Most experienced stand up paddlers will tell you that having the right paddle is more important than having the ideal board. How your paddle performs as it moves through the water is the most significant factor affecting how well you paddle. Stand up paddles, although they may look simplistic, come in a great variety of designs and constructions. There are basically three parts to a paddle- the handle, shaft and blade. We will look at different shapes, construction and functionality of SUP paddle blades. Let’s start out by taking a look at the shaft/blade connection.
Frog vs Ferrule
There are two main ways a blade attaches to the shaft of the paddle: the frog and ferrule. Most paddles use the frog methodwhere the shaft is inserted into the narrow end of the blade- called the frog. In order for the frog not to break under the pressure it encounters while paddling it must have reinforced walls. As a result, the frog area is built out in order to stabilize the connection.
The ferrule method has the opposite construction. The upper, narrow part of the blade, called the ferrule, is inserted into the shaft of the paddle. The ferrule itself is reinforced from the inside so there is no added bulk or weight other than a support beam and EPS foam that holds it in place. Because of the stronger connection, blades attached using the ferrule method also tend to relieve stress in other areas of the blade and shaft that are prone to breaking or cracking.
Dihedral vs Flat
The back side of most blades are either flat or have a lifted area that runs down the middle of the blade. This lifted area is called the spine, and the design is known as a dihedral shape. The purpose of the dihedral shape is to allow water to flow evenly off each side of the blade thus reducing fluttering that may occur during the stroke. It also adds strength and stiffness to the body of the blade. Fluttering is a physical wobbling of the blade as it is being pulled through the water. It is common for beginner paddlers to experience flutter due to lack of skill and knowledge of paddling technique combined with balancing issues, so a dihedral blade may help them. Many times the paddler does not submerge blade all the way down into the water and this can also cause flutter. Experienced paddlers can benefit from dihedral blade especially while paddling into the wind when there is added pressure and force on each stroke.
Some paddleboarders claim that dihedral paddles do not offer enough power because the leading edge of the spine allows water to shed too easily, sacrificing resistance. A flat blade offers more resistance to the water, also called catch, because it is not being channeled off to the sides. Flat blades can create vortexes around the sides of the paddle making them flutter. Like with most things in life there is a compromise to be had- dihedral blade for smoothness or flat blade for better catch and power. It really depends on the type of paddling you’re doing and how it feels to you.
Let’s make this simple and break down paddle blades into large, medium and small sizes.
Large blades offer the most catch (resistance) and so the most power. If you are super strong paddler you may be comfortable with a large blade because it will tire you out as fast. Surfers may want a large blade to get them on the wave quickly in a few short bursts.
Small blades will be good for smaller beginners or kids that are cruising and doing recreational paddling. The smaller blade will save you from expending a lot of energy but will not give much power. Some people like small blades because it allows them to have a higher cadence (number strokes per minute) giving them more speed.
Medium blades will appeal to most experienced paddlers who perform a variety of disciplines or strong paddlers that want both cadence and speed. They are also great for beginner paddlers who aspire to get into performance-oriented paddling.
There also blades that are made out differents materials that affect their weight and stiffness. Generally speaking, carbonblades are lighter and stiffer than fiberglass and epoxy blades. Carbon blades also tend to be more expensive and performance oriented. Composites blades can be more affordable and good for all-around paddling. So how do you know what kind of SUP paddle blades are right for you? Try them out! Some paddleboard shops will let you demo paddles with different types of blades so you can get idea of what will work best for you. Stay tuned for our upcoming posts when we’ll take a look at shaft and handle designs for SUP paddles.