We talk so much about the role of paddles in paddle surfing, but we haven’t spent much time on the paddles themselves.  Today’s journal is observations on paddles from personal experience.

Blade Size –

For surfing, small is where it’s at.  The needs in paddle surfing are stability and acceleration, both are aided by smaller blade size.  Smaller blade size increases cadence and allows faster adjustments for balance.  I’m currently using an 85.5 sq. in. blade, but would like to test smaller.  Dave Kalama’s blade size for surfing is around 80 sq. in.

Going smaller reduces stress and injury potential.  Larger blades mean more pull, effectively more weight.  This stresses ligaments and tendons.  I did massive damage to my elbows in my first year paddling a few hours a day with a bigger blade.

Bigger blades also pose a risk in surfing.  At times, when you’re finishing a turn, you can get the paddle pinned against the board with the wave pushing at your back.  The bigger the blade, the more force exerted on your shoulder.

Shaft Size –

The tactile feel of a smaller diameter shaft is better.  If someone could figure out how to make a small shaft strong, with very little flex, it would be what I’d prefer, but in my experience, they bend and break.  I have broken two Naish and 3 Kialoa paddles – all in the center of the shaft.

So, I’ve grown comfortable using a touch bigger shaft.  Not big, but a bit bigger than the smallest out there.

Shaft size doesn’t affect surfing.

Flex –

Over the past three years, as my surfing has evolved, I’ve come to love very stiff paddles. Stiff paddles are more responsive and sensitive.  As your paddle surfing level improves, use of the paddle is more important in maneuvers, and the forces applied to the paddle are stronger.

Less flex gives a more direct connection to the wave.

Handle –

Not terribly important in my experience.  You get used to it, whatever it is.

Blade size and flex have a significant effect on surfing.  I haven’t found that same relation between shaft size or handle.

Length –

While not intrinsic to the paddle, worth mentioning.  In interviewing all the top pros I’ve found the following:

  • Paddle length range for all top surfers is between mouth height to two inches overhead.
  • There tends to be a inverse relationship between athlete height and paddle length, shorter athletes tend to use longer (relative) paddles and taller athletes tend to use shorter (relative) paddles.  I would guess this has to do both with arm length and center of gravity.

I “raced” down to mouth level and have recently gone back to eyebrow height.  I find that I have more power in paddling and reach in surfing.  Any longer and I trip on the paddle and shorter ruins my stroke and leaves me wanting in turns occasionally.

After testing 6 brands of paddles I found the best paddle for me to be the Kevlar paddle from 27 North.  I used their paddles before they starting sponsoring the show, and in fact, they started sponsoring because I told them how much I love their paddles.  I am over a year without breaking one paddle.  The Kevlar paddle comes with a lifetime guarantee.  You can get a 25% discount by using promo code “Paddlewoo.”

I’d love to hear your thoughts on paddles in the comments!

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