Choosing A Stand Up Paddle
A lot of attention and tons of articles are dedicated to how a person should go about finding the right SUP board. And rightly so. However, just like any paddle sport, if you're paddle is weak, it doesn't matter how nice your boat or board are. The paddle you choose can truly impact your SUP experience, so making sure you get the right one is worth researching. There are two main characteristics when choosing a paddle that will directly affect the paddle’s weight, durability, comfort and overall performance. They are materials and length.
There are many different materials being used to make paddles and each of them has benefits and limitations:
Carbon Fiber: Carbon fiber is the lightest and strongest material used in paddles. A lightweight paddle will cause less arm fatigue, especially on longer trips. If you spend a large amount of time on the water, the weight savings of a carbon fiber paddle may well be worth the extra expense.
Fiberglass: Used for both shafts and blades, fiberglass is stiff, light, and provides a great balance between value and performance.
Wood: Used to craft the whole paddle or sometimes just the blade, wood is reasonably lightweight, renewable, and provides warmth to the touch that can’t be matched with synthetic materials. Wood paddles are beautiful to look at, and make a great present to an enthusiast.
Aluminum: An economical material used for shafts, aluminum is inexpensive but does have the drawback of being slightly heavier and cold to the touch.
Plastic: Another economical material, plastic is molded into blades and grips. It is affordable but heavier than other materials.
The most crucial part of choosing a paddle is getting the right length. A paddle that is too long will tire your arms as you hold them up too high. A paddle that is too short will stress your back as you bend forward to reach the water. The ideal paddle length will also depend on the type of paddling you intend to do. Generally speaking, your paddle should be 10-12 inches taller than you for racing, 8-10 inches taller than you for cruising on flat water, or 6-8 inches taller than you for surfing.
Adjustable paddles have a shaft that can extend and lock in different lengths. If more than one person is going to use the paddle, then an adjustable shaft will suit you well. Adjustable paddles are perfect for families, lake houses, and demo fleets. Adjustable SUP paddles will be marginally heavier than the non-adjustable paddles. Now we'll address some paddle characteristics:
Paddles are divided into two main groups, paddles for surf and paddles for cruising/touring. A surf paddle has a larger surface area for extra leverage against the water. Surf paddles are great for bracing and can also be used for white water SUP and SUP racing. A cruising SUP paddle has a smaller surface area which puts less stress on the arms while paddling long distances. There are also mid-sized paddles which fit the widest range of paddlers and work well for both surfing and touring.
The most common grip for the top handle is the palm shape. When paddlers enter surf and white water they prefer a T-shaped grip that your fingers can wrap around so there is less risk of losing it in rough water. Some paddlers prefer a ball-shaped grip, but ultimately the grip shape you choose is just that— personal preference, with palm grip being the most common.
WHY THE BEND?
You'll notice that the paddles have a bend just above the blade. That bend allows for a more efficient stroke and while it may seem counter-intuitive, when paddling, the elbow of the bend points towards the rear of the SUP. This allows the blade to slip up out of the water at the end of the stroke as opposed to lifting water. You can view an image of proper stance and paddle use at our SUP sizing guide page.
Remember that for general stand up paddling, you should choose a paddle that is between 8-10 inches taller than you are. Choosing a paddle that will provide the lightest and most durable stroke may cost a few more dollars, but in the long run you will realize they were dollars well spent. Check out our Aqua-Bound Stand Up Paddles and Bending Branches Stand Up Paddles. Happy Paddling!