How to Find The Best Stand Up Paddleboard Paddle

Splurge on your paddle! It's more than a mantra around here at the 101 Surf Sports Shop. We'll even admit to getting a bit religious about it, but trust us this is one cult you want to join.

The single best move a new paddler can make is to listen to us with blind faith and just get yourself a nice paddle. Broadly defined this means moving to a composite construction paddle. Specifically? Well just read on.

Paddles are like golf clubs. Choosing the right club for the job makes a world of difference in the amount of enjoyment you get from paddling. Using a sand wedge as a driver will have predictable results. So let's cover a few of the in's and out with what is actually a bit of science in finding the best paddle for you.

What makes the best Stand up Paddleboard paddle?

  • Low overall weight
  • Low swing weight
  • Durability matched to your needs
  • Shaft stiffness & features matched to your needs
  • Shaft length matched to your needs
  • Blade size & shape matched to your needs

With that as our foundation let's break it on down and talk about how paddle construction drives the paddles performance and its price. First let's define the 3 major parts of a paddle and then construction options for each. The 3 major parts of the paddle are the handle, the shaft, the blade.

  • Plastic – Plastic is usually only found in handles and blades; not in shafts. When used in the blade it's the most durable solution in paddling. Shallow rivers where a plunging blade may encounter a rock is a perfect place for plastic blade. Due to its low cost and softer impact when hitting a board it's often the go to solution for guest paddles. The softer plastic blade gives a bit when coming in to contact with the board minimizing damage potential. If we actually like our guests then we'll treat them to Fiberglass or Carbon! Plastic handles are simply a cost saving move by the manufacturer. They can be made light and durable. As long as the feeling of the paddle in your hand is a good one then plastic handles aint all that bad.
  • Wood Paddles – Wood paddles are largely an aesthetic or lifestyle statement piece. The heavy weight and lower durability make them less functional at their price point. The flexibility of wood does make for a nice surfing shaft or for someone who just prefers the feel when paddling for whatever reason. Wood paddles have been used for race training much like a batter in the batter box uses a weight donut on their bat when warming up. The extra weight is intentional. The eco friendliness of wood compared to the other options is undeniable. Wood paddles can be $99 commodity pieces or $400 artisan pieces.
  • Aluminum Paddles – Aluminum is usually only used in the shaft. Most often these paddles come with plastic handles and plastic blades and are almost always adjustable. We'll cover the ups and downs of adjustable shaft paddles later. Aluminum paddles are heavy but durable and inexpensive. Good (sort of) for guest paddles and/or kids paddles. The upside here is durable and inexpensive. Expect and aluminum adjustable shaft plastic blade paddle to be in the $100-$120 price range.
  • Fiberglass Paddles - Fiberglass paddles are significantly lighter and perform far better than aluminum. The money spent upgrading away from aluminum here is the single biggest no brainer in paddling. While the durability is not as good the trade-off is a must do for nearly every application. Fiberglass can be combined with plastic or carbon in a myriad of hybrid solutions. Fiberglass shaft and Plastic blade for example. Good all fiberglass paddles cost around $200. Fiberglass shafted paddles are the optimum paddle for paddlers seeking softer more flexible shafts. The softer flex aids paddlers with injured bodies. Some paddlers also just may have a personal preference for the softer feel of a glass paddle. When fiberglass is used in the blade the swing weight reduction is massive when contrasted with plastic. Durability is also quite high and fiberglass paddles make for a good performance option with rocks are a challenge.
  • Carbon Fiber – The good stuff. Carbon fiber reduces weight so significantly that it creates a wow moment when comparing it to aluminum. With the sole exception of using them in rocky river bottoms full carbon paddles are in our opinion the optimum paddle for most paddlers. The construction alone makes up the biggest primary factor in having a great paddle. The durability argument for carbon is one that needs us to pay close attention to semantics. But let's just say that carbon paddles are in general the strongest paddles on the market by far. Carbon blades reduce swing weight while carbon shafts reduce overall weight and provide the paddle manufacturer with the ability to control flexibility relatively precisely. Starboard paddles for example rates their shafts with a stiffness index to aid paddlers in finding the perfect flex for their needs.

Of course how you are going to use your paddle is the biggest consideration. Without creating major controversy let's just sum up 4 generalizations about what makes a surf paddle different than a flat water paddle

• shorter overall shaft length

• larger blade size

• more durable construction requirements

• blade shape perhaps more scooped or with flatter blade faces.

Taking each of the four functions above let's dive in to the how these elements influence the optimal paddle for you.

Why shorter shaft length? A big part of what makes a good surf paddle is the ability for the paddle to accelerate. Shaft length functions a lot like the front sprockets of a bicycle. Being in the biggest sprocket makes it hard to get going but allows for higher speeds once moving. Shifting down to a smaller sprocket increases power and allows for higher cadence and subsequently much better acceleration. Since stand up paddleboarding is essentially similar to continuously biking up-hill getting your gearing right is critical.

Determining the perfect shaft length for you and your use case is pretty much science at this point. With that said it requires really thinking it through. While there has been a trend towards shorter shafts in general we can size you up by understanding the following about your paddle needs. Let's tackle surfing first.

As a starting point a beginner's surf paddle will in general be longer than a more experienced surfers paddle. This will aid them in transiting out through the surf and for use in bracing and steering. A longer paddle can also be good for the paddler who has a long paddle to get to their break. Longer paddles are better for continuous paddling. As a rule of thumb we start surf paddles start at 2-6 inches over your height. As you progress we shrink them. Many pro SUP surfers are now riding paddle shaft lengths at the eyebrow level.

As for the flatwater side of the length game we turn to the Quickblade Paddle rule of thumb: 

Take your height in inches and multiply by 112%.

So a 5'10 person is 72 inches. 72 x 112% = 79 inches.

A hard core racer may take that down an inch. A more recreationally minded paddler may add 2-3 inches for comfort and less stooping while paddling. One word of caution. Be careful over exerting yourself on a too long paddle. Paddles are Levers. Levers create force. The longer the lever the more force is generated. Newton's law says for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Put to much force on one end and look out. Overly short paddles can create back issues with the rider needing to bend over repeatedly too far in order to get the blade engaged. So get it right. We highly recommend you see a quality paddle sports retailer who should be able to size you perfectly for your needs and abilities.

Shafts also come in various shapes and diameters. The two primary shapes are round or oval. Each has pro's and cons. Oval shafts are in general stiffer than round shafts. Oval shafts do allow a paddler to know exactly where their blade is angled with the ridge of the oval acting as a guide. Tapering the shaft or making it thinner as it gets closer to the handle can help a paddle from being too stiff. In addition it reduces the windage of the paddle. Tapering however may make choking down on the paddle more awkward for your hands.

Let's talk blades; its where the rubber meets the road.
Blade size is up first and again we turn to mad scientist Jimmy Terrell over at Quickblade where we use an algorithm to start. So take your weight and add 200 then divide by four to determine the starting blade size. For example. A 200 pound person + 200 = 400. 400 divided by 4 = 100. That's 100 Square inches. What that number represents to us is a one size does it all number. A higher cadence paddler (more strokes per minute) may like one a bit smaller. A dedicated surfer may like one a bit bigger.

Blade faces come in many shapes and sizes but it all starts and ends with something called dihedral. A quick look at most paddles will find for lack of a better word a spine going down the middle of the blade face. The size and sharpness of this spine can greatly influence its performance. Precision manufacturing is key the sharper the dihedral gets. Any symmetry issues will create a fluttering paddle which is a really bad thing. Some manufacturers take the easy road out by simply rounding off the dihedral. Doing so lowers the need for precision manufacturing keeping costs lower. Some SUP surfers do prefer a totally flat blade surface. This allows for the greatest acceleration but requires the paddler to lockin the blade control themselves. In general we recommend paddles that have some precision dihedral that is relatively crisp or sharp. New and exciting things are happening in the land of paddleblades and none more exciting than the latest offering from Quickblade – the V-drive Paddleboard Paddle. This paddles double dihedral design has taken paddling by storm. This is no gimmick – it works very well. We'll be doing a full review on the Quickblade V-drive shortly. In the meantime learn more about the Quickblade V-drive Click Here.

Blade shape is another biggie. A taller more drawn out shape with a narrower tip is more optimized for flat water paddling. A fatter tip more squat blade is better for accelerating and use in surfing. Wide tip paddles make it hard for flat water paddlers to keep the blade close to the board when paddling resulting in excessive turning.

To adjust or not to adjust; that is the question. Once again in general the act of adding adjustability to a paddle increases cost and decreases performance. So why are their so many out there? Because they maximize utility that's why. Adjustability allows the paddler to use the same paddle for both surf and flat water alike. It also allows the paddle to be used for paddlers of varying height. Here at the shop we tend to prefer cut paddles but there is no arguing the utility of adjustability with respect to bang for your buck.

Handles are the least of the paddle selction sciences. Their overall weight is nominal and

Tests for finding the right paddle for you

1. Place the handle on the ground with paddle set at somewhere near your prescribed length. Place one hand on the ferrule. Place the other hand in the middle of the shaft and push. See photo. This will give you a good indication of stiffness. Do not bother doing this test with the blade on the ground as blade flexibility then comes in to play.

2. To test blade flexibility place the handle on the ground while you hold the paddle face down with two thumbs on the bottom side of the blade tip and four fingers wrapped around to the back of the blade and push up with the thumbs.

3. The Swing weight test. This is a big one and can really help when deciding between two paddles. What makes swing weight so critical comes down to basic physics. When you put weight on the end of the lever the effects of that weight are multiplied. Taking two paddles hold one in each hand. Place your hands the same distance from blade on each shaft and lift the blades in the aire. Compare the weights. Lighter is better.

We are all most there folks but lets touch on a few variables that can come in to play.

• ABS Plastic in the blade. This expensive feature is a must have for high end paddles. The ABS plastic greatly increases blade durability with out increasing weight prohibitively.

• Solid vs Foam Core blades. A solid blade will be more durable and higher weight. Usually solid blades are only found in plastic, wood, and fiberglass constructions. Foam core indicates the paddle is essentially made like a mini board.

• Filament Wound Shafts are new to the market but likely something you will be seeing more of. As the sport of windsurfing has known for years when making something light but durable while keeping costs down filament wound is the cats meow.

• Three pieces or four piece paddles should be considered for anyone wanting to travel with their paddle. We are totally stoked on Quickblades brand new 4 piece paddle – fits in your carry on!

• Board Thickness. Certain boards can be very thick = 6" or more. Other boards may have noticeable dug out standing areas creating a variation of some 4 inches between boards of similar shape and size otherwise. You should consider your boards thickness when sizing your shaft length.

• Shaft diameter. Smaller hands like smaller diameters of shafts. Women and kids should look at the new Small Fit paddles from Werner Paddles or the Flyweight shafts from Quickblade.

• Don't put stuff on your paddle blade. When trying to protect a board from paddle dings tape the board not the paddle. If you must put something on the blade to protect it use rail saver tape before using plastic beading.

• Hybrid paddles. Carbon shaft and plastic blade? Yep. You'll find a menage of options that mix the constructions together to form a plethora of possible options.

Now if we took all this trouble to put all this to paper it all goes back to that passion we have for helping you find the best stand up paddleboard paddle. Here at the shop our entire staff is well trained to help you select the right paddle.

We also contracted with our top two brands to build custom adjustable demo paddles. Nowhere else will you find V-drive 81,91, and 101 ready to demo right alongside Werner Grand Prix s1000, m1000, and f1000 all on custom adjustable shafts.

A good paddle can be a proverbial game changer – just ask Quickblade Paddles David Kalama and Jim Terrell...

Have Fun: V Drive - The Game Changer from Quickblade Paddles on Vimeo.

Choosing The Right Kayak Paddle


At 101 Surf Sports, we take a great deal of pride in outfitting you with the the right equipment for the type of paddling you want to do. Choosing the right paddle to use with your kayak is critically important to enjoying your paddling. We're always happy to help you, in store or on the phone if you are shopping online, but here are some things to think about before buying your kayak paddle.

Not all kayak paddles are the same and we're not just talking about the color! Put simply, a kayak paddle is made of four parts: a shaft, typically with a joint in the middle and two blades at each end. Paddle length, shaft size, shaft construction, blade size, blade shape, blade construction, overall weight, swing weight, paddle joint, feather angle and indexing are are important features of paddle design.

When choosing a kayak paddle, you should ask yourself the following questions:

  • What type of kayak will you be using - sit-on-top, or sit-inside?
  • How wide is your kayak?
  • How high is your seat above the water?
  • How tall are you (how long is your torso, how long are your arms)?
  • How fast is your kayak?
  • Do you typically paddle for fitness, or at a more leisurely pace?
  • How long is your typical outing - less than two hours, all day, multi-day?
  • Do you paddle on flat water, or do you play in rough water and surf?
  • Do you have a low or high angle stroke? The angle of your stroke is explained below.
  • Do you have any injuries or other physical limitations that might affect your choice of kayak paddle.
  • What is your budget?

Let's dig into some of those questions here and how they relate to the features of the paddle.

Paddle Length / Blade Size & Shape

Paddle length, blade size and shape are determined by a ratio of many variables, including:

1. How wide your kayak is - the wider your kayak, the longer your paddle will need to be so that you can reach the water!

2. How high above the water do you sit? The higher your seat, the longer the paddle you will need. Do you need a longer paddle for stability? Just like a tightrope walker uses a pole for balance, a longer paddle and a larger blade size will give your more stability and will assist you when bracing for support and provide more leverage if performing an eskimo roll.

3. How fast you wish to paddle, the duration of your typical outing and the nature of the water you paddle on will factor into paddle length and blade size. Think of paddle length and blade size as similar to the gearing on a bicycle. The longer the paddle, the bigger the size of the blades, the bigger the 'gear' you are paddling with. If you like to paddle fast, for fitness, for no more than a couple of hours, you will typically want a slightly longer paddler with larger blades. If you like to go on longer excursions, at a more relaxed pace, you should choose a slightly shorter paddle and more importantly a smaller blade size.

4. How long are your levers? The taller you are the longer the paddle you will feel comfortable with. More accurately, it is the length of your torso, the width of your shoulders and the length of your arms that determine how long a paddle you need. A quick guide is to hold the paddle with an overhand grip with your hands equidistant from each paddle blade. Place the paddle shaft on your head and ask a friend to look at the angle of your elbows. They should be plus or minus 90 degrees. This is a biomechanical phenomena - your body is set up so that you are strongest doing a push up, a pull up or pulling on a paddle when your elbows are set at something close to ninety degrees.

5. Remember that we are NOT trying to pull the paddle blade through the water with our arms. Just like a rower, we are trying to fix the blade in the water and drive the kayak past the blade with our body and legs. Except that we go forwards, not backwards which is a much better idea! So the size of the kayak blade just needs to be big enough to give us sufficient 'grip' on the water to fix the blade and not slip when we drive the kayak forward with our body and legs. Too small a blade area and we will feel the blade slip through the water and we will see lots of bubbles. Too large a blade area and we are just making hard work for ourselves lifting that large blade with each paddle stroke. A large blade can also be really hard work when paddling into a headwind.

6. The need to accelerate quickly will determine the size of the blade we should use and the length of the paddle shaft. An example of this is if we are paddling in rough water and surf where the desire to accelerate the kayak in just a few strokes to catch a wave means that we should have a larger blade size and a shorter paddle length. That will allow us to produce a series of rapid and powerful strokes to produce a burst of speed. You will typically be using a HIGH ANGLE forward stroke technique to produce the maximum amount of power in this environment and so you should choose a HIGH ANGLE blade shape. This blade shape produces an aggressive catch or grip on the water. The Werner Shuna and Tybee are examples of high angle blade designs.

7. If your paddling is more relaxed, you will typically paddle with a LOW ANGLE forward stroke technique and so you can choose a LOW ANGLE blade shape which will give a softer feel to the catch. This blade shape is a good choice for injury prevention. The Werner Camano and Skagit are examples of low angle blade designs.

Paddle Shaft Diamater

An excellent option offered by Werner Paddles is the Small Shaft. Not everyone's hands are the same size and if you have smaller hands you will appreciate the small shaft option and will help reduce fatigue in your hands and forearms. This is especially true if you typically wear gloves to protect your hands from cold, sun or blisters.

Construction

If you have spent any time in our store or read any of our blog posts on construction you will know that we have a healthy obsession with Carbon. Yes, we LOVE Carbon because it has a coefficient of restitution that is four times faster than fiberglass, meaning you get more of your power transferred to the blade of the paddle where it matters. We also LOVE carbon because it is light and the weight of a paddle makes all the difference to your enjoyment of your paddling. Remember that your kayak is supported by the water but your paddle is being held up by you. While having a light kayak is good for lots of reasons, having a light paddle is EVEN MORE important. There really is no downside to having a light paddle. Quite simply, you should buy the lightest paddle that you can afford. All Werner Paddles have a Carbon shaft.

Something else to think about is the swing weight of the paddle. The overall weight of the paddle is important, but the weight of the blades if even more critical because that determines the swing weight of the paddle. Because the paddle is constantly moving (rotating) as you paddle, the lower the swing weight, the less effort it will require from you to move the paddle. A lighter paddle means less fatigue, faster strokes and more fun!

The lightest blades in Werner's range are the carbon Shuna and Camano, then the fiberglass Shuna and Camano, followed by the plastic injection molded Tybee CF and Skagit CF with a Carbon insert, in the blade and lastly the Tybee and Skagit with a fiberglass insert. Even Werner's heaviest and thus most affordable paddles, the Tybee FG and Skagit FG are lighter than many brands most expensive options!

Paddle Joint / Feather / Indexing

The Smart-View Adjustable Ferrule is unique to Werner Paddles and is, in our opinion, a masterpeice of engineering and the best paddle joint on the market. There is no movement in the joint, you can set the paddle at right, left or no feather and the feather angle can be set within 15 degree increments. We have tested this joint in exteme conditions and it is bomber. With some simple, common-sense maintenance this paddle joint will provide hassle free service for a lifetime.

What is paddle feather? Feather describes the offset between the right and the left blade. Historically, an offset of 90 degrees feather was introduced to kayak paddles to make it easier to paddle into a head wind. Ninety degree feather is far too much feather to be comfortable for most paddlers and can cause wrist and shoulder problems. For most novice paddlers, having no offset or zero degrees feather is fine to start with. As you grow in experience and expertise you may start to notice that the angle of your paddle blades to the water might need to be adjusted. You typically want your paddle blade to be perpendicular to your direction of travel so that you get the maximum grip or catch on the water. The degree of feather that you need is determined by the height of your top hand. If you have an efficient high angle stroke, with your top hand around eye level, you will benefit from something close to 60 degrees feather. If you have a low angle stroke you will need less feather. To determine the right feather angle for you we strongly encourage you to obtain some personal coaching from one of our kayak instructors. We utilize video analysis to examine your stroke and help you maximize efficiency and avoid injury.

A quality kayak paddle shaft will be indexed or ovalized in the area where you hold the paddle. This allows you to have more control over the angle of the blade and a more secure grip on the paddle. The indexing should be subtle and not too aggressive, but sufficient that you can still feel it even when wearing gloves.

Wing Paddles

Wing paddles provide the ultimate in paddle performance in terms of the catch and power from each forward stroke. We will discuss wing paddles in the next article.

Check out the selection of Kayak Paddles in our Online Kayak Paddle Shop Click Here