The Ultimate Guide to Touring on your SUP
Touring SUP is for a different breed of stand up paddle board adventurer - those that are big on exploration. Learn everything you know about this SUP discipline and start exploring the waterways near you.
Introduction to Touring SUP
Most people get their initial paddle boarding experience by renting a SUP while on vacation. They take a little spin around the lake or part of the ocean that the SUP livery is located on and realize that they really enjoy the thrill of being able to balance on a board while switching sides back and just like that they want to make paddle boards a part of their life.
Once they are hooked on the sport of paddle boarding, they quickly become aware that they need to pick a paddle board discipline. Do they want to surf their SUP or take it down a river? Or would SUP yoga be a better fit? Some invest in a race board and choose to compete with their fellow paddlers.
Or do they want to participate in long touring adventures by making their discipline "touring SUP" also known as "SUP touring"? One of the fastest growing segments of the paddle board market is SUP touring. We will explore the reasons why touring boards are so popular and the touring gear you will need to be a part of this lifestyle.
Reasons long distance paddling has taken off
Most paddlers who decide to give touring SUP a chance aren't looking for the adrenaline rush they might get catching a wave or heading down a raging river on their paddle board. They do realize, however, that they can have epic adventures on a touring paddle board as it is designed to give them a smooth glide over long distances.
Imagine the epic adventures that you could have by deciding on a body of water that you want to explore and plotting out the course that you would like to check out. Taking an expedition like this from the paddling stage to the execution stage can be a huge thrill.
What makes a touring paddle board different?
Touring paddle boards tend to be longer and narrower than a more traditional paddle board. A typical hard touring paddle board will measure 12'6 X 30". Inflatable touring paddle boards tend to have similar measurements although some end up being 12'6 X 32".
A touring board typically has a pointy nose as opposed to the more rounded nose of a standard SUP shape. The pointy nose can either be a planing or displacement hull.
A solid touring paddle board is noticeably different from a non touring board in the way that it sits on top of the water. Compared to your typical stand up paddle board, hard touring paddle boards are usually a pretty thick board. Most of them measure 5 to 6 inches in thickness.
What to look for in a touring SUP board
There are many different versions of touring boards out there. You want to find a touring SUP board that is in between a race board and an all around paddle board.
The width of a racing board is typically 28" or less. The reason they are so narrow is that they are built to get up to speed quickly. The trade off is stability. Racing boards can be quite tippy and aren't designed to carry gear.
An ideal touring sup board will be 30"-32" wide with a displacement hull. Make sure that it has a squared of tail as opposed to a pin tail as that will also give you more stability.
Remember what you will be using your touring board for
Keep in mind that you will be using this board to cover long distances, so the more glide it has, the better. The more glide a board has means that you can paddle on each side of the board for longer periods of time. This means your paddling will be far more efficient because you lose a little momentum every time that you switch your paddle over to the other side of the board.
A board that is built for a smooth glide for longer periods of time will be less maneuverable than an all around board, a whitewater SUP or a surfing paddle board. This isn't a problem because straight line tracking is more important than being able to turn on a dime when you are paddling long distances.
The best touring paddle boards are durable
Since you will also be taking your touring paddle board on longer expeditions, you will want to make sure that it can hold up to a certain amount of abuse. You will often be using your touring boards on waterways that you are not familiar with where rocks and tree stumps may be lurking close to the water's surface.
In many cases, you will need to portage your stand up paddle board over rough terrain. This opens up the possibility of dropping the board and damaging it.
Waterlogged touring boards are not ideal
If you are looking to purchase a hard touring paddle board, stay away from epoxy boards. Epoxy SUP boards are very susceptible to dings and other types of breakage. If a rock were to pierce the epoxy and fiberglass shell of your hard board on a multi day excursion, the EPS foam core of the board will soak up the water like a sponge and before you know it, you will have a waterlogged board.
Your repair kit won't save your touring SUP excursion
Even if you were to pack resin in your repair kit to patch the hole, all you will be doing is sealing that water inside of your paddle board. Repairing hard paddle boards involves letting the water drain out of the board via the hole or crack for several days before patching them. You won't have the luxury of this kind of time when you are out on a long paddle adventure.
Your best strategy to avoid breakage on hard touring SUPs is to find a brand that adds a polymer coating to the epoxy and resin shell. At Glide, we have always added our Glide Surface Shield to most of our hard boards. This polymer coating allows our paddle boards to take 600 times the abuse of an epoxy board without adding much in terms of weight.
Buying the lightest board isn't your goal when investing in a touring paddle board. A durable SUP that performs well should be the whole point.
With an inflatable touring paddle board, you will want to make sure that you are buying a SUP with a woven drop stitch core that is surrounded by 3 to 4 layers of military grade PVC that has been fused together. Boards built with this kind of sturdy construction will be much less susceptible to puncturing. Even a paddle board with premium features like this could still deflate if you run across something sharp so always carry your repair kit.
Benefits of inflatable paddle boards as touring SUPs
Inflatable paddle boards work well as touring paddle boards for those that like to hike into remote waterways. An inflatable touring board is also a great option for those that have storage or transportation constraints as an inflatable SUP can be deflated and folded up to fit in a backpack.
An inflatable touring paddle board can also be the right board for those whose paddling adventures include overnight camping. If you deflate an inflatable stand up paddle board slightly it will make a very soft mattress for under your sleeping bag. This is especially true if your touring paddleboard has a premium deck pad for a little extra cushioning. Just make sure you bring your repair kit with you!
A solid touring board that has a board length of at least 12'6 x 30 or so inches will give you a very efficient glide and straight tracking. An inflatable paddle board gives up a little ground to the rigid board in terms of being a performance board. However, what little bit of straight tracking you may give up, you will more than gain back in portability.
An inflatable touring stand up paddle board will also be a thick board like the hard paddle boards but the difference isn't that noticeable from other inflatable SUP boards because those boards tend to be equal in thickness to make them more rigid. The inflatable SUP version of the touring board will have a planing hull to give it a smoother glide through choppy waters and to help with straight line tracking.
Many of the higher end stand up paddleboard brands will also include a kayak conversion kit with their inflatable touring SUP as well as a shoulder carry strap and a fiberglass paddle. Using your inflatable touring SUP as a kayak can in handy when long distance paddling if you get tired from standing or if you need to lower your center of gravity because of windy conditions.
Displacement vs planing hull
One of the great debates when buying a touring paddle board, is which type of hull is preferable. To make an educated decision it is best to have a good understanding of the main two types of SUP hulls.
Hard boards go with displacement hulls
A displacement hull has a concave bottom contour shape and is typically found on hard SUP boards. The reason boards are designed with a concave bottom is that they allow the board designer to go narrower for increased speed. The design also gives the SUP more surface area for stability. These types of hulls do not ride high on the water like a planing hull but rather plough through and parts the water. Hence the term "displacement"
SUPs with these types of hulls will have a pointed nose that not only engages but also increases the overall waterline of the SUP. The hull allows the board to slice through the water while pushing the water around the nose to the sides of the paddle board which improves efficiency and gives the board a quick glide. The efficiency of a displacement hull requires less effort than a planing hull to get up to speed which allows the paddler to go further distances with great alacrity. These boards also track well but are typically slightly less maneuverable than planing hulls.
Planing hulls on inflatable SUP boards
A planing hull will have a flat or convex V-shaped bottom. Designed to run on top of the water at high speeds these hulls allow the board to practically skim across the surface of the water, which also makes them more maneuverable but they will take more effort to get them up to speed. These boards customarily are very flat at the tail as well. Because inflatable paddle boards can only be designed with flat bottoms, inflatable touring SUPs can only be designed with planing hulls.
SUPs with planing hulls work well in the ocean or choppy water conditions as they will glide along with or over bumps. They also are a good choice if you are looking for more maneuverability from your SUP board. ,
The deck pad on a touring board
The whole point of a touring sup board is to allow you to paddle long distances quickly. That also means that you can be on your touring board for long periods of time which can take a toll on your feet.
For this reason, our favorite touring paddle boards are those with a smooth deck pad. Other touring boards come with a textured deck pad that can help your feet grip the touring board but can cause a lot of foot discomfort after you have paddled several miles.
The fin box on touring boards
The fin setup on touring SUPs tends to consist of a single center fin. A US style fin box is preferable if you have an inflatable touring paddle board as it well let you use a fin setup from a fin manufacturer rather than being beholden to a proprietary fin from your SUP board manufacturer.
Some paddlers use fins designed for racing boards in the fin box of their touring SUPs. A race specific fin can be helpful with the tracking of touring SUPs because when used in a racing board, they allow the paddler to perform more paddle strokes before switching sides.
The Kuzi Project - epic touring SUP expedition
Back in the summer of 2013, photographer-filmmaker Seth Warren and his good friend South African adventurer Kirk Hollis were about to embark on a 500-mile, unsupported journey up the east coast of Africa. They had asked our engineers at Glide SUP to design the perfect touring SUP for them to travel among the various small islands and atolls in the region so that they could enjoy some incredible kiteboarding along the journey and film their expedition for EpicTV.
Prior to this adventure, we had created special whitewater paddle boards that the duo took down the "White Nile" in Uganda prior to it being dammed up. We were well aware that these two were true adventurers and we needed to create touring paddle boards that could support their efforts.
The ultimate touring paddle board adventure
Once they had arrived in Africa, the duo traveled by stand up paddle boards and kite surfed from Pemba, Mozambique to Zanzibar in Tanzania, hopping between more than 50 islands along the way in what ended up being a six week odyssey.
What was the point of this adventure?
Kirk Hollis and Seth Warren - Touring SUP Adventurers
The KUZI Project was a 500-mile, self-supported stand up paddle boarding and kite boarding journey up the coast of East Africa named after ancient trade winds. Seth and Kirk – who had previously kiteboarded 3,500km from South Africa to Kenya – covered a stretch of the Indian Ocean coastline—from Pemba, Mozambique to Zanzibar, Tanzania—that is known the world over for its wildlife, marine life, and ancient historical significance.
They named their expedition for the Kuzi tradewind—a summertime force that pushes wind and swell from the Indian Ocean northward. The idea was that they would use the touring boards for transport and also kiteboard much of the stretch of coastline. Along the journey they would explore the islands and remote, pristine coastal areas. Kirk had dreamed this up as the ultimate adventure during the best winds in the most beautiful part of the East African coastline.
The best laid plans...
An adventure of this magnitude to such a remote part of the planet required quite a bit of adjustments on the fly. The first time they put all of the gear they were carrying on our touring boards was in Mozambique. They also had to adjust to the various currents and tradewinds right then and there. Thankfully each touring paddle board was able to carry gear successfully.
Adjusting to the high and low tides was another part of the adventure. In many of the areas around the small islands and sandbars, the water would completely retreat during low tide which made passage on the touring paddleboards all but impossible.
We had built the best touring paddle boards that we could have conceived of for a journey like this. Rather than our normal spec's of 12'6 x 30", these boards were 14' x 33" so that they could fit more gear on them. We tried to build the lightest board that we could even though we added premium features like paddle holders, comfortable deck pad and carbon fiber side rails. We included a repair kit as well so that they could patch them if need be.
This was definitely an extreme SUP touring trip. Both adventurers used a carbon fiber paddle since they were paddling for hours on end, they needed a paddle that was as light as possible.
The online video series that Epic TV created shows the harrowing situations that one can end up happening during an extreme touring paddle board expedition. There were sections of the trip where they weren't going to have access to drinking water for miles and another point where you watch them get lost in a labyrinth of mangroves.
Small insects can derail even the biggest paddle board adventures
The most harrowing part of the touring board journey is when Seth gets bitten by a venomous spider. He didn't worry much about it until the knee that was bitten swelled up to twice the size of the other knee.
Hearing him scream in agony as he tries to paddle his touring board really drives the point home that these adventurers are a different breed of human. Glide could have built him the best touring paddle board that the world had ever seen but it wouldn't make any difference if something as small as a spider could do him in.
Seth and Kirk had to abandon their plans to finish the journey as Seth found medical help and eventually had to return to the U.S. where it took him two months to fully recover from the spider bite. It was definitely an impressive touring paddle board journey and the videos of it are quite incredible.
Planning your own touring paddle board adventure
You don't need to head to the punishing coast of Africa to have your own SUP touring adventure. We have had plenty of local adventures with our touring inflatable, the Quest which is a classic touring inflatable paddle board size of 12'6 x 30" and is light enough to hike into lakes and rivers with.
Things to pack
For the best SUP touring experience, make sure to bring a carbon fiber paddle, paddle holder, repair kit and shoulder carry strap. Be certain too that your repair kit has a tool that will let you tighten up the inflation valve of your inflatable SUP.
Dry bags are a must for most of your camping gear. Ideally, you will want a water filtration device so that you don't have to weigh your paddle board down with liquid.
Besides a tent or a hammock and sleeping bag, you will want to bring cookware and fuel, a daily food menu, extra quick-drying clothes, safety gear as well as maps and permits. You will want to balance these items over the nose and tail of your inflatable SUP. A 12'6 x 30" paddle board should give you a fair amount of room for extra gear.
Test fitting your SUP touring board
Do a trial run of test fitting your gear on your board at home. It's best to know if you are going to have to leave any of it behind before you get to the launch site. When SUP touring, most of your gear is going to get wet which is why your dry bags are going to be critical to making your journey a success. This test run will also give you a chance to make sure you have your weight distribution figured out.
You will also want to figure out how you are going to tie down your gear. Bungees work will as will cargo nets. Better to figure this out at home than at the water's edge.
Make sure that you have a buddy with you on your SUP expedition. Also, be certain that you have come up with a "float plan" that you leave with friends and family. The float plan should spell out exactly where you plan to camp and on which nights so that if you go missing, a search crew will know where to look.
You will want all of your SUP safety gear: personal flotation device, leash and whistle. Don't camp too close to the water's edge in case the water level changes overnight.
Once you have determined the area where you will be SUP touring, make sure to order a detailed map of the area. You will then want to map out put-in and take-out points, camping spots, locations of interest, mileage, and safety checkpoints. Don't be too aggressive on figuring out your day-to-day mileage as you can't be certain of wind direction, water chop, etc.
Add a day or two to your itinerary as you can never be certain if you want to explore a certain spot more than you had planned. No one wants to be rush while touring on their paddle board!
Nutrition and hydration
You will want to make a specific meal plan for each day and carry the proper water filtration. Keep in mind that paddling 10-15 miles a day equals quite a few calories burned. There are many articles online detailing camping meal plans which will give you some great ideas. For water filtration, you will want to carry a virus filter which eliminates all bacteria. If the water seems really bad, you should also boil it.
There is quite a bit of planning that goes in SUP touring and camping. A best practice is to start small with a 1 or 2 night trip and work your way up from there so that you can't iron the kinks out.
Additional touring SUP tips
- Bring a spare paddle (3 piece or 2 piece) and keep it within reach and secured.
- Make sure your PFD fits properly and leash that your leash has a quick release feature (especially if you will be in river rapids).
- Have a robust first aid kit, maps, permits, and sunscreen, bug repellant, flashlight and knife within reach in a dry bag with easy access.
- You never know when inclimate weather will occur so keep your rain gear out and within reach.
- Bring a spare fin, board repair materials and parts.
Touring SUP is for the paddle board enthusiasts who aren't necessarily adrenaline junkies. These paddlers aren't looking to stick the landing after shooting their paddle board through some gnarly river rapids and they usually aren't up for catching head-high waves on their SUP.
They are, however, adventurers in their own right. The type of personality that is drawn to a touring board is usually someone who likes to backpack. They like to plot out a trip and explore whatever is beyond the next bend. With the proper planning, safety gear and a reliable paddle board, touring SUP can allow you to create memories that will last a lifetime.