Choosing Your First SUP Paddle

Choosing your First Paddle

It can be intimidating purchasing all of your SUP gear for the first time.  And expensive.  Understandably you don’t want to spend a fortune on your first set of equipment. But at the same time, you want to get stuff that is going to last for a few years and not have you running back to the store for upgrades after just a few months.

What should you do?

It seems like there’s lots of information available on purchasing boards  – whether you’re looking at a hard board or an inflatable, or a race board or a more multipurpose board. But there doesn’t seem to be as much information on selecting your first paddle, so I am here to help you out.

A tempting place to cut costs

New SUP paddles range in cost from around $50 to $500 USD.  It’s probably tempting to go for something on the lower end of the scale when you’re making your first purchase, since you’ve already shelled out a fair bit of coin for your board. I’d like to suggest you reconsider that and aim for something in the middle of that range for a few good reasons.

Your paddle can make or break your paddling experience

Your paddle is the connection between the muscles you use to propel yourself through the water and the water itself.  When you paddle, it becomes an extension of your hands allowing you to “feel” the water you are pulling yourself through.  It’s much more comparable to a musician’s instrument or a surgeon’s scalpel than the board is.

A paddle that is light yet strong, properly balanced, has the right amount of flex, has a blade that easily grabs and releases water every stroke, and enters the water cleanly makes paddling far more pleasurable than one that feels uncomfortable in your hands and doesn’t have the stiffness or the quality of blade design and construction to track through the water cleanly.

Choosing Your First SUP Paddle

Not only does a better paddle make your paddling more enjoyable, it actually allows you to paddle better.  You’ll be a better paddler, right from the start, if you don’t go cheap on the paddle and instead purchase one of at least moderate quality.

You’re likely to buy new boards much more often than paddles.  

The most important thing about your first board is that you choose one you can comfortably stand on.  If you do that, it’ll serve your purposes well for first year or so at least and you’ll have super enjoyable sessions out on the water.  You’ll be able to learn new skills, learn good paddling technique, learn to paddle in a variety of conditions and are much less likely to feel limited by instability. However, if you really get into paddling, I guarantee you that eventually you’ll want to get another board.  It’s inevitable.

I remember starting on a 12’6” x 29” board.  Within a year I had sold that and purchased a 14’ x 28” board.  Since then I have transitioned to a new board almost every year and now ride a 14’ x 19.75” flatwater board and a 14’ x 23” big water board.  Yet in that 10-year period, I have only used four paddles. The reality is, if you purchase a good paddle to start with, it will last you for years and you’ll go through boards far more quickly than paddles.

Your paddle is an important safety consideration

When we think of safety equipment for SUP we rightly think of a PFD and a leash.  You should never paddle without either as they quite literally save lives.  However, your paddle should be considered a piece of safety equipment as well.

Your paddle not only allows you to make your board move, it also helps you stay on your board by aiding your balance and supporting you when you lose your balance.  It is imperative that you have confidence in your paddle’s integrity, especially if you’re paddling in rough or moving water or away from shore.  If your paddle breaks, not only does it impact your ability to stay on your board but it also affects your ability to get back to shore.

The simple truth is cheap paddles break more frequently than higher quality paddles.  Going out on the water with a cheap paddle, especially on big,open bodies of water is taking an unnecessary risk.

How much should you be paying for your first paddle?

Paddle prices generally range from $50 to $500.  If you go cheap and purchase a $50 paddle I guarantee you’ll be buying another within a short period of time.  As soon as you try something better you’ll be unable to use the cheap one you first purchased.  The difference is that noticeable.

Purchasing something that is mid-range in price is the best approach.  Here’s why:

  • It will save you from having to go out fairly quickly and purchase another (most second paddle purchases are mid-range paddles.)
  • It will last you a number of seasons until you’re really certain that you want or need a high-end paddle.

If a low-end board costs $500 it’s not unrealistic for a good mid-range paddle to cost half of what you paid for your board.  In my book that’s a good deal because, for reasons outlined here already, your first paddle is actually more important than your first board.

Tips for purchasing your first paddle

1. Buy from a shop rather than Amazon.  Purchase from somewhere where you can get some advice about the paddle you’re purchasing.  A reputable shop will give you sound advice on your paddle selection, rather than just the lowest possible price.
2. Try to buy a reputable brand.  Brands like Quickblade, Kialoa, Werner and Black Project paddles offer a wide range of quality paddles.  Choosing a mid-range option from any of their product lines is a good choice.  Also, many board manufacturers carry their own paddle lines as well.  Brands like Starboard and SIC Maui jump to mind as brands that have an excellent range of paddles.
3. Consider buying an adjustable paddle.  If you’re new to paddling and have other family members that will be sharing the equipment then consider buying an adjustable paddle.  Most high-end paddles don’t come as adjustablesbut most mid-range paddles are available as adjustables. Stay away from the cheap adjustables.  They are even worse than the cheap one-piece paddles.
4. Properly size your paddle, including height, blade area and shape, shaft stiffness etc.  One of the advantages of purchasing from a shop is that you have a better chance of getting sound advice in this regard than if you purchase from a big-box store.

 

Paddling SUP is not only awesome exercise, it’s fun.  But it’s a lot more enjoyable when you’re using the right equipment.  In all my time paddling I’ve managed to still have a great time paddling on a lousy board with a nice paddle in my hands.  However, I rarely have as much fun on a good board while using a lousy paddle.  When purchasing your first set of equipment try not to skimp on the paddle selection.  It has at least as much to do with having fun on the water as your board does.

Coach Cain
Larry Cain began his career in 1974 at the Oakville Racing Canoe Club, now the Burloak Canoe Club, in Oakville, Ontario. Cain competed in three Summer Olympics, winning a gold medal in the C-1 500 m, and a silver medal in the C1 1000 m events. He also won a silver medal in the C-1 1000 m event at the 1989 ICF Canoe Sprint World Championships in Plovdiv. In 1984, he was made a Member of the Order of Canada. In 1997, he was inducted into Canada's Sports Hall of Fame. A trail in Oakville has been named in his honour running along the town's waterfront where Cain trained. He worked as a coach, preparing paddlers for the Olympic Games in Rio. In 2016 Cain co-founded Paddle Monster.

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