On Paddles

Erik Antonson
Erik Antonson
July 1, 2016

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!

Progression Journal


  • Ozzy

    Timely post Erik. Having moved recently to a board with less volume my paddle length needs to adjust. You used “trip” above and that is a good description. Slow strokes, poor paddle placement on turns, balance issues etc. Tried my wife’s shorter, smaller bladed paddle until I broke it. Loved it though. Will buy something similar. Love the site. Many of us in Sayulita tune in.

    • Erik -- PaddleWoo

      Thanks Ozzy! I want to make it your way sometime. All the best. E

  • Gully

    IMO, I’m not sure that going with a smaller blade size is always the right move. I have a QB Kanaha (100sqin) and a QB Slim Jim (92sqin), and I use both, with the main factor being the break I’m surfing. One of my favorite surf spots is a very shallow, ledgey reef break. There is a ton of water sucking out over the reef as the wave sets up and because of the lineup you need to setup in the hook of the wave to make the wave. This scenario leaves me with about 4 strokes to get in, I find using the larger blade gives me the power and confidence to drop in under the hook and make the wave. The times that I have used the smaller blade size I feel like I’m scratching to get in and this often leaves me in a bad position too far up the face negotiating a late drop. I guess for me it a horses for courses decision.

  • Joe

    Hey Erik, have you tried Ke’Nalu paddles at all. I have been paddling them for about four years now, I paddle often and sometimes in harsh conditions. No broken paddles thus far and the daily users don’t show the kind of wear you would expect over time. I use a 74 and 85, depending on the day, what I’m doing g and how I feel, switch between 90 and 100 on the carbon content for flex, it doesn’t sound like much but there is a fair difference between 90n and 100 and I do on occasion use the 60 (which I think they have discontinued. Interesting data on the lengths used by the pros and young guns. I actually went very short when I started and have steadily lengthened them; I’m well overhead on the length now and should maybe give the short ones a try. I have one paddle set up with the Kenalu extendable handle; it’s very clean and quite handy for changing lengths experimentally and also lending to friends or helping others decide on lengths.

    I sent you an email awhile back but will once again commend you on what you are doing; you’re a champion.

  • Aleksey Myagkov

    Thank you Erik for this post!
    Today I’ve decided to experiment with a shorter adjustable paddle. Even though it was challenging to paddle, the bottom turns (front and back) were much tighter due to a smaller paddle turn radius. I have also noticed a much higher paddling cadence. I’ve adjusted the paddle length between the top of my head and the forehead. It will probably take me a little time to re-adjust my stroke. Anyway, thank you.

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