SUP paddles are a complex thing. You have considerations like weight, height, construction, stiffness, and price. But one of the most important elements of any paddle is the blade. They come in all shapes, sizes, and materials. It can be overwhelming to try to figure out exactly what you need.
In the vast majority of cases we are big proponents for getting the best paddle you can afford for the type of paddling you will do. It’s usually not important to get the most expensive paddle on the market, but the paddle is your main tool and your connection to the water. The wear and tear you feel on your body will largely be a result of the paddle that you use and your technique.
Size and shape are the two main elements of the paddle blade.
Size is a little easier to figure out
- Generally smaller riders should use smaller blades. They are easier on joints since they catch less water, and they lend themselves to a quicker cadence due to the reduced swing weight. For long distance races, smaller blades are often preferred because the reduced swing weight means you won’t fatigue as fast.
- Larger blades are usually suitable for larger riders. These offer more power for a slower cadence and require more effort to paddle because they catch more water. For surfing you might want a larger blade because you only have a few strokes to get up to speed to get on a wave and that extra power comes in very handy. You may also want a larger blade for racing in short distance races for more power and speed.
- Your strength, any past or current injuries, and your specific stroke technique will all factor into choosing the appropriate blade size.
Shape of the power phase of the blade
Dihedral or flat
- Dihedral blades feature a ridge down the middle of them. The idea is that it will part the water, allowing it to shed on both sides and eliminate flutter. It does help to stabilize the blade, but the tradeoff is a loss of catch because it directs the flow of water off the blade rather than holding the water.
- Flat blades are designed to catch and hold the water better. This can make for too strong of a catch for some paddlers. As you flatten the blade out you increase the catch, but decrease the stability.
- Something in the middle-blades like those by Ke Nalu have a subtle dihedral flanked by concave pockets to either side of the ridge. According to one of Ke Nalu’s founders Bill Babcock, “We’re actually doing four things with that design, guiding water off the face, slowing the exit as it reaches the edge, making the edge a little stiffer, and guiding air up the face of the blade to get it off the tip. All aimed at recovering the catch we lose by having dihedral.” Blades with concave usually feel larger than their size suggests.
KeNalu dihedral with concave
Overall blade shapes- High aspect & low aspect
The shape of the blade determines where the power gets concentrated on the blade
- High aspect blades are longer and narrower. They have a more consistent width and less pronounced “shoulders”. These have a gentle catch, but typically not as much power.
- Low aspect blades are more teardrop shaped. The shoulders are lower and the flare of the blade is more pronounced. These have a more powerful catch, but can be too much to handle for some paddlers. . This shape is great for power paddlers and for those who are surfing and need to really dig in to get a quick start and maximize each stroke.
high aspect low aspect
Each little change in the shape of the shoulders and blade length affect the feel of the paddle. Your paddle style will largely determine which shape feels best to you, so if at all possible, try out a couple of different shapes to see what fits your style best.
More important than your actual paddle is your paddling technique. No paddle can make up for poor technique. But some paddles can magnify weaknesses in your technique leading to further inefficiency and possibly injury. Demos are the best way to choose the paddle that is best for you, so if you have that opportunity, take it. Otherwise be sure to talk to your local shop to see what options make the most sense for you.