Anyone who has been paddling for a while knows that paddleboards come in a ton of different shapes, sizes, and constructions. The same is true for paddles. There’s a different paddle for every type of paddling and every type of paddler. Adjustable paddles allow more than one person to use the same paddle, or allow one person to use the same paddle for different types of paddling. But there are even different types of adjustable paddleboard paddles too. Let's have a look at a few.
Adjustable paddles differ from regular paddles in their use of two separate shafts. The top shaft has a smaller diameter than the lower shaft so it slides up and down into it thereby shortening or elongating the overall length of the paddle.
One of the downsides of this construction is that having two shafts adds extra weight to the paddle which will tire out the paddler a lot faster than a regular paddle that normally is lighter. That's main compromise you get for the luxury of having multiple people of different heights being able to share the same paddle.
Also in regards to weight, you do have material options that will lighten the paddle. For instance, there are full carbon construction adjustables that are often the lightest paddles. There are fiberglass and carbon composites, full fiberglass, and aluminum paddles that have varying weights- aluminum usually being the heaviest. Also, lighter paddles using carbon construction will often cost more than the fiberglass and aluminum paddles- you get what you pay for!
Adjustable paddles often use less expensive blades that tend to be a bit heavier, but have better durability, and it makes sense. This is because adjustables mostly fall into the recreational categories, as opposed to the performance-based paddles. That said, there are adjustable paddles on the market with carbon construction blades that will lighten the load.
The important thing with choosing a durable blade is to check how stiff it is. If you can bend the blade with your hands it will probably release a lot of water as you go through your stroke and that makes it highly inefficient. You will be working harder for less speed and glide. Also the shape of the blade will have a big effect on how it performs.
The locking mechanism on an adjustable paddle holds the two shafts in place and keeps the handle oriented in the right position. Sometimes they loosen up and your shaft will slide and/or rotate- and you don’t want that. So a decent lock will allow you to readjust tension so that it holds your paddle together nice and tight.
In my experience, the best locking mechanisms are the lever locks. The lever locks have a lever built into the handle that you can flip up to release and back down to lock the shaft in place. I find they are the most secure and do not slip at all when they are adjusted correctly. Some models have measurement markings and a center line so you can get the correct length and the handle orientated right.
Thumb locks are another kind of locking mechanism that use a lever mounted on the shaft to pinch it shut. You use your thumb to flip open the lever, then adjust the shaft to your height, squeeze it back down and you’re done. While these are quick and easy to use, they often need to be readjusted, but the readjustment screw is right on the mechanism so it is very quick and easy to do as well.
Pin style locking uses spring-loaded metal pins that pop into a line of holes running down the shaft. Most pin style paddles are made of aluminum so they are a bit heavier. It can also can be a bit cumbersome to adjust the pin style mechanism and they usually have a looser fit so there is some rattling that takes place as you paddle. There is also less opportunity for fine adjustments to the length since the holes are set at a fixed distance apart from one another.
While there are other systems out there, these are the most common ones you will run into. Just like when buying any other paddle, this is not the place to skimp. It is your tool and what will put the wear and tear on your body. So think carefully before choosing to purchase an adjustable and buy as good of a paddle as you can afford while meeting your paddling needs.