Stand Up Paddleboards or “SUP’s” are a relatively new addition to the paddle-craft buyers market. As a paddler with over 20 years of experience, I can tell you a few things that you won’t hear from the retail stores or manufacturers.
Many companies want in on the action of SUP. It’s new, it’s hot, and it’s selling. However many of them don’t have the experience to design a good board. This doesn’t mean that new companies can’t be great designers and builders, but very often YOU as the consumer end up being the test dummy for the models put out by the newer companies. Don’t listen to the hype. Get a good understanding of what makes a board do what you want it to, then you can make the best decision.
Some steps to finding your perfect SUP
1. Don’t look at boards first.
First think about what kind of paddling you will want to do. Generally this means you should borrow or rent a board for a day and try paddling it for a distance, play on it, and just think about the future of you and your board. Try not to fantasize too much.
When I paddle my surf-style board my maximum distance for fun paddling is generally 5 miles. As counterpoint, in my kayak 15 miles is a fun day. If you want to SUP distance, you will most likely want a touring style, not the flat or “surfing” style board most popular now.
2. Decide on a flat or touring board.
Surf style SUP boards are designed primarily for flatwater paddling. The smaller SUP’s (relative to your weight) are geared towards being able to play in the surf, while the larger are more stable when on flat water. Overall they are maneuverable, have enough floatation to carrying your pet sloth with you, and your drybag for your lunch.
A touring board has a pointed nose/bow for cutting through oncoming waves, and the bottom shape lends itself better for going straight than turning. It’s a less stable feeling board initially. Because this board tracks better, and has less rocker (or tip to tail curve, like a rocking chair) and is generally narrower, it will be a faster board when in the hands of the right paddler.
3. Decide on general dimensions
Length: Surf-style boards range from 9′ to 12′ or so. Most board manufactures design a board shape and then make that board shape in a range of sizes, not just for different size people, but for different sized uses. For example I can use a same design 9’6″ for playing around in the surf, but for traveling 5 miles on flat water I choose my 11’6″ board.
For a touring board you will be looking at 12′-14′ board length and maybe even a bit longer depending upon your weight and desired use. Though a longer craft has the potential to go faster, speed depends not on your board, but on YOU. You must have the technique and muscle to propel it. So at some point a longer board gives you less, not more.
Width/Beam: Again, this will mark how much stability the board has. The wider the more stable platform you will have to stand on, the more floatation the board will have, and the slower the board will be. Flat boards range from around 28-35″ as width increases with length, while touring boards generally stay just under 30″ regardless of length. Touring boards are tippier, but faster because of this.
Depth: This is how thick the board is. Boards will be thicker somewhere around the center or balance point of the board, while thinner out at the nose and tail. Thickness lends itself to “displacement” or how much water the board displaces. The thicker the board, the more displacement, the higher you ride, and it will feel more stable on flat water. It will also be heavier, as there is more material. I know paddlers who like water washing their feet all day, while others have boards that put the paddler 2″ above the water. For surfing it’s nice to have a lower displacement board, because once you are on a wave the planing action floats the board, rather than the floatation in the board itself.
Remember that the longer the board the more displacement it will have due to length as well, so you have to figure that in along with the depth.
Rocker: Is the banana shape you might see looking at the side of a board (or kayak) This means easier turning, but a bit slower board. A more rockered board will also feel more stable for the same width/beam than a less rockered board of the same dimensions.
Additionally, rocker can be placed in the middle, or often more towards the nose. This helps your board to not “pearl” or take a “nose dive” while catching a surf wave.
Shape: Even “flat” boards are not flat. Perfectly flat boards are called “doors”. SUPs come in concave, convex, double convex, and all variations. The idea is that the bottom of the board affects how the water travels past the fins, and how you can edge the board to help it turn. This is somewhat subtle and complicated to explain here, so if you’re local store can’t really tell you much about the board shape, you’ll want to continue your search.
In general you will want a board with some nose rocker to keep from pearling while on a wave, with a rounded rail (sides) gently giving way to sharp rails near the tail. This sharpness helps carve while on a wave. Plastic and inflatable boards do not have much shape, and more more “door like”, while composite boards allow for much more variation and subtlety in design.
4. Decide on materials
Strength: You want a strong board if you are going to be in surf. This may mean a bit heavier due to more layers of material on the board. Most boards have more layers of fiberglass on the bottom and sides, with less on top. This helps keep down some of the weight.
Materials: If this board will be for “anyone” and paddling around rocks in the river, you’ll want an inflatable or plastic board. For open water touring or surfing, a composite material such as epoxy-fiberglass or carbon fiber to decrease weight. But you’d be surprised at how a bit heavier board feels better in a headwind and waves. You’re momentum tends to carry through rather than being stopped at each little swell.
Some may argue that they want a wood board. That’s great. The difference is that instead of foam at the core of the board, you have wood. You’ll still have some kind of composite on the outside to keep water from soaking into the wood.
Fins: A strong fin box and good quality fin that you can adjust. A center fin is a must for straight paddling, while more fins, usually 3 smaller fins are used for paddling in both flat water or surf, and help “carve” while edging the board for a turn. Generally shorter flat boards come with 3 fin boxes. Longer flat boards have 1 center fin box because the manufacturers are not expecting you to surf the larger boards much.
Accessories: bungee cords on the front? fully padded on top, 3/4 padded, or no padding? What quality is the padding? Will it rip up quick or last a while?
Generally, if you look at a bunch of different boards closely you will see which seem to have a shoddy layup and outfitting.
4. Decide on price range
$800 to $3000 or more.
5. NOW go out looking
Take all of the above in to account and take a look around. At Lost Creek we have all lengths available in flat boards, with a few different brands available in used or new. What’s better, if you rent from us and then buy the board, your rental is free. There’s no better way to figure out what you want than trying a bunch of boards all in the same day.