What are you looking for in a Paddle Board?
When purchasing a paddle board there are many options to consider. Figuring out what you are looking for in a paddle board is the key.
Paddle boarding had a renaissance of sorts during the Covid pandemic. Advanced paddlers who used to paddle board alone discovered that a great way to meet up with their friends while social distancing was to get out on a water way on their stand up paddle boards.
We got used to seeing paddlers who would bring the entire family out and would share their paddle boards, just to be able to break out of the confines of their home prison and to soak up some vitamin D at the same time. Since those early days of 2020, we've seen many of these beginner paddlers get more serious about paddle boarding and were motivated to look at the various types of SUP boards on the market. Hopefully this primer will help them make an educated decision.
There are many facets to a Stand up Paddle Board
Many beginner paddlers jump onto all around paddle boards and paddle around in circles, usually with the paddle backwards. They are just pleased with themselves that they are able to stay standing even though they feel unstable.
This is all well and good but once they get the hang of paddle boarding, they typically want to paddle longer distances with less effort if they are into flat water paddling. What they quickly realize is that paddle boarding has so many different aspects to it.
They may want to catch waves on surfing SUPs or the really bold ones may want to try their hand at river paddling, while the more meditative paddlers put their energy into SUP yoga.
The case for hard paddle boards
For most of the history of stand up paddle boarding, hard boards with a foam core were the only option for paddlers. They were essentially made like a surf board but were a substantially longer board.
The hard paddle board gave a smooth ride and allowed the paddler to go long distances at faster speeds with less effort. The weight capacity and board volume for hard boards was typically determined by the board length and width rather than board thickness. Because they looked like a large version of a regular surfboard, many inland paddle board enthusiasts fancied themselves as coastal surfers.
The main two knocks against hard SUPs is the storage space that they take up and the transport hassle if you want to take them on a road trip. Even if you got a shorter board, it is not going to fit into most small spaces.
Enter inflatable paddle boards
The advent of the inflatable paddle board (or inflatable SUP) made the sport of paddle boarding much more accessible to those that live in small spaces. Being able to deflate the paddle board and put it in a storage bag that was the size of a suitcase (even for longer boards) really opened up the SUP possibilities.
The storage bag that most inflatable SUPs come with usually doubles as a backpack. This meant that hiking your inflatable paddle board into a remote lake as now a possibility. No one who ever owned a solid board could have imagined this.
Various type of paddle boards
Hard paddle boards and inflatable SUPs come in many shapes and sizes. This is because there are a plethora of paddle board disciplines, so in order to choose the right board, you need to first figure out how you plan to use it.
All around paddle boards
All around paddle boards are the jack-of-all-trades but master-of-none. If you want to keep your options open, an all around paddle board is a good way to go. An all around paddle board works well for SUP yoga as well as for riding waves at the ocean.
They aren't ideal if you want to paddle a far distance but they will get the job done. They tend to be shorter boards than a touring paddle board so they are more maneuverable. The boards had a stable feel and work well for paddlers of all skill levels.
The fin base on an all around paddle board can be either a single fin or a tri fin base. With the tri fin base, the single fin in the middle of the board is surrounded by a smaller fin on each side of it.
Touring paddle boards
Touring stand up paddle boards tend to look quite different from all purpose paddle boards. The board length of most touring boards is around 12 feet or so. The board volume and therefore the weight capacity of touring boards tends to be higher too as the board thickness is usually 5-6 inches.
Most touring boards have a single fin which is usually fairly long for more stability. They usually track nice which means that you can paddle longer on each side of the board.
Touring paddle boards tend to be longer boards with a pointed nose and are made specifically for long distance paddling. The nose or hull is usually a displacement hull or a planing hull.
The displacement hull slices through the water as it is designed to part the water it is passing through. The displacement hull requires less energy to get up to speed as they improve efficiency in flat water. They also tend to track straighter and have extra glide compared to a paddle board with a more rounded nose.
The planing hull is designed to skim along the top of the water rather than cutting through it like the displacement hull does. You are going to have to crank your carbon fiber SUP paddle a bit more to get your board with a planing hull up to speed but once you do, the board tends to offer a bit more stability in choppy water.
There is quite a bit of debate over whether the displacement hull is faster than the planing hull. At most races, you will see quite a few of each type of hull.
River paddle boarding
Ok, so its not exactly an activity for the entire family but if you take the proper precautions and invest in adequate safety gear, whitewater paddling boarding can be quite a thrill. Those two factors can make the difference between having a great time or ending up in the emergency room.
You will want to ditch the carbon fiber SUP paddle and change out your keel fin for a shorter fin so you don't destroy them on the rocks. Wearing a helmet and a personal flotation device are critical and having a leash with a quick disconnect release is crucial as well.
What type of paddle board works best in the river?
Initially, hard stand up paddle boards were the vessel of choice for running rivers. As the technology for inflatable paddle boards has improved, it's clear that inflatable SUPs have become the board of choice for the hardy souls that take up this endeavor.
An inflatable board makes sense when you consider that an inflatable SUP is created with the same technology as river rafts use. An inflatable SUP also provides a softer landing when you fall (and, trust us, you will be falling!) The inflatable board also tends to bounce off of rocks easier than a solid board will.
River surfing or river running?
Paddle boarding on the river doesn't have to mean charging down the rapids. A SUP with a shorter board length will also allow you to surf a river wave that is formed then the river runs over an obstacle like a rock and creates a perpetual wave that can be be caught by placing the nose of the board up river and paddling hard to drop into it.
Because these waves are perpetual, you can literally be riding waves (or the same wave) all day long. Quite a few river play parks have sprung up in mountain states that feature man made standing waves.
We're not sure who the first yogi was who decided to try poses on stand up paddle board but the popularity of SUP yoga has been hard to deny. Being on a paddle board while trying to hold challenging poses can truly accentuate the experience as your body tries to adjust to the unstable surface of the board.
Whether you are trying yoga on a solid board or an inflatable SUP, you will want to make sure that the right board for SUP yoga has the correct amount of attachment points that allow you to secure your paddle and your water, towel, etc. You will also want to make sure the paddle board has the weight capacity to support you, your gear and any advanced moves that you might be inclined to try.
Surfing your stand up paddle board
Using your paddle board to surf waves can be incredibly fun. It's surprising how much easier it is than a regular surfboard. The fact that you are already standing on the board as opposed to lying prone and having to push yourself up makes a huge difference.
A surf paddle board tends to be shorter than most SUP's so make sure that the weight capacity will accommodate you. Paddle boards tend to have more board volume than surfboards which makes them more buoyant as well.
The more buoyancy a paddle board has means that you can catch much smaller waves which helps with the surfing learning curve. It also helps that you can use your SUP paddle to catch up to a wave that has gotten ahead of you or to slow you down if you have shot out ahead of the wave.
Stand up paddle board fishing
One of the more interesting developments in stand up paddle board world has been the enthusiasm for catching fish on a board. The rise of this SUP activity has coincided with the popularity of kayak fishing.
Stand up paddle boards designed for fishing tend to be larger boards with higher weight capacity to accomodate an angler's gear which usually includes a cooler, net, etc. Inflatable paddle boards work well for fishing because they allow the angler to hike into uncrowded lakes and rivers.
Most fishing paddle boards have multiple attachment points that allow the paddler to attach scotty mounts for their poles. One advantage that a stand up paddle board has over a kayak when it comes to fishing is that it allows the angler to stand and cast which lets them throw the fishing line out further.
Stand up paddle boards have become hugely popular over the last several years. One of the reasons is how versatile they are. Some paddlers only want to do long distance paddling on flat water where others are bored with paddling calm waters and want to challenge themselves by trying to stay upright in ocean surf or river whitewater. Lastly, there are the yogis who intensify their practice with the unique challenges that a paddle board brings.
The kind of SUP board that you invest in will depend on the kind of paddle boarding that you plan to do. The truly dedicated paddle board enthusiasts typically ends up with several different kinds of paddle boards so that they don't have to choose one discipline of SUP.