How to Choose a Stand-up Paddle (SUP)

There are a lot of Stand-Up Paddles on the market and a lot of conflicting information about how to pick your perfect SUP paddle. I’ve removed some of the guess work and created a simple step by step process for you to make the right call.

Let’s start by choosing the category of stand up paddling you best fit into. This can be a little challenging but think about what type of paddling you will primarily be doing.

Type of Paddle Boarding

If you like to compete or paddle longer distances for fitness, then you will need a light paddle with the right amount of power. You will look for a paddle in the Race category. Power is determined by blade size which we will get to in a minute.

For Surfingon your SUP you’ll want to choose a paddle that is strong enough for the dynamic ocean environment.  Surf specific stand-up paddles should have a symmetrical blade for skimming through the wave face and a rounded blade edge to protect your board and release easily.

Whitewater requires additional durability to meet the demands of the river.  Choose a whitewater specific stand-up paddle for running rapids and surfing standing waves.

If you are looking for a paddle that will cross over and “do it all,” find a paddle in the All Water category. These paddles are designed to perform well in a variety for environments, but not excel in any particular area.

Paddle Blade Size

Next, we need to look at choosing a SUP paddle blade size that fits your needs. We want to think about matching the blade size to you physically and the speed of your board. Larger blades (91 sq. in – 100 sq. in) are best suited to larger, well-conditioned paddlers on fast moving boards. Novice paddlers also tend to like a large blade because of the stability it provides. Smaller blades (79 sq. in – 87 sq. in) are a good choice for smaller paddlers, those who prefer a quick cadence or paddlers that want to be extra gentle to their bodies and have suffered from joint pain or overuse injuries.  While the vast majority of paddles out there fall into the large category, there is a trend toward smaller blades which are easier on your body over the long haul.

You should know that there are specific paddle designs for women and kids.  They tend to have smaller blades and slimmer shafts to match hand sizes.

Paddle Length

“How do I size my paddle?” is a question I get asked regularly.  As a rule of thumb, choose a paddle 8” over your standing height.  This is going to be great for the vast majority of paddlers. Many times surfers and whitewater paddlers will choose a shorter length; from head high to 6” over their standing height. This makes sense because of the crouched position these paddlers use. I always caution paddlers to not paddle with a paddle that is too long in that it puts undo stress on the shoulder joint. If you are not certain, paddle with an adjustable length paddle until you find your proper length.

This brings us to adjustable length paddles versus fixed length paddles. 

Adjustable SUP paddles are great for sharing your paddle with family and friends or dialing in your perfect length for the conditions you are in.  The technology that allows the paddle to get longer or shorter has greatly improved from pressure collars and stainless steel pins to slick lever lock systems that work in much the same way as your wine saver does with an expanding rubber gasket to lock the paddle in place.

Fixed SUP paddles are best for paddlers that know exactly what length they like.  They tend to be lighter in weight by 2 oz to 4 oz or more and more durable because there are no moving parts to the system. Additionally, they tend to cost a little less which everyone likes.

Paddle Materials

The last step in choosing a stand-up paddle is to understand materials and technology as it relates to your performance needs.

The shaft materials you will most commonly hear about are carbon and fiberglass, often times these materials will be blended together to give the best of both worlds.  Carbon provides the best strength to weight ratio but remember you pay more for the weight savings.  Fiberglass balances weight and cost.  This shaft material also provides a little flex which is easier on the body and provides additional durability. You will see paddles on the market with aluminum shafts. This is usually a less expensive option.  I don’t care for this because aluminum transfers heat from the sun and cold from the water making uncomfortable in the hands.  Additionally, aluminum when bent does not snap back into shape and you end up with a broken shaft.

You also have choices when it comes to blade materials.  Carbon Foam Core blades allow for a more complex shape in a stiff, lightweight and strong blade. The buoyancy that the foam core provides gives a smooth feel and easy release from the water.  Next we have pressed carbon and fiberglass blades.  These use either a woven material pressed with an epoxy resin or long strand material pressed with a polypropylene resin.  The advantage to these types of blades is the strength to weight ratio. Lastly, you will find injection molded blades with short strand carbon or fiberglass.  These blades provide a good value in a durable blade.  If you are concerned about your wallet or plan on letting your kids beat on your paddle this is a good choice.

The bottom line is to choose a SUP paddle that best suits your type of stand-up paddling, choose a blade size to match your power needs, determine if you want a fixed or adjustable length and pick the materials that best suit your performance needs and wallet. When you take these factors into consideration, you’ll end up with the best stand up paddle for you.