Paddle Board Paddles – Important Considerations
Whether you have the newest flashiest paddle board out there or are still riding around on your Dad’s old SUP, you’re clearly not getting too far without a paddle. Up the creek without a ‘paddle’ as they say.
While SUP paddles can get particularly expensive when you get to the upper end of the range, if you plan on taking to the water on a regular basis, then making the investment is well worth the effort and the cost.
Factors including your style of paddling, the water conditions that you will be paddling in as well as your own body weight and size, all come into play when trying to determine what might best suit.
Once you have squared away your budget, here are a few things that you should be considering:
This is one of the key considerations as it will be a big contributor to your overall paddling experience. Too long and you will struggle in terms of managing the paddle itself so it will make for an awkward ride. Too short and you will struggle to get the blade in the water without having to lean over too far – will impact your balance as well as potentially causing you back pain or damage.
As a basic rule of thumb, the paddle should be about 12 inches taller than you are when standing in an upright position. So if you extend your arm above your head and stand the paddle up beside you (from the bottom of the blade to the tip of the handle), the paddle will reach the bottom of your hand. If you’re unable to physically purchase the paddle in person then consider these measurements if you are buying online. Adjustable paddles are of course easier as you can alter them to suit your size.
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Rigid or Adjustable:
Adjustable Length – If you have an inflatable SUP then it makes sense to go with an adjustable paddle as it will fit into your kit bag (manufacturer supplied backpack) – portability being the main theme. You can still consider different materials but the adjustability is likely your main consideration for inflatables. More broadly though adjustable paddles given their versatility can cater for more than one person so they can be easily shared amongst your friends and family. The length can also be adjusted for different styles of paddling – flat water v surf for instance where you would want a longer paddle length to better support control in the rougher and varied conditions.
Rigid or Fixed Length – Whilst it will come down to preference, non-adjustable paddles are typically stiffer and more often than not lighter. More serious paddlers who are spending lengthy periods of time on the water would typically go for a fixed length paddle – the correct length being the key of course.
While paddle lengths and materials (see below) are important, the blade also plays a critical element of your paddle. For the novice this is perhaps not as important if you are just looking at doing a like bit of flat water paddling on weekends, but as you progress your paddling the different elements of the blade do come into play.
Beyond the material, the blade shape, offset and size all impact your overall paddle performance, level of exertion and the amount of water pulled (speed).
Size – there is no hard and fast rule here but your body type and size does come into play. The larger and stronger you are then it likely correlates that you can handle a larger blade as you’ll have the strength to dig in and pull the blade through the water. Smaller blades make for an easier paddling experience so you will likely be able to sustain paddling for longer periods of time or over longer distances. Larger blades whilst taking more strength, enable the paddle to move more water and thus generate more speed so may be better suited to rougher waters, surfing or short races.
Using the overall blade size (surface area) that is included within the manufacturers specifications is a reasonable guide that might assist in helping you select the right size blade:
- Below 150 pounds > 80-90 square inch blade
- Between 150 and 200 pounds > 90-100 square inch blade
- Larger than 200 pounds > 100-120 square inch blade
Shape – somewhat similar to the blade size, the shape also impacts how the blade will move through the water and thus the resultant speed and energy output. Rectangular blades have a narrower end to them so they pick up less water and make for a gentler stroke which also means they take less effort and can be used for a greater paddle speed (cadence). Tear-drop blades create more power with each stroke as the thinner blade tip slices into the water straightaway so creates a wider surface area allowing the paddler to push forward further.
Offset – refers to the angle measured in degrees that the blade angles forward from the paddle shaft. Different offsets impact the paddle speed and are used for different paddling conditions. The manufacturers specs will likely reference the offset but in essence racing and faster style paddling would likely have a larger offset (angle) whereas surfing would typically have a smaller offset.
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The paddle material is the key contributor to the overall cost of the paddle. The lighter the paddle the more expensive it becomes. It is also a key contributor to the overall paddling performance the rider will have. Heavier paddles make for harder work so the more experienced you get and the more paddling that you are likely to do will likely mean that your willing to invest in a lighter and therefore more expensive weight paddle.
The various options for the paddle shafts and blades are:
Plastic – mainly aimed at the beginners market given that they are the cheapest option. The plastic blades are typically paired with an aluminium shaft.
Aluminium – similar to plastic, aluminium is aimed for the beginners market as it is relatively inexpensive.
Fibreglass – lighter again than aluminium and can be used in both the blades and the paddle shafts. It’s stiffer again than aluminium so makes for a smooth and efficient stroke.
Carbon Fibre – this is the lightest and correspondingly more often than not the more expensive of all materials. Carbon fibre is typically used by the more seasoned paddlers who are happy to invest in their equipment. Stiffer again than fibreglass, the paddler gains a greater level of output and speed. As the lightest of all of the paddles, it is also more beneficial over longer distances. Carbon Fibre can be used in both the shaft and the blade or can be used in conjunction with fibreglass or aluminium.
Wood – not as common as other materials these days but wood was of course the original material that all paddles were made from. They are typically heavier than the other materials and can also be more expensive albeit some designs do look great.
As always we would love to hear from you so please feel free to leave your comments or feedback and we will get back to you.
Stay safe and get wet…..