Pointers for Picking Your Perfect Paddle

Paddles

In SUP, your paddle is the principal way in which you can create and control momentum to propel you through the water. It will turn you from a human wind catch, pushed around by every breeze and boat wake, to a finely tuned symphony of movement coordinating all of your body’s muscles, from your head down to your toes, connecting you, appendage like, to the water. For that reason, a high-quality paddle that is sized and cut to fit is THE most important piece of equipment a paddler can own.

A new paddler looking for their first SUP setup should budget not only for the board but for a high-quality paddle. A common mistake for a first time SUP shopper is to spend the bulk of their budget on a new board while walking out the door with a paddle that has been “thrown in” or used as a “tag on” for a reduced price or bundled deal. Think about the thousands of strokes that goes into an average SUP session let alone your lifetime in SUP or all the muscle movements that revolve around your paddle stroke. If you’re using a heavy, clunky feeling paddle that doesn’t move smoothly through the water you are really missing out. I remind people of what it’s like to pedal their own bicycle at home compared to a cheap rental one that doesn’t quite fit right or leaves you feeling disconnected to it because of awkward pedal and seat positions.

A lightweight properly sized paddle is, in my opinion, the key to an enjoyable SUP experience and will keep you paddling frequently, avoid injury and keep you paddling safely whether you’re cruising with friends or maxing out during a water workout. If you’re like me you will have several paddles for multiple purposes – from surfing and racing to training and travel – and you better believe if I’m traveling across the world to get some water time in St. John Virgin Islands to touring the Greek Islands I will have at least one of the paddles from my personal paddle quiver with me.

A lightweight properly sized paddle is, in my opinion, the key to an enjoyable SUP experience and will keep you paddling frequently, avoid injury and keep you paddling safely whether you’re cruising with friends or maxing out during a water workout. If you’re like me you will have several paddles for multiple purposes – from surfing and racing to training and travel – and you better believe if I’m traveling across the world to get some water time in St. John Virgin Islands to touring the Greek Islands I will have at least one of the paddles from my personal paddle quiver with me.

When you’re purchasing a paddle for the first time there are a number of things to consider. There are those disposable “free” paddles that come with your board made from aluminum or plastic to fiberglass or all carbon fiber not to mention adjustable, three-piece and of course solid shafts. My recommendation before a purchase is to get some water time by renting from a local rental shop that stocks high-quality gear so you can get your hands on different paddle types to see what feels good.

Use an adjustable paddle to start and vary the length of the shaft to see what feels like a comfortable height. There are a number of good videos on the subject available on Youtube and most recommend starting with a hand grip that fits into the palm of your hand while your arm is raised above your head. Note: you don’t want to reach too far but just enough to extend your hand straight up like you have a question. A good rule of thumb is about 8-12 inches above your head. If you have back problems you may want a taller paddle so you don’t have to reach down as far and conversely if you have a shoulder issue you may want a slightly shorter paddle so you don’t put pressure on your shoulder joint. Again, experiment with an adjustable and paddle

My recommendation before a purchase is to get some water time by renting from a local rental shop that stocks high-quality gear so you can get your hands on different paddle types to see what feels good. Use an adjustable paddle to start and vary the length of the shaft to see what feels like a comfortable height. There are a number of good videos on the subject available on Youtube and most recommend starting with a hand grip that fits into the palm of your hand while your arm is raised above your head. Note: you don’t want to reach too far but just enough to extend your hand straight up like you have a question. A good rule of thumb is about 6-10 inches above your head. If you have back problems you may want a taller paddle so you don’t have to reach down as far and conversely if you have a shoulder issue you may want a slightly shorter paddle so you don’t put pressure on your shoulder joint. Again, experiment with an adjustable and paddle upwind and down. Vary your grip and see what feels the most comfortable in a variety of positions and conditions.

Once you graduate to a water displacement hull for touring or racing you may want to consider a taller paddle to compensate for the increase in hull size and your overall distance above the water. Build a personal quiver (this extends to boards as well) because ultimately a SUP enthusiast will progress through phases as your body strengthens and your paddling technique allows you to tackle more SUP adventures. Your first paddle is just that: it’s your FIRST (probably of many over your lifetime) paddles in your quiver. Since I paddle A LOT and paddle in multiple conditions on multiple board types, my paddle quiver allows me to have the right tool for the right job and also swap out paddles now and then so I don’t

Your first paddle is just that: it’s your FIRST (probably of many over your lifetime) paddles in your quiver. Since I paddle A LOT and paddle in multiple conditions on multiple board types, my paddle quiver allows me to have the right tool for the right job and also swap out paddles now and then so I don’t overwork certain joints – shorter paddles for surfing and upwind races/ sprints and longer paddles for distance touring and downwind races.
So many things to consider! Well, if it makes it any easier, simplify your choices by basing your decision on what and where you will be paddling the majority of the time and assess your abilities honestly. If you’re not going to be racing then you probably don’t need to spend $600 plus on a new paddle (if you have it in the budget, by all means go for it!) but you can find a high quality, lightweight all carbon fiber paddle out there that will keep you paddling comfortably and safely in most of your paddling experiences.

The more time on the water you get the more you will learn about what you like to do and what is a reasonable goal for your SUP life and you can add additional paddles to your quiver so you have a full line up.

Below are some terms and things to think about so you will have an idea of what goes into a high-quality paddle and what to look for when making your first purchase. Remember: not every paddler is the same size so not every paddle should be made (or sold!) to fit all paddlers.

Your paddle is a personal thing. It’s yours and if you’re like me you will take wherever you travel. Your paddle is your connection to the water. It’s how you will create and control momentum and will keep you paddling safely and happily for a long time to come.

What are paddles made of?

Paddles come in all different shapes and sizes and are made a number of different materials: wood, plastic, rubber, aluminum, fiber glass and carbon fiber are the most common and some paddles are composites of multiple materials. All have something to offer specific paddlers but unless you’re running a high volume flat water rental facility and only want to offer a heavy, awkward, inefficient (albeit indestructible) paddle than you can focus on the fiber glass and carbon fiber paddles. Budget for a better paddle and your body will thank you after your next long distance paddle tour and throughout your life on the water.

Parts of a Paddle: Starting at the top: the paddle handle – look for a comfortable grip that fits into your hand. Some handles offer a cushion grip for comfort and less slip, some have a contoured grip to fit

Starting at the top: the paddle handle – look for a comfortable grip that fits into your hand. Some handles offer a cushion grip for comfort and less slip, some have a contoured grip to fit snugly into your palm. Look for a paddle shaft and grip that fit you! The shaft of the paddle extends from the handle/grip to the paddle blade. On a properly sized paddle your lower hand will grip the shaft between the handle and the top of the blade. (as your technique improves and your paddling environment changes you may adjust your grip up or down. Each hand position is like a new gear on a bike and changes up your leverage pint and allows for a greater reach or faster rotation). Smaller hands may feel more comfortable with a smaller diameter paddle shaft. A smaller shaft will be a little lighter too and is another desirable quality for a smaller paddler and will reduce fatigue and help increase comfort and control.

Some Paddle Shafts are bent and some are straight. A bent shaft may alleviate stress and strain and is designed around the natural angle of your wrist and forearm. Something to consider if you have a pre-existing hand/ wrist issue but bent shafts tend to weigh more than a straight shaft and will require extra energy to paddle. Straight shafts allow you to move your hand up and down and take advantage of different hand placement to reduce muscle fatigue in your back and shoulders on long paddles, races and for those who paddle often. I prefer them as a first paddle option for sure because it allows you to feel out the most comfortable hand position and alter your stroke for conditions and training purposes.

Paddle Blades of all shapes and sizes. SUP is a growing sport and as it develops the paddlers are changing the way gear is designed and developed making for some exciting new stuff! Like boards, and paddles in general, there are numerous paddle blade size options. Again, it’s all about what feels good to you, where you’re going to be paddling and what type of paddling will you be doing for the majority of the time. Larger paddle blades move more water but cause more strain and muscle fatigue. A larger blade is great for bursts of speed, desirable in surfing, sprint races and/or for bigger paddlers. I would caution a limit to the paddle size because while you may push more water you will sacrifice your paddle speed and rate of paddle rotation which is a main component of your over all paddle speed as well as requiring more energy. For general purposes I would start with a 90 paddle blade size and build your quiver from there — smaller paddlers can go even smaller.

Blade Dihedral – Exsqueeze me? What was that? Yep, that angle in your paddle blade is called the Dihedral (die–he-dral) and is really important when it comes to directing the flow of water evenly across the blade as it goes through the water. It helps reduce or eliminate the back and forth flutter of the blade and allows you to loosen your grip while maintaining control of the blade so you can conserve your energy, reduce your overall fatigue and paddle more!

There is much to learn and a great many places to explore. I hope that this article helped you to better understand the importance of knowing your gear and having higher expectations for your first paddle!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *