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How to Choose the Perfect SUP Paddle

by Danny Mongno

As someone who’s paddling his SUP (Stand Up Paddle board) almost every day, I’m here to tell you folks that investing in the best paddle you can afford is super important. Every stand up paddler is unique, but we all share a common goal - paddling as efficiently as possible so we can spend more time on the water. Nicer paddles mean lighter swing weights and stiffer blades. These features lead to longer, better paddling sessions. Depending on your paddling style, that could mean more exercise, more fishing, more shoreline exploring, more wave surfing or more rapid running.

Luc and Aspen enjoying a ride on a Big Earl SUP Board on Redfish Lake, Idaho
Luc and Aspen enjoying a ride on a Big Earl SUP
Board on Alturas Lake, Idaho. ©Shauna Robinson

Try this simple test and you’ll see what I mean. Grab your household broom and a metal yard shovel. Now, stand on a chair and paddle with the broom. Use good technique, top hand directly over your bottom hand so that the shaft is totally vertical. Reach way out toward the bow of your imaginary board with the “blade,” then finish the stroke at your feet. Paddle five times on each side and then switch to the shovel. Feel the difference? Now imagine fighting that extra weight over the course of an hour-long paddle, or maybe a three-hour paddle. Not fun!

Okay, we’re not paddling our SUPs with broom bristles or shovel blades. But when you upgrade from low-performance plastic blades and aluminum shafts to fiberglass or carbon fiber, you’ll feel the difference. Sure, lightweight materials cost more, but you’re in luck; since a SUP paddle has only one blade, it costs less! You can get a really nice fiberglass paddle for around $220.00, whereas a comparable kayak paddle is more like $275.00.

In addition to being lighter, higher-end blades are also stiffer. The inherent flexibility of most lower-quality blades diminishes the force in your stroke, whereas a stiffer high-quality blade transfers more of your paddling energy to the water. For the casual paddler, this means fewer strokes, less fatigue, and more time on the water. For the performance-minded paddler, it means more BOOM every time your blade digs in.

Fiberglass and carbon fiber are the lightest, stiffest materials available for constructing SUP paddle blades. But which is best for you? Well, that depends on what kind of paddling you like most. For whitewater paddling, consider a rugged fiberglass blade. For longer distances and deep water paddling, lightweight carbon sure feels good after a long day.

Blade size and shape is also important. A smaller, narrower blade is best for dynamic surfing and turning. But since they’re easier on the joints and let you paddle with a faster cadence, they also work well for flatwater paddling. A larger, wider blade puts more power into a lower-cadence stroke.

Kat Skarda getting ready to try her luck on the Yuba River, CA, with her Werner Advantage Paddle and Big Earl SUP.
Kat Skarda getting ready to try her luck on the Yuba
River, CA, with her Werner Advantage Paddle and
Big Earl SUP. ©Lisa Skaff / www.lisaskaff.com

Once you’ve found the right blade for your paddling style, you’ll need to consider paddle length. SUP paddles are sold in varying lengths to accommodate paddlers of different heights and with different styles. For touring, fishing or fitness paddling, look for a paddle that’s about 10” longer than you are tall. For river running, a slightly shorter paddle works best – approximately 8” longer than your height. A longer paddle provides a longer, stronger stroke for flatwater, while a shorter paddle enables the quicker, shorter strokes needed to navigate more challenging water. NRS offers several adjustable-length paddles that quickly adapt to fit multiple paddlers. They even stock three-piece adjustables for easy breakdown and storage – perfect for travelling with inflatable boards.

With lots of paddles to choose from and lots of details to consider, finding the right SUP paddle can seem like a daunting task – but it’s not! By following these easy tips and investing in a lighter, stiffer, better-performing paddle, you’ll be sure to get the most out of your SUP experience. And the experts at NRS are always there to help. SUP on!