You can buy the best SUP board, but you can’t go far without a paddle. Now you will learn about the types of paddles for sups. And the right paddle will give you even more pleasure from riding a SUP. Paddles are much cheaper than supboards and, at first glance, not much different from each other. If you don’t want to get the first one you see and have to suffer the whole season, have a look at our guide on choosing the paddles!
If you like to research the market and understand the details, you’ll like choosing a paddle as much as choosing an SAP board.
There are three parts to a paddle: the handle, the shaft, and the paddle. And all these parts have different shapes, can be made of different materials, and vary in size.
Proper rowing length is key to performance. A paddle that is too long will not give you much pleasure to row with and a paddle that is too short will strain your back muscles. To find the right paddle length for your SUP ride place the paddle straight in front of you and move the shuffle up to arm’s length. That is, your height + hand length to your thumb is the universal paddle height. Athletes use shorter oars.
We figured out the appropriate length, now we need to know how to adjust the height of the oar.
There are adjustable and non-adjustable oars. Adjustable paddles are the most popular because they allow you to experiment with the length, use the paddle in different situations on the water and share it with those who are not the same height as you. Such paddles are used in SUP schools and rentals, they are good to start your acquaintance with sail surfing.
Non-adjustable (fixed-length paddles) are lighter and stronger with no joints. They are usually used by more experienced riders who know exactly their comfortable paddle height. Non-adjustable oars can be adjusted only once – immediately after purchase by sawing off the unnecessary part of the mast to your height. A significant disadvantage of these oars is the difficulty in transportation. They often break during the flights.
The weight of the paddle, its stiffness, and efficiency depend on the material from which it is made. During an hour of SUP riding, we paddle down and up a couple of thousand times. Heavy paddles in that amount of time can tire the muscles and too light paddles do not give a good momentum to the stroke. There are many possible combinations of materials in one oar, let’s try to look at all of them:
Aluminum paddles are heavier than others, they are stiff and not easy to break or bend. The combination of the aluminum fin with the plastic paddle is the most common choice for beginners.
Used in the paddles and handles of budget oars paired with an aluminum halyard. There are some plastic paddles on the market that are the heritage of kayakers but they are not suitable for SUP because the material is too soft and fragile.
Fiberglass is a polymer composite material that is just as strong as aluminum but weighs much less. Fiberglass oars are usually a bit more expensive than aluminum oars and are stiffer and non-slippery.
The lightest, strongest, and most expensive material on the SUP paddle market. Carbon fiber paddles are used in sports SUP, they transfer the momentum perfectly and do not strain your muscles. The disadvantages of carbon paddles are high price and fragility. Both of these problems are solved by manufacturers through hybrid connections. For example, Starboard combines fiberglass with carbon fiber to make a lightweight and affordable Hybrid carbon paddle. Red paddle uses a carbon paddle and a plastic paddle in the Carbon nylon model.
Some paddles can be made entirely of wood, some use veneer on the paddle only. The strongest and lightest material for wooden oars is balsa. Wood oars are undoubtedly beautiful to look at, but they are often too heavy and expensive.
A single material paddle is not very common on the SUP market. It’s more likely to find a hybrid paddle made of combinations of different materials. Why do you need it? The paddle and the blade carry different loads during the stroke and therefore wear out unevenly. Also, it is a compromise between lightness and price: a full carbon paddle is quite expensive and a paddle with a hybrid shaft and a carbon blade is affordable to many people.
If you are not a professional rower, the hubs and handles of the paddles will look similar, but the blades, even at first sight, are noticeably different.
The size of the blade, its shape, and angle determine how the paddle enters the water and how hard it will push the board.
There are no clear rules when it comes to the choice of the paddle: choose the one you like. And we will describe the peculiarities of each kind of paddle.
Those manufacturers, who give you the choice of the blade size, most often have the following size grid: XS, S, M, and L. The bigger the rider and the more powerful his/her stroke, the bigger the blade should be. Bigger blades capture more water, so the rowing is heavier. Narrow blades capture less of the water but are easier to row. There are different tables that correlate rider’s weight and blade size, but such things are better to be determined by the practitioner. Conventionally, the size of the blade corresponds to your size. That is, if you wear a size L clothing, most likely you will fit a size L paddle, and so on. Some SUP board manufacturers do not bother to make different size paddles and offer standard medium size paddles that will fit most amateur riders.
Please note that with a wide blade you can paddle powerfully but slowly. For sprints and fast paddles, choose narrow paddles.
The shape of the blade determines how fast the paddle will go into the water, how much area it will catch, and how powerful the stroke will be.
Every manufacturer invents their own paddle shapes and curves; it’s unlikely that there are at least two paddles that are the same from different brands. But they all start from two standard shapes: rectangular and drop-shaped.
Drop-shaped: a triangular paddle with an extension at the end. A blade of this shape captures water even when not fully submerged. Droplet blades transmit a strong impulse and use a large water surface. Suitable for long-distance paddling, walking, and SUP surfing.
Rectangular: Rectangular blades barely expand downward, so they catch less of the water surface. Rectangular blades are much easier and faster to get in and out of the water, allowing for very fast paddling. Such paddles are popular among athletes and those who are not new to SUP.
Handles also vary: some are both handles and adjusting mechanisms, some have special recesses for the fingers, some are rough, some are glossy. It’s all a matter of taste and individual choice. Otherwise, what do we need a good handle if it will not be comfortable to row with?
Choosing a paddle is even easier to confuse than choosing a board. There are over 200 different paddles on the market with variable thicknesses, different blade shapes, different adjustment mechanisms, and different designs. Different paddles serve different purposes, so it’s impossible to stop at one. If you love SUP and are willing to pay for your comfort, keep several paddles in your arsenal: for walking, racing, and surfing.
For the beginner who is confused about the types of paddles, we suggest buying a mid-priced SUP paddle and looking at hybrid options. Fiberglass paddles and carbon hybrid paddles will not strain your hands and will last a long time. And for your first experience on the water, you should have an aluminum paddle that won’t break if you have an unfortunate collision with the boardwalk.
A confident SUP user thinks not only about the durability of the paddle but also about its weight and shape. Such riders will like paddles with carbon halyards or paddles. The next level – is a full carbon paddle or a paddle with a fixed length. This is the professional rider’s choice.