Stand Up Paddle Boarding on a River – The Paddle

What are the Differences between SUP Paddles?

The importance of the right SUP paddle is often the difference between a good time and an epic one. But paddle purchases can be confusing, often more so that the choice of paddle board.

SUP paddles may be priced like an accessory when compared to the cost of a good paddle board. The choices can seem daunting however, ranging from the basic, get from point A to point B varieties to works of art to SUP paddles that can be the equivalent of high octane fuel in the hands of a competent SUPer.

As part of our previous discussion about stand up paddle boarding on a river , there might be no better time than now to discuss one of the most important elements of the experience, the paddle. Choosing the right paddle can greatly enhance your SUP experience on a river outing.

Paddle choices break down into five distinct categories, based mostly on the materials used to construct them.

Wood and bamboo paddles, like the Sawyer North Shore Paddle Board Paddle (pictured to the right)

Sawyer Paddles

Sawyer Paddles

is one of those mid-priced, works of art I mentioned earlier. You will often hear this type of paddle referred to as “forgiving” or “springy”. Your shoulders and wrists, particularly if you are newer to the sport or do it infrequently, will appreciate this subtle difference compared to other types of paddles. Because wood or bamboo paddles have more flex, but no less energy, they are excellent choices to use when learning the sport or recovering from a minor injury. In other words, you won’t be icing up the next day.

While attractively priced, some paddles do fall into the you-get-what-you-pay-for category and probably should be avoided by those who intend to take this sport a bit more seriously. Aluminum paddles are often the go-to paddle for resort rentals. This doesn’t mean they are not worth considering. Aluminum paddle for the kids, adjustable for different users, and in most instances, durable and inexpensive. But a couple of hours on the water, good technique or not, you’ll notice the fatigue.

Kialoa Toro All Carbon SUP Paddle

Kialoa Toro All Carbon SUP Paddle

Carbon paddles are designed for racing. This is serious upgrade and often well worth the price. Paddles like the Polynesian influenced Kialoa Toro All-Carbon SUP Paddle are (pictured to the left) stiffer than their wood and bamboo counterpart. That stiffness results is a swift catch and literally explodes like its namesake, the Bluefin Tuna. This paddle is designed to be fast, lightweight, and durable. Did I mention fast?

Somewhere in between the springy wood or bamboo paddle and stiff carbon racer paddles is the multifunctional, long-lasting fiberglass paddles. They also fall into a mid-price range as well. Paddles like the Quickblade All Fiberglass Kanaha Paddle offer the serious or recreational paddle boarder a lot more than they might expect. This paddle (pictured to the left) comes from the shop of Olympian Jim Terrell and like you’d expect, it is durable and strong enough for everyday use or even in a competitive event.

Quickblade All FIberglass Kanaha SUP Paddle

Quickblade All FIberglass Kanaha SUP Paddle

So which paddle is best for river stand up paddle boarding? All of the paddles I mentioned above come with a good blade. This is the part that meets the water and greatly determines the speed and turning ability of the SUPer. But is the whole paddle that matters.

For the paddle boarder with average experience looking to take the river for more than just a leisurely Sunday afternoon float, a fiberglass paddle is best. You need rugged but not too much rigidity. The smaller blade face gives you a great turning response. Be sure your retailer cuts the paddle (these paddles are cut for the specific water you plan on using it) about 8 inches above you height. Longer cuts are better for flatwater use. It doesn’t mean you can’t use it on flatwater, you can. But this shorter length will give you the ability to adjust your direction, pivot into a turn quicker, and maybe even get out a tough situation faster.

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