Buyer beware... when purchasing a SUP paddle
Let’s face it, for most, buying a good quality paddle board (new or used) is a significant financial commitment. The entire SUP industry has been struggling with this for over a decade now. Too often we see people spend their entire budget on the board and have nothing remaining for the other necessities – a coiled or straight SUP leash, an inflatable PFD and marine whistle, and last, but not least, the SUP paddle. My mantra to my customers is always…”don’t skimp on the paddle.” It is just as critical as the board. After all, it’s not called stand-up boarding! Like paddle boards, selecting the best SUP paddle for your specific needs can be challenging. While there are many more obvious considerations that go into the paddle buying decision, you may not have thought about some of the ones below.
DON’T SKIMP. The SUP paddle is just as important a piece of equipment as the paddle board itself. You wouldn’t buy a Lamborghini and put a 4-cylinder motor in it. If it breaks while out paddling you could be in trouble. If it is not designed well (e.g., heavy, cheap, twisty handle) you will get fatigued much quicker and the paddle will fall apart faster as well (e.g., blade splits). Budget the time and money to select the best SUP paddle for you. When it comes to SUP paddles you really do get what you pay for.
SELECT THE RIGHT TOOL FOR THE JOB. A hammer thinks everything is a nail. We all would prefer to buy just one SUP paddle to meet all our needs. This can be done if you are a casual paddler. If you are more serious and into SUP racing, paddle surfing, whitewater, and touring and/or some combination thereof you will likely need more than one paddle board and more than one paddle. As obvious as this might sound even experienced paddlers tend to use one SUP paddle for everything (and then wonder why their shoulder hurts).
Different types of paddling require different types of paddles. For example, a SUP surfing paddle will have a smaller blade than a SUP racing paddle. A SUP surfing paddle will also have a shorter shaft length. The number of considerations when selecting the right paddle can become daunting in a hurry. The handle shape and material; shaft material, flex, diameter and shape; the blade shape, aspect, offset, size, and material are just a few the variables that go into the decision. In addition to all that, personal preference is important as well. Think about the type of paddling you want to do and pick a SUP paddle best suited for you and the type of paddling you are going to do.
READ CAREFULLY & DYOR. It is important to do your own research when buying a paddle. At a minimum read the product descriptions carefully. While this may sound ridiculous, you might be surprised at what you find. If you see misspelled words and sentence fragments it should raise questions about the quality of the paddle. If it reads like broken English – buyer beware. Below are a couple examples from actual SUP paddle product descriptions:
EXCLUSIVE DESIGN: a standup paddle with lock-mechanism design will not glide between different sections once locked at fixed height, made of solid and cozy material, non-skip while floatable and flexible during paddling…
Humanized design: Take carbon fiber material, Increased friction, non-slip design, you will never worry it slip away nor hurt your hand whiling paddling.
Unless you are looking for a SUP paddle that is “humanized and made with cozy material and non-skip… nor hurt your hand whiling paddling” hold on to your money and keep looking. Sadly there were many more examples of this to choose from.
For those of you in a hurry and just look at the pictures... buyer beware. Check out this SUP paddle listing above. Note how the picture indicates the shaft is made with carbon fiber but the written description indicates the shaft is made with aluminum. This is a big difference on many levels. Keep looking.
DON’T BE FOOLED. Almost all companies, including SUP manufacturers and retailers, employ slick marketing tricks to get your attention. SUP paddles are made from a variety of materials and combinations including aluminum, plastic, fiberglass, carbon fiber and Kevlar. Carbon fiber and Kevlar are high performance materials that are super lightweight, rigid, and durable. Carbon fiber costs over 3x more than fiber glass making paddles made with it substantially more expensive. Aluminum and plastic will be heavier and lack the performance of a carbon fiber or Kevlar paddle. For reference, aluminum and plastic costs are a mere fraction of the price of carbon fiber per pound.
You may see “Carbon Fiber” in the headline or title of the SUP paddle. Please know this does not mean the paddle is 100% carbon fiber. If the title and a glance at a few pictures is as far as you go in your rush to make the purchase you will be disappointed. Read the product description carefully. If it does not indicate specifically what the handle, shaft and blade is made of it is likely not 100% carbon fiber. Do not over pay for your SUP paddle thinking you are getting something you are not. Not every paddler needs a 100% carbon fiber SUP paddle. Below is an example (one of many) from an actual SUP paddle product title:
Carbon Fiber Paddle Board 3 Piece Adjustable SUP Paddle
By looking at the detailed description you would find:
Material Composition: Aluminum Shaft, Nylon and Print Carbon Blade
So, in essence, the only place carbon fiber might be used (what is "print carbon" anyway) is in the “Nylon” (i.e., plastic) blade. Further the description does not tell us how much of the blade is carbon fiber – is it 1% or 99%. We don't even buy ground beef unless we know the percent fat. Avoid paddles that don't specify the percent carbon fiber in the shaft and blade. Otherwise you may be paying for something you are not getting.
FREEBIES CAN JUST BE DISTRACTIONS. Nothing worth anything in life is free. Watch out for product descriptions that talk more about the free bag that comes with the SUP paddle than the paddle performance specifications. Do you want a quality paddle or a “free bag?” I have a full-length paddle bag and cannot remember using it over the past 10 years. Blade covers, on the other hand, are something I use more frequently. Blade covers often come with higher end paddles. All said, a free bag or blade cover should not be the primary basis for your SUP paddle purchase.
IF IT SOUNDS TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE. Because it is so easy these days I tend to do a little research before buying almost everything. A common area of focus is product reviews. When I have spent the time and actually read a representative sample of good and bad reviews I usually learn something that helps me in my decision. That said, if you see a product with a ton of reviews and nearly all of them are 5 stars, take a deeper look. One tool I found for validating reviews is called Fakespot. Fakespot uses algorithms to analyze the quality of product reviews. I now use it regularly as a data point (one of many) before I make a purchase. Take a look at the analysis for a couple of the best selling SUP paddles on Amazon - one for SUP Supply (above) and the other for BPS (below). As you will see the SUP Supply report indicates that over half (52%) of the reviews are unreliable. If you were to read the detailed report you would find that the basis for the low reliability is defined as "reviewer account appears to be generated by automation." Yikes. I use Fakespot data useful to compare products and generally will not buy a product with a low score on Fakespot. Bottom line: before you by a 5 star product take a moment to validate that it is truly a 5 star product.
ONE OR 2 LBS REALLY MATTERS. We all know size matters... When it comes to SUP paddles weight really matters and in a way that might not be obvious. A heavy paddle will lead to fatigue much faster. For example, a SUP racer may paddle at a pace of 40 strokes per minute. In an hour that would be 2,400 strokes. A paddle that weighs 1 lb. more than another would add a ton (literally) of extra effort. Paddle surfing involves frequent paddle transitions on low volume boards (i.e., barely float the paddler) so the weight of the paddle matters here as well.
Alloy means metal and in the SUP paddle industry, it usually means the paddle is made with aluminum. Aluminum is durable but it is heavy and stiff which can be hard on your joints (i.e., especially shoulders). Aluminum paddles are generally the heaviest paddles on the market - over 2x as heavy as carbon fiber. Fiberglass will be a little lighter than aluminum but heavier than carbon fiber. A heavy SUP paddle can feel clumsy especially for younger and smaller sized paddlers. It is best to physically hold the paddle in your hand before purchasing it. If that is not possible be sure to read the SUP paddle specifications to determine the weight of the paddle. If the weight is not listed, move on to the next paddle. We recommend paddles that weigh around 1 lb.
PLASTIC IS… WELL... PLASTIC. If you see words like nylon and polypropylene you are looking at a paddle made of plastic. A plastic paddle will save you money but you will pay for it on the performance end. Because of the flex in a plastic blade you will lose performance and power with every stroke. This can quickly lead to fatigue and less time on the water. We don’t recommend plastic even for beginner level paddle boarders as their skill level quickly progresses beyond the performance capabilities of a plastic paddle. Plastic paddles are more suited to SUP rental companies and the like.
AVOID TWISTING HANDLES. Simply put…do not buy an adjustable SUP paddle unless it has an anti-twist design (see example in picture below). Doing so you will avoid a major headache and a great deal of frustration. The old-style clamping design will not last (see picture above). Furthermore, you will have to constantly monitor the clamp before each paddle to ensure it hasn’t loosened up. If you forget to check or don’t have a wrench (hex key) or screwdriver you are out of luck. There are few things more frustrating than a handle that twists while paddling. There are a variety of methods used to make a handle anti-twist these days. Check the handle visually or the pictures to verify it has an anti-twist design. If the product description does not include a picture of the anti-twist design it probably doesn’t have one. Only outdated paddles have the old clamp style handles. Metal screws or metal spring-loaded buttons slowly wear out and loosen. Metal simply doesn’t last long in wet and/or salty environments.
BUDGETING EXPECTATIONS. With the variety of paddle options, types, designs, and materials the price for a SUP ranges quite dramatically. In fact, some paddles can cost as much as the paddle board. To help you focus your search based on your budget, I have listed the price ranges for the major categories of SUP paddles:
Aluminum and Plastic adjustable - $40 to $60
Fiberglass fixed or adjustable - $50 to $75
Carbon Fiber/Kevlar/Fiberglass blends fixed or adjustable - $120 to $250
100% Carbon Fiber/Kevlar fixed or adjustable - $175+
Again, these are just ball park price ranges. For example, the NAISH Wave SUP surfing paddle retails for over $500. It is meant to give you an idea of what a basic paddle with cost versus a high-quality performance paddle. I also hope it helps keep you from over paying (i.e., getting dupped) for a paddle advertised as carbon fiber when in reality it is a plastic paddle with a carbon fiber veneer. When it comes to SUP paddles you will truly get what you pay for and need to do a little research to make the right decision for you.
LAST BUT DEFINITELY NOT LEAST. It matters to me who I am buying from for many reasons. These reasons range across a broad spectrum such as product quality, innovation, reliability, environmental stewardship, customer service, longevity, etc. A recent example that comes to mind for me is Tesla. I really like everything about what Tesla is doing. That said, a major concern for me is the repeated reports over concerns about employee safety in the workplace (after all we are SUP safety advocates). Before I would purchase a Tesla I would need to understand more about what is going on with this. If who you buy from matters to you then at a minimum check out the company's website and social presence. I also recommend a Google search. As an example when it comes to SUP paddles compare NAISH's online presence to Bullet Proof Surf. Both make and sell SUP paddles. What you find might be helpful depending on the type of SUP paddle you are looking to buy. Sometimes I have done searches to find more about a company and could not find even a website at all. An example of this is a company and brand called SUP Supply. Except for their product listing on Amazon, no matter how hard I tried to find them I could not. Right or wrong, this raises too many questions for me (i.e., customer service, product support over time, etc.). Either way, verifying the existence of the company you are buying from is a prudent step in any purchasing decision.