The Ultimate Guide to SUP Paddles13 Apr 2023
You can buy the best board on the market, but you won't get far without a good paddle, and yet paddlers often overlook this, and if we were honest, some brands also. Buying a quality paddle that suits your style will improve your experience on the water. At the end of the day, it's your SUP engine. Does that mean you have to buy a high-end paddle? Not necessarily. But there are a few things to consider when choosing the right paddle, so let's look at them.
1. SUP Paddle Length
Choosing the right length for your paddle is important. A paddle that is too long is impractical to use; too short, you have to bend into an awkward position at the bottom of the paddle stroke. Adjustable paddles take care of this issue in many respects, with the only issue left is how to determine the right length.
Generally speaking, the faster you want your paddle stroke to be, the shorter the length needed. You will want a relatively short paddle for quick bursts of speed needed when SUP Surfing. For longer flat water cruising, you will want a longer paddle.
Below is a general guide that can be used a good starting point.
2. Blade Size and Shape
The blade size and shape are attributes that combined give you the paddles feel and power in the water. And when we say feel, we aren't talking about some intangible feeling you get when picking up a classic guitar...No. We are talking about the feedback you will receive throughout the paddle stroke. While both attributes affect the paddle's feel and power together, the feedback is tuned mostly by the blade shape, while the blade size will have the most significant effect on power.
To best understand how a blad shape impacts its feel and power, let's look at a couple of common shapes.
This classic shape is where it started for SUP paddles. This shape provides a quick and powerful catch due to its shorter/wider shape making it a good choice for SUP Surfers. The draw back of the shape is that it isn't very forgiving in the water and not the best choice for beginners or recreational paddlers.
This shape produces the most power in the water and is usually on the larger side. Designed for flat water paddling, whether that be sprinting or all-day touring. These blades tend to have a larger area with construction features that make them incredibly stiff in the water. Because of the longer blade, this shape is more forgiving in the water; however, it requires a near-perfect technique for them to perform as designed.
The most difficult to describe is the shape that takes the advantages of both the tear-drop and rectangle designs. This shape is squared off at the bottom, while still having quite round corners before having a rounded rectangle section towards the bottom edge. This blade shape is the most versatile and the right choice for those only wanting one paddle to do it all.
Understanding Blade Sizes
Blade sizes are described in terms of surface area. cm² or In²
It's essential to get the right size, depending on you. Your size, paddling style and discipline help determine the right blade size, and while it's not an exact science, here are some general guidelines to help.
3. SUP Paddle Materials & Construction
The choice and mix of materials used in SUP paddles is almost endless. And to make matters worse, some misleading marketing can make it harder to really know what you're getting. This misleading tech is most commonly found in "carbon" where the outside layer may in fact be carbon, but 90% of the material under this out layer being fiberglass or other lower-cost material. We'll discuss this more below.
Here are the most common used materials used for paddle blades:
Plastic/Nylon: Found in the blades and handles of the entry-level to intermediate paddles. It can be made into strong and durable blades that are very resistant to damage. Great for white water paddles and for those who paddle inn shallow rocky waters. Most nylon paddles are injection moulded but the material used can vary greatly from ABS to Nylon and nylon-reinforced plastic.
Aluminium: Generally used for shafts only in very affordable paddles. Light, strong and durable and cost effective. The drawback with alloy is it can be overly stiff, which may sound ideal, but you want some flex in your shaft to prevent over-fatigue and injury. Only recommended for recreation paddles. We don't use Aluminium in any of our paddles in any section... This point is only to demonstrate where this material belongs in the value/performance end of the market.
Fiberglass: A extremely useful material that can be used in shafts and blades to help create complex shapes that are strong and relatively light, but more cost effective than carbon. Many lower cost "carbon" paddles will in fact, be mostly made from fibreglass. If you are unsure, the giveaway is in the weight. While an ideal material as an inner layer or stringer of a blade, fibreglass shafts are a little too flexible and so lack power in the water. But when combined with carbon layers, a good balance of flex, weight and cost can be achieved.
Carbon Fiber: This is the lightest and stiffest material available and often the most expensive. Ignoring the endless variations of weaves, directions and tow numbers, carbon can be broken into two main categories.
Quite simply, standard carbon fiber is constructed by manually applying the resin between the layers of carbon as it is layered into the mould.
Pre-preg carbon fiber has the perfect amount of resin already applied to the sheet of carbon, which is peeled away from a backing before being layered into the mould. It is this perfect amount of resin that produces the lightest and strongest possible composite when cured in a vacuum autoclave.
The reason you will hear pre-preg carbon listed, like we do at Honu is that this is the most expensive and highest-grade carbon available. It is reserved for the very best quality components.
Wood: There is a certain nostalgic feel to a wooden paddle. Certainly, the first SUP paddles were made from wood and although less common today, wooden paddles can be found. Bamboo is often paired with carbon to produce a paddle that looks and feels like bamboo but performs like carbon. The best of both worlds.
It's hard to wrap up such an extensive topic. But if you have read this far, we hope that you have learned something along the way. If you took one key learning away, I would hope that it is this.
While many paddles might look the same, and even claim to be carbon, etc, the actual materials and construction play a large part in how the paddle will feel and perform in the water. So when looking for an upgrade or selecting a new paddle, be sure to check out all the extended information on the product page beyond the summaries and headlines. Sanity check the material claims against the weights. It is in this area that you will get a clearer understanding of what you are getting.
Check out the range of SUP Paddles from Honu