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After carefully researching and evaluating over 125 different SUP paddles, we bought the 14 best SUP paddles currently on the market to test head-to-head and help you find the best. We used these paddles with all sorts of different SUPs on lakes, rivers, and ponds, rating and comparing their paddling efficiency, comfort, and overall feel. Our paddlers compared how adjustable each paddle is for various heights. We also looked at how convenient the locking mechanism is to use and the ease with which each paddle can be adjusted. Keep reading to see which SUP paddle reigned supreme, which is the best budget option, and which one we think paddles the best.
The Werner Trance 95 Performance thoroughly impressed us with its top-notch performance across the board in all of our tests. This paddle is designed carefully, and the details are all well-crafted with user-friendliness 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.
However, it's worth mentioning the price here. This SUP paddle is one of the most expensive models we have tested to date and its premium price tag may put it out of most people's budgets. It's an undeniably excellent and high-performing paddle — our all-time favorite — and can be well worth the investment for SUP aficionados. For the casual paddler, though, it's a bit costly.
Overall, the Aqua Bound Malta Fiberglass 2-Piece is by far one of our most favorite SUP paddles of all time. This top-tier fiberglass paddle delivers practically unparalleled on-the-water performance, making for efficient and powerful paddle strokes. It's one of the lightest paddles we have ever tested, giving you a snappy and practically effortless recovery on each stroke, and the dihedral cleanly scoops the water without fluttering. It's easy to adjust and looks great, available in three different colors to match your personal preferences.
The locking mechanism is solid and works well but we found that we slightly preferred the internal LeverLock system to the internal snap pin. You only have the option of discrete positions with the snap pin, compared to a continual range of adjustment with the LeverLock. We also could see the snap pin wearing out and getting looser over time a little faster than the LeverLock. However, we still think this is one of the best paddles you can get — particularly if you are trying to spend a little less than an all-carbon model — and highly recommend it to just about everyone.
Designed for middle-of-the-road paddlers who are looking for good performance and sturdy craftsmanship, the Werner Vibe features a rectangular blade with a scooped profile and dihedral ridge. The shape of this paddle may confuse new paddlers because it resembles that of a kayak paddle. We found that this shape requires some skill to move effectively through the water. Tthe Vibe features a unique locking mechanism. It's one of the highest performing paddles, that features a spring-supported adjustment system, is of average weight, and one of the best price points in the review.
Tthe Werner Vibe is made of slightly lower-quality materials than some top-tier options and is slightly heavier. While these might be significant flaws to expert paddlers making very long trips, we feel the Vibe is a good paddle for experienced paddlers, offering excellent performance at a much more reasonable price tag.
The outstanding value, award-winning Barrel Point Surf Alloy, is a rugged product with a tough nylon blade and aluminum shaft. A collar clamp adjustment and 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.
This paddle is weighty, so it 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.
We spent dozens of hours comparing and scoring the performance of these paddles head-to-head at locations in Idaho and northern California. We tried them out with different stand-up paddleboards on bodies of water ranging from tiny rivers to giant alpine lakes. Additionally, we also paddled in a variety of different wind and weather conditions, running the gamut from mirror-like water early in the morning to windy and wavy conditions where it was tough to remain standing. During this time, we also assembled, disassembled, and transported these paddles repeatedly to understand how they performed out of the water and judged their visual appeal and overall aesthetics.
We broke down our testing and scoring into five performance metrics:
Performance 30% of overall score weighting)
Weight (20% weighting)
Ease of Adjustment (20% weighting)
Locking Mechanism (20% weighting)
Aesthetics (10% weighting)
Our Expert Panel of testers consists of Review Editors Shey Kiester, Megan Ferney, and Marissa Fox. Shey has tested over 50 paddleboards for OutdoorGearLab and holds a degree in creative writing and English rhetoric from the University of Alaska. Additionally, she is an accomplished alpine climber and has written for Alpinist, American Alpine Journal, and Backpacker, among others. Megan grew up paddling the waters of Lake Coeur d'Alene and is a rock climber, equestrian, backpacker, and outdoor educator. She holds a Bachelor's degree in education and a Master's in Organizational Leadership. Marissa has spent most of her life excelling at board sports on the water (liquid or frozen), whether it is paddleboarding, surfing, or snowboarding. She is not only an avid stand-up paddleboarder but is also a PADI Master Scuba Diver Trainer and a former professional snowboarder.
Analysis and Test Results
In addition to our expert testers, we also had a variety of other paddlers try out these products and provide input, ranging from first-time SUPers to experts to river rats with a ton of boating experience who were new to the SUP world. We aggregated their opinions, allowing us to form a very well-rounded view of each product. We divided our testing process into five weighted rating metrics: Performance, Weight, Ease of Adjustment, Locking Mechanism, and Aesthetics. These metrics are weighted based on our opinion of their importance, which may not align exactly with your needs. If a paddle performs well in an area of interest for you, it could be a great choice, even if it isn't one of our award winners.
While the Editors' favorite Werner Trance may have topped the charts in terms of overall performance, it is far from a great value. It pairs its top-notch performance with a premium price that is far more than many people want to pay for a paddle.
If you are shopping on a budget and have experience paddling, then the great value award-winning Werner Vibe is where you should start. This paddle costs quite a bit less than the top-tier paddles and holds its own — or even exceeds them — when it comes to paddling performance. It doesn't look as good and is a little heavier but will save you quite a bit of cash. If the price tag on the Vibe is still too high for you, then you should consider the BPS Alloy. It's a bare-bones paddle that could be improved, but it can propel you through the water fairly well and retails at a fraction of the cost of the other award winners.
Our Performance metric is the most important of all our testing metrics, accounting for 30% of each adjustable SUP paddle's overall score. We were looking for paddles that excelled for all-around use and scored them highest, compared to paddles that are specifically designed for performance SUP racing or surfing.
Paddle Offset — A 12-degree offset is ideal for SUP racing. It keeps the blade vertical in the water for longer, increasing power. A shallow offset of 7 or so degrees helps you brace the paddle flat against the surface of the water for stability during activities like surfing. For the rest of us, an offset angle around 10 degrees is an ideal mix of the two.
The paddles in this review cover the spectrum of different blade shapes and angles, ranging from rectangular or teardrop paddles, with flat, concave, scooped, or dihedral profiles. In particular, we looked at four key points to compare the paddling performance of each product: paddle catch or the initial slice into the water, power or the pull of the blade through the water, exit, or the way the paddle feathers out of the water, and Recovery or how easy and comfortable it is to set up for the next stroke.
The Werner Vibe and the Aqua Bound Performance topped the charts in this metric. The Werner Vibe features a rectangular shape that is slightly curved at the bottom and has a scooped profile, which is split by a ridge to make a dihedral shape. The ridge helps the water to flow evenly across both sides of the paddle, essentially eliminating flutter. The Aqua Bound has a similar scooped profile, though maybe a slightly less aggressive dihedral. Both of these paddles enter and exit the water smoothly and firmly catch the water, allowing you to apply plenty of power.
The Werner Trance, the Kialoa Makai, the Aqua Bound Malta Carbon, the Aqua Bound Malta Fiberglass, and the Kialoa Tiare Fiberglass all followed in terms of on-the-water performance. The Trance has blades with slight dihedral angles, but it is much less pronounced than the Vibe's very visible scoop.
These both feel great to paddle, but we noticed a subtle flutter in the water with both of these paddles when pulling with maximum power. This is a very trivial issue, and you may not even notice it, but we never ran into this issue with paddles that had a more aggressive dihedral.
The Makai and BPS Carbon perform very similarly, but offer a bit less power than the Trance due to the smaller blade. This can actually be an asset and make it easier to paddle if you don't have the most upper body strength.
The Malta Carbon and the Malta Fiberglass have nearly identical paddling performance, with the Carbon just being the tiniest bit lighter — practically unnoticeable. These paddles both efficiently catch the water, with a rectangular blade and dihedral similar to the Trance. However, we noticed less flutter with the slightly smaller blade area. This pair of paddles are comfortable to hold, with clean entries and exits from the water. Ranking lower, but with similar peformance is the Abahub Carbon. This paddle is lightweight and glides well through the water, but the smaller blade moves less water than others we tested.
The Kialoa Tiare Fiberglass also is one of our favorites when it comes to paddling performance. Designed by female paddlers for female paddlers, it's a great option for ladies looking to take their paddling to the next level. It has a smaller teardrop blade that feels great to paddle with and a dihedral design to catch the water. The smaller blade area makes it less fatiguing and more suited to a quicker cadence paddle, with less power per stroke than something like the Trance.
The Super Paddles Elite 12K Bamboo is solid in paddling performance but has some flaws that hold it back from the top group — mainly that its shaft feels a little bendier than desirable, most likely from its three-piece construction.
While the Elite 12K Bamboo feels a little more flexible than desired, it was nothing compared to the BPS Adjustable Fiberglass or the BPS Alloy paddles. This pair both enter and exit the water well, but we found them quite deficient when it comes to the power stroke, exhibiting a noticeable bend even when only putting mild to moderate amounts of effort into the paddle stroke.
The Isle is also very heavy — surprising for a "Carbon" paddle — and seemed to sustain a great deal of wear and tear for relatively light use in our experience.
There is often a direct correlation between lighter paddles and higher-performing paddles. This extra weight might not seem like much now, but trust us, once you're a mile into your paddle, your arms will notice the extra weight. If you are planning on longer missions or want to save your strength for speed, keep this metric in mind. Also, remember that lower weights usually correlate with higher prices. Adjustable SUP paddles typically weigh between one to three pounds.
In general, carbon correlates to a lower weight, and the Werner Trance and the Aqua Bound Malta Carbon are no exception. Both weigh just over a pound and are some of the lightest products in the review.
The Aqua Bound Malta Fiberglass also is a top contender in this category, weighing just slightly less than the Trance.
The Aqua Bound Challenge 85 and the NRS Rush are right behind the top-tier paddles, tipping the scales with just a few ounces more — but still making it under the 1.5-pound mark.
Above this mark is where our paddlers really started to notice the additional heft. Not all weight is created equal. If the weight is in the blade, the paddle can feel like it generates momentum while paddling. The Kialoa Tiare Fiberglass and the Super Paddles Bamboo both measure in at around 1.5 pounds but didn't feel hefty at all. In contrast, paddlers often commented on how hefty the 1.7 pounds Werner Vibe or BPS Adjustable Fiberglass felt. We don't think the 0.1 - 0.2 pounds is what made the difference.
Finishing at the back of the group, the SUPply Co 3-piece and the Isle Carbon both tip the scales at 2.13 and 1.98 pounds, respectively. This makes them some of the heaviest paddles we have seen — and docking them quite a few points in this metric.
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. You may be willing to sacrifice performance for a product that may last longer. For example, the Vibe, Malta Fiberglass, Kialoa Tiare, and the Makai are made of fiberglass. The Trance and Malta Carbon are expensive options that can be practically delicate in comparison to a less expensive, heavy aluminum paddle.
Ease of Adjustment
All the paddles in this review are adjustable, meaning that the user can change their height to suit their needs and personal comfort. The paddles in this review have an adjustment range spanning from 8 to 18 inches. Different paddles use different adjustment mechanisms, which we discuss in detail in the locking mechanism metric. Some of these paddles offer several sizes that you can then adjust further.
The Werner Trance, the Vibe, the Kialoa Tiare, and the Kialoa Makai use a LeverLock system. This system is sleek and easy to use, making it a simple to adjust the length of these paddles on or off the water. This style of paddle can be adjusted to any available length and we like that you you can adjust it accurately for your height, compared to discrete adjustment holes every few inches.
The Aqua-Bound Challenge, the Malta Fiberglass, and Malta Carbon rely on a spring-loaded stainless steel button and a set of adjustment holes as a locking mechanism, called a snap-button adjust. You depress the button and slide the paddle to the length you want. It locks into position when the button snaps into one of the adjustment holes. Unfortunately, you are limited to the lengths corresponding to the different adjustment holes. We like how clean this system is compared to the external cam clamps or mid-shaft pin systems, but we could see the adjustment holes start to loosen over time with extended use.
Paddles with a TwinPin, mid-shaft lever are also considered easy to adjust, mainly because this model does not require a screwdriver to tighten it. The SUPply Co 3-piece, and BPS models feature 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 you to adjust the handle end of the shaft. 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 Super Paddles Elite 12K and the Isle 2-Piece Carbon. Confusingly enough, it is also sometimes referred to as the LeverLock system, though it is more of a cam lock. This system operates by lifting a lever located on the shaft that releases tension and allows you to move the handle end of the shaft. However, this system requires a screwdriver to adjust the clamping pressure, which can take some amount of tweaking to get right.
Our next round of tests focused on the locking mechanisms on each paddle. We looked for paddles with mechanisms that both securely held each paddle at the desired length and are smooth and easy to operate.
Of all the paddles we have tried, we like the LeverLock system the most. This locking mechanism is present on the Werner Vibe, Werner Trance, and the Kialoa Makai. This mechanism has a lever that flips out from the paddle when you want to adjust the length and then folds back when you want to lock it into position. This makes it easy to use, all while maintaining a low profile and securely clamping the paddle at the length you want. The spring inside of the handle will draw the paddle back down while adjusting, so you will need two hands to set your paddle length.
The second-best system is the snap-button adjust, which features a button that you push to release the handle. This system has adjustment holes that are 1.5- 2 inches apart. It is intuitive, quick, and has few moving parts, meaning that it is likely to last a while. However, we have read reviews about these buttons rusting off. We've never experienced that ourselves but it is something to consider if you live in a more corrosion-prone environment. The Aqua Bound Malta Carbon and the Aqua Bound Malta Fiberglass both have this system.
We love how simple and easy to operate the Twin-Pin or Dual-Pin locking system is, with the dual pins housed in an external collar that slides in and out of adjustment holes. This minimizes the chance for any slop and puts less stress on each adjustment hole and pin than the single-pin system. However, it can take a bit more force to lock or unlock and is much less clean in appearance, with the bulky external collar mid-paddle shaft. The SUPply Co 3-piece, the BPS Surf Adjustable, and the BPS Alloy all share this system.
The Family Adjustable, cam clamp, 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 to fine-tune and can make on-the-water adjustments very difficult. Even worse, some testers found themselves out on the water with a clamp that refused to tighten down, making it significantly more difficult to paddle. It's definitely our least favorite locking mechanism of the group.
Aesthetics are about more than just looking pretty. A high rating in aesthetics can mean the paddle is meticulously constructed with high-quality materials. It can mean the designer paid extra attention to detail. It can also just mean our testers enjoyed using a paddle even more because it is beautiful and fun to use.
We are a sucker when it comes to natural wood grain, with the Elite 12K Bamboo topping our list when it comes to looks. If you like the sleek, all-black carbon look, then we would suggest the Werner Trance or the Aqua Bound Malta Carbon. These paddles both have clean futuristic lines and the high-gloss finish is sure to catch some attention.
Other paddles that scored well in this metric are the NRS Rush, Aqua Bound Malta Fiberglass, Kialoa Tiare, and the Kialoa Makai. These models may not be as eye-catching as the wood grain paddles but are decently sleek and stylish, with clean lines and graphics. We appreciate that a lot of the fiberglass paddles, like the Malta, are offered in different colors.
The extra attention to detail in a SUP paddle can bring joy to its paddler and reflects its craftsmanship and value. Although aesthetics doesn't necessarily affect performance, paddling is supposed to be fun, and a beautiful paddle can make a good time even better. The remainder of the paddles — mainly the plastic and alloy options — all look fine, just a little run-of-the-mill compared to the top-tier fiberglass and carbon paddles.
Hopefully, this has been a helpful review and analysis of the side-by-side performance of all the top paddles currently available, whether you are a beginner looking for an all-around paddle on a budget or an expert looking for a top-tier high-performance paddle.
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