How to Choose a SUP Paddle

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Learning how to choose a SUP Paddle can be a bit daunting. You see Paddles that are $30 all the way to paddles that are over $500. Who would pay for such a thing? 

Below we will explain some of the differences between the price points as well as things you should look for when choosing your perfect SUP Paddle. 

There is no right or wrong way to choose a SUP Paddle as there are many factors that go into your decision including your budget range, body type, and experience/ use. 

If you are looking for some examples here is our Best SUP Paddles list. 

The Anatomy of the SUP Stroke

Before choosing a SUP paddle it’s important to understand the anatomy of the SUP Stroke and how certain criteria can affect it. 

When you initially start your paddle stroke you will be reaching out as far ahead of you as possible and “stab” the water with your paddle and enter it fully in the water. This is known as the “Catch”. In this phase you want as little splash as possible to reduce resistance. 

After your paddle has been submerged in the water there’s the “Pull” which is where you start to pull the paddle back to your feet. This is the stage where paddle blade size will have an impact on the stroke, with smaller blades giving less resistance while bigger blades with a bigger surface area give you more momentum.  The weight of the paddle also plays an important part in this step. 

Once the paddle has reached your feet you will then be “Exiting” the blade from the water. In this motion, paddle weight will start to come into play as you are lifting the paddle upwards. After this is the “Recovery” in which the blade makes a clean exit and is set up to perform the catch all over again. This is the stage where the least amount of effort will be applied to the stroke 

How to Choose the Right SUP Paddle for You

Keeping the above anatomy in mind you have to wonder “What paddle will favor my stance and experience level”. We go through important decisions to consider below. Below is the best video I’ve seen on how to choose the best SUP paddle and a lot of our guide is based on principles from this article.

Length of the Paddle

The paddle length is important for you to find the right form to do the SUP stroke you were meant to do. We have an article on SUP Paddle Length here. 

How Many Pieces?

nixy paddle collapsed

For the vast majority of SUP owners, a 2 – 3 piece paddle will be ideal. Those looking for performance gains or paddling longer distances may start to look at some of the lighter 1 piece paddles. 

Typically 1 piece paddles will be lighter because they don’t have adjustment levers on them. The downside to this is that you have to accurately know your paddle size before buying one. This is why we recommend that you start off with a 2-3 piece paddle as your first. You can experiment more with the height to find something that best suits you.  

Adjustment Types

If you do go with a 2 – 5 piece paddle you will find different SUP Paddle locking mechanisms available. 

Cam Lever Adjusters: These are a locking mechanism located on the mid-upper part of the shaft. They consist of a lever that opens that allows you to slide the other piece of the paddle in. The handle piece will usually have notches on it to allow you to measure your height correctly. These are the most common adjusters you will find when shopping for a paddle. 

Plastic Lever Adjusters: These adjusters are located on the actual handle and flip open to allow the shaft to slide up and down. These are okay but sometimes mess with the handle grip of the handle.

Twist Lever Adjusters: These are a handle on the paddle that you twist. You should avoid these as they often get stuck in place and are hard to get back off. 

Paddle Weight Matters

Before I go preaching to the choir about how much paddle weight matters. I want you to realize that you take between 2000 – 3000 paddle strokes per hour

More than you thought right? But think about this for a second. Consistently paddling a $30 2 lb aluminum paddle over 3 hours straight can be exhausting. Compare that to paddling a 1 piece carbon paddle that weighs just over a pound. It would feel much lighter over the journey, wouldn’t it? 

Now, I’m not preaching that everyone spends $500 on a full carbon paddle because, for the majority of paddle boarders, this is overkill. Instead, I want you to really think about how long and how often you will be paddle boarding and what your future goals may be. The more time you will be spending on the board, the lighter a paddle you should get. 

How Much Are You Willing to Spend?

To quote Mcjagger of the Rolling Stones, “ You Can’t Always Get What You Want”. So ultimately you have to decide how often and for how long you will be out there paddling to judge what your budget should be.

There are plenty of lightweight mid-range paddles like the Nixy Carbon Hybrid paddle or the Werner Vibe which are still pretty lightweight but won’t cost you $400 plus. 

The factors that determine how much a paddle is include the types of materials that go into both the paddle and the shaft as well as how much research and development goes into the paddle. 

What to Look for in a SUP Paddle Shaft

Below are some of the things I look for when I am shopping for a SUP Paddle shaft.

Common SUP Shaft Materials

This is a rough comparison, all factors depends on specific paddle shaft

The shaft materials will be one of the main things that will determine the price you pay for the paddle. 

Aluminum: This shaft is the cheapest to produce and is usually the material that costs the least for the customer. These paddles are mostly for those who are beginning their SUP journey. It is the heaviest of the SUP paddles but also some of the most durable. 

Fiberglass: These paddles are at the mid-range in terms of paddle weight and price. While not as light as carbon fiber they are a cheaper price point. They are, however, lighter than aluminum paddles and are a handy upgrade, especially for those who go on longer paddling journeys. 

Carbon Fiber: These are the most expensive paddles but also the most lightweight. These paddles can go all the way up to the $700 price point. On the same token, you have to be a bit more careful as they can scratch and dent hitting hard objects like rocks. These paddles are for performance paddling purposes such as surfing, touring, and SUP racing. 

Hybrid Paddles: These are most commonly shafts that have a fuse of carbon and fiberglass in them to make them more cost-effective while still keeping their lightweight frame. One thing you should look for in these is the percentages that the manufacturer lists. If there is no percentage of carbon in fiberglass and it’s marketed as just “carbon” there may be some funny business going on where the coating is just carbon. 


This criterion is more preference based. But I personally don’t like anything like clips or adjuster nubs in the way of my natural paddle grip. 

The material of the shaft may also be something of a preference for you. I personally like the feel of smooth carbon or a fiberglass finish in my hands as opposed to a finish that is grippier. 

The Shaft Handle

First and foremost a SUP shaft handle should be something that is glued on properly. I really shouldn’t have to even mention this but I have come across a few lower-quality paddles in my day. I’ve had a few experiences where the handle will start to come loose from the gluing and eventually come off. Another reason to get a decent-quality paddle :P!

There are a few different grips you can use such as an ergonomic grip which is a grip that gently contours your hand grip to make the paddle comfortable. T handle grips have an almost half-moon shape. These grips are ideal for surfing conditions though and will be rather uncomfortable over longer SUP tours. 

What to Look for in a SUP Paddle Blade

One of the most important aspects of the SUP Paddle is the blade. Because it is the area that transfers your power from your arms to the water to allow you and your board to move in the water. There are a few things to look out for in a SUP Paddle blade. Below are the most important items. 

SUP Paddle Blade Materials

This is a rough comparison, all factors depends on specific paddle blade

Below are some of the most common Paddle blade materials you will find with SUP Blades

Plastic/ Nylon SUP Paddle Blades: These are the cheapest blades and also some of the most durable. Because of their cheaper price and strong composition, it does not matter as much if these blades get bashed around or scratched. The downside to these is that they are very bendable which makes your paddle drop off in terms of paddling efficiency and effectiveness. 

Plastic/ Fiberglass Hybrid SUP Paddle Blades: These blades have some of the lightweight components of a fiberglass paddle while keeping some of the durability of a fiberglass SUP Paddle. Sometimes this includes ABS plastic edges for blade protection which is often times a common practice to avoid chipping and scratches. 

Fiberglass SUP Paddle Blades: These are mid-range paddles and are usually included with full fiberglass blades. They provide a lightweight feel while keeping more rigidity per stroke as compared to plastic blades that have more flex. These are ideal for folks who regularly like to paddle recreationally or do a bit of day touring but don’t want to spend the extra amount of money on a carbon blade. 

Fiberglass/ Carbon Hybrid Blades: These, like the plastic/ fiberglass hybrids, provide you with a bit of a mix of both worlds. It keeps the package lightweight while keeping the price down. These can often be marketed as “carbon hybrids” where the mix can be somewhere around 30% carbon fiber and 70% fiberglass. 

Carbon SUP Paddle Blades: These are the blades the performance paddlers flock to. They are lightweight, stiff and are best suited for a variety of different activities such as SUP racing, SUP touring, and SUP surfing. There are different qualities of carbon out there but usually, the best quality ones are lighter weight and come with a higher price tag. 

SUP Paddle Blade Size

This would be considered a smaller sized paddle blade

You can find a variety of different-sized paddle blades all specialized for different uses and people. In this case, the main measuring factor here is how much cadence vs how much power best suits your blade size. 

Bigger Blades 100 – 95” sq: Are meant to put in powerful strokes. These blades are meant for folks who have more upper body strength and are traveling shorter distances more effectively. These blades also provide more wear on your body as you are pulling more force per stroke compared to medium and smaller-sized blades. But remember these blades need to be stiff to be effective! These blades are particularly favored by SUP Sprinters or surfers.

Medium-Sized Blades 85 – 94” sq: This is the sweet spot for most paddlers who want a blend of power without sacrificing paddling cadence. These are the most common sizes and are recommended for most recreational paddlers who are unsure of what paddle size to use.

Small-Sized Blades 79 – 84” sq: These blades are better for a higher paddling cadence because of the reduced surface area the blade takes up in the water. These are ideal for smaller paddlers or people who have more of an endurance-styled background. It’s also a good blade to get if you are just recovering from a shoulder or back injury as it does not put as much pressure on those areas. 

How Do You Know If Your Blade is Too Big?

  • You experience sore shoulders or back pain after each paddling trip
  • You have difficulty maintaining a steady pace
  • The board zig-zags in the water despite having good stroke form
  • You feel very fatigued after a paddling trip

How Do You Know If Your Blade is Too Small? 

  • You have a lower top speed
  • You may lag behind friends who have similar equipment as you
  • Your acceleration is lacking despite putting proper form and technique in

Paddle Board Blade Shapes

The blade comes with a few shape properties to think about. The first question you need to ask yourself is do you want a rectangular-style blade or a tear-drop blade? 

Tear Drop SUP Blade: These blades are usually favored more by surfers or SUP racers who want to get more power out of their stroke. These blades have a bigger surface area compared to rectangular blades which give you more power but a slower cadence

Rectangular SUP Blade: Rectangular blades are more for long-distance bouts like touring. The blade’s shape is narrower which allows you to have a higher paddling cadence.

This could be classified as a concave blade

There are also basics on how the blade is shaped from its side profile. Each has its own pros and cons.

Straight Blade: These blades give you the most power for your stroke and will provide the smoothest “Catch”. However, from a design perspective, the water cannot flow off the blade efficiently which makes the blade flutter more when doing a stroke.

Scooped Blade: These are blades that you will see commonly with paddles that come with budget SUPs. Their design features good power when doing the stroke but can affect the paddle’s release from the water. Scooped blades, just like flat blades have poor flutter management which can affect the initial pull from your blade. 

Dihedral Blade: These blades are great for water efficiency as they direct the water off the blader thanks to the middle beam. Because of this increased water efficiency, you get decreased power from your stroke but less flutter as a result. 

Concave Blade or Double Dihedral Blade: These are blades that have two beams which give you more control and power but still some moderate flutter as there is water that can still be trapped between the two beams. 

Blade Offset

The blade offset is how many degrees bend the blade is from being completely straight. The offset helps the blade be level in the water when you are doing your paddle stroke. This allows you to generate more power from your stroke and be more efficient.  

The most common offset is at 10 degrees which is best for most multi-purpose SUP activities. While people who want to do some SUP racing may opt for a bigger blade offset anywhere from 10 to 15 degrees. 

Other Considerations for SUP Paddles

Below are a few other factors to think about before choosing the right paddle for yourself. 

Find a Paddle that Floats

People don’t often think of this but it’s actually pretty important. While we may think that you grip your paddle the entire time, this is actually far from true. 

Often times you will find yourself placing the paddle on your board while trying to fetch something out of your drybag only to have the paddle fall into the water. In this case, you sure hope that it can float, or else you have a long way of doggy paddling to go!

Usually, manufacturers will state on their websites if their paddle floats or not. 

Carbon is not always Carbon

Be wary of what percentage of carbon fiber is in the paddle. Sometimes certain manufacturers will say “carbon” but will not specify if the paddle is a full carbon, or if it is fiberglass with a carbon coating. A good way to find out is to see if the manufacturer shows a percentage or goes into the construction process. 

A good way to tell the quality of the carbon is the paddle weight. 

So How Do You Find the Best Paddle for You?

Reading all of these criteria may have just put you in sensory overload. So what should be the main things you look at? 

  1. First, figure out what the purpose of this paddle is and what you will be using it for
  2. Figure out How many pieces you want your paddle to be
  3. Figure out the weight that you want your paddle to be, Lighter, or does it not matter? 
  4. Make a figure for your budget and give a 20% allowance to go over to get a solid-quality paddle
  5. Decide what shaft and blade materials you want.
  6. Make sure the paddle has been manufacturing SUP paddles for a while and has some experience. 

Got any other criteria you think we missed? Let us know on our Facebook page

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Hey, My name is Derek Lenze and I'm the owner of Inflatable SUP Authority. I've had over 20 years experience with watersports and over 10 years of various paddle boarding experience. My new-found passion is bringing my stand up paddle boaring knowledge in an explainable and actionable way all the while giving you my unbiased takes.

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