Picture the scene: you walk into your local stand up paddle board emporium, armed with a fist of readies. You’re willing to throw this green at some spangly new SUP kit. The sales person greets you – all beaming smiles – and guides you towards racks of shiny new boards, all begging to be taken home for cuddles.
A brief discussion regarding your personal skill level, aspirations and wants/needs leads the sales person to pick out a beautifully designed craft that has the sole purpose of projecting its rider to stratospheric heights of SUP enjoyment. And to boot, the retailer in question will chuck in a paddle at no extra cost. Cue sound of scraping vinyl as the wheels fall off your experience – although at the time you wouldn’t know it…
Eh indeed… As a newbie or intermediate stand up paddler getting on the water quickly and efficiently is a must. After all, it’s about stoke, enjoyment and as long as you have board, paddle, wetsuit (or drysuit) and leash, then will travel – so to speak. The problem is: that bendy, heavy and badly constructed alloy paddle you waltzed out of the shop with will be doing you absolutely no favours whatsoever. But you wouldn’t know it…
Fast forward a few months, to the point you’ve gained skills, grasped fundamentals and understand the art of SUP in even great depth. At this point you may be cursing yourself for having not invested in a better paddle from the get go. Or at the very least, you’ve now had it with your rubbish ‘stick’ and are looking to upgrade.
The fact is: stand up paddle boarding is a paddle sport first and foremost. This may sound obvious to many – especially those already bitten by the SUP bug. And yet, there are still occasions where paddlers are simply using badly manufactured equipment. OK, not every blade and shaft combo is poor, but if you’re striving to have as much fun on the water as possible – by maximising your efficiency (who wouldn’t?), without damaging joints or placing unnecessary strain on your body (which a heavy, poorly manufactured paddle will do) – then addressing your paddle’s quality is a wise move.
Carbon’s best then?
As with anything there are levels or quality. It’s deemed that carbon SUP paddles are the best ‘engines’ you can buy. While generally being true you also need to account for fluctuations in material quality.
There’s a misconception that carbon is light – not necessarily so. Carbon offers many properties the casual SUPer can benefit from but not every model with feel like a feather in your hands. And just to confuse matters further, brands often use material mixes. In some instances this can add weight or reduce it. In all instances the inclusion of these ‘exotics’ will change your paddle’s feel.
Having said all the above, current high end paddles are mostly carbon. Pros tend to use these weapons to devastating effect in comps. But don’t be put off by this. Just because a sponsored rider is using a carbon paddle doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. After all, pros demand the highest level of performance – but novices require this equally.
A question of budget
As much as we’re happy to promote the benefits of a good quality, well manufactured carbon SUP paddle, we also appreciate that wallets aren’t always stuffed with enough green to make parting with significant cash viable. But fear not; you don’t need to take out a second mortgage! There are plenty of affordable, quality, paddles out there.
The type of materials used to manufacture paddles is only one part of the story. Blade size, type, shaft flex, grip type and a whole host of other factors come into play when talking about SUP paddles. Just as with board technology the variables can be mind bending and therefore off putting. The best course of action is, as with all SUP equipment, demo as much as possible. That way you’ll at least have some idea of what type of product suits you – more importantly you should get an idea of what doesn’t work.
It takes experienced SUPers time to settle upon optimised kit – a possibly daunting situation for newcomers. They’ve all been in the same boat (or should that be on the same board?) as you, however. Retailers, brands and SUP paddle companies all offer the opportunity to test kit. And there are plenty of events around the UK that allow stand ups to try multiple toys – it’s wise to make use of these gatherings.
Your SUP paddle is extremely important and without it the sport wouldn’t be the same – it’s therefore your one piece of defining kit. Make sure it’s as good a tool as it can be…
If you’re looking for further info on SUP paddles then check out our reviews section boasting an extensive selection of test reports we’ve compiled to date – standuppaddlemag.co.uk/category/sup-kit-reviews/sup-paddle-reviews/