Gear Guide: Carbon Fiber or Fiberglass

A carbon fiber paddle can be a worthwhile investment for experienced paddlers. 

A carbon fiber paddle can be a worthwhile investment for experienced paddlers. 

As we have acknowledged before, the paddle is the most important, but most overlooked piece of paddling gear. Not only is sizing important, but the material paddles are made of is very different.

Let’s first recognize that in the early stages of your paddling experience, the only really important thing is that you are using the right sized paddle for your body. Paddle sizing will not be addressed in this article, but most paddling professionals can help you select the appropriate length of paddle. Most entry-level paddles are made of a fiberglass shaft and some plastic polymer for the paddle blade, but some substitute aluminum for the fiberglass shaft.

Today, we are talking about your second paddle. Once you become more serious about paddling, and have some experience under your belt, you will find that your experience is enhanced with a better paddle. When you feel like your skills have moved beyond your entry-level gear, investment in a paddle probably makes more sense than buying a new board or boat. It is cheaper, and a good paddle will last for years.

For more advanced paddlers, a consistent question is carbon fiber or fiberglass. Carbon fiber is much lighter than fiberglass – and much more expensive. Lighter means that we spend less energy holding and moving the paddle, and over a long paddle, that can add up. But more importantly, carbon fiber bends less than fiberglass, so more of your effort translates into movement of the craft, rather than bending the paddle shaft. Recall that one of our goals as paddlers is to maintain efficiency of paddle strokes. To make every stroke count, the rigidity of the paddle shaft makes a big difference.

To those who may have injuries or chronic (especially shoulder) issues, a potential downside to carbon fiber is its rigidity. Some people may need the paddle to absorb some energy to protect sensitive shoulder joints, but for most of us, we can use the rigidity of carbon to get more board or boat movement per paddle stroke.

Unless you know you have shoulder issues, our suggestion is to move to a good carbon fiber paddle. You will be amazed by how much it improves your time on the water.

Ocean Tribe Paddlers is a club hosted by Sanibel Sea School that helps the SWFL paddling community better explore, enjoy, and understand the ocean. Visit or follow us on Facebook to learn more.