Stand up paddle boarding (SUP) is a water sport that utilizes a paddle on a long pole. The paddle offers the standing border more control than surfing.
SUP’s contemporary origins come from Hawaii, but variations date back to 3000 B.C. in diverse places like South America, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East.
Because of its versatility (you can surf, race, tour, fish, or do yoga on a SUP board), athletic merits, and fun, SUP is a popular water sport among professionals and beginners.
Millions have discovered the joy of padding, but while there are lots of emphases placed on the board itself, it’s important not to forget about the paddle. A SUP paddle is arguably even more important than the board in many cases. A poor one can cause discomfort and extra effort. Whereas a top-quality carbon paddle might make the experience much more enjoyable.
So let’s take a look at how to select the perfect SUP paddle and how to choose the right one for your next SUP adventure.
Because the paddle is what sets SUP apart from surfing, it’s an essential item equal to the board and can define your paddling experience. SUP paddles are made of various materials, and many contain a blend. Selecting the right material often comes down to price, use case, and preference.
Here are some of the types and their qualities:
Wooden SUP paddles are elegant, attractive, and durable. However, they can come with some drawbacks. They may be heavier and more expensive than other materials. You can usually find these in all wood, and others feature blades with a thin veneer.
Plastic is an inexpensive and resilient material used in the grips or blades of beginner’s SUP paddles with an aluminum shaft. Rarely, if ever, is one solely composed of plastic.
Nylon’s flexibility makes it a good contender for blade material because the structural reinforcements stay stiff while retaining lightness. Typically, SUP paddles that feature a nylon or nylon composite blade have shafts made of fiberglass, carbon fiber, or a mix of each.
Aluminum is both cheap and tough, so it is often used for the shaft and paired with plastic or fiberglass materials. It’s sufficient for newbies but is bulkier due to its weight.
Fiberglass is an excellent material for paddles because it’s lightweight but maintains its rigidity. It’s a step up from plastic or aluminum, but not quite as great SUP paddles made from carbon fiber. Because of that, it’s a perfect midrange material that blends with other products for this purpose.
Carbon Fiber and Carbon Blend
Full-carbon fiber paddles are 100% carbon fiber. They are incredibly light and feel almost intuitive with your every move. They are simply the best. That’s why many enthusiasts recommend these from the start of your SUP experience.
However, there are some drawbacks. They are the most expensive, and while carbon is very durable, the blades can crack or chip if you come into contact with a hard surface like jagged river rocks.
Another option is carbon fiber blended with another light yet resilient material such as fiberglass. Carbon blend paddles are an excellent option for those who can’t afford a full-carbon fiber paddle but want to enjoy its benefits. Just look for 50% or higher carbon content.
SUP Paddle Length
Your SUP paddle should become an extension of your body, and therefore it has to fit you properly to function optimally. Most paddles are adjustable and will fit most people (unless you are shorter than 5 feet or well over 6 feet).
There are several essential factors to consider when selecting a paddle size, including your height, arm length, strength, type of SUP activity, and the board’s height above the water. Fortunately, most quality ones consider this so that a good fit is possible.
Many beginner paddlers prefer adjustable-length paddles because they are still finding their groove and comfort zone. They are also a smart choice for a paddler who’s most interested in versatility since you can adjust the height to suit your SUP activity of choice.
Additionally, adjustable-length SUP paddles are best for couples or families who share their equipment, travel frequently, or have limited space because they disassemble into a 2- or 3-piece shaft and can be adjusted to fit a five-foot teen or six-foot man.
Professional or advanced paddlers who focus on SUP racing or touring tend to go for the fixed-length paddles.
Fixed-length paddles are lighter and more rigid, so they act as a fluid extension of your arms when speed and control are necessary. They perform better, but you need to know what fits before you invest in one.
Paddle Blade Size
The next item on your perfect SUP paddle checklist should be the blade size. Blades vary in size and shape. You should adjust depending on what SUP activities you plan on doing. Eight or nine inches above your head is a good standard.
It’s also important to remember that blade material can be different from shaft material, and the lighter the blade, the better it propels you through the water.
Blade Size Recommendations Based on Weight
Like the SUP paddle’s length, the blade size must also fit the paddler. Conveniently, many blades come in sizes that correlate closely to what your clothing sizes are likely to be.
For example, a paddler who weighs between 100-120 lbs is a size XS, whereas a paddler weighing between 188-208 would require a size L blade, and so on.
Large Blades vs. Small Blades
SUP paddle blades use square inch measurements and the sweet spot between 85-95 square inches. They come in other dimensions, but that’s the optimal target range. Smaller blades provide more speed for racing, and larger blades deliver more power per stroke.
Too small a blade may impede your stroke power and speed. A blade that’s too large might make your back and shoulders sore, cause fatigue, and prevent you from maintaining a straight paddle. The ideal blade should pass the “Goldielocks test” and be just right.
SUP Paddle Blade Shape
A SUP paddle blade’s shape is designed at an angle to create a firm stroke with minimal effort and to provide more power as you propel yourself and the board through the water.
Two common shapes are teardrop, rectangular, and offset angle blades.
The teardrop-shaped blade is narrow at the top and wide and the bottom, where the blade meets the water. That’s optimal for a powerful stroke and slower cadence that’s good for SUP surfers.
Rectangular-shaped SUP blades have a more uniform shape. Because of that, they require less effort and produce a gentler, higher-cadence stroke. That makes rectangular blades a reliable option for beginners.
Blade Offset Angle
Offset angle blades angle forward from the SUP paddle’s shaft in varying degrees. The degree of the angle can more precisely determine the power delivered with every stroke. This kind of control is desirable for SUP paddlers seeking exceptional performance in particular activities.
Here are the standard degrees:
SUP Surfing: between 5-7 degrees
SUP All-around (multipurpose use): about 10 degrees
SUP Racing: 12 degrees or more
Handle Grasp Options
There are two main grasp options for SUP paddle handles, the rounded palm grip, and the T grip. The rounded grip is comfortable, so that it might be better for newbies. The T grip offers more control which is useful in SUP racing.
SUP paddle handles are generally from carbon, fiberglass, or plastic. Plastic is the cheapest, but fiberglass and carbon handles are more durable and comfortable.
Does One SUP Paddle Work for All Disciplines?
A quality SUP paddle that fits your build and board well should be suitable for multipurpose use. However, as noted before, some styles offer advantages for certain SUP activities.
Flatwater and Long-distance Paddles
SUP Paddlers who want to go the distance and spend all day in the water will need a durable and lightweight paddle.
For this combination, nothing can beat a full-carbon fiber paddle for performance and endurance. High-quality fiberglass or carbon blend is another budget-friendly option.
Optimal paddles for SUP racing should provide the paddler with precision and control. An offset angle blade angle of 12 degrees or more is a good bet.
You’ll also want a paddle that is equally rigid and lightweight so you can propel your body and board through the water with ease and not get worn out.
It doesn’t matter if you’re paddling an inflatable board or a solid board, you’ll want to make sure you have the right SUP paddle that feels comfortable, fits your price range, and you can enjoy all day long.
What Size Paddle Should I Get for SUP?
The ideal paddle size for you will depend on your height, weight, ability, and what kind of SUP activities you’re engaging in. If you are unsure, it’s best to get an adjustable length paddle that you can change.
Do SUP Paddles Sink?
Because of their lightweight materials, most SUP paddles will float for a while, but they can drift away from you, and everything sinks eventually. Some people use a leash.
Are Carbon Fiber Paddles Worth It?
Yes! For superior performance and efficiency, they surpass all others. They are featherweight and act as an extension of the body. Once someone tries a carbon fiber paddle, it’s hard to use another.
How Much Are Paddle Board Paddles?
SUP paddle board paddles range in cost depending on the materials, size, angle, and other factors. They range from as low as under $30 for the cheapest to more than $300 for the top-notch full-carbon fiber type. Midrange paddles cost between $50-$150.
How Much Should Your Paddle Weigh?
Typically, SUP paddles weigh around 30 lbs. However, bulkier paddles can be as heavy as 40 lbs, and the best, lightest carbon fiber paddles can be half the standard weight at a mere 15 lbs.