Stand up boarding doesn't work so well without a paddle. We're here to help you find yours. After examining over 100 SUP paddles, we purchased the most promising and tested them back-to-back on our favorite boards. Options abound, and it's difficult to determine which one is right for you. How packable and adjustable do you need your paddle to be? Do you prefer expensive, featherweight carbon or more affordable and durable fiberglass? We tested all of these options on glassy Tahoe mornings, blustery alpine lakes, and swiftly moving streams and rivers. We carefully evaluated how efficiently and pleasantly each blade caught, pulled through, and exited the water. We also noted how comfortable they were in our hands and how easy it is to adjust their height between users. The results are in, read on to find the best trusty sidekick for all your SUPing needs.
The Best Adjustable SUP Paddles
This spring and summer, we paddled with all of our might, putting the top adjustable SUP paddles through a series of grueling tests, and adding in three new paddles. What did we find? An excellent selection of paddles to suit a range of SUPing needs. The Werner Vibe and KIALOA Makai wowed us with their all-around skills and the NRS Rush is an option for more experienced paddlers who appreciate power.
Best Overall Adjustable SUP Paddle
Werner Trance 95 Performance
Throughout our tests, one paddle consistently stood head and shoulders above the others. The Werner Trance 95 Performance ran away with the high score in our testing metrics, and it also ran away with our hearts. This paddle is designed carefully, and the details are all well-crafted with ease-of-use in mind. The lightest paddle in our test, with a carbon fiber shaft and blade, this model slices through the water. Plus, the highest scoring adjustment system is easy to use and doesn't get in the way of paddling.
The only downside to this model is its price. At $349, this model is the most expensive in our review fleet. But this is a classic case of you get what you pay for. We'd still steer most folks towards our Best Buy winner, the Werner Vibe. You lose a little paddle performance, but you gain almost $200.
Read full review: Werner Trance 95 Performance
Best Buy for Performance
Designed for middle-of-the-road paddlers who are looking for good performance and sturdy craftsmanship, the Vibe features a rectangular blade with a scooped profile and dihedral ridge. We found that this shape allowed for a gentler catch than other models while at the same time providing stable forward pull. Also, the Vibe features our favorite of the many locking mechanisms on the market. As a result, the Vibe is one of the highest performing paddles, with an easy-to-use adjustment system, average weight, and one of the best price points in the review.
The Trance has higher quality materials than the Vibe and is far lighter. For that reason, we recommend the Trance if what you want is top level performance. Still, the Vibe offers excellent performance for the best value, and we feel it's probably the right choice for most people.
Read full review: Werner Vibe
Best Basic Buy
Bullet Proof Surf Alloy
The Best Buy award-winning Bullet Proof Surf Adjustable Alloy is a rugged product with a tough nylon blade aluminum shaft. A snap clip collar clamp adjustment/locking mechanism, also known as the TwinPin system, and solid scores across our scoring metrics earned this model a special place in our testers' hearts. All of this comes at an extremely affordable price, making the Alloy the most budget-friendly SUP paddle we tested.
It's a hefty paddle, and as such, isn't the best choice if you're paddling for longer distances. Although heavier than the lightest models in our test, this product is built to withstand more wear than paddles built entirely from carbon. If you want a functional, highly affordable paddle that will last, this is a great choice.
Read full review: Bullet Proof Surf Alloy
Analysis and Test Results
Throughout the test, a variety of users paddled with us, from first-time SUPers to experienced users to river rats with a ton of boating experience but who were new to the SUP world. We formed a well-rounded view of each product as a result.
We compared the paddles using the following metrics: Performance accounted for 30 percent of a product's score. Ease of adjustment accounted for 20 percent of a product's score as did locking mechanism, and weight. Compactability accounted for 10 percent of the product's overall score. These scores combine to form the product's overall performance score. It is important to take the overall performance score with a grain of salt if you are looking for a specific kind of paddle and you have specific needs. A product may have performed very well in one metric but poorly in others, giving it a lower combined score, but if it's a high-performer in the area of interest for you, it could be a great choice for you.
Now that we've shown you how the paddles scored in performance, we'll put that in context of cost. To get the best bang for your buck, look for the highest scores within your price range. In this case, the overall range happens to be anywhere from $60 to $360 - a factor of 6! At $165 and the second highest score, the Werner Vibe kills the value competition, But we don't want to belittle the respectable Bullet Proof Surf ($80) option. It'll get you where you want to go for less than half the cost of most models. Both these options earned our Best Buy award for value.
For some beginning users, this metric might not be as important as locking mechanism or ease of adjustment, especially if you're planning on sharing your paddle between multiple users and versatility is more important.
Keep in mind that this was the most heavily weighted metric, at 30 percent of a model's overall score. If you are a serious user who wants high performance from their paddle, high scoring paddles are the ones for you.
This metric was judged on the following four key points: paddle catch (the initial slice into the water), paddle power (the pull of the blade in the water), paddle exit (the way it feathers out), and paddle recovery. (We also had a few additional considerations that we discuss below.)
The catch of the paddle is largely based on the blade's design. In this review, we tested paddles that had rectangular or teardrop shapes with flat, scooped and dihedral profiles. Some of our highest performing models combined these shapes. These design choices affect each paddle's ability to pull in the water. For example, the Werner Vibe featured a rectangular shape that was slightly curved at the bottom and a scooped profile that is split by a dihedral ridge. The ridge directs the water to flow evenly across both sides of the paddle, reducing flutter.
While our testers' favorite pulling paddles generally were dihedral models, we found that if the angle of the dihedral is too aggressive, the paddle will lose power. The product's power is also affected by the offset of the blade. If you're planning on racing your SUP, a paddle offset of at least 12 degrees is recommended. For the rest of us, an offset angle of around 10 degrees is sufficient. If they have less of an offset, they are more suited to surfing, which requires quick, powerful strokes.
The paddle's shaft is also important. Paddles that are lightweight and feature shafts constructed from either carbon or fiberglass often have a bit of flex in their shaft, which often equates to higher performance.
Paddle exit can be hard to notice for beginners, but it is a metric affected by both the blade design and the degree of blade offset. Finally, paddle recovery is primarily assessed by the weight of the paddle itself, as well as the handle. With lighter paddles and low profile handles, the recovery of the model tends to be higher.
While it's good to keep these metrics in mind, performance can vary widely based on what type of paddling you plan on doing. Rectangular paddles offer more efficient paddling for longer days on the water, while teardrop shapes, particularly those with less offset, can demand a lot of power to move. The former work well for recreation, the later are great for surfing. Additionally, it is important to note that higher-performing paddles are generally more expensive because their materials are premium. If you aren't looking to break the bank, a high-performance paddle might not be the right choice for you, as these models often run one or even two hundred dollars more than lower-performance models.
In our test, there was often also a direct correlation between paddles that weighed less and performed better (except for the high-performing Vibe, which was a bit heavier than our other top performance scorers). The highest scorers in performance were the Werner Trance, Werner Vibe and the KIALOA Makai. These models also feature a soft flex in the shaft and are comfortable to handle and paddle, slicing through water easily and efficiently. They were all surprisingly efficient at moving water, propelling testers across the lake at rapid speeds with little effort.
If you're tough on equipment, keep in mind that the longevity of carbon products tends to be less than that of their fiberglass counterparts. The Vibe and Makai have fiberglass construction. The Trance features carbon construction.
Ease of Adjustment
All of the paddles in this review are adjustable, meaning that the user can change the overall height of the paddle according to their needs and personal comfort. Some paddles come with different initial sizes that can be adjusted, so check out our Buying Advice to make sure you get the right paddle for your height. The paddles in this review have an adjustment range spanning from 8 to 18 inches. Additionally, the different paddles have different adjustment mechanisms, which we discuss in detail in the locking mechanism metric.
The Werner Trance, Vibe and KIALOA Makai feature a LeverLock adjustment system, which involves a lever in the handle that is easily adjusted. Additionally, these paddles feature measurements for paddle height and paddler height, a small feature that aids in the quickness of adjustment. These models were our favorites in this metric.
The Aqua-Bound has a series of six adjustment holes that a stainless steel button slips into. This adjustment system is called Performance adjust. The adjustment button doesn't have the lowest profile, making it a small nuisance when paddling, as it often got in the way of testers' hands.
Paddles with a TwinPin, mid-shaft lever were considered to be the second easiest in adjustment, mainly because this model did not require a screwdriver to tighten. The Own the Wave and BPS models featured this technology, which operates by pushing out a "C" shaped collar clamp that releases an attached stainless steel pin from its adjustment hole. This allows the handle end of the shaft to be adjusted up or down. When you've reached your desired length, you push the clamp back in towards the shaft, and the pin goes into the nearest hole.
The final adjustment system is found on the iGK and Super Paddle models, which, confusingly, is also called the LeverLock system. This system operates by lifting a lever located on the shaft that releases tension and allows the handle end of the shaft to be moved to create a longer or shorter distance. However, we discovered that each of these adjustment systems needed to be tightened out of the box with a screwdriver, and they often required further adjustments. Several testers found themselves out on the water with a clamp that refused to tighten down, making it nearly impossible to paddle.
The paddles vary in how their adjustment options are marked. The Aqua-Bound and KIALOA paddles do not have any kind of marking to delineate adjustment. Own the Wave, Werner, and BPS have a number system to help adjust, and Super Paddle and IGK models have a paddler height marking.
All of these paddles are compactable, meaning that they break into either two or three pieces. These models can come in handy for users who drive smaller cars or for those looking to travel with their setup.
The Werner Vibe, iGK and Super Paddle models earned the highest score in this metric, as they were the only paddles tested that broke down into three pieces and stowed in their own bag. (These bags were similar, with the only difference being that the IGK Paddle bag featured separate compartments for the shaft pieces.) Because these models packed into their own bags, they also featured blades with the smallest offset of any of the test fleet. The Werner Trance, NRS Rush, and Own the Wave paddles are also available in 3-piece versions.
The rest of the paddles in this test did not stand out in any way regarding their compactibility, whether it was negative or positive. The majority of the paddles in this review had a range of adjustability from 8"-12", which gives you enough room to shove them into your car, but not enough to easily check them on an airplane.
The paddles in this review varied in how easy they are to adjust and how secure the locking mechanism was. There were several types of locking mechanisms that came with the paddles that we tested. The LeverLock on the Werner and KIALOA paddles was our testers' favorite system. This features a lock mechanism that flips up from the handle of the paddle and is thus low profile and has fewer moving parts than other designs. This feature is by far the most solid locking mechanism and the easiest to use.
The second-best system was the Performance adjust, which features a button that can be pushed to releasing the handle. This system has six adjustment holes that are 1.5 inches apart. This system was intuitive, quick, and had few moving parts, meaning that it is likely to last a while. Though we have read reviews about these buttons rusting off, we've never experienced that ourselves. This system is found on the Aqua-Bound Challenge.
The Family Adjustable, TwinPin, and EasyClip systems on the rest of the paddles all work similarly, using an adjustment lever on the shaft. When it is flipped out, it releases the tension of the handle end of the shaft inside the blade end. The handle end can then be moved up or down to the desired paddler height. This was our testers' least favorite system, as it often required a screwdriver for fine-tuning.
While weight might not impact beginners as much as more serious users, it is important to consider. There is more than a pound of difference between some of the models in this test. This extra weight might not seem like much now, but trust us, once you're a mile into your paddle, your arms will start to notice the extra weight. If you are planning on longer missions or looking for performance, keep this metric in mind. Also, remember that a lower weight usually correlates to a higher price.
The contenders we tested have weights that vary from 1.2 pounds to 2.5 pounds. As a rule, fiberglass and carbon constructed models weigh less than models made with aluminum or nylon. However, heavier materials often offer more durability throughout the product's lifespan. It is important to consider whether you value performance and are willing to toss a coin as to how long your product will last, or if you value your money and are willing to sacrifice performance for a product that may last longer.
Best for Specific Applications
The Werner Trance is the best option for experienced paddlers who can appreciate the highest levels of performance. The Vibe offers an excellent performance to cost ration. The Aqua-Bound Challenge and KIALOA Makai are also great all-around paddles for users who are focused on performance. But the Werner options are a little better.
More experienced paddlers who are interested in surf SUPing may consider the NRS Rush. The Bullet Proof Surf Alloy we recommend for those needing a product that can adjust to a wide range of paddler heights and can take a beating. It's also easy on the pocketbook.
Purchasing an adjustable SUP paddle can be overwhelming, especially if you've never purchased or owned one before. If you're still having difficulty deciding, check out our Buying Advice article as well. Think about what kind of user you are, what kind of paddling you'd like to be doing, and what kind of use you'd like to get out of your paddle. Are you a beginner who might benefit from a less expensive model that isn't a high performer? Or perhaps you're planning on doing longer missions and need a lightweight high-performer. Maybe you're planning on using one paddle for a range of users and require max adjustment height. Or maybe you're taking your SUP overseas and need a paddle that can be easily checked. All of these things are important to take into consideration before you decide.
— Shey Kiester