The right paddle is so good you forget you’re even using it. It just becomes an extension of your body. But the wrong paddle can make your time on the water feel like a chore. Above all, paddleboarding should be a blast! That’s why SUP enthusiasts, experienced paddlers, and pros choose the lightest and most efficient paddle that fits their budget. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular materials for paddle shafts, grips and blades along with their benefits, the optimal blade shape for all-around SUP, and the other features that set the best paddles apart.
SUP Paddle Materials
Wood paddles have a classic look that can’t be denied. We’re so into heritage materials that our boards have become known for their wood-inspired deck graphics. However the weight and the added maintenance required to keep a wooden paddle varnished and protect it from rot makes it a better choice for hanging on the wall of a boathouse than taking out on the water. These days there are much better options for performance.
An all-plastic paddle is sometimes found in kids SUP packages, but full-plastic paddles aren’t typically used by adults. The forces adults deliver are too great for plastic and the material is prone to sun damage and warping with repetitive stress. Many adult paddles feature plastic paddle blades however, and the quality of the blade material varies widely.
Nylon is a special type of plastic known as a polyamide. Polyamides are polymers made up of a chain of long, heavy molecules arranged in endlessly repeating sections like the repeating links of a metal chain. Unlike lighter and faster fiberglass or carbon, nylon paddle blades can take a beating. They resist dings and nicks. So they’re more forgiving when pushing off a dock, finding your balance, and for overall wear and tear. A high quality nylon paddle blade strikes a great balance between durability and affordability, making nylon a great choice for most people.
Aluminum is an affordable material often used in the paddle shafts. While it’s not as stiff as fiberglass or carbon, it’s lighter than wood and typically paired with a plastic paddle blade. Beginning paddlers often opt for aluminum if their board doesn’t already come with a paddle because it’s cheap. Most entry-level SUP packages include an aluminum shaft to get started.
Fiberglass is lightweight and rigid, although not as rigid as carbon fiber. The rigidity of the paddle determines how efficiently you transfer power to your stroke. So, while it’s more expensive than aluminum or plastic, fiberglass also performs better and helps to reduce fatigue.
Carbon fiber is the lightest, most rigid, and best performing material for paddles. Its unique molecular structure makes it the best known material for transferring power from your muscles to your stroke to the water as thrust. It’s also incredibly lightweight and durable. Whether you go with a carbon hybrid model or a full-carbon paddle, you’ll experience less fatigue and be able to paddle faster and farther with carbon. Because of it’s ultra-high performance qualities, light weight, and the manufacturing expertise required to shape carbon, it’s also the most expensive option.