The paddles you choose for your stand-up paddle boarding or SUP adventures matter. Even if you have an expensive paddle board, without equally proficient paddles, you’ll find you have great difficulty navigating on the water. One factor that may influence a shopping decision is whether your paddles float. Are they supposed to?
Yes, paddle board paddles should float. Although you can’t see it, the foam within the paddle provides buoyancy. This way, should you lose hold of your paddle in the water, it won’t sink to the sea floor, likely never to be recovered.
In this article, we will talk about paddle board paddles in depth, including more about what they’re made of. If you need some pointers on shopping for your own paddles, we will provide that information as well. Keep reading, as you don’t want to miss it!
What Are Paddle Board Paddles?
Paddle board paddles are a crucial component of SUP riding. As we covered in our last article, this form of paddle boarding involves you standing on a board and using a paddle to navigate through the water.
Your paddles may be made of one of five materials. These include plastic, aluminum, carbon fiber, wood, and fiberglass. Let’s discuss each more now.
Plastic paddle board paddles
Plastic paddles have grips and blades molded right on. Like most plastic, a plastic paddle isn’t expensive, and it’s decently durable. However, the plastic used for many SUP paddles does have a weightier quality to it. Thus, beginner riders might find it more difficult to use a SUP paddle made of plastic.
Aluminum paddle board paddles
Next, you might try an aluminum SUP paddle. This too doesn’t cost much to produce, so you can get a paddle for cheap. Used more often for paddle shafts, aluminum has a nice look and can hold up well enough. Do keep in mind that if you ride in oceans or other saltwater bodies, your aluminum paddle could corrode. Also, it gets cold to the touch if it’s wet and it’s fairly heavy as well.
Carbon Fiber paddle board paddles
That’s why many SUP riders like carbon fiber paddles. These lack the weight you get with a plastic or aluminum paddle. Not only does carbon fiber not weigh as much, but it’s incredibly hardy and durable, too. You can count on your carbon fiber paddle to get you through all your SUP riding. Your arms won’t ache after the end of a long day, either. For all that high quality, you do end up paying more money for a carbon fiber paddle than the other types covered.
Wooden paddle board paddles
Although you wouldn’t think it, some SUP riders favor paddles made of wood. In some cases, manufacturers will add only a few wooden components to a paddle, such as the blade. Other times, the whole paddle is wood. The unique, homemade look of a wooden paddle makes it undoubtedly desirable. It also retains hand warmth, doesn’t weigh much, and they’re pretty ecofriendly, too. Wooden paddles might weigh more than other materials depending on their design, and the cost can vary as well.
Fiberglass paddle board paddles
Your fifth option is a fiberglass SUP paddle. Again, certain manufacturers will make the paddle’s blade and shaft of fiberglass and others the whole paddle. Since fiberglass doesn’t weigh much, it’s a breeze using a paddle made of this material. Although not super cheap, you’ll feel good about your investment once you get a fiberglass paddle out on the water. The stiffness of this material might be an issue to some, though.
Do Paddle Board Paddles Float?
No matter which of the five materials you choose for your SUP paddle, you can pretty much guarantee it will float. That’s not due to the material itself, of course, as some heavier materials like plastic would more than likely sink. No, instead, as we mentioned in the intro, SUP paddles have foam hidden inside their shaft.
It’s this foam that provides buoyancy. Should you ever have an opportunity to open up a paddle and see what makes it tick, you’ll surely notice this foam tucked away inside the paddle’s shaft. Don’t mess with it, though, or your paddle may never float again.
Having a floating paddle benefits you in several ways. As we mentioned before, should your paddle slip out of your hand, it won’t sink straight to the bottom of the drink. That saves you from having to jump in the water and recover it, which can sometimes be dangerous. You can just reach down, grab your floating paddle, and get back to riding.
You also save money since you don’t need to replace your paddle each time you slip up. While it’s not such a big deal to have to buy a new plastic or aluminum paddle every so often, if you prefer fiberglass or wood for your paddle, getting a new one would be a big pain.
How to Choose the Right Paddle
Besides just considering which SUP paddle material might suit you best, you also have to take the following considerations into mind when selecting a paddle for you. If you need to fully outfit yourself for paddle boarding, we have some gear recommendations in our complete beginners guide, including paddles.
Offset blade angles
Not all paddles have the same blade angle. The offset is this angle’s degree. It starts at the shaft and goes to the blade. Depending on the angle, the blade may have more verticality or less. This plays a role in your stroke power.
If you’re only going to casually use your paddle board, then make sure the paddle has an offset of seven degrees. For those who SUP race, then you need a broader angle, 12 degrees. If you use your SUP board for other activities besides paddle boarding, then get a paddle with 10 degrees.
You must concern yourself with the angle of the paddle’s shaft as well. Straight shafts may seem like a no-brainer, but they aren’t always. For instance, bent shafts keep your wrists neutral. This can prevent pain since you don’t have to strain to operate the paddle. Straight shafts work best for short rides then and angled ones for longer voyages. Read more on why paddle board paddles are angled in this post.
The shape of the blade can also impact the quality of your ride. Blades come in two shapes, rectangular or teardrop. With a rectangular paddle blade, it has a narrow bottom. This makes paddling easier on your body. Teardrop blades have a bottom that’s wider than a rectangular paddle. That gives you more power and a tougher stroke than a rectangular blade. In turn, you might get exhausted faster.
No one wants raw, reddened palms after paddle boarding. That’s why paddles include palm grips, but where these are can vary. Most manufacturers put the palm grips at the handle’s top. The grip often comes in two shapes: ball-shaped or T-shaped. You’ll find it easier and more comfortable to hold a ball-shaped grip for hours of riding. T-shaped grips provide more stability but less comfort.
Getting back to the paddle’s blade for a moment, we already talked about shape, and now it’s time to discuss size. You generally have three sizes to choose from: small/medium, medium/large, and large/extra large. While paddle length relates to your height (more on this later), blade size relates to your weight.
If you weigh 150 pounds or fewer, then you need a small/medium blade size. This covers 80 to 90 square inches. Those who weigh up to 200 pounds should get a medium/large blade that’s 90 to 100 square inches. If you’re more than 200 pounds, then you’ll need a large/extra large blade size. This is between 100 and 120 square inches.
The smaller the blade, the more efficiency you get on the water. Blades of a smaller size can cut into the water with ease, requiring less effort on your part. Thus, for races or other endurance activities, these are preferable.
That said, large blades aren’t all bad. They have much more power, thus propelling you further with fewer strokes. If you go SUP riding in the ocean, a bigger blade suits you best.
Fixed-Length or Adjustable-Length
Did you know paddle board paddles don’t have to stay one exclusive length? It’s true, at least if you have an adjustable-length paddle. As the name implies, with this paddle type, you can shorten or extend the length of your paddle shaft as needed. This allows you to get more powerful strokes when you want and then smaller, more precise ones at other times.
A fixed-length paddle has no such freedom. You cannot change the length, so make sure you’re happy with it before you buy it.
Do aluminum paddles float?
While aluminum paddles with foam should float no problem, you might want to look for one with a padded float. This has extra padding at the shaft’s bottom so the paddle has no chance of sinking if you drop it.
What paddle length do I need?
Depending on your height, you’ll need either a taller or shorter paddle. Thus, recommended paddle height differs per person. To figure it out for yourself, you want to start by measuring yourself if you don’t already know your exact height.
Then, tack on an extra nine to 10 inches to your measured height. This tells you how tall of a paddle you need for SUP riding.
Do paddleboard fins float?
They absolutely do not. Although they are made typically of plastic, they sink straight to the bottom. All of us on this site have had to retrieve a fin once or twice. Luckily, we were setting the boards up in shallow waters. Although Tim C reports that he once sent his son on a free-dive to 15 feet to get a dropped iRocker side fin. Luckily the lake water had good visibility and a rocky bottom. And the family has extensive diving and snorkeling experience, so no ear squeezes occurred.
So hold onto to those when attaching them in the water, and try to put them on before you get to any deep parts.
Choosing a paddle is a personal decision. There are many varieties. The good news is that they all float, so you don’t have to pick based on worry over losing your board to the sea. Be sure to read How to Hold a Paddle When Paddleboarding to get full benefits out of whichever type you’ve chosen.
Stay safe, and as always, have fun!