Stand up paddle boarding is an incredibly versatile beast – SUPs are almost limitless with what they can help you achieve. Tez Plavenieks talks us through common SUP design trends.
All-round boards are most common. They look like scaled up surfboards – round nosed, tapering to a narrower tail with three fins protruding from beneath. While performing admirably in small waves they provide ample volume and stability on which to learn and progress.
Versatility is the name of the game – all round SUPs are roughly between 9ft – 12ft. However, how long your board is only tells half the story. You’ll also need to account for width and volume. Super stable platforms are anything from 30-inch wide whereas sub 30-inch becomes increasingly wobbly but deliver livelier feels and better maneuverability.
Many all-round boards come with windsurf rig attachments. WindSUP, as it’s referred to, is windsurfing as it was back in the day.
If you already have paddling skills then a touring SUP could be for you. Defined by their pointy noses and squared off tails, touring SUPs efficiently knife through liquid. And while performance can be similar to race SUPs they’re usually wider and more forgiving.
The SUP industry is a canny beast. Brands and designers understand product needs to straddle disciplines. Touring SUPs can therefore be a good call for beginners and early intermediates. Many touring SUPs are also pretty adept in waves or catching open ocean rolling swell with breeze on your back – commonly referred to as downwinding. Touring sticks offer increased flat water performance, more engagement and will have (in my opinion) more longevity but could still be referred to as all-round.
Race boards are the high performance narrow siblings of touring SUPs. Manufactured with speed in mind there’s more to these sleds than meets the eye. Race boards have to span multi-styles – after all, racing can take place on sheltered inland waterways, with barely a ripple, or in open ocean waters with breeze and swell. As such, race boards come with various volume distributions and widths, all of which are designed for specific jobs.
If a race SUP is your desire then deciding in what type of conditions you’ll be paddling is most important. It’s no good plumping for a narrow flat water machine when your usual paddling haunt is littered with chop and cross winds – you’ll spend more time swimming than sweeping!
One of the most popular areas of stand up paddling is surfing. When we talk about surf SUPs, however, you can actually take almost any style of board into the waves – as long as you have the skills.
Surf SUPs come in all shapes and sizes. While some fortunate riders have access to perfect point breaks, many of us have to make do with gutless beach breaks – and everything else in between. Surf SUPs, therefore, have to cope with a lot.
As with other boards you’ll need to answer some key questions. It’s all very well aspiring to ride low volume/narrow performance sticks but without conditions to drive this equipment it’d be complete folly.
Riders will also need to keep in mind their weight. Paddlers weighing 85kg will struggle to float sub 90L boards – unless they’re extremely wide. It’s worth developing your paddling and wave riding technique on more stable platforms first. You can then downsize accordingly and discover your optimum. Keep in mind, this info barely scratches the surface of wave SUPs – there are SO many more factors that play a part in paddle surfing.
Inflatable SUPs continue to be a cracking choice for many. Great for travelling and for those with limited storage – they pack down into handy roll up sizes – inflatables span all disciplines.The technology has come a long way in the last few years and iSUPs are more rigid and stable than they once were. Hybrid shapes are now appearing offering half inflatable/half rigid options. Needless to say, inflatable SUPs are worth a look, whatever area of SUP you sway towards.
In some ways the paddles heading should’ve come first. After all, without paddling, SUP wouldn’t be the sport it is. Suffice to say stand up is a paddle sport first and foremost – due thought should be given to what ‘engine’ you own.
The stresses and strain placed on your body over time should encourage you to purchase as light a blade as possible. Carbon paddles are usually best – although be aware there are still ‘dogs’ out there.
You then have to decide how flexible you like your paddle shaft. Super stiff will deliver maximum efficiency but take its toll on your joints and muscles. Soft flexes will love your body but not be as efficient.
As with paddles there’s far too little emphasis placed on fins. Another important part of your set up, fins can be used to tune your kit. Many brands, while providing great boards, often supply their kit with low grade skegs – mainly to keep down costs. It’s worth swapping low grade fins for a better set straight away.
When choosing stand up paddle boarding gear it’s wise to try as much kit as you can. This way you’ll be in a better position to buy.
Tez Plavenieks is a freelance writer that specialises in action sports and travel. He currently edits, writes and produces content for a variety of different outlets both online and in print.