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Choosing a SUP Paddle

Surely any paddle will do. Its all about the board, right? Wrong!

We reckon that the paddle selection is every bit as important as the board, after all it’s in your hands 100% of the time and every stroke depends on it. So what are the options out there?

Probably most SUPers first experience of a paddle will be the one that they used for their first lesson or hire session, typically an adjustable (once upon a time) aluminium shaft with a battered plastic blade and a wobbly handle. Your own paddle will always be much better than this!

The basic variations are; construction type, construction materials, blade size, shaft cross-section. For the geeky there’s more; blade angle, handle shape, shaft reflex response and stiffness, dihedral shape, aspect ratio - all largely irrelevant to most of us.

 

But let’s get paddle length out of the way first

There is no point in spending a lot of time and money selecting a fancy paddle if you then use it at the wrong length. So, what is the right length? Probably longer than you think, typically around 20cm/8 inches over your height, from the top of the handle to tip of the blade. This will allow you to stand comfortably while being able to lean forward to get the paddle well forward for the ‘catch’ (point where the blade enters the water). The whole blade should be in the water before the pull of the stroke begins and the paddle comes out of the water as it comes next to your feet as you stand more upright again. Pulling the paddle any further back is not efficient as you are basically lifting water. If you paddle on a low volume surfing paddleboard you may reduce the paddle length to around your own height and tall racers on thick race boards my go a little longer to around 25cm/10 inches over your height.

Of course if you have an adjustable paddle you can change the length on the fly for different conditions, boards or paddler’s heights. Paddling into a strong head wind is a good reason to shorten your adjustable paddle a few inches to take a more streamlined profile. Paddlers using fixed length shafts often resort to moving their top hand grip down the shaft a few inches to achieve the same effect.

Paddle length is a bit like saddle height on a bike, but not as precise. Getting it right will allow you paddle for longer, more comfortably and with less risk of injury.

 

Construction type

Fixed length - these are usually regarded as the highest performing paddles. You buy a paddle with an uncut shaft and cut it to length and then glue the handle in yourself. They are then only suitable for yourself or others of approximately the same height. Because there are no joins, adjustment collars or overlapping shaft sections, fixed length paddles are the lightest and cheapest variations. Most experienced paddlers with rigid boards will choose a high-end fixed length paddle. More difficult to transport, hassle to cut to length

Adjustable length - have an adjustable collar and overlapping tubes to allow the paddle to be adjusted (180-220cm approx) to suit most adult riders. A little heavier and there will always be a tiny movement at the joint, but for many these are the perfect compromise between versatility, weight, stiffness and price.

3 –Piece (also known as Traveller or Breakdown) as per ‘adjustable’ but have an additional joint low down allowing the paddle to be broken down into 3 sections. They are therefore particularly suited to use with inflatable SUP boards (iSUPs) due to their portability. Again a little heavier, more flex and slightly more expensive.

 

Construction material

Aluminium alloy with plastic polymer blade

These paddles still have their place as a budget choice and sometimes included as ‘free’ with a board. At its most basic they have a round cross-section aluminium alloy shaft with a plastic blade and handle. Usually adjustable in length, but often fail to remain so. They do a decent job for learning the basics. Some of these basic models have a foam collar around the base of the shaft which should prevent them sinking. Please check that they float before your first deep-water outing, we have seen them sink!

Pros

Cheap, tough, do the job

Cons

Heavier, cold on the hands, flexible, can develop permanent bend, crap ones may even sink

Chinook Alloy paddles are available in 4 versions; adult adjustable with large and small blades, adult 3-piece, ideal to go with iSUPs and junior, short with small blade.

Our attractive Alloy paddles have comfortable handles, oval profile shafts for extra stiffness and tough plastic polymer blades. They are much better than most alloy/plastic paddles out there especially the Freebie paddles often offered with iSUPs.  And ours don’t sink!

 

Carbon shaft with fibreglass blade

Chinook Blue is a slightly different offering with a super tough solid fibreglass blade and a round carbon shaft and is a very versatile paddle, especially in the 3 piece version to go with an iSUP

Pros

Quite light, quite stiff, tough blade, more forgiving, good value, excellent compromise

Cons

A little heavier

 

Carbon shaft with carbon blade

These are what to aspire to. Get one as your first proper paddle and you’ll probably keep it for many years. Also the perfect upgrade

Pros

Light, stiff, not cold

Cons

More expensive, relatively fragile

Chinook King, Jack and Silver are our premium paddles that combine usability with value for money. All are available in fixed and adjustable lengths and the Silver also comes in a 3-piece traveller version particularly suited to inflatable paddle boards. The Silver is our best value premium paddle and for most is the best paddle they will ever need. The King and Jack are even lighter and only differ in blade size

Blade size

As the sport of SUP has progressed blade sizes/area have reduced and even experienced paddlers now prefer smaller blades and paddle at a higher cadence (rate). Again the cycling analogy is relevant, where it is possible to spin a huge gear on a bike at a slow rate it is generally recognised that a greater cadence in an easier gear is better.

In our range the Chinook King and the Alloy Large are the only large area blades, all other (Chinook Silver, Jack, Alloy Small) are a medium area. For most users the medium sized blades will be better, giving greater endurance and perhaps less chance of an injury (especially the notorious shoulder rotator cuff). For leisurely paddling the blade size is not critical as less power is being transferred through the paddle blade anyway.

Shaft Cross-section

What? Either round or oval are the options. Originally all shafts were round and now many are oval. Having an oval cross section increases the stiffness of the shaft so that it bends less during the paddle stroke. Sounds good, but too stiff a shaft (especially with a large blade) puts a lot of strain on the body, that’s why many of our paddles (Chinook Silver, Jack) use the optimal combination of a small or medium blade and an oval shaft. The Chinook King and Alloy Large both have large blades and oval shafts and we would recommend these for big, strong paddlers who crave power or paddle in a a more leisurely, relaxed manner when high power input is not being used. Our Blue paddle continues with a medium area blade and a round carbon shaft and has a slightly softer and more forgiving feel in use.

All the other geeky stuff listed at the top is pretty much irrelevant to 99% of paddlers. If you plan to race at an elite international level then you made need to consider these factors. Otherwise practice, get fit, analyse your stroke and spend as much time on the water as you can, in a broad range of conditions. Oh, and enjoy!


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