With the emergence of sup as the fastest growing water sport, the industry has been expanding rapidly. This means that the boundaries of design are being pushed. There is a lot of great new tech in boards and paddles, and there is also a lot of crap popping up in the market. Paddles fall victim to this trend even more than boards in some cases. Paddles are often an afterthought, regularly becoming part of a package as the manufacturers throw in a $20 adjustable paddle to get you out on the water and wreck your shoulders and back in the process.
The paddle is your tool. It is your connection to the water. And it is the instrument that will cause the wear and tear on your body. If you have ever had a shoulder or back issue, you should appreciate the value of equipment that will help prevent that rather than directly contribute to it. A good paddle is a good investment. And we’re not saying you need to spend $400 on a paddle to get something decent. But do your research, talk to your local sup shop, and get educated about what you are getting and what it is going to do for you. This is a simplification of the options out there to get you started, but there is no substitute for feeling the differences in person and having someone who knows explain the benefits of each.
Adjustable sup paddles are the best option for some people and are less than ideal for others. How do you figure out which camp you fall into?
Ask yourself these questions…
- Are you going to be the only one using it?
- Do you need different length paddles for very different missions, ex. you have one paddle for both surfing and racing?
- Do you (or do you intend to) paddle a lot?
If you are the only one using a paddle and you primarily do one type of paddling, you should probably get a paddle cut to your size, for that purpose. Or if you are the one using the paddle 90% of the time, it probably also makes sense to get one cut to your size.
If a number of people of varying sizes are sharing the paddle regularly, then an adjustable is the way to go. If you find yourself doing a lot of both racing and surfing, a good quality adjustable can be a good option so you don’t need to have two fixed length paddles. And if you travel with your board and paddle regularly a multi-piece paddle can be a good- travel option.
Adjustables are inherently heavier because of the actual mechanism used to set the paddle at your desired length, and the extra length of shaft that offers the adjustability adds weight. So if you can do a fixed paddle, you will save yourself some weight (which translates to wear and tear on your body) and a bit of money. It is less expensive to buy a comparable fixed paddle than it is to buy the adjustable. You might even want invest what you save into an upgraded paddle.
If you have determined that an adjustable paddle is the way to go, you have a few options.
- There are heavy aluminum paddles that may or may not float
- Fiberglass paddles that will save you some weight while costing you a bit more
- Carbon paddles which will be more expensive but lighter weight
- Composites of two or more materials
I cannot think of an instance in which I would recommend an aluminum paddle. They are heavy! I have not seen an effective adjustment mechanism on an aluminum paddle, and they almost exclusively have plastic blades that are flexible, and sacrifice a lot of power and are not clean at all entering and exiting the water. Do yourself a favor and spend a little more to get at least a fiberglass paddle.
aluminum and plastic paddle with a combination push pin and pop up style mechanism
There are three frequently seen adjustment locking mechanisms- the lever lock system, the push pin, and fold back or pop up lever.
- The lever lock is the best mechanism I have seen. It has a lever in the handle that flips up…once you adjust it to the desired length, you line it up to make sure the handle and blade are in line with each other and you flip the lever down. Once locked in, these hold their position very well.
- The push pin has a button that you press down and as you lengthen it the button will line up with the hole and you can set it at a variety of preset lengths. You lose some flexibility because the holes are a set distance apart so you can’t get the small adjustments that you are able to get with the other two types. Once set, it will not rotate or change length on you, but it does tend to make whistling, gurgling noises, and it’s prone to jiggling.
- The fold back or pop up lever (these are not official names, just descriptions) is very easy to adjust and allows you all of the micro-adjustments of the lever lock, but they have a tendency to move around a bit once you set them. There is a small screw that you can use to tighten them up, but they still tend to move around a bit. The length can be involuntarily adjusted, and the handle can also rotate a bit, lessening your efficiency when you spend lots of energy to make sure you are not paddling in circles.
Back to those adjustable paddles that come with your board. Usually if you buy one of those packages it’s because you are looking for something cheap. That is exactly what you are getting. Not saying there’s not a place for them. If the kids are going to be beating the crap out of the board with the paddle it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to spend a lot on either one. But if you are really interested in paddleboarding for the enjoyment of the sport, for fitness, or for the joys of exploring new places from a cool perspective, do yourself a favor and invest in a decent paddle. Your body and your paddling technique will thank you.