How to Pack A Paddle for Air Travel

Lisa Schell How To, Take Care of your Stuff Leave a Comment

Don’t Be Afraid to Fly with Your V-Drive

The thought of packing my Quickblade paddles used to scare the living daylights out of me. But, after awhile, I got tired of borrowing blades or renting inferior ones and decided to invest in a good bag and take the risk. After querying several pros and veteran paddle travelers, I’ve come up with a pretty good system and have never looked back.

This week, I’ll be using my own Quickblade Trifecta as I work to improve my paddle surfing skills at the Infinity Sup Surf Camp at Nosara Paddle Surf in Costa Rica. Having my own, comfortable, cut-to-my-size paddle will give me a boost of confidence, since I am well-acquainted with the way it feels in my hands and with how it performs.

I’ll walk you through my personal paddle packing process below, and if you have other suggestions, please post them in the comments.

A Note on Airline Fees

I travel mostly on American and Delta and to date have never had a hassle when checking a paddle. Except for the Delta Ticket Agent who threw a fit because she came into contact with some cat hair on my bag (she was apparently allergic, I get it but the shaming part was unnecessary, I digress.)

I have never been charged an oversized or “special sports equipment” fee – just the normal cost as if it were a regular suitcase.

The paddle will have to go to the special oversize baggage handling area, so allot some extra time for that, especially if you have an early flight and that agent isn’t there yet. Oversized baggage sometimes doesn’t open up when the regular ticket counters do.

And just because it goes in via the oversized handling area. I absolutely cringed when I saw my paddle bag trying to negotiate the luggage drop on a carousel in the Maui airport, amongt gargantuan roller bags and golf club bags!

Step 1: Buy a Good Bag

Most paddles will come with some sort of “day bag” that may or may not have light padding and some reflective material to keep carbon and fiberglass cool-ish. That’s great for a car trip but it’s not enough for the ride in the cargo hold of a jet. Shell out some clams for a bag that:

  •  Has LOTS of padding especially in the end where the blades are.
  • Can accommodate more than one paddle – you get more bang for the buck and you can travel with both your surf paddle and your race paddle.
  • Has adequate Velcro tie-downs to secure the shaft so they don’t move around much.
  •  Has extra pockets for other gear like leashes, tied down straps, flip flops, etc.

 

 

A lot of bags will come with a carry strap, but they never seemed to be positioned right and unless you aren’t carrying anything else, they are just awkward. Plus you have to remove said strap when you check it and that takes up space where those flip-flip are. In lieu of the strap, I’d like to see a bag with a couple of different carry handles.

My bag of choice is the Kialoa double bag. It is flown nearly ten times now and has done a great job protecting my paddles. It is ample enough for two sup paddles and even an OC paddle if I wanted to slide one in. It’s showing some wear on the corners, but seriously, what bag doesn’t after one or two trips in the cargo hold?

Step Two: Protect the Shaft

Two words: pool noodles

Jeremy Riggs turned me on to this. Depending on the length of your paddles, one large pool noodle is enough to adequately wrap your shaft in a roll of foam luxury, with enough left over to do the same for an OC paddle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pool noodles have a hollow center, so all you have to do is cut the noodle to the size of the paddle shaft, then make a cut lengthwise from end to end. If you make a wider cut, it’s a little easier to slip the noodle around your paddle. I leave a little extra on one end to slip over the edge of the blade on one side, beyond the throat of the paddle, just for more protection.

 

If you are carrying two paddles, the pool noodles can be paired with tie down straps and serve as a make shift roof rack if you need it for a rental car, or to help carry two rental boards by providing cushioning between them. If you’re just carrying one paddle and you think you might need something to serve this secondary function, pack a second noodle in you bag for additional padding- provided it will fit. I then put my tie-down straps in the external pocket of my bag.

 

Step 3: Protect the Blade

For the blade, you can go the bubble wrap route, or save mailers that have bubble padding. I usually slip a couple of those over my paddle’s blade. Using those envelopes makes it easier to slip the padded paddle ends into the blade sleeves in my bag.

For the handle, I’ll do the same with bubble mailers. You can also make a handle cozy out of some leftover pool noodle, or socks, or a tee-shirt.

Step 4: Pro Packing Tip

If there is room left in your bag, you can use clothes to provide additional padding.

 

For my trip to Costa Rica this week, I desperately wanted to just take a carry-on, and check only the paddle. (I have an overpacking habit that it is more than time to break!) So, I took my paddle clothes – long sleeved loose rash guard, board shorts, Local-ish tights, plus my apres-surf lounge pants and packed those around the paddle. My flip-flops went in that outside pocket, since I am not renting a car and am staying an a surf resort where boards will be provided. Don’t need tie-downs.

That strategy allowed my to carry the rest of my gear in a 35-liter mid-sized travel backpack, that fit under my airline seat. Score!

In lieu of clothes, you can use beach towels, too.

Now, if something happens to the paddle bag and it arrives late, oh well, guess I have to buy new water wear! (And a new paddle, but that’s what insurance is for.) But truth be told, the travel clothes I did pack in my carry-on could serve as surf clothes if I need them to – they are all technical fabrics that will dry quickly.

Step Five: Mark Up You Bag

A friend who is a baggage handler at our local airport told me that anything that looks fragile or odd shaped, like a paddle, is more than likely ALWAYS going to go on top in the cargo hold. It’s those gargantuan roller suitcases that are going to get thrown around and placed on the bottom. Why? Because most of those bags are not only big and beefy, but are the most square-ish ones. So, if you follow Tetris logic, they make the best platform upon which to stack everything else.

So, get a Sharpie out, a BIG Sharpie and write your name and phone number and the word F-R-A-G-I-L-E all over that paddle bag. Then, get the ticket agent to slap a F-R-A-G-I-L-E sticker on it. It may not stick for the duration of your flight, with connections and all, but it’s worth a shot.

Not going to guarantee your paddle is going to get gingerly placed on the very top of every stack, but chances are very good it won’t be at the bottom.

Step Six: Check Before You Leave the Airport

The last thing you might want to do before you leave the airport and head off to your paddle adventure is open up your bag and do an inspection. But you probably should. If there’s a problem, you can have it addressed immediately. Be sure to document everything with photos of the inside of the bag, outside of the bag, as well as the damage to your precious cargo. Again, I have not experienced this scenario yet, but I have had luggage go missing and the relationship I developed with the airport officials really did help along the way.

With a little investment and creativity, there’s no reason to leave your favorite paddle at home when you travel for races or fun.

 

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