into consideration when looking at how much a SUP costs:

Length

Most SUP paddles these days are adjustable. This allows you to adjust in small increments to fit your height and preference. Being adjustable tends to weaken the shaft, however. At least at the lower prices.

“Cut Down” paddles are sold to fit a tall person, six and a half feet tall or so. To make the shaft fit you, you cut the paddle to the proper length. Once cut down, the handle is glued to the top of the shaft. Cut down paddles tend to be stronger and less flexible than adjustable paddles.

Fixed length paddles can be custom made to fit your height. The drawback to these paddles is two-fold. First, a fixed-length paddle is specifically designed to fit a person of a particular stature, and no one else. Even a person who is the same height might have shorter arms or legs. Thus, Sharing a fixed height paddle becomes harder. Second, having a custom made is expensive. It costs a lot more to make a single paddle than to make a mold a mass-produce many paddles.

Construction Material

Just like most things, the material used to make a SUP paddle will affect its price. If you want a light paddle, you can get an inexpensive one. If you want a strong paddle, you can get an inexpensive one. But if you want a light and sturdy paddle, you will be paying more, because the material is more expensive.

Carbon fiber paddles are light and robust, therefore carbon fiber paddles will cost more than paddles made from aluminum and plastic.

Purpose of the Paddle

If you are just using your SUP to tour around the backwaters or to paddle to the middle of the lake to anchor for SUP Yoga, then you don’t need to spend $500 on a paddle. But if you are trying to trim 10 seconds off a 20-mile paddle, then you want the lightest and strongest paddle made. And you want it made specifically for you and your stroke. In this case, you would be willing to shell out the big bucks. There could be a lot of prize money at stake, or at the very least a lot of bragging rights.

SUP Paddle Care

I don’t know about you, but when I spend $100 or more on something, I want it to last. That’s why I take just as much care of my paddle as I do my paddleboard.

  • Never use your paddle as a push pole. This can chip the blade, which will affect your paddle’s performance. It can also bend or even break the shaft. If you are in water so shallow that you must use your paddle as a push pole, get on your knees, and use your hands to paddle.
  • Just like your SUP, you should rinse your paddle after every use, especially if you use it in saltwater.
  • Again, just like your paddleboard, you should store your paddle in a dry place and not in direct sunlight.
  • Take care in how you transport your paddle. Make sure there is no undue pressure on the blade or shaft while transporting it to your paddling destination.

Final Thoughts

My very first SUP paddle, I’m sad to say, was a long canoe paddle. It did the job, but it wasn’t quite long enough. It didn’t take too many hours of me hunched over before I decided to invest $80 in a real adjustable SUP paddle. That was a great step up. I have been through several paddles since.

I haven’t come close to the top end paddles because I don’t have the need or desire for that matter. If it takes me an extra 10 minutes to comfortably paddle to my fishing spot, that is fine with me.

Choosing Your Own Paddle

Are you still wondering which paddle to choose? Just go through this process backward. Start with how much you want to spend—$ 20-$600. For beginners, there is no need to spend more than $150. Shoot for carbon fiber or at least fiberglass for the shaft and blade. I would go in the middle of the road on the other choices.

If you plan on traveling, a three-piece paddle makes it much more manageable. I would suggest a two-piece if not traveling. I would also suggest that your paddle be adjustable. Once you find a comfortable height for your paddle, you can always upgrade to a fixed-length paddle.

Here are the two paddles I would suggest for a beginner.

Related Questions

Should I get an adjustable SUP paddle? This comes down to personal preference. If you are a beginner, It would be a good idea to go with a less expensive adjustable paddle so you can figure out what size paddle works best for you.

How long should my SUP paddle be? In general, a SUP paddle should be your height plus 10 inches. But, everyone is different, that is what makes adjustable paddles so handy.

Tom Walters

I have lived near the coast most of my life and I love all types of watersports. Stand up Paddleboarding is my favorite way to get out on the water, stay fit and have fun. I am the founder of FitFunSUP.com

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