Warmer weather is on it’s way! It may not feel like it, but soon the bite in the air won’t be so frosty. The days will get noticeably longer and let us get out for an after work session. Now is the time to start thinking about how you will spend your free time, and stand up paddleboarding (SUP) is pretty good at allowing us to enjoy a few moments when lightning strikes. Maybe you rented once or twice already or borrowed from a friend, and now you want one for yourself. But how do you go about choosing a board that best suits your needs? Well, there are a few factors to consider to ensure that you get the most out of your new ride.
SUP boards come in two basic hull shapes. Your goals and experience level will determine which shape to choose:
Planing Hull: This board shape is comprised of a flat underside and a usually wider width that allows it to skim along on top of the water. Because it has a wider width, they are generally more stable and make great choices for beginners and those that want to mix it up between general all purpose paddling and SUP yoga, fitness, and fishing.
Displacement Hull: As the name implies, this shape sits lower and displaces water as it cuts through the surface like a sailboat. These SUP boards are almost always narrower, a necessity in order to achieve proper hydrodynamics, move the least amount of water and create the least amount of drag. The hull makes up for the narrowness by adding length, so these boards are usually longer as well. They are more unstable than planing boards, making the learning curve a bit steeper, but are also faster.
Lighter is generally better. Less weight for a given volume will mean that the board pushes less water, making for a more efficient ride for each stroke of effort. But if you are just starting out with your first board and want something cost effective, then you can probably get away with a couple of extra pounds of board weight. However, if you are 5’5” tall and have to rack your SUP on top of an SUV all by yourself, those extra pounds may be noticed. Take into consideration your stature, how far you have to carry the board to get to the launch, and how far overhead you have to lift to get it on your vehicle.
Patching and repairing boards is no fun. Trust me on this one. I’ve repaired many boards for our rental fleet over the past several years. It is either time consuming to do it yourself, or expensive if you hire it out to a repair shop. If this board is going to be yours, and only yours, then you might consider a lighter, higher performance board that has less ruggedness built into the construction. But…if your kids are going to use it, or friends are going to borrow it then it’s best to assume that it will get some rough treatment. They don’t do it on purpose. They just don’t understand that you can’t throw them around like plastic kayaks. Some factors to consider:
How many people will use the board?: As mentioned above, the more hands that touch your board, the higher the risk of damage.
Condition of launch site: Is your favorite put-in location a nice, sandy beach or is it next to a boat ramp with rocks and mud? Are you willing to walk through the muck to float your SUP board to a safe depth to avoid scraping the rocks? One thing I know for sure is that others won’t.
Storage area: Will you store your board in a single bay garage, next to the car and behind the lawnmower? If so, consider that it will take some hits along the way. If you still want a board where durability is not a primary factor, then consider purchasing a storage bag along with your board. A few millimeters of protective material goes a long way.
If you decide on a SUP with durability in mind, the following boards are for you:
Inflatable vs. Solid
Over the past several years, inflatable SUP boards have gained in popularity, thanks to ever improving construction methods. Made of the same material as inflatable boats, these boards are rugged. Drop-stitch construction is now standard across all reputable inflatable SUP product lines, meaning that the stitch “drops down” to join the inside layers of the material. Suffice it to say that it’s super-duper strong.
Why else might you want to choose an inflatable SUP:
- Lighter and easier to carry
- Almost all have integrated deck bungees for storing gear
- Easier to store at home or in a Prius
- Excellent if you expect children or visitors to be handling your board. Resistant to dings.
- Most comfortable for having a picnic in the middle of a lake
But, there are some disadvantages to consider. First off, it is a pain in the ass to constantly be inflating your board. Others will tell you that it’s no big deal. 5-10 minutes and you are out on the water. That might be true, if you pump like a madman. Otherwise, plan for 15 minutes to inflate a standard 10’6” board. Depending on your level of determination to get out on the water, that might be just enough inertia to keep you from going. Just be honest with yourself. I love inflatable boards, use them all the time, and we even use them exclusively for tours and rentals. But we also leave them inflated most of the time. If you cannot do this due to space considerations, then consider purchasing an electric pump. We use the Bravo BTP-12 high pressure pump. Other negatives include being a bit slower due to less than optimal hydrodynamics.
SUP fins come in a variety of configurations. One common setup is a single large fin. For most recreational paddlers in flat water, this will suffice. Those involved with racing and open water paddling where there could be large side swells against the board will want a racing fin. Also a single fin setup, but the fin is stiffer and has more surface area to keep a longer SUP on a straight line.
If you plan to take your board in the surf, then a three fin configuration may be what you need. The center fin is flanked by two smaller side fins so that the board is always biting into the water when wave riding. In flat water, the multi fin setup is neither an advantage or a disadvantage.
There’s not too much to say about this one, except that you should consider the heaviest person that will ride the board, and make the purchase according to his/her weight. Riding a board that is sitting low in the water is inefficient and unstable. It’s not a good time. So with each board you consider, make sure it will carry you and all of your gear (cooler, food, water, etc…) without going over the recommended weight limit.
SUP boards are a major purchase for a lot of people. Put a bit of thought into your decision and it will go a long way toward having a great time out on the water.