Gear Garage: Caring for your Paddle
Maintenance and Repair Tips to Prolong the Life of your Paddle
It's not called standup paddling for nothing. In many cases, your paddle is going to be the most technical and most vital piece of equipment you own. You can have a much better time on a bad board with a good paddle than on a good board with a bad paddle. So spend as much money as you can on one and learn how to take care of it.
A good paddle means carbon fiber construction. Period. Wood is very pretty and the aesthetic is rewarding, but they're rarely light enough to be considered high performance. Aluminum versions are stiff, economical and durable as hell, but definitely second-tier to carbon fiber. Plastic paddles are for pools. Nevertheless, proper care will extend the lifespan for paddles of any construction, in turn extending your water time and progression.
Regardless of material, your paddle's weak point is the blade. The first rule of thumb is to never let your blade touch the ground on its edge. This means on the beach or in the garage--if you have to stand your paddle on end, always stack it handle down. Better yet, store your paddle on horizontal racks so you don't have to worry. Just don't put anything on top of the shaft.
If you do have to put your paddle on the ground, always lay it so that the blade angle faces up--many a paddler has laid it the other way only to accidentally step on it, breaking their precious paddle at the joint where the shaft meets the blade. Speaking of the ground, it's tempting to jam your paddle blade into the sand rather than lay it down; we've all done it. Just know that when you do, the sand muffles your poor paddle's cries of agony and it's going to pay you back by not lasting as long.
In use, there's not much you can do to care for your paddle and really, there's no reason you should--paddles are tools, meant for hard use. One thing to think about, however, is taking the time to develop a proper paddle stroke. In this case that means a stroke that doesn't begin by banging your blade against the rail of your board. Sounds easy, but it's not and it really takes some focus on stroke technique to avoid chipping both your blade and board.
Travel is another enemy of the paddle. Cruel airline baggage handlers, ham-fisted bus drivers, recalcitrant camels; almost every form of conveyance can spell disaster for a paddle if you don't think ahead. If you're taking a trip, invest in a padded paddle bag. Better yet, get a SUP travel bag that features a paddle sleeve. But with either option remember to do this: take a block of foam or cardboard and affix it securely on the top side of your paddle, where the shaft meets the blade. Then, if using a bag with a sleeve, always insert the paddle with the blade facing down. The foam/cardboard block will keep the paddle from bending when some giant suitcase is tossed on top of it.
Just remember, your paddle, regardless of its construction, is your friend and there'd be no SUP without it. Treat it well. -SG