Choosing sup paddles can be overwhelming. And when you’re buying your first setup it can be very tempting to skimp on the paddle. We always encourage people to get a good paddle even if it means buying a little less of a board. The paddle is your tool and what puts the wear and tear on your body. And when you consider you will be swinging it approximately 2000 times/hour…the effects of a heavy paddle add up quickly.
The price of paddles can be shocking when you are shopping for your first setup. They range from $40-$500, and as with most things in life, to a large degree you get what you pay for. Also as with most things in life, you may not need the best of the best. So how much do you REALLY need to spend on a paddle?
We are big fans of Ke Nalu paddles. They are some of the most versatile paddles on the market largely due to the fact that the pieces connect with hot glue. You get to choose the components that you want…select your shaft, blade, and handle to create a paddle specifically for your needs. You also have the option to change out or replace parts of your paddle if necessary since all you need is a heat gun and a glue gun. And you get some freedom to play with paddle lengths. The school of thought on paddle lengths keeps changing, and with Ke Nalu you can change with it.
KeNalu offers two basic levels of paddles, the X-Tuf and Elite series, along with the ability to do a lot of mixing and matching. The X-Tuf series consists of a unidirectional carbon shaft and a reinforced fiberglass blade. This gives you a lightweight, yet durable paddle that comes in under $300. The X-Tuf blades come in four sizes to fit any paddler and any paddler’s needs. They are all the same basic shape, but come in 74, 84, 95, 105 square inches. Most people will fall into the 84 or 95 camp.
Smaller riders and those looking to do long distances often prefer the 84 because it’s easier on your body…you are not catching and holding as much water with each stroke, so there’s not as much force being exerted on your joints and connective tissues, and the lighter swing weight allows you to paddle longer before getting fatigued. Larger riders, or those looking to surf, tend to prefer the larger sizes. Stronger paddlers can get more power by catching more water with each stroke. And when you are surfing, you only get a few strokes to get on a wave, so the school of thought has been that you can get more power out of a couple of strokes with a bigger blade.
Another thing that is nice about the Ke Nalu X-Tuf series is that the shafts have more flex than full carbon weave. So while you trade some power for that flex, it is easier on your body. If you suffer from any chronic pain, the more forgiving nature of the X-Tuf can be a real boon to you.
The X-Tuf paddles don’t come cheap at $295. But if you compare a $40 paddle to a $180 paddle you should immediately see a difference. And if you compare a $180 paddle to the $295 X-Tuf, you will almost certainly feel a difference. For a sub $300 paddle, I challenge you to find something else comparable.
You can always change out components too. If you want to put an Elite blade on an X-Tuf shaft, go for it. That’s what Ke Nalu refers to as a Downwinder paddle because of the spring the combination of super stiff blade and more “springy” shaft makes it easier to catch bumps for downwinding. It also reduces swing weight with a lighter blade. But beware, a full carbon blade will not be as impact resistant as a fiberglass one.
In my opinion the Ke Nalu X-Tuf is the best value on the market if you are looking for a quality paddle without going top of the line (which by the way you can’t go wrong with their Elite paddles for lightness, clean entry, power, and clean release). Our experience is with their fixed length paddles, but they have some adjustable options too. As always, I encourage you to demo a variety to paddles so you can feel the difference and decide for yourself.