Just like you would want a good pair of hiking boots to climb a mountain, a suitable paddle will make your time on the water the more enjoyable. The best Standup paddle will be light enough for you to use all day and strong enough to handle and conditions you get into. It should be a comfortable, with the right grip and length for you to enjoy your time on the water. So let’s look at what makes a great paddle.
There are many different materials being used to make paddles and each of them has benefits and limitations;
Used for both shafts and blades, fiberglass is stiff, light and provides a great balance between value and performance.
Used to craft the whole paddle or sometimes just the blade, wood provides warmth to the touch that can’t be matched with synthetic materials. Wood paddles are beautiful to look at, and make a great present to an enthusiast. Wood paddles are reasonable light.
Carbon fiber is the lightest and strongest material used in paddles. A light paddle will cause less arm fatigue especially on longer trips. If you spend a large amount of time on the water the weight savings of a carbon fiber paddle may well be worth the extra expense.
An economical material used for shafts, aluminum is very economical but does have the drawback of being slightly heavier and cold to the touch
Another economical material, plastic is molded into blades and grips. It is affordable but heavier than other materials
The most crucial part of choosing a paddle is getting the right length. A paddle that is too long will tire your arms as you hold them up too high. A paddle that is too short will stress your back as you bend forward to reach the water.
What length should I choose?
The short answer is to choose a length that is 8-10 in. taller than you are for general paddling and one that is 8 in. taller for surf paddling. If you have a wide board you may prefer an extra inch or two to reach around the rails.
Adjustable paddles have a shaft that can extend and lock in different lengths. If more than one person is going to use the paddle then an adjustable paddle will suit you well. Adjustable paddles are perfect for families, lake houses and demo fleets. Adjustable SUP paddles will be marginally heavier than the non-adjustable paddles.
Cut to length paddles.
The best paddle is one made to fit you. A custom length paddle is produced longer than you need and then cut in-store and the grip glued into place. Our staff have been trained to fit the paddle for your height and then cut to the right size.
Paddles are divided into two main groups, paddles for surf and paddles for cruising. A surf paddle has a large surface area for extra leverage against the water. Surf paddles are great for bracing and can also be used for white water SUP. A cruising SUP paddle has a smaller surface area which puts less stress on the arms while paddling long distances.
The most common grip for the top handle is the palm shape. When paddlers enter surf and white water they prefer a T shape grip that your fingers can wrap around so there is less risk of losing it in white water. Some paddlers prefer a ball shaped grip, but ultimately the grip shape you choose is just that, personal preference.
Why the bend?
The bend just above the blade allows a more efficient stroke. It may seem counter-intuitive but the elbow of the bend points towards the rear of the SUP. This allows the blade to slip up out of the water at the end of the stroke as opposed to lifting water.
And bent shafts?
A bend in the shaft, as opposed to a straight shaft allows a more neutral wrist position while paddling. The neutral position puts less strain on the wrist, great for long trips. It is more costly to produce a bent shaft but if you plan to spend a lot of time on the water it may be worth it.
Better Footwear Fit Through Lacing
For hiking footwear, kick your heels into the back of the shoe and lace them with enough tension for the laces to snap back when pulled between the eyelets (think of a stringed musical instrument). If this creates discomfort, learn special lacing techniques that can help improve fit. (Ask an Eastern Mountain Sports Foot Guru at any of our stores.)
For general SUP choose a paddle that is between 8 and 10 inches taller than you are. At EMS we have committed to only stocking high quality paddles that can be relied on to never leave you up the proverbial creek. Consider the best paddle you can afford, it may be expensive now but it will put a smile on your face with every stroke you take on the water.