Paddle boards are a new toy in the paddling sector although their roots go back to the long surfboard. The appeal of paddle boarding for many is simplicity and freedom.
Simple because it only requires a paddle and a board. Freedom, especially for beginners, because you don't feel stuck in a kayak with a spray skirt if you tip over. It is comforting to know that they can't capsize in the same way kayaks do. If you do fall off, you can just climb back on board. Another thing people like about them is the commanding vantage point they offer while standing. If surfing in the ocean, paddling on a river, or just having a look around for wildlife, you can see much further making it easier to plan your route. Because you stand when paddling, SUPs are not great in the wind. Kneeling can help but windy conditions are where kayaks shine.
The first thing to think about is what you want to do with your SUP and where will you go? Do you want to mess about at the lake or slow-moving river? Would you rather play in the surf or paddle faster moving rivers? Maybe racing is your thing, or the work out is what your after. Yoga perhaps? No, really, it's a thing. What about a tour for a few nights of camping? Ask yourself if there is the potential to be hitting rocks or having the board be handled roughly by friends and family? How much space do you have to store it?
Once you have these narrowed down you can think about how often you will be going. Your choices may be quite different if you go a few times a year or a few times a week. Lastly, what do you want to bring? Camping gear, water, snacks and a cooler? What about dogs and kids on board with you or will you be going minimalist with nothing at all.
So, there are 3 main types of stand-up paddle boards all with uniquely inherent features.
These are made of fiberglass, epoxy or carbon fibre shells covering stiff foam. They are less durable than inflatable or plastic. They fall in the middle of the pack for weight (most are around 32 lbs.) but glide the best and are more stable in rough conditions. You’ll need to be more careful transporting these on your car as they need properly cushioned racks. These include the categories: race, touring, all around, and surf.
These are just like they sound. Made with a few thick layers of PVC and thousands or strings holding the top and bottom together, so they hold their flattish shape. They often come with a pump and detachable fins so there are more parts to keep track of. They fold up and are easy to store and transport. Most of them come with a backpack to roll it all up into. You can even keep them inflated if you have room, just remember to let 5-8 pounds of pressure out of them when storing them or leaving them outside for any length of time. Some have a pressure release valve built right in that triggers just above 20psi. Being inflatable, you can just put them right on any car rack upside down as the tread serves as a cushion. They are more durable than the rigid boards, but not as durable as the plastic. They are not as fast as the rigid boards and aren't as stable. When considering inflatables, make sure they are at least 5" thick. There are some lesser quality ones out there that are thinner, quite flabbery and rather unstable. Most good ones are 5-6" thick and when inflated to the proper PSI, get surprisingly stiff. They can be a chore to inflate, but again, good performance is attained by pumping them up to proper PSI so don't give up! They are the lightest at around 22-28lbs. The inflatables are hands down the best for taking naps, being a little softer. These boards include All Around and White-water options. There are some touring inflatables, but they do not perform as well as the rigids.
These are the least expensive and are quite durable over rocky beaches and rivers. However, they do lack performance in most categories except for few very specific white-water models. They can warp if left in the sun which often causes them to go in circles. They are the heaviest at 40+ lbs and are typically slow to paddle. Plastic boards would be entry level in most cases and fall under the recreational category.
There are several types of rigid boards and they can be divided into a few categories that will help narrow the choices to find the board that will fit nicely into your chosen activities. They are as follows:
Race boards are very long and narrow being the least stable of all. The longer and narrower the board, the faster it will go. However, the narrower, the more unstable so there is a trade-off to consider. They often have a shallow V shaped hull and one long fin that keeps them going straight, but they don't turn easily without doing a” wheelie”. They will be 12' or longer and 28" wide or less. People often use race boards for fitness and for quick snappy paddling. Some race boards are made of carbon fibre and/or have a recessed well with drain holes for standing. Good balance and experience would certainly be an asset paddling this style of board.
Touring boards can also be very long, some being as long as 18'. However, 11'-14' tends to be a more common choice. These are much wider than the race boards and have a flat bottom which makes them easier to turn than a race board of the same length. They generally have storage bungees fore and aft so you can load them up with camping gear or coolers. These are great for kids, dogs or heavier folks as they often have a higher weight rating. They are not quite as fast as the race but are more stable and still track well and glide along at a nice clip. Touring SUPs are often used as a fitness board. These have one long fin as well.
The 14' Boardworks Great Bear (pictured left) is a super nice touring board.
All Around boards are pretty good at most activities and are easier to turn than the race or touring. They aren't the fastest but are often the most stable, especially in rougher water. They also have some storage capacity and glide decently as well. For folks interested in yoga one of these boards with a full deck grip pad would be ideal. These come in rigid and inflatable. The rigid versions are more stable and faster. These can have several different fin options from only 1 to as many as 5 if they are sneaking into the surf category. Usually 9'-11' long.
Surfing SUPs are shorter, from 7-9' and have a feature called rocker. They have a shape like a banana allowing them to pivot and turn quickly. Any board with rocker will turn easier than a board that is relatively flat but will go slower. Some All-Around boards will have a bit of rocker too. Surf SUPs are not as stable and not very fast as they are relatively small. Their edges, called “rails" are thin allowing them to hold the edge of a wave. The Boardworks Kraken falls into both these categories (surf & all around) depending on the length. The 9'9" version is great for surfing with 5 fin options and lots of rocker. The 11' one is fantastic for all around use. (pictured below)
The 11' Boardworks Kraken
White water boards or moving water boards can be the shortest of the bunch from 6' up to 10'. They often have the most rocker where maneuverability is a great asset. These are inflatable as the thick rubberized PVC is more durable when the possibility of hitting rocks and river bottoms is a factor. They often come with a few lengths of interchangeable fins depending on how deep the river might be. Typically, the fins are flexible too so if they do hit a rock, they wont crack as easily. Multiple grab loops and tie off points are common on these and they often have a bungee or 2 for storing gear. The 9.8' NRS Quiver inflatable (pictured below) is a super stable river board that comes with multiple fin length options, shorter ones for rocky streams, for example or longer ones for going straight. It also features a pressure release valve.
Once you have chosen a board there are a few things to keep in mind for safety. If you are in the ocean or saltwater estuary you will fall under the coast guard regulations for what you need to have with you. They require a PFD, whistle, and a throw rope >15m long, Not required but recommended, is a SUP leash. This attaches from your ankle to the back of the SUP. It is especially helpful when it is windy or there is a current. If you fall off in windy conditions, the board can blow away faster than you might think, especially the lighter inflatables. You really don’t want to lose your board, and although some worry about getting tangled in it, its safer to have it. Depending on how far and where you are paddling, a patch kit is also good idea if you have an inflatable. Most come with one.
Paddle boards provide a great work out and are a lot of fun. There are some great options available no matter where you paddle and what your style is. For more information on SUPs please don’t hesitate to contact the shop or check out our selection online.
All photos are from the respective brands website.