SUP Boards

The stand-up paddleboard board

SUP Boards come in a very wide range of constructions, shapes, sizes, styles and purposes. Fortunately, if you’re starting out, then the choice is relatively simple, as we’ll explain here…

Why so many?

The huge array of different SUP boards on the market is simply due to the fact that there are so many different possible uses (see Types of SUP ). Each major brand now has boards for racing (in various classes), boards for cruising, boards for beginner surf, boards for radical surf, and then quite probably several other niche uses such as boards for fishing, rivers, tandems, etc. And then of course, they have a variety of all-round/general-use models, in different sizes for different weights of rider. We’ll concentrate on those in this article.
The all-round board is something that cruises comfortably but could be used in small surf too if this is a direction you want to explore. Boards of this type are usually in the 10′ to 12” size range. Anything shorter is usually strongly orientated towards surfing, and will thus not be particularly suited to straight-line cruising (longer boards have better ‘glide’), while anything longer than 12 is orientated towards distance and racing, and will thus be extremely directional, with minimal surf suitability.

The board’s width is the most important indicator of stability. If you’re 70kg or more, then a good rule of thumb is to look for something with at least 30” of width. If you’re 90kg+ then going wider still will definitely make life easier.

Construction options

First time boards come in four main construction styles:

  • Epoxy/composite is the most commonly used process in board manufacturing, whereby an epoxy-resin-impregnated outer skin is cooked onto a pre-shaped polystyrene foam core in a fiberglass mould. The choice of materials and layers used in creating the skin determines the stiffness, strength, weight and price tag of the finished product. In general, these epoxy-composite boards are the lightest option, the highest in performance (due to their stiffness and rigidity), but also the most expensive. Although respectably tough it’s the least durable of the construction options, which is why some of the more beginner-orientated brands (or construction options) add an extra ASA layer to the outside to toughen them up, at the cost of a bit of extra weight. Being big and solid, with no ‘give’ in their skin, composite boards will definitely hurt when they hit you, though – one of the main reasons other than price that the alternative construction options have relevance for the first purchase.
  • Blow-moulded polyethylene or polypropylene is the cheapest method of construction. This is the ‘plastic’ that many kayaks (and kids slides etc) are made from, and most paddleboards made this way are actually more like reshaped kayaks, and usually bristle with extra fittings, compartments etc, as it’s very easy to attach fixings to polypropylene. The boards are super durable but extremely heavy – ok you’re keeping one at the bach and you just need to drag it a few metres to the water’s edge, but too heavy for easy transportation, and they’re relatively slow and draggy in the water, too. Definitely a very cheap option though.
  • Many brands now offer inflatable boards, which offer huge advantages in terms of storage and transportation, as they roll up into a smallish backpack, making them particularly attractive for boats and campervans. They’re also a great option for families, as they’re very kid friendly, and the well-made ones can also be treated really rough, which is why they’re also pretty much the only sensible option for riding down rivers, bouncing off rocks along the way. All the performance in an inflatable comes from its internal pressure, so the key factor when buying an inflatable is what pressure it pumps up to. The products from the good brands are actually surprisingly high performance.
  • Finally, there are the ‘foamies’; boards constructed entirely from foam, like beginner surfboards. These knockabout boards offer a lower cost option than the composite boards, and are very family-friendly, as the soft foam construction minimises risk of injury to persons or property .

Understanding the shape

Take a moment to familiarise yourself with the various parts of the SUP as shown in the diagram here. There is absolutely no requirement to know any of this technical stuff; it won’t make the slightest difference to your enjoyment of being on the water. However, a knowledge of the basic terminology is useful, just so’s you’re not completely in the dark when discussing your requirements with your retailer, or other enthusiasts.

Nose, tail, deck and rails should all be self explanatory terms. Rocker is basically the curve in the board from nose to tail, and has a massive effect on how the board accelerates (the greater the curve, the less the acceleration) and turns (the greater the curve, the better the turning). So a board’s ‘rocker profile’ will determine how well it accelerates and glides, and how manoeuvrable it is. You may also hear people talking about ‘nose rocker’ or ‘tail rocker’, which is simply the curve just in that area of the boar, as shown below.

The underside of the board, when you put a straight edge across it from one side to the other, can either be flat, concave, convex, or rise to a central ridgeline, known as vee. Each of these again affects both the straight-line and the turning performance, and over the many decades of surfboard and windsurfing board design, pretty much very conceivable combination of these has been explored – and we’re now already beginning to see the same thing happening in SUP design too. We’ll cover what these parameters actually do in more detail in future issues, but at least now if someone tells you that their board has a lot of vee you will know what they are referring to.

Weights, abilities and generalisations

All the advice contained here is inevitably somewhat generalised. It’s impossible to give hard-and-fast advice that is universally applicable, since there is no standard model of human – we’re all different shapes, sizes, weights and with different wish-lists. If you’re young, light, already a competent surfer and wanting a paddleboard purely for riding waves, your ideal first board is going to be entirely different to the best choice for a middle aged lady with a bad hip wanting something to potter around with on her local duckpond. So the advice given here is good for the majority, but not for everybody. If you think you might be outside the majority, then go talk it through with your retailer. Demo some kit, try stuff out. See what works for you.