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Krystal Marie Collins
Published Sep 6, 2023 12:10 PM
The right SUP paddle can make or break your paddle boarding experience. Picture yourself gliding across the water, one smooth paddle stroke after another, sunshine over your shoulder. The blade grabs glassy water with the power face of the paddle, as the ease of propulsion calms you and makes it all feel almost effortless. Then picture the opposite: a paddle that’s heavy, hard to lift, and so clunky it’s always catching on the side of your paddle board. Not so relaxing, huh?
Having a second rate SUP paddle makes time out on the water much less enjoyable. To zero in on the best SUP paddles, I put a few from the most popular paddle board companies to the test, evaluating them on their helpful features, ease of use, and comfort.
How We Picked the Best SUP Paddles
If you have experience with other water sports paddles—like kayak paddles, for instance—some of your knowledge will cross over when selecting a SUP paddle. While most people focus more on choosing the best paddle board or paddle craft, your SUP paddle shouldn’t be an afterthought. It’s just as critical to ensure ease and smoothness of each stroke while on a water adventure.
When I first started paddle boarding, I selected a plastic 3-piece Kialoa SUP paddle and it has lasted me 10-years. I want to help you find your holy grail SUP paddle that can accompany you on adventures for years to come. I’ve spent hours paddling lakes and rivers to determine which paddles are the lightest, most comfortable to use and the most effective at getting you to where you want to go.
Best SUP Paddles: Reviews and Recommendations
Best Overall: Aqua Bound Malta Carbon 2-Piece Paddle
- Weight: 1.1 lbs
- Length: 64” – 86”
- Materials: 100% carbon
- Breakdown: Two-piece
- Intuitive mechanisms
- Made in the USA
- Very durable
Aquabound is a heritage brand with a stellar reputation in the commercial water sports space. As such, its Malta Carbon SUP paddle has a superior level of intuitive and simple adjustability that the company has honed through 30 years of expertise. It’s known as the top-of-the-line choice for performance paddlers who value a paddle that’s both streamlined and adjustable in length, so you can customize it to fit your height.
The paddle is comprised of extraordinarily lightweight carbon that’s easy to handle and break down. Even better, it’s made in the United States. All Aquabound SUP paddles come with a two-year warranty, which will give you peace of mind when you’re on the water.
Best Adjustable: Thurso Carbon Elite Paddle
- Weight: 1.6 lbs
- Length: 71”- 87”
- Materials: Carbon fiber
- Breakdown: Three-piece
- Easy to change out blade
- Adjusts up to one of the longest lengths
- Many possible configurations
- Wild card factor of a newer brand
- Shortest warranty period of paddles reviewed
Thurso is newer to the SUP game than other heritage manufacturers. This could mean they are more poised for innovation. Regardless, the Thurso Carbon Elite Paddle hits all the high notes when it comes to adjustability. Made of three separate pieces, it can lengthen up to 87 inches making it one of the longest SUP paddles on the market. Second, you can change out the blade for a new one if you damage the original or even swap in its sister paddle, which has a fiberglass blade. This is a cost savings strategy that’s been around for a long time use in the oars industry, but is a newer feature in the SUP paddle scene.
Additional ninja-like adjustments are available. You can add a second blade to the T-grip end of the shaft, transforming it into a kayak paddle. If you like to sit down on your board, this is a game changer. Note however that the warranty for this paddle is only 60 days.
Best Budget: NRS Rush SUP Paddle
- Weight: 1.6 lbs
- Length: 68”- 86”
- Materials: Fiberglass
- Breakdown: N/A
- Lots of well-designed features
- Long-standing brand with an excellent reputation
- Outstanding value for the price point
NRS has been in the river and paddle industries since the 70s and their expertise when it comes to hard goods can not be understated. Boasting many of the features of other top industry SUP paddles, the NRS Rush comes in under $200, making it an absolute steal. The 7-degree offset in the blade-to-shaft dimension paired with a mid-size teardrop blade geometry work in tandem to produce a powerful energy transfer. From paddler to paddle to water, the drive train runs with less fatigue placed on you.
Although this SUP paddle is comprised of fiberglass and not carbon fiber, its sleek low-profile design makes up for what it lacks in top notch material. It would be a little lighter if it were carbon fiber; however, the cost would reflect that.
Best Carbon: Red Paddle Co. 5-Piece Carbon Nylon Adjustable SUP Paddle
- Weight: 1.7 lbs
- Length: 63”- 78”
- Materials: Carbon and nylon
- Breakdown: Five-piece
- Fits anywhere
- High-modulus carbon
- 5 year warranty
- Design is new and could need refinement
- Maximum length only 78”
This is one of the most compact SUP paddles out there. It’s collapsible with no sacrifice in on water performance. Even with all the potential break point, it’s very durable thanks to the high-modulus carbon that provides extra rigidity.
Red Paddle Co. has included an internal leash system inside the SUP paddle shaft which keeps the paddle snug and secure when the components are fit together. You’ll also get a five-year warranty with your paddle purchase.
Best Value: Kialoa Tiare Adjustable Fiberglass Stand Up Paddle
- Weight: 2 lbs
- Length: 66” – 82”
- Material: Fiberglass
- Breakdown: N/A
- Easy-to-handle thin shaft
- Kialoa has been making SUP paddles longer than any other retailer
- Affordable price
- Smaller T-grip could pose a problem for larger palmed people and create hot spots
Kialoa knows how to make SUP paddles and they have been doing it longer than anyone else in the industry. Kialoa was the first paddle company to pivot into commercial production of SUP paddles in 2008 and brought the standup paddle board paddle to market at Outdoor Retailer. With roots in producing high-end outrigger and short shaft paddles for decades before their expansion into SUP paddles, Kialo has applied all their know-how to create one of the most affordable paddles: the Kialoa Tiare Fiberglass Adjustable.
It could very well be one of my favorite paddles I’ve ever used. Boasting a smaller grip, thinner shaft and sleek design, this paddle was uniquely produced with women’s needs in mind. It’s easier to hold for those with smaller hands and its slightly smaller blade volume—80 square inches compared to up to 105 square inches—allows for ease in paddling and returning stroke. A built-in LeaverLock in the handle satisfies a wide range of travel for varying heights.
Because it is designed for a smaller hand, some say the handle is more prone to cause hotspots on your hand. While fiberglass isn’t the ideal top-of-the-line material for a paddle, you can’t beat the performance and quality of this paddle for the price.
Best 3-Piece: Werner Session Fiberglass SUP Paddle
- Weight: 1.7 lbs
- Length: 50”- 90”
- Materials: Fiberglass
- Breakdown: N/A
- Werner is known as the engineering king in the paddle industry
- Intended for whitewater and performs well on all water
- Lightweight yet durable
Werner caters to all paddle segments from sea kayaking to rafting to SUP paddling and is known for its strong paddles that stand the test of time. They also focus on engineering and advancing technology in all the paddles they produce, which makes for an extremely durable SUP paddle. While it’s intended for rinse-and-repeat whitewater maneuvering that requires high cadence strokes, the Werner Session also does well down river or floating lake side. The low swing weight produces quick turnaround on blade action and resilience when a rock or obstacle is hit in whitewater cross fire.
While the Sessions swing weight is low for its fiberglass construction, fiberglass overall is a bit heavier than other SUP paddle material options. Some might consider the Session a bit bare bones but I personally like its simple and sleek classic construction.
What to Consider When Choosing SUP Paddles
A paddler might take hundreds or even thousands of strokes over the course of one river or lake outing—so weight matters. Multiply the weight of your paddle by the number of strokes you’ll take with it over a lifetime. When considering paddle weight in this context many start to realize why a little more investment upfront makes the difference over a lifetime.
When it comes to SUP paddles, carbon fiber emerges where durability, material and cost intersect. It is easily the most durable and longest lasting material. However, you can also find fiberglass SUP paddles, which are more budget-friendly yet also more prone to cracks or warping from sunlight or heat.
A factor that most SUP paddle shoppers may inadvertently overlook is the heritage of the brand they are buying from. It’s hard to accurately cost out the value of purchasing a SUP paddle from a known company with a reputation for research and development, good quality, and five-star customer service. Do a little reading, check the warranty, and ask around to find paddle companies with stellar reputations, like Werner, Red Paddle Co., and Kialoa.
Q: Does a good SUP paddle make a difference?
Having a stand-up paddle with the proper fit and a good design will definitely affect how you operate your paddle board. Carbon is the most desirable material because it is the lightest and has the most comfortable swing weight. You also want to look for components that don’t have any give or play but continue to fit snuggly during use. That’s critical to energy transfer and comfort.
Maintenance and care for your SUP paddle will also make a difference in how well it holds up over time. Even the best paddle will require care. Adjusting ferrules require fine tolerances to create a precise fit. Debris like sand, silt and/or salt left inside the ferrule can stick over time and prevent adjustability. To avoid this, disassemble your SUP paddle after each use. Rinse the components—especially the ferrule—with warm water and then dry them completely before reassembly.
Q: Are carbon fiber paddles worth it?
Carbon fiber SUP paddles are absolutely worth it, in my opinion. With so many carbon SUP paddles available today at budget prices, there really is no reason to have an aluminum paddle—full stop. The weight-to-strength ratio of carbon fiber is unbeatable.
However, there are scenarios where fiberglass makes sense. If you are going to be paddle boarding where there are obstacles like rocks, fiberglass can hold up to wear-and-tear a bit better and is less expensive to replace.
Q: What length of paddle do I need?
The length of paddle needed for paddle boarding can vary. I was taught to measure by holding my arm above my head and adjusting the T-grip to just below my wrist. For touring, racing, or fitness paddle board (like SUP yoga), you’ll want a paddle about 10 inches longer than your height. For whitewater paddling, you’ll need one that’s only 8 inches above.
Best SUP Paddles: Final Thoughts
The best SUP paddles will enhance your paddling experience, not make it cumbersome or difficult. A reliable SUP paddle that performs well on the waterways you want to explore is the SUP paddle to choose. Whether it’s carbon fiber or fiberglass, weighs 1 or 2 pounds, or is made by a top brand is ultimately negligible. Happy paddling—see you downstream!
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