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We tested the best SUP paddles on the market from brands like Werner, Aqua Bound, Kialoa, NRS, and more, to help you find the right paddle for your paddling needs and budget. Photo: Nick Bruckbauer


The Inertia

Looking for the best SUP paddle? Whether you’re a beginner that’s testing the waters, a seasoned veteran looking for increased performance, or you’re just looking to upgrade the stock paddle that came with your inflatable paddle board kit, we’ve got you covered. Our veteran SUP experts researched 30 of the best SUP paddles on the market before selecting 15 models to put to a head-to-head test, and finally highlighting the 11 best options to present to you in this article.

Our team has been stand up paddle boarding for over a decade, and has paddled everywhere from the open ocean to calm midwestern lakes to choppy alpine lakes and rivers. We put these paddles to the test across a summer of paddling on Lake Tahoe and in the surrounding alpine lakes, taking the time to weigh each paddle, test the adjustment mechanisms, and hit the water in a variety of paddling conditions.

See our Comparison Table and Ratings Chart below for more detailed specs and data, and our How We Tested and Buyer’s Guide sections for more in-depth analysis.

Editor’s Note: We updated this guide on November 22, 2023 with the addition of the Red Paddle Co. Prime

The Best SUP Paddles of 2024

Best All-Around SUP Paddle: Werner Zen 95
Best Blend of Performance & Value: NRS Rush
Best SUP Paddle on a Budget: Abahub 3-Piece Adjustable Paddle
Best Ultralight SUP Paddle: Aqua Bound Malta Carbon
Best High-Performance SUP Paddle: Kialoa Pipes II Adjustable


Best All-Around SUP Paddle

Werner Zen 95 ($300)

Available Styles: 1-Piece, 2-Piece, 3-Piece
Measured Weight: 24.3 oz. (2-Piece)
Shaft Material: Carbon/Fiberglass blend
Blade Material: Fiberglass

Pros: Includes LeverLock adjustment system with 16″ adjustment range, good stiffness, versatile blade shape, reasonably lightweight
Cons: Fairly expensive, not the lightest paddle

The Werner Zen 95 is our top recommendation for the best SUP paddle for most paddlers. It’s fairly lightweight at just over 24 ounces, has a stiff but not too stiff shaft and blade, includes our favorite LeverLock adjustment system, and has a versatile and forgiving blade shape.

The Zen’s LeverLock adjustment system provides fast and easy adjustability, excellent security when locked in place, and 16 inches of adjustability from 70 to 86 inches in total length. We also like that it allows infinite adjustment increments within that range. Some other designs — like the Aqua Bound models below — only allow length adjustments in 2-inch increments. With the LeverLock, simply open the lever, slide the handle to adjust the length, and close the lever to securely lock everything in place.

While other brands also employ the LeverLock adjustment system — like Kialoa on the Pipes II and Makai models – we also prefer the Zen’s versatile blade design. At 95 square inches in surface area with 10 degrees offset, the stiff fiberglass blade has a tall and narrow shape and a rectangular bottom edge to improve paddling efficiency, and a slight dihedral face to make paddle strokers smoother and less “fluttery.” Some other paddles have wider blades with a flatter blade face that help increase overall power, but the Zen’s design is more well-rounded for a wider range of paddlers and paddling conditions.

While perhaps a little on the pricey side with a list price of $300, the Zen 95 provides the best all-around blend of lightweight stiffness, the top-notch LeverLock adjustment system, and an optimum blade shape for most paddlers.

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The Werner Zen 95 SUP paddle in action on Lake Tahoe with mountains in the background.

The Werner Zen 95 is our favorite all-around SUP paddle, thanks to its forgiving blade shape, reasonably light weight, and awesome LeverLock adjustment mechanism. Photo: Nick Bruckbauer


Best Blend of Performance & Value

NRS Rush ($190)

Available Styles: 2-Piece, 3-Piece
Measured Weight: 21.0 oz. (2-Piece)
Shaft Material: Fiberglass
Blade Material: Fiberglass

Pros: Premium performance, excellent stiffness, very lightweight, superb value
Cons: Wide, flat blade shape may not be suited for all paddlers

With a weight and stiffness that rival paddles twice its price, the NRS Rush stands out for its outstanding blend of performance and value. At a measured 21.0 ounces, it’s the third-lightest paddle in our test, beaten only slightly by the Aqua Bound Malta models that both cost well over $100 more. The Rush has a solid, precise feeling in the hands, and its excellent blade and shaft stiffness provide impressive power transfer for performance-oriented paddlers.

With 97 square inches of surface area, a 7-degree offset, and a wide blade shape with a flat face, the Rush’s blade takes a little more effort to paddle than other smaller or narrower blades with dihedral designs. Think of it like gears on a bicycle. A lower gear is easier to pedal at a faster rate, but each pedal stroke doesn’t provide as much power as when you’re in a higher gear. The Rush’s blade design is like a higher gear on a bicycle. It’s a little less forgiving for newer paddlers or those who prefer a higher-cadence stroke, but it provides plenty of power for paddle surfing, river paddling, or casual paddles with a more powerful, lower-cadence stroke.

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Man paddle boarding on Lake Tahoe using the NRS Rush SUP Paddle

The NRS Rush is one of the lightest and stiffest SUP paddles that we tested, providing high-end performance for a fraction of the price of other high-end paddles. Photo: Shannon Bruckbauer


Best SUP Paddle on a Budget

Abahub 3-Piece Adjustable Paddle ($40)

Available Styles: 3-Piece
Measured Weight: 31.2 oz. (3-Piece)
Shaft Material: Aluminum
Blade Material: Nylon

Pros: Excellent price, stiff aluminum shaft, easy to adjust with secure adjustment mechanism
Cons: Heavy, lower-tier materials than other models

The Abahub 3-Piece Adjustable Paddle is our choice for the best SUP paddle on a budget. While a bit heavier than other models and with more basic materials and construction, it can be snagged for under $40, making it a great choice for new paddlers, families, or anyone who is rough on their gear. The aluminum shaft is plenty stiff and durable, the cam-lock adjustment system is simple to use and secure, and the whole thing can come apart in three pieces for easy travel.

At this price point, most SUP paddles will have the same general materials and construction with an aluminum shaft and a nylon blade. There are some small variations in shaft, handle, or blade design, but the overall performance will be pretty similar. We chose the Abahub as our favorite budget option because it’s an ounce or two lighter than other models in this price range, has a simple and clean design, and a super affordable price.

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The bright yellow/green Abuhub SUP paddle in front of Lake Tahoe

The Abahub 3-Piece Adjustable Paddle is a great option for beginners or budget-minded paddlers. Photo: Nick Bruckbauer


Best Ultralight SUP Paddle

Aqua Bound Malta Carbon ($360)

Available Styles: 1-Piece, 2-Piece
Measured Weight: 18.4 oz. (2-Piece)
Shaft Material: Carbon
Blade Material: Carbon

Pros: Lightest paddle that we tested, nice blade size and shape, fast and simple adjustment
Cons: Not as stiff as other carbon fiber models, adjustment is limited to 2-inch increments

With full carbon-fiber construction including the handle, blade, and shaft, the Aqua Bound Malta Carbon is the lightest SUP paddle that we tested. We personally weighed it at an impressive 18.4 ounces (for the 2-piece model). The 87-square inch blade has a 10-degree offset and slight dihedral design, allowing it to quickly and efficiently pass through the water. The smaller blade size and subtle flex make it ideal for a high-cadence paddling stroke, or for anyone who wants to paddle more efficiently with less overall effort.

We hold the Malta Carbon in very high regards, but it isn’t our top overall pick for a small reasons. First, the spring pin adjustment mechanism is lightweight and super easy to use, but only allows for adjustments in 2-inch increments, and the paddle only has a 10-inch adjustment range. (There are three paddle lengths available: 64 to 74 inches, 70 to 80 inches, and 76 to 86 inches.) This helps keep the weight down but makes the paddle a bit less versatile.

And while the spring pin mechanism is quite secure, it’s not quite as secure as the LeverLock system found on some other models. We could still feel a tiny jiggle between the two paddle pieces if we really tried moving or twisting them.

The spring pin system also leaves a few small holes in the main part of the paddle shaft (where the spring pin locks into). Depending on your hand placement, your lower hand could run over these holes, which could cause some minor discomfort or simply be a distraction. These holes can also catch the wind and make a whistling noise, which may be a pleasant addition or a distraction, depending on your point of view. These are admittedly nitpicky observations, but important considerations if you’re shopping for a performance-oriented paddle.

We also found that the shaft and blade are a little less stiff than other carbon fiber models like the Kialoa Pipes, and perhaps also less so than some fiberglass options like the Werner Zen and the NRS Rush.

Overall, the ultralight Aqua Bound Malta Carbon is a joy to paddle, though it has some small nuances that kept it from earning our top spot.

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Man paddle boarding on an alpine lake with the Aqua Bound Malta Carbon SUP paddle

The Aqua Bound Malta Carbon is the lightest SUP paddle that we tested. We measured it ourselves at 18.4 ounces. Photo: Nick Bruckbauer


Best High-Performance SUP Paddle

Kialoa Pipes II Adjustable ($425)

Available Styles: 1-Piece, 2-Piece
Measured Weight: 21.4 oz. (2-Piece)
Shaft Material: Carbon
Blade Material: Carbon

Pros: Super stiff shaft and blade, very lightweight, excellent LeverLock adjustment mechanism, nice aesthetics
Cons: Expensive, almost but not quite the lightest option

We were consistently and thoroughly impressed with the Kialoa Pipes II from our first to our last sight, feel, and paddle with it. With beautiful full carbon-fiber construction and a clean, simple logo, it’s obvious that it’s a high-performance paddling tool. It’s one of the lightest paddles we tested at a measured 21.4 ounces, is the stiffest paddle we tested, and includes our favorite LeverLock adjustment system that provides simple, secure length adjustment from 70 to 86 inches.

The Pipes has a smaller 83-square inch blade area with a 12-degree offset and a flat face shape. This is the smallest blade size that we tested, which allows for a more efficient, higher-cadence stroke. While this makes it a great option for paddle racing, the light weight, smaller blade size, and adjustable shaft also make it versatile for different paddlers and paddling conditions.

We love almost everything about the Kialoa Pipes, but it is the most expensive paddle we tested, with a price tag that matches its premium construction and performance. This would be a great choice for experienced paddlers who want a high-end paddle to use on different boards or in different paddling conditions, but for newer paddlers, families, or those who will be a little harder on their gear, other options may be better.

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Showcasing the beautiful carbon fiber blade of the Kialoa Pipes II SUP paddle in front of Lake Tahoe

With a carbon fiber blade and shaft and a LeverLock adjustment system, the Kialoa Pipes II is best for high-performance paddlers willing to spend a bit more for impressive quality. Photo: Nick Bruckbauer


Best of the Rest

Aqua Bound Malta Fiberglass ($295)

Available Styles: 1-Piece, 2-Piece
Measured Weight: 20.0 oz. (2-Piece)
Shaft Material: Carbon
Blade Material: Fiberglass

Pros: Very lightweight, quick and easy adjustment, versatile blade size and shape
Cons: Carbon fiber shaft is not as stiff as expected, can only adjust in 2-inch increments

The Aqua Bound Malta Fiberglass shares many features with the Malta Carbon above, but costs about $65 less and weighs about an ounce and a half more thanks to its fiberglass blade construction. Both paddles share a similar blade size and shape, carbon fiber shaft construction, and simple spring pin adjustment system, and both are among the lightest SUP paddles that we tested. 

Both Malta paddles also share a few features that kept them from earning a higher overall ranking. The spring pin adjustment system — while super quick and easy to use — only provides 10 inches of total length adjustment in 2-inch increments, and doesn’t feel quite as locked-in as other adjustment systems like the LeverLock. We also thought the carbon fiber shaft was a little less stiff than we would have expected for such a high-end design.

Still, if you’re looking for a featherweight paddle that is enjoyable to use, either Malta model would be a great choice. Go for the Carbon version if you want the lighter wieght (1.6 ounces less), and go for the Fiberglass version if you want similar performance with an extra $65 in your pocket. 

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man paddle boarding on Lake Tahoe with the Aqua Bound Malta Fiberglass SUP paddle

The Aqua Bound Malta Fiberglass impressed us with its lightweight design and easy adjustment. Photo: Shannon Bruckbauer


Aqua Bound Freedom 85 ($170)

Available Styles: 2-Piece, 4-Piece
Measured Weight: 24.5 oz. (2-Piece)
Shaft Material: Carbon
Blade Material: EpX Engineered Polymer

Pros: Lightweight, carbon fiber shaft, easy adjustment system, forgiving blade shape, reasonable price
Cons: Blade is more flexible than we’d like, limited versatility with adjustment system

The Aqua Bound Freedom 85 is a great mid-tier paddle that benefits from a lot of the same design features of the higher-end Aqua Bound Malta paddles. It has a carbon fiber shaft, simple spring pin adjustment system, and a fiberglass reinforced polymer blade. The entire package comes in a 24.5 ounces, which is especially impressive considering its sub-$200 price tag.

The Freedom has a mid-sized 85-square-inch blade with a pretty pronounced dihedral shape (“v” shape), making it forgiving and less fluttery through the water. While the blade material is a little more flexible than we would like for performance-oriented paddling, all of these features make the Freedom ideal for newer paddler. This would be a great, cost-effective upgrade to many of the low-end aluminum paddles that come with most inflatable SUP kits.

The Freedom is available in three different lengths, which are adjustable from 64 to 74 inches, 70 to 80 inches, or 76 to 86 inches. The spring pin adjustment mechanism allows adjustments in 2-inch intervals. This 10-inch adjustment range is less than 16- to 18-inch range we see on most other paddles, so keep that in mind of you’re looking for a single paddle to share with both larger and smaller paddlers.

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a man paddle boards on an alpine lake with the Aqua Bound Freedom SUP paddle

With a reasonably light weigh and a forgiving blade design, the Aqua Bound Freedom is a nice blend of performance and value. Photo: Nick Bruckbauer


Red Paddle Co. Prime ($329)stock image of the red paddle co prime carbon sup paddle

Available Styles: 3-Piece
Measured Weight: 26.0 oz. (3-Piece)
Shaft Material: Carbon
Blade Material: Composite

Pros: Lightweight, stiff material, convenient 3-piece design, nice matte aesthetics
Cons: Expensive

The Red Paddle Co. Prime SUP Paddle is a beautiful, stiff, high-end performance paddle. The stiff carbon fiber shaft and blade has a wonderful balanced feel to it, and inspires confidence to make precise, powerful strokes. The matte design gives it a stealth-like appearance and adds to the confidence in this paddles/ performance.

While not the lightest paddle we tested, the 26.0-ounce weight is reasonable for a 3-piece design that can easily be broken down into smaller pieces for travel and transport. This is also one of the stiffest paddles we tested.

The only downside to the Prime is that it’s a bit on the pricey end with a list price of over $300. It has comparable specs and performance as other paddles in this price range, and the 3-piece designs adds to the convenience.

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a closeup shot of the red paddle co prime carbon sup paddle in action on lake tahoe

The Red Paddle Co. Prime is one of the stiffest paddles we tested and has some of the nicest aesthetics. Photo: Nick Bruckbauer


Werner Vibe 2-Piece ($178)

Available Styles: 1-Piece, 2-Piece, 3-Piece
Measured Weight: 30.7 oz. (2-Piece)
Shaft Material: Fiberglass
Blade Material: Fiberglass Reinforced Nylon

Pros: Versatile blade size and shape, top-notch LeverLock adjustment system, good stiffness and performance for a decent price
Cons: Noticeably heavier than other mid-tier options

The Werner Vibe combines several features from Werner’s higher-end paddles in a more affordable package thanks to the use of slightly heavier and less premium materials. The Vibe shares the same LeverLock adjustment system as the top-ranked Zen 95, but has a fiberglass shaft and fiberglass/nylon blade compared to the Zen’s lighter-weight carbon/fiberglass shaft and fiberglass blade. Both paddles have a long, narrow blade shape with a flat bottom edge and a slight dihedral profile. This blade design is versatile and forgiving for different paddlers and paddling conditions.

The only notable downside of the Vibe is that it’s a bit heavier than some other mid-tier SUP paddles in its price range (9.7 ounces heavier than the NRS Rush and 6.2 ounces heavier than the Aqua Bound Freedom). However, neither of these paddles has the LeverLock adjustment system that the Vibe has, which is our favorite overall adjustment system. The Vibe also has a very solid and durable feel, that, while a bit heavier, still makes it a fine option.

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Kialoa Makai Fiberglass ($178)

Available Styles: 2-Piece, 3-Piece
Measured Weight: 32.2 oz. (2-Piece)
Shaft Material: Fiberglass
Blade Material: Nylon Reinforced Fiberglass

Pros: Includes LeverLock adjustment system, nice dihedral blade shape, decent price
Cons: Fairly heavy

The Kialoa Makai is another solid mid-tier SUP paddle. The standout feature is the LeverLock adjustment system that we see on other higher-end Kialoa and Werner paddles. The LeverLock system allows infinite adjustments within a 16-inch adjustment range (from 70 to 86 inches in total length) and is the most secure adjustment system that we’ve tested. The Makai also has a traditional blade size and shape with a dihedral ridge through it that makes paddling a little more smooth and efficient.

The only notable downside of the Makai, like the Werner Vibe above, is that it’s a bit heavier than other mid-tier paddles. Part of this is due to the LeverLock adjustment system, which seems to add about 2 to 3 ounces to even the highest-end paddles, and the other part is the use of heavier-duty materials. Kialoa calls this their toughtest SUP paddle, which may make it a great choice for families who may be rough on their gear.

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BPS Alloy 2-Piece ($70)

Available Styles: 2-Piece
Measured Weight: 32.6 oz. (2-Piece)
Shaft Material: Aluminum
Blade Material: Plastic

Pros: Good blend of glide and stability, lightweight, nice carry bag, reasonable price tag.
Cons: Simple, lightweight design lacks some features, accessories are pretty basic.

The BPS Alloy 2-Piece is an affordable SUP paddle for new paddlers looking to test the waters without breaking the bank. The sturdy aluminum shaft has an 18-inch adjustment range (from 65 inches to 83 inches in total length), which is the largest adjustment range of any paddle we tested, making it a great option for families with adults and children who will be sharing the paddle. It has a moderately large nylon blade and a fairly easy-to-use collar-clamp adjustment system.

While the BPS Alloy is affordably priced and has versatile sizing, it is the heaviest paddle that we tested and doesn’t really have any features that make it stand out among other budget options. The Abahub 3-Piece paddle (our pick for the best budget paddle) has a similar aluminum blade, collar clamp style adjustment system, and a 16 inch adjustment range, but costs nearly half as much.  The BPS Alloy is certainly a capable and affordable paddle, but unless you need the extra 2 inches of adjustment range, we would recommend saving a few bucks and going with the Abahub paddle.

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Best SUP Paddles Comparison Table

Model List Price Measured Weight Shaft/Blade Material Adjustment Range
Werner Zen 95 $300 24.3 oz. Carbon-Fiberglass blend/Fiberglass 70″ to 86″
NRS Rush $190 21.0 oz. Fiberglass/Fiberglass 68″ to 86″
Abahub 3-Piece Adjustable $40 31.2 oz. Aluminum/Nylon 68″ to 84″
Aqua Bound Malta Carbon $360 18.4 oz. Carbon/Carbon 64″ to 74″
70″ to 80″
76″ to 86″
Kialoa Pipes II Adjustable $425 21.4 oz. Carbon/Carbon 70″ to 86″
Aqua Bound Malta Fiberglass $295 20.0 oz. Carbon/Fiberglass 64″ to 74″
70″ to 80″
76″ to 86″
Aqua Bound Freedom 85 $170 24.5 oz. Carbon/Fiberglassed Polymer 64″ to 74″
70″ to 80″
76″ to 86″
Red Paddle Co. Prime $329 26.0 oz. Carbon/Composite 67″ to 86″
Werner Vibe 2-Piece $178 30.7 oz. Fiberglass/Fiberglassed Nylon 68″ to 84″
Kialoa Makai Fiberglass $178 32.2 oz. Fiberglass/Fiberglassed Nylon 70″ to 86″
BPS Alloy 2-Piece $70 32.6 oz. Aluminum/Nylon 65″ to 83″

In all, we tested 15 different models before settling on the 11 best SUP paddles to include in the Buyer’s Guide. Photo: Nick Bruckbauer

Best SUP Paddles Ratings Chart

Model Overall Score Paddling Performance Weight Ease of Adjustment & Locking Security
Werner Zen 95 8.7 9 8 9
NRS Rush 8.7 9 9 8
Abahub 3-Piece Adjustable 5.7 5 5 7
Aqua Bound Malta Carbon 8.7 9 10 7
Kialoa Pipes II Adjustable 9.0 9 9 9
Aqua Bound Malta Fiberglass 8.0 8 9 7
Aqua Bound Freedom 85 7.3 7 8 7
Red Paddle Co. Prime
7.0 7 7 7
Werner Vibe 2-Piece 6.7 6 5 9
Kialoa Makai Fiberglass 6.3 6 4 9
BPS Alloy 2-Piece 5.3 5 4 7

How We Tested The Best SUP Paddles

After researching nearly 30 of the best SUP paddles on the market, we tested 15 different models before settling on the 10 best options to include in this Buyer’s Guide. Our team of both experts and novices took to the water on Lake Tahoe and some of its surrounding alpine lakes. We put each paddle to the test in all kinds of conditions from calm, glassy water to windy, wavy, choppy days with plenty of boat traffic to bounce us around. We tested the paddles on a variety of board types, including both hard boards and inflatable models, and both all-around recreational boards and longer, narrower touring models. We used each paddle in a comprehensive range of paddling conditions to identify their strengths and weaknesses, and to help you find the right paddle for your experience level, paddling style, and budget.

Year-round Lake Tahoe resident Nick Bruckbauer leads our SUP paddle testing team. Nick has been stand-up paddling for over a decade since a trip to Hawaii in 2011, and has owned several different types of SUP boards and paddles since then. In addition to his current home water of Lake Tahoe, he has paddled primarily on the Pacific Ocean while living in Santa Barbara, CA for 10 years, but has also paddled a variety of lakes and rivers from the midwest to the west coast. Nick was joined in his testing by friends and family members with much less paddling experience to get their feedback, as well as other team members from The Inertia.

Beautiful woman paddle boarding on Lake Tahoe with the Aqua Bound Freedom SUP paddle

We put each of these paddles to the test in a variety of wind, weather, and water conditions. We also gathered feedback from friends and family with different experience levels to help you determine the best paddle for your needs. Photo: Nick Bruckbauer

In addition to having owned and tested all kinds of SUP paddles from high-end featherweight carbon fiber models to heavier aluminum designs, Nick has also tested nearly 30 of the best inflatable paddles boards on the market over the last five years, as well as the best life jackets for paddle boarding. Nick went from a self-taught beginner to a confident paddling veteran, and knows how to advise anyone from a true beginner to a true expert on the finer details of the best SUP paddles.

How to Choose the Best SUP Paddle

Paddle Length

There are lots of tips, tricks, and formulas out there for choosing the best SUP paddle length, but in general, it ultimately comes down to personal preference and what feels most comfortable for you.

If you’re a beginner or intermediate paddler and you don’t have any idea what paddle length is right for you, we recommend starting with a 2-piece or 3-piece adjustable length paddle. This will allow you a little wiggle room to experiment with different paddle lengths and find what feels best for you based on the size and type of board you ride, your body type, and your typical paddling conditions.

It is usually recommended to use a paddle length that is approximately 6 to 10 inches above your height. This is a good starting point for general all-around paddling, and you can adjust from there as needed depending on the type of paddling you do as well as the thickness and construction of your SUP board. An easy way to check this if you don’t know your exact height, or if the paddle doesn’t have length markings, is to stand next to the paddle and reach up in the air. You should be able to grasp the top handle with the palm of your hand.

A man standing on a paddle board on an alpine lake with trees in the background

As a general rule of thumb, an ideal paddle length is approximately 6 to 10 inches above your height. Another way to check is to stand next to the paddle and reach up in the air, and make sure you can comfortable grasp the top handle. Photo: Nick Bruckbauer

For paddle surfing, your paddle may only be 2 to 4 inches above your height, since you’ll probably be in a lower, more crouched stance, and a shorter paddle will be easier to control for quicker, tighter maneuvers. For paddle racing, your paddle may be more like 8-12 inches above your head to give you more reach and leverage for optimum efficiency and power.

You may also want a slightly longer paddle with an inflatable board, since they are typically 6 inches thick or more, putting you ever so slightly higher above the water compared to traditional hard boards that are usually more like 4 to 5 inches thick.

Lead tester Nick Bruckbauer is 5 feet, 11 inches tall (71 inches), and typically uses an 80-inch paddle length (9 inches above his height) for general all-around paddling and touring on Lake Tahoe.

1-Piece, 2-Piece, or 3-Piece Construction

Once you have a reasonable idea of your preferred paddle length, the next step is to decide if you want a 1-piece, 2-piece, or 3-piece paddle. There are a few 4-piece or 5-piece paddles on the market, but they are more rare.

Most of the products we tested in this Buyer’s Guide are 2-piece adjustable paddles. This is the best blend of performance and versatility, with only a small weight penalty compared to 1-piece models, but typically with 10 to 16 inches of length adjustability. This makes them a great choice for groups or families who will be sharing one paddle, or for paddlers who typically paddle in different conditions or with different styles of boards.

man paddle boarding on lake tahoe

Most of the paddles we tested — like the Aqua Bound Malta Carbon shown here with its spring pin adjustment system — are 2-piece designs. Photo: Nick Bruckbauer

3-piece paddles will offer the same length adjustability as 2-piece models, but with the added bonus of breaking down into shorter pieces that makes them easier to stow away for travel. Most inflatable paddle board kits include 3-piece models that fit comfortably within the included carrying bag.The only notable downsides to 3-piece models are that the extra connection points add a small amount of weight, and depending on the location and design of the connection points, could potentially reduce shaft stiffness or place bulky connection hardware where you grasp the paddle shaft with your lower hand. Overall, 3-piece paddles are also a great option that perform similarly to 2-piece versions.

We would typically only recommend 1-piece SUP paddles for performance-oriented paddlers who mostly use the same type of board in the same type of conditions, and who have enough experience to definitively know their preferred paddle length. Competitive paddle surfers or SUP racers will likely use 1-piece paddles because they will be the lightest, strongest, and stiffest designs since there are no extra connection points or adjustment mechanisms.

While many 1-piece designs are sold at a specific length, many others are sold “uncut,” allowing you to cut the shaft to your exact preferred length before connecting the top handle.

Adjustment Mechanism

Since all of the best SUP paddles in our test lineup are adjustable 2- or 3-piece models, we paid close attention to the adjustment mechanisms. The design of these systems plays a big role in the ease and quickness of adjusting the paddle length as well as the security of how well the different shaft pieces are locked together.

Our favorite overall adjustment mechanism is the LeverLock system that is found on all of the Werner and Kialoa paddles that we tested. This system is both quick and easy to use and is the most secure mechanism that we tested. It also offers “infinite” length adjustability (within a 16-inch range) where you can set the paddle to any exact length without being limited to certain spaced out increments. The LeverLock system on the Werner Zen 95 is one of the reasons we gave it our top ranking over some other comparable paddles that weigh less but use different adjustment systems.

To open or “unlock” the system, you flip up a tensioned lever that is built into the paddle’s handle. This releases the tension of a small cable that is built into the shaft, and allows you to freely slide the upper piece of the shaft back and forth. From there, you simply slide the upper piece up or down to your desired length, and flip the lever down to lock everything in place.

showing the LeverLock adjustment system of the Werner Zen 95 SUP paddle

To open or “unlock: the LeverLock system, you simply flip open the lever that is built into the top handle. Photo: Nick Bruckbauer

The upper shaft piece has convenient markings that show the paddle length measurements and to help you properly align the top handle with the paddle blade. Once we closed the lever, we didn’t feel any wiggle or play between the two shaft pieces, even when pushing, pulling, or twisting them.

showing the LeverLock adjustment system of the Werner Zen 95 SUP paddle

Showing the LeverLock system with the closed lever built into the top handle. The shaft of the Werner Zen 95 also has convenient length markings. Photo: Nick Bruckbauer

The most common type of adjustment system we see is known as a camlock, or collar clamp, or lever clip. This is the same type of lever that is typically found on adjustable ski or trekking poles. At the connection point between the two shaft pieces, a collar clamps around the shaft and can be loosened or tightened by opening or closing a lever.

These systems are pretty simple to use and are usually pretty reliable. We sometimes see some slipping or wiggling between the two shaft pieces that are connected with this system, but you can usually tighten the screw that holds the system in place to increase the overall tightness of the clamp.

The last system that we tested is the spring pin system found on the Aqua Bound Paddles. This is probably the lightest and most simple system to use, but has some limitations with adjustments set at 2-inch increments, and only a 10-inch total length adjustment. (The Aqua Bound 2-piece paddles are available in three lengths: 64 to 74 inches, 70 to 80 inches, and 76 to 86 inches.)

The spring pin system is super easy to use. You simply push the spring-loaded button, slide the upper shaft piece up or down, and align the spring-loaded button with one of the preset holes in the lower shaft piece. This provides very precise length adjustments and ensures that the upper and lower shaft pieces are properly aligned. While this system helps make the Aqua Bound paddles among the lightest that we tested (including the Malta Carbon that weighs in at an amazing 18.4 ounces), it didn’t feel perfectly secure. If we tried to twist or pull at the two shaft pieces, we could feel a slight wiggle between them.

man paddle boarding

The spring pin adjustment system on the Aqua Bound paddles is very lightweight and easy to use, but leaves some small open holes in the main shaft piece, which can be distracting, depending on your hand placement. Photo: Nick Bruckbauer

Shaft Material

SUP paddle shafts come in one of three main materials: aluminum, fiberglass, or carbon fiber. Each material has advantages and disadvantages, and impacts the weight, stiffness, and feel of the paddle, as well as its price.

Aluminum

Paddles with aluminum shafts are typically the least expensive. Aluminum is usually fairly stiff but is by far the heaviest of the three main shaft materials. It is also a good conductor of heat (and cold), and therefor can make the paddle feel uncomfortably cold to the touch in cooler air or water. Overall, paddles with aluminum shafts are an affordable and durable option, good for beginners who don’t want to spend a ton of money right away, or for families, summer camps, or rental shops where durability and economy are more important than lightweight performance. Our best budget pick, the Abahub 3-piece Adjustable Paddle, has an aluminum shaft.

Fiberglass

Fiberglass is one of the most common shaft materials for SUP paddles. Many of the best inflatable paddle board packages come with fairly decent paddles with fiberglass shafts and blades. Other inflatable boards come with heavier aluminum paddles, making a fiberglass model a solid and usually reasonably-priced upgrade.

Paddles with fiberglass shafts typically have the best blend of performance, weight, and cost-effectiveness. Upgrading to carbon fiber can certainly increase stiffness and decrease weight for performance-oriented paddlers, but usually at a pretty steep cost. One of our favorite overall paddles, the NRS Rush, has an incredibly light and stiff fiberglass construction, weighs only 21.0 ounces (the third lightest that we tested), and costs less than half as much as most carbon fiber models.

man paddle boarding on lake tahoe with the NRS Rush SUP paddle

The NRS Rush has a fiberglass shaft and blade, but is one of the lightest and stiffest paddles that we tested. Photo: Shannon Bruckbauer

SUP paddles with fiberglass shafts are usually pretty light and stiff, but keep in mind that there are different material grades and construction methods with fiberglass, so overall quality and stiffness can vary between different manufacturers or products.

Carbon Fiber

Carbon fiber is the highest-end shaft material; it is almost always the lightest and stiffest, as well as the most expensive. It also often has a recognizable and expensive (and in our opinion, great-looking) aesthetic with its woven material pattern. Similar to fiberglass, there are different material grades and construction methods with carbon fiber, so a carbon fiber shaft doesn’t always guarantee the best all-around performance.

Most SUP paddle manufacturers don’t measure or rate the stiffness of their paddle shafts, so there really isn’t a precise way to directly compare the stiffness of different paddles or different materials (besides testing them head-to-head like we did!). Other factors like shaft diameter and material/wall thickness can also impact feel and performance, and these usually aren’t standardized or well-documented either.

For example, the Aqua Bound Malta Carbon boasts full carbon fiber construction in its shaft and blade, yet feels like it has a much softer flex than the NRS Rush with its fiberglass shaft and the Werner Zen with its fiberglass/carbon hybrid shaft. While carbon fiber construction doesn’t necessarily provide the stiffest shaft flex, it does often indicate the lightest materials, and the Malta Carbon is the lightest paddle in our test at an impressive 18.4 ounces.

Blade Material

Similar to SUP paddle shafts, the blades typically come in one of three main materials that impacts the price, performance, and durability of the paddle: nylon (or plastic), fiberglass, or carbon fiber.

Nylon/Plastic

Nylon or plastic blades are typically found on most entry to mid-level paddles. This material is less expensive to produce, and nylon blades are usually more flexible than fiberglass or carbon fiber, which makes them a little more forgiving for beginner paddlers, but can impact performance for more experienced paddlers. Nylon blades are usually a bit thicker and heavier than other materials, which can also impact performance, but can also make them more durable. Some high-performing mid-tier paddles like the Werner Vibe and the Kialoa Makai have nylon blades that are reinforced with fiberglass.

Fiberglass

Fiberglass paddle blades offer a step up in performance (and usually cost) over nylon blades, because they are usually thinner, lighter, and stiffer. Similar to fiberglass shafts, there are different material grades and construction methods with fiberglass blades, so not every fiberglass blade will perform exactly the same. In general, fiberglass offers a nice blend of weight savings, stiffness, and all-around performance without the higher costs of carbon fiber.

Two of our favorite paddles — the Werner Zen 95 and the NRS Rush — have stiff and lightweight fiberglass blades. Both models provide excellent performance at a reasonable weight and price tag.

showing an up close shot of the Werner Zen SUP paddle near Lake Tahoe

The Werner Zen 95 has a beautiful fiberglass blade that is both lightweight and stiff and rivals the performance of carbon fiber. Photo: Nick Bruckbauer

Carbon Fiber

Carbon fiber is the highest-end blade material, and carbon fiber blades are usually only found on the most expensive performance-oriented paddles that prioritize weight savings and maximum stiffness. Carbon fiber blades are typically very thin, lightweight, and stiff, providing the most efficient power transfer from the paddler to the paddle to the water, but this also makes them a little less forgiving for beginner paddlers, and a little more fragile than other heavier-duty materials.

Like any other materials, there are different material grades and construction methods with carbon fiber, so two paddles with carbon fiber construction may not perform exactly the same. We’ve paddled a dozen or so carbon fiber bladed paddles over the years, and included two versions in this test — the Aqua Bound Malta Carbon and the Kialoa Pipes II. We noted that the Malta Carbon’s carbon fiber blade is very thin and on the more flexible end, while the carbon fiber blade of the Pipes II is very stiff and rigid with no flex. Keep in mind that the most rigid paddle blade isn’t always necessarily the best. It will provide the most power and efficiency, but will also be less forgiving on the body, since it requires more effort to power through the water.

showcasing an up close shot of the kialoa pipes II adjustable SUP paddle in front of beautiful Lake Tahoe

The Kialoa Pipes II has the stiffest paddle blade that we tested with its breathtaking carbon fiber weave. It is also among the smallest blades that we tested, making it fast and efficient for high-cadence paddling and racing. Photo: Nick Bruckbauer

Blade Size and Shape

Not all SUP paddle blades are created equally. Besides the material differences that we described above, blades come in many different shapes and sizes that can impact paddling comfort and performance.

Size

Subtle differences in blade size (the surface area of the blade) can can have a big impact on your paddling experience. Think of the blade size like the gears on a bike. A smaller blade size (generally around 85 square inches or less in surface area) is like a lower gear on your bike. It will be comparatively easier to paddle, but won’t provide as much power or energy transfer. Smaller blades can be more energy efficient for long-distance paddling, can provide quicker acceleration, and generally allow for a faster, higher-cadence paddling rhythm.

A larger blade size (generally around 95 square inches or more in surface area) is like a higher gear on your bike. It will be comparatively harder to paddle, but will provide much more power and control. Larger blades are best for larger or stronger paddlers, and for high power output paddling styles like paddle surfing or river paddling where quick, powerful maneuvers might be needed. Larger blades can also suit paddlers who prefer a slower, lower-cadence paddling rhythm.

The sweet spot that is ideal for most people and provides the most versatility for variable paddling conditions is a medium blade size (generally between 85 and 95 square inches in surface area). The vast majority of the paddles we tested fall in or very close to this range. Medium size paddle blades provide a great blend of power and efficiency, and are suitable for a wider range of paddlers, paddling styles, and paddling conditions. This is what we’d recommend for most people.

Blade Size Surface Area Advantages Disadvantages
Small Less than 85 sq. in. Easier to paddle, quicker acceleration, higher-cadence rhythm Less power and energy transfer
Medium 85 to 95 sq. in. Best blend of versatility, power transfer, and efficiency Might not perform as well in certain situations as a dedicated larger or smaller blade
Large More than 95 sq. in. More power and energy transfer, better leverage, lower cadence rhythm Harder to paddle, less forgiving

Shape

Not only do paddle blades come in different sizes, but two paddles with the same surface areas may have different shapes that can impact their performance.

Some paddle blades are taller and narrower and usually have a more rectangular bottom edge. Regardless of the overall blade size, these paddles typically perform more like a smaller-bladed paddle, meaning they are easier to paddle and more efficient.

Other paddle blades have a more traditional teardrop shape that is shorter and wider with a more rounded bottom edge. These paddles typically perform more like a larger-bladed paddle since more of the blade is in the water more quickly, meaning they may be a little more difficult to paddle, but will be more powerful.

The power face of the paddle blade (meaning the side of the blade that pushes against the water as you’re paddling) can also have different shapes or profiles. Some blade faces are completely flat, while some a slight arc or scoop, while other have a dihedral ridge in the middle that makes the blade into a subtle v-shape.

showing a close up shot of the werner zen 95 and the Kialoa Pipes II adjustable SUP Paddles

Showing the “power faces” of the Kialoa Pipes II (left) and the Werner Zen 95 (right). The Pipes II has a mostly flat face, while the Zen has a more pronounced dihedral ridge through the middle of the face. Photo: Nick Bruckbauer

A completely flat blade face will be the most powerful, but can be more difficult to paddle since it takes more effort to pull the paddle through the water without the blade twisting or fluttering. Flat blade faces are typically found on larger blade sizes that are intended for more powerful paddling like surfing, racing, or river paddling.

An arc or scoop in the blade can help increase power and leverage through the water without requiring as much effort.

A dihedral blade face is often the most efficient. The subtle v-shape helps the blade cut through the water with less effort, and can help increase efficiency and reduce twisting or fluttering. Most of the paddles we tested have some kind of dihedral design.

Offset

The offset of a blade is the amount that the paddle blade angles away from the paddle shaft. You’ll notice that almost every SUP paddle has some sort of offset. This subtle angle helps the blade stay in a vertical position during the most powerful phase of the paddle stroke, which helps optimize efficiency and power.

Most SUP paddle have around 10 degrees of offset between the blade and the shaft. This is a pretty standard design for all-around paddling, and we wouldn’t recommend scrutinizing offset too closely unless you’re looking for specific performance features. Some designs have a little less offset (which can increase leverage for quick and powerful maneuvers during surfing or river paddling) and some have more offset (which can improve efficiency for long-distance racing).

a close up view of a man paddle boarding on an alpine lake to demonstrate the SUP paddle offset

Highlighting the 10-degree offset angle between the shaft and the blade on the Aqua Bound Malta Carbon. Photo: Nick Bruckbauer

Weight

Paddle weight obviously plays an important factor in paddling performance and the overall comfort and enjoyment of your experience, but we wouldn’t recommend worrying too much about weight as the absolute most important factor. We’ve found that other factors like blade size and shape and the adjustment mechanism for 2- or 3-piece paddles have as much if not more bearing on the overall paddling experience as weight does.

Our top overall pick, the Werner Zen 95, is only the fifth-lightest paddle in our test group, but we favored it because of its awesome LeverLock adjustment system and its versatile and forgiving blade shape. Most paddles in the 20 to 25 ounce weight range will feel pretty similar in the hands. Paddles that weight 20 ounces or less will feel noticeably lighter, and paddles that weigh in the upper 20- to low-30 ounce range will start to feel a bit heavier.

The lightest paddle in our test lineup is the Aqua Bound Malta Carbon at 18.4 ounces.

Price and Value

Like in most outdoor gear categories, there is usually a pretty consistent relationship between price and performance with SUP Paddles. As you add stiffer and lighter materials or more complex adjustment mechanisms, the price will keep going up.

In general, the most affordable paddles will have aluminum shafts and nylon or plastic blades. These will be the heaviest options, but will usually be fairly durable and a reasonable choice for beginner paddlers or those that are tough on their gear. We’d recommend the Abahub 3-Piece Adjustable Paddle as the best and most reasonably-priced budget paddle.

The most expensive paddles will have carbon fiber shafts and blades and the most complex and efficient adjustment systems. They will almost always be the lightest, the stiffest, and the nicest looking. The Kialoa Pipes II is our favorite high-performance carbon fiber paddle, but it has a pretty steep price tag to match its high-end quality and performance.

Paddles with fiberglass shafts and blades will typically provide the best blend of performance and value. Fiberglass paddles can be surprisingly lightweight and stiff, and can offer similar performance as carbon fiber paddles with only a small weight penalty, but often a notable price savings. We’d highly recommend the NRS Rush as a great blend of price and performance. It’s one of the lightest and stiffest paddles we tested, but costs nearly half the price of full carbon fiber paddles.

Return to Top Picks | Return to Comparison Table

Editor’s Note: For more gear reviews and features on The Inertia, click here.

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