How to Choose a Stand Up Paddle

VideoMay 03, 2013

Choosing the right paddle to propel your SUP board makes a tremendous difference in your paddling experience. The more often you paddle, the more important it is to pick the best one for your style of paddling.

Nicer paddles mean lighter swing weights and stiffer blades. A stiffer shaft and blade efficiently transfers more of your paddling energy to the water. 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.

To illustrate the importance of swing weight, take the broom and shovel test. Stand on a chair and hold a household broom as you would a paddle. Take “paddle strokes” for ten seconds on each side, then switch to a garden shovel. Feel the difference? Now imagine how that difference would add up in a long paddle session.

Paddles with aluminum shafts and plastic blades can work for the infrequent paddler. However, if you paddle often, upgrading to a fiberglass or carbon-fiber paddle is a smart investment. A better paddle isn’t that much more expensive, and you’ll paddle farther, tire less quickly and smile more often.

Paddles with fiberglass shaft and blade are rugged and your first choice for whitewater paddling where you’ll encounter rocks. They’re also great for deep water paddling, but carbon-fiber shaft and blade paddles, which are lighter and stiffer, excel here.

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.

Choose paddle length for your type of paddling. For touring, fishing or fitness paddling, look for a paddle that’s about 10"–12" longer than you are tall. For river running or surfing, 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. Adjustable-length paddles are great for all paddling styles, plus they can be used by people of different heights.