When people first get into SUP they often buy an all-around board and adjustable paddle. What they don’t think about is the increased drag you get with an all-around board, and the increased torque on the shoulders from a larger paddle blade. There isn’t anything wrong with an all-around board or a beginner paddle (adjustable or not). These boards are amazing options for those learning how to SUP and figuring out which disciplines (i.e. surf, race, yoga, touring) they like best. When entering the sport of SUP, people often grab a less expensive paddle to go with their beginner board. Grabbing an adjustable is a wise choice, because you can experiment with the length and getting the most out of your paddle stroke. Some people will be more upright paddlers and need a longer length, and others will use more body and need a shorter shaft. However, many less expensive, entry-level paddles have big blades. Some assume that they will get more power per stroke, and thus more glide and go further. What they don’t consider is their muscular ability or technique. Larger blades are more taxing on the muscles, and although paddling is a low impact sport, each stroke is still an impact. A larger blade = a larger impact. Now pair this larger impact each stroke with undeveloped technique on a board with higher drag and you’ve set yourself up to potentially wear out your shoulder muscles, or worse yet, cause injury. We’re not in the business of scaring people away from paddling, we want everyone to go out and have a great time, safely. But, the most common injuries in paddlesports are in the shoulders, mainly rotator cuff issues.
When you get the urge to enter your first few races, keep in mind that if you’re on an all arounder with a large paddle blade that you actually have more force on your muscles than the pros do! When you get that competitive spark as someone creeps up on you and you want to punch it into a higher gear, remember that the all-around board you’re on may have a lot of drag, and that the large blade on your paddle will have quite a bit of resistance. This could be a recipe for an injury.
How can you reduce the chances of this kind of paddle related injury?
There are a few different ways to go about this.
1. Buy a board with less drag and more glide: This is not always the most feasible option for everyone, but if you get into racing competitively or are going out regularly and are paddling hard for fitness, it may be a worthwhile investment. Boards with displacement style hulls offer less resistance per stroke making it easier to reach your top speed without blowing out your shoulders.
2. Buy a quality paddle with a smaller blade: This is definitely the easiest option with the most bang for your buck! Ditch the heavy, aluminum paddle with the 110 square inch blade. Grab a nice carbon fiber, fiberglass, or carbon/fiberglass blend paddle with smaller blade. Quickblade paddles recommends you stay within 5 square inches of this formula: (your body weight in lbs. + 200 lbs) / 4 for blade size. By grabbing a smaller blade you’re able to reduce the force on your shoulders by decreasing the resistance in each stroke. You’re also able to work on keeping a higher cadence and focus on technique without as much muscle fatigue.
3. Cross training for Strength: If new gear isn’t in your future, you can help prevent injury by building up your paddling muscles with a structured training program. By incorporating some strength training in your week’s activities you can build a solid base and be able to withstand some of the impact you’re putting on your body while paddling. A little bit of strength will help move a slower board and also make a solid connection between your paddle and the water.
4. Take a technique lesson: Another way to ensure you paddle injury free is to take a lesson with a trained professional. WPA Instructors are a great avenue to learn proper technique which will help you paddle properly and decrease injury. Professionals can help you with paddle length, proper reach, driving with the hips, and using the proper muscle groups to generate forward momentum. Without a lesson, paddlers may be paddling too much with their arms, or have shoulders extended to far overhead; both ways of generating discomfort while paddling.
Whether you update your gear, strengthen your muscles, or hone in on your technique, be sure to think about long-term, sustainable paddling. Paddling is more fun when you can get out and enjoy it more often, or for many years to come. Paddling injury free is a great personal goal to have, one that is arguably more important than any race time!