Choosing the right paddle is as important as choosing the right board. There are many varieties of paddle and this guide will hopefully help you make the right choice.
You should first consider the usage of the paddle. Is the paddle intended just for you or do you want to share it? Budget, like anything you can spend quiet a lot of money, but is relevant to the construction. What kind of paddling do you like to do, i.e. surfing, racing, cruising?
We could say there are two main types of paddle, adjustable and fixed length. The main draw to an adjustable is you can adjust the height and it caters for multiple users and disciplines, and is very popular for schools, but having extra parts to make the paddle adjust adds weight, which doesn’t help us out. Fixed length paddles are the most popular, but you have to customise it to your height.
One of the most important variables in a paddle is the height. Getting the height right is important because it will affect your efficiency on the water. If the paddle is too long the blade will be fully submerged and strain your shoulders and arms, also repeating the stroke will be harder as you will have to fully rake back to release the blade from the water. If the paddle is too short the blade will skim the water and you won’t pull enough to get an efficient stroke. Also you might compromise in your stance by getting lower, and in turn fatigue quicker.
In general the height of your paddle should be 6 to 8 inches taller that you. This height would be orientated for an all rounder. If you are primarily SUP surfing, then a shorter paddle will be more manoeuvrable and as you will be in a surf stance (lower to the water) you don’t need as much height. A guide for surf paddle height should be 3 to 6 inches taller than you. Lastly SUP racers like to have a longer paddle especially in down wind discipline and can be around 8 to 10 inches taller than yourself.
Fixed vs. Adjustable
As I said earlier the most popular choice is a fixed length for the solo paddler, but there are some very competitive options in the adjustable range. Paddle manufactures are producing adjustable in carbon and are not far off the weight of a fixed length. Having a high performance adjustable might tick all the boxes for the all rounder and for those occasional surfs you can make it shorter. If you buy a fixed length paddle it’s likely (unless you are 6’5” tall) you will have to cut it down, but before arming yourself with a hacksaw make sure you are cutting the right height. If you can get your hands on an adjustable, then it’s a good idea to experiment with different lengths and use it to measure off for cutting your new paddle. Finally make sure you glue the handle on properly with epoxy resin.
Construction plays a massive part on how the paddle feels in hand. It directly relates to weight, performance and price. Typically paddles are made from plastic, aluminium, wood, fiberglass or carbon fiber. There are also composites i.e. plastic blades with aluminium shafts.
Aluminium / plastic blade – Stiff shaft, less power in the blade. Resilient and hard wearing. Heavy, entry-level paddle.
Wood – Connected with a nice springy feeling, ergonomically pleasing, mid weight. Looks great, performs well but just as expensive as carbon. More suited to cruising.
Fibreglass – Springy, mid flex. Can be composite with either plastic or carbon, mid weight. Nice compromise between entry level and carbon.
Carbon Fiber – Stiffest, slight spring, light weight. Great performance with a price tag.
Finally the last thing to consider would be the blade size. The blade is the connection between the water and the rider. Bigger people will prefer a larger blade to pull water and visa versa. There’s also a bit of a trend for SUP surfers to have smaller blades as they are more manoeuvrable and you can get a faster stroke as you don’t pull as much water.