How to Find The Best Stand Up Paddleboard Paddle


Splurge on your paddle! It's more than a mantra around here at the 101 Surf Sports Shop. We'll even admit to getting a bit religious about it, but trust us this is one cult you want to join.

The single best move a new paddler can make is to listen to us with blind faith and just get yourself a nice paddle. Broadly defined this means moving to a composite construction paddle. Specifically? Well just read on.

Paddles are like golf clubs. Choosing the right club for the job makes a world of difference in the amount of enjoyment you get from paddling. Using a sand wedge as a driver will have predictable results. So let's cover a few of the in's and out with what is actually a bit of science in finding the best paddle for you.

What makes the best Stand up Paddleboard paddle?

  • Low overall weight
  • Low swing weight
  • Durability matched to your needs
  • Shaft stiffness & features matched to your needs
  • Shaft length matched to your needs
  • Blade size & shape matched to your needs

With that as our foundation let's break it on down and talk about how paddle construction drives the paddles performance and its price. First let's define the 3 major parts of a paddle and then construction options for each. The 3 major parts of the paddle are the handle, the shaft, the blade.

Plastic – Plastic is usually only found in handles and blades; not in shafts. When used in the blade it's the most durable solution in paddling. Shallow rivers where a plunging blade may encounter a rock is a perfect place for plastic blade. Due to its low cost and softer impact when hitting a board it's often the go to solution for guest paddles. The softer plastic blade gives a bit when coming in to contact with the board minimizing damage potential. If we actually like our guests then we'll treat them to Fiberglass or Carbon! Plastic handles are simply a cost saving move by the manufacturer. They can be made light and durable. As long as the feeling of the paddle in your hand is a good one then plastic handles aint all that bad.

Wood Paddles – Wood paddles are largely an aesthetic or lifestyle statement piece. The heavy weight and lower durability make them less functional at their price point. The flexibility of wood does make for a nice surfing shaft or for someone who just prefers the feel when paddling for whatever reason. Wood paddles have been used for race training much like a batter in the batter box uses a weight donut on their bat when warming up. The extra weight is intentional. The eco friendliness of wood compared to the other options is undeniable. Wood paddles can be $99 commodity pieces or $400 artisan pieces.

Aluminum Paddles – Aluminum is usually only used in the shaft. Most often these paddles come with plastic handles and plastic blades and are almost always adjustable. We'll cover the ups and downs of adjustable shaft paddles later. Aluminum paddles are heavy but durable and inexpensive. Good (sort of) for guest paddles and/or kids paddles. The upside here is durable and inexpensive. Expect and aluminum adjustable shaft plastic blade paddle to be in the $100-$120 price range.

Fiberglass Paddles - Fiberglass paddles are significantly lighter and perform far better than aluminum. The money spent upgrading away from aluminum here is the single biggest no brainer in paddling. While the durability is not as good the trade-off is a must do for nearly every application. Fiberglass can be combined with plastic or carbon in a myriad of hybrid solutions. Fiberglass shaft and Plastic blade for example. Good all fiberglass paddles cost around $200. Fiberglass shafted paddles are the optimum paddle for paddlers seeking softer more flexible shafts. The softer flex aids paddlers with injured bodies. Some paddlers also just may have a personal preference for the softer feel of a glass paddle. When fiberglass is used in the blade the swing weight reduction is massive when contrasted with plastic. Durability is also quite high and fiberglass paddles make for a good performance option with rocks are a challenge.

Carbon Fiber – The good stuff. Carbon fiber reduces weight so significantly that it creates a wow moment when comparing it to aluminum. With the sole exception of using them in rocky river bottoms full carbon paddles are in our opinion the optimum paddle for most paddlers. The construction alone makes up the biggest primary factor in having a great paddle. The durability argument for carbon is one that needs us to pay close attention to semantics. But let's just say that carbon paddles are in general the strongest paddles on the market by far. Carbon blades reduce swing weight while carbon shafts reduce overall weight and provide the paddle manufacturer with the ability to control flexibility relatively precisely. Quickblade paddles for example rates their shafts with a stiffness index to aid paddlers in finding the perfect flex for their needs.

Of course how you are going to use your paddle is the biggest consideration. Without creating major controversy let's just sum up 4 generalizations about what makes a surf paddle different than a flat water paddle

• shorter overall shaft length

• larger blade size

• more durable construction requirements

• blade shape perhaps more scooped or with flatter blade faces.

Taking each of the four functions above let's dive in to the how these elements influence the optimal paddle for you.

Why shorter shaft length? A big part of what makes a good surf paddle is the ability for the paddle to accelerate. Shaft length functions a lot like the front sprockets of a bicycle. Being in the biggest sprocket makes it hard to get going but allows for higher speeds once moving. Shifting down to a smaller sprocket increases power and allows for higher cadence and subsequently much better acceleration. Since stand up paddleboarding is essentially similar to continuously biking up-hill getting your gearing right is critical.

Determining the perfect shaft length for you and your use case is pretty much science at this point. With that said it requires really thinking it through. While there has been a trend towards shorter shafts in general we can size you up by understanding the following about your paddle needs. Let's tackle surfing first.

As a starting point a beginner's surf paddle will in general be longer than a more experienced surfers paddle. This will aid them in transiting out through the surf and for use in bracing and steering. A longer paddle can also be good for the paddler who has a long paddle to get to their break. Longer paddles are better for continuous paddling. As a rule of thumb we start surf paddles start at 2-6 inches over your height. As you progress we shrink them. Many pro SUP surfers are now riding paddle shaft lengths at the eyebrow level.

As for the flatwater side of the length game we turn to the Quickblade Paddle rule of thumb. Take your height in inches and multiply by 112%. So a 5'10 person is 72 inches. 72 x 112% = 79 inches. A hard core racer may take that down an inch. A more recreationally minded paddler may add 2-3 inches for comfort and less stooping while paddling. One word of caution. Be carefull over exerting yourself on a too long paddle. Paddles are Levers. Levers create force. The longer the lever the more force is generated. Newtons law says for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Put to much force on one end and look out. Overly short paddles can create back issues with the rider needing to bend over repeatedly too far in order to get the blade engaged. So get it right. We highly recommend you see a quality paddle sports retailer who should be able to size you perfectly for your needs and abilities.

Shafts also come in various shapes and diameters. The two primary shapes are round or oval. Each has pro's and cons. Oval shafts are in general stiffer than round shafts. Oval shafts do allow a paddler to know exactly where their blade is angled with the ridge of the oval acting as a guide. Tapering the shaft or making it thinner as it gets closer to the handle can help a paddle from being too stiff. In addition it reduces the windage of the paddle. Tapering however may make choking down on the paddle more awkward for your hands.

Let's talk blades; its where the rubber meets the road. Blade size is up first and again we turn to mad scientist Jimmy Terrell over at Quickblade where we use an algorithm to start. So take your weight and add 200 then divide by four to determine the starting blade size. For example. A 200 pound person + 200 = 400. 400 divided by 4 = 100. That's 100 Square inches. What that number represents to us is a one size does it all number. A higher cadence paddler (more strokes per minute) may like one a bit smaller. A dedicated surfer may like one a bit bigger.

Blade faces come in many shapes and sizes but it all starts and ends with something called dihedral. A quick look at most paddles will find for lack of a better word a spine going down the middle of the blade face. The size and sharpness of this spine can greatly influence its performance. Precision manufacturing is key the sharper the dihedral gets. Any symmetry issues will create a fluttering paddle which is a really bad thing. Some manufacturers take the easy road out by simply rounding off the dihedral. Doing so lowers the need for precision manufacturing keeping costs lower. Some SUP surfers do prefer a totally flat blade surface. This allows for the greatest acceleration but requires the paddler to lockin the blade control themselves. In general we recommend paddles that have some precision dihedral that is relatively crisp or sharp. New and exciting things are happening in the land of paddleblades and none more exciting than the latest offering from Quickblade – the V-drive Paddleboard Paddle. This paddles double dihedral design has taken paddling by storm. This is no gimmick – it works very well. We'll be doing a full review on the Quickblade V-drive shortly. In the meantime learn more about the Quickblade V-drive Click Here.

Blade shape is another biggie. A taller more drawn out shape with a narrower tip is more optimized for flat water paddling. A fatter tip more squat blade is better for accelerating and use in surfing. Wide tip paddles make it hard for flat water paddlers to keep the blade close to the board when paddling resulting in excessive turning.

To adjust or not to adjust; that is the question. Once again in general the act of adding adjustability to a paddle increases cost and decreases performance. So why are their so many out there? Because they maximize utility that's why. Adjustability allows the paddler to use the same paddle for both surf and flat water alike. It also allows the paddle to be used for paddlers of varying height. Here at the shop we tend to prefer cut paddles but there is no arguing the utility of adjustability with respect to bang for your buck.

Handles are the least of the paddle selction sciences. Their overall weight is nominal and

Tests for finding the right paddle for you

1. Place the handle on the ground with paddle set at somewhere near your prescribed length. Place one hand on the ferrule. Place the other hand in the middle of the shaft and push. See photo. This will give you a good indication of stiffness. Do not bother doing this test with the blade on the ground as blade flexibility then comes in to play.

2. To test blade flexibility place the handle on the ground while you hold the paddle face down with two thumbs on the bottom side of the blade tip and four fingers wrapped around to the back of the blade and push up with the thumbs.

3. The Swing weight test. This is a big one and can really help when deciding between two paddles. What makes swing weight so critical comes down to basic physics. When you put weight on the end of the lever the effects of that weight are multiplied. Taking two paddles hold one in each hand. Place your hands the same distance from blade on each shaft and lift the blades in the aire. Compare the weights. Lighter is better.

We are all most there folks but lets touch on a few variables that can come in to play.

• ABS Plastic in the blade. This expensive feature is a must have for high end paddles. The ABS plastic greatly increases blade durability with out increasing weight prohibitively.

• Solid vs Foam Core blades. A solid blade will be more durable and higher weight. Usually solid blades are only found in plastic, wood, and fiberglass constructions. Foam core indicates the paddle is essentially made like a mini board.

• Filament Wound Shafts are new to the market but likely something you will be seeing more of. As the sport of windsurfing has known for years when making something light but durable while keeping costs down filament wound is the cats meow.

• Three pieces or four piece paddles should be considered for anyone wanting to travel with their paddle. We are totally stoked on Quickblades brand new 4 piece paddle – fits in your carry on!

• Board Thickness. Certain boards can be very thick = 6" or more. Other boards may have noticeable dug out standing areas creating a variation of some 4 inches between boards of similar shape and size otherwise. You should consider your boards thickness when sizing your shaft length.

• Shaft diameter. Smaller hands like smaller diameters of shafts. Women and kids should look at the new Small Fit paddles from Werner Paddles or the Flyweight shafts from Quickblade.

• Don't put stuff on your paddle blade. When trying to protect a board from paddle dings tape the board not the paddle. If you must put something on the blade to protect it use rail saver tape before using plastic beading.

• Hybrid paddles. Carbon shaft and plastic blade? Yep. You'll find a menage of options that mix the constructions together to form a plethora of possible options.

Now if we took all this trouble to put all this to paper it all goes back to that passion we have for helping you find the best stand up paddleboard paddle. Here at the shop our entire staff is well trained to help you select the right paddle. We also contracted with our top two brands to build custom adjustable demo paddles. Nowhere else will you find V-drive 81,91, and 101 ready to demo right along side Werner Grand Prix s1000, m1000, and f1000 all on custom adjustable shafts.

San Francisco Stand Up Paddling San Rafael, Marin County