SUP paddles come in many different profiles, sizes, and materials all meant for different types of stand up paddleboarding. There are paddles designed to be great for surfing that are not so great for racing. There are other paddles that excellent for experienced paddlers but are not recommended for recreationalists and beginners due to their stiffness and size. In a previous post we looked at the designs and functions of different paddle blades. For this post, we’ll look at the other two parts of the paddle- the shaft and the handle.
The shaft of the SUP paddle can be made from a variety of materials including aluminum, fiberglass, wood, carbon fiber, and Kevlar. Manufacturers sometimes use aluminum or fiberglass in their less expensive but more durable models. SUP paddle shafts made of carbon fiber, Kevlar, or a combination of both will tend to be lighter and stiffer than ones made from fiberglass or aluminum. Manufactures will also mix and match different materials to achieve a specific weight, strength, stiffness, function and price point.
Sizing and Adjustability
SUP paddles can either be fixed (cut to a specific length for a specific user), or adjustable, allowing for people of varying heights to use the same paddle. The down side of adjustable paddles is that they tend to be heavier because you have a inner shaft that slides in and out of the outer shaft and that means more material. The extra bulk on the shaft may also make gripping it a bit awkward. Conversely, fixed paddles can incorporate a number of design technologies into the shaft that greatly enhance the feel and performance of the paddle.
Paddleboards shafts and handles also come in a variety of shapes and can have different textures. Shafts can be round and tapered at the ends. Usually the narrowest part is at the top where the paddle is cut down when sized and then gradually thickens towards the bottom where extra support is needed in the blade attachment area. There are also bent shafts that are designed to be ergonomic and improve effiency in your stroke.
Other shafts are oval shaped. They fit nicely into the pocket between your thumb and forefinger. The advantage here is that the shaft sits in your hand so the blade is always perpendicular to the side of the board. Some shafts have tiny ridges that run around the outside that help the user grip the paddle. On some paddles these ridges are angled so the hand can easily slide down the shaft but grip as the hand is moved up- this is called sharkskin texture. This helps you maintain grip as your hands get wet and/or sweaty.
Handles also come in different shapes. Most handles bulge out towards the back to fit into the palm of your hand nicely. Some may bulge in the front also or be flat in the front to make it easier for your fingertips to get over and around the top. Other handles are narrow and allow the user to pull their thumb under and up the front side for a different type of grip. There are even handles that have loop shape that allow for multiple gripping techniques.
The flex of the shaft is very important. It affects the overall performance and feel of the paddle. If a shaft is really stiff it will offer a lot of resistance as you pull it through the water. The benefit is that that resistance directly translates into power and therefore speed. If you are an experienced racer you most likely will be looking for a stiff shaft.
A loose flexing shaft will normally be easier to pull through the water because as it bends it allows water to release from around the blade. If you have an injured shoulder, or chronic pain in that area, a looser flex may help relieve some of stress that is put on the shoulder joint while paddling.
Mid flexing shafts offer more experienced paddlers a good all around flex for a variety of different SUP disciplines. Some manufacturers offer interchangeable handles, shafts and blades allowing you to mix and match your paddle setup to your own specific preferences.
As stated in our previous post on SUP Blades, many people in the industry feel that the paddle is more important than the board. So before you think about skimping on your SUP paddle consider that it is the only tool you have to move you through the water. So when picking out a paddle, you need to think about what type(s) of paddleboarding you will be doing and how the blade, shaft and handle will work together for you. A lot depends on your skill, strength, size and goals so talk to your local SUP shop about what you are looking to get into. Together, you can find a paddle that will suit your needs for a long time to come.