SUP paddles can be a minefield if you are taking the plunge for the first time and even more so when you are looking to upgrade so let’s go through the various shapes, terminology etc and see if we can help you out.
SUP paddles come in all shapes and sizes, materials and ultimately price points. As with anything, all that glitters is not gold and the old saying, “Buy Cheap Buy Twice” has never been more true but how do you know what is suitable or long lasting.
There are so many brands on the market and often you’ll have a paddle thrown in with a paddleboard as a bit of a sweetener. There are claims of light, strong, some fancy blade giving super speed increases etc. but is it really true for the average Joe.
How important is a paddle really
Since starting paddling I have used most major brands from Starboard, Fanatic, Jimmy Lewis, Quickblade, Werner, KeNalu and Kialoa. The first thing I would say for my own experience is that I didn’t become an elite speed demon or big wave charger coz of the sup paddle (as if). That sort of increase in ability and skill comes from hard work, but I can say that as you progress and your skills develop you will feel the need to better the tools you use as they do deliver a better feel and performance overall.
Many people look up on the paddle as a minor part of their kit bag, but I would say that it is probably the most important part. I could get on a crappy board and still make a better job of things with a decent paddle, but give me a cheap paddle with floppy plastic blade and nothing feels right.
The floppy head of a plastic blade flops away as you apply pressure to it so all that effort is wasted. The extra weight of the blade and plastic or aluminium shaft will tire out your shoulders a lot quicker.
The blade shape will be far less effective in the water and again that is going to reduce performance and enjoyment.
Don’t think that just because you’re a beginner this doesn’t apply to you. Everyone we teach is given a plastic head paddle that is super robust to bash about and as the lesson progresses we offer to them a glass or carbon paddle to try. Nobody denies the difference in feel.
A paddle is pretty simple in looks, but each part has a name, not that you really need to memorise them.
The handle – sometimes called a TBar or Ergogrip. I personally prefer the ergogrip as it lets you have a more relaxed angle in your wrist compared to the TBar which is a far wider and more rigid hold.
The shaft – this is a huge subject as there are so many flexes, materials, diameters etc. You’ve also got adjustable paddles that have mechanisms for extending and shortening the paddle length to suit different peoples heights, board types and uses.
Alumimum, glass fibre, carbon or a mix are all used with different wraps of the respective material to change the bend and feel. Narrower diameter shafts help with grip as do oval shapes.
Aluminium is a cheap, entry level materials with very little feel or performance being delivered.
Glass fibre can be used to control flex but can be a little heavier especially when twinned with a glass blade.
Carbon is the ultimate material, giving lightweight, strength and flex control. A good mix of carbon/glass can be used as well. More expensive but worth it for a long lasting paddle.
The blade – another big one regards materials, shape, angles, weight etc. From longer blades that are narrower to tear drop shapes. Trends have certainly changed and we are using smaller blades now to help increase performance and reduce fatigue/damage.
As with shafts, fibre glass is a tough material but has is heavier so the swing weight of the paddle increases.
Carbon is far lighter and really feels more alive in the water, but you need to experience that for yourself to get the idea.
Shapes – in my own experience this is personal. I have some team riders racing on long blades and others on tear drop shapes. They’re strokes are different so it is what suits, but it does have an effect so experiment.
Blade angle or the rake is also something worth considering, but don’t get too hung up on it for normal paddling. It ranges from 10-13 degrees and changes how the paddle catches and when is best to apply power.
SUP blade size is probably the most important factor. Too big and it will kill your shoulders so start small and work up when trying out some paddles. At 90kg I now use what I would have recommended for ladies back when we all started so things change. That goes for wave and race paddling.
Measuring your paddle to fit you
This is a subject that seems to evolve and quite rightly so. We are all different, arms lengths, torso etc and have different techniques so where do you start.
Surf is probably the easiest one to measure. If you are paddling a smaller surf sup, you are going to be standing much lower in the water. Now also consider that you aren’t looking to gain huge reach out front and want to throw this paddle around easily so shorter is better. I have my surf paddles standing at head height, so the handle top is in line with the brow of my head. I have gone lower but found myself stooping and missing strokes so this height seemed to resolve those issues.
Distance or race is a mixed bag and can again change depending on how thick your board is. For me I have paddle about 5-8 inches over head height. Once of the reason I steer away from having an overly extended top arm is should damage. If you are excessively reaching and opening your shoulder, it becomes weak and prone to damage, but this can also be accentuated by poor technique.
Cutting and fixing your paddle
We used to araldite our handles in place, but this became a problem when you wanted to make an adjustment. In time and with new ideas we progressed onto using hot glue and it has been great. There is a definite technique to it but once you’ve got it down the advantages speak for themselves.