Stand up paddle boarding, or SUP as it is often called, is considered to be one of the fastest growing recreational outdoor sports in the world today. The increase in popularity of paddleboarding has been nothing short of phenomenal. Although its roots date back as far as the 1960’s, it has seen significant growth since 2010 and it is now enjoyed by millions of people every year.
Here at Water Sports Planet we thought we would take a closer look at how and why stand up paddle boarding has become so popular. We will of course be looking at which are the best stand up paddle boards available on the market today and which ones deliver the best value.
All Round or Touring Stand Up Paddle Board
Classed as multipurpose SUP’s, these are usually a lot wider, longer and thicker than other boards. This gives them a larger space to stand on which therefore makes them a lot more stable. They typically have a pointed front end. They are a great choice for beginners due to the added stability you get. Some All Round SUP’s also have the ability to mount a windsurfing rig on them.
Do not be put off by the ‘touring’ label, these boards are not just for SUP touring. These are mostly used for flat water paddling such as lakes or calm rivers as they are designed to give improved glide. Essentially this makes them more efficient when moving through the water. The pointed nose (also referred to as a displacement hull) also helps them be more efficient as it cuts through water (which is particularly helpful if the water is a little bit choppy).
As these boards are usually longer, they are great for storing gear and that's why they are used for SUP touring should you wish to give it a try.
You might guess what we are going to say here. As with all paddle boards, the type of Surf SUP you choose should be tailored to your experience and skill level. Get it wrong and be prepared to build your muscles by climbing back on your board again and again.
You will also need to decide which style of SUP surfing you intend to do – long board or short board. Long boards are built for speed and flying down the line – these boards are also good for flat water paddling so you get a bit more flexibility for your money. Short boards are built for quick turning and fast movement, allowing you to really move around on the surf – these are less stable so don’t go getting an 8 foot short board as your first board. Get a longer, wider board and as your skills improve you can look at whether you want change your board.
Dedicated Racing Paddleboards are designed to keep you cutting through water as fast as possible and they are ideal for keeping you on your course. These boards are considerably longer, considerably narrower and have a very long fin. You will typically have 2 choices of board length, a 12 ft 6 inch board or a 14 ft board. The 12 foot 6 inch boards are typically used by women and smaller men while the 14 foot boards are typically used by men and larger women.
The width of the board will be governed by your experience and ability. If you are new to paddle boarding then we recommend going for a wider board to give you additional stability. The more experienced you are the narrower the board can be. The smaller the width to length ratio, the faster the board will be on the water but don’t be tempted to go for the fastest board, go for the one which best suits your ability. You can always trade up once you gain experience and improve your skills.
Another characteristic of a race sup is the pointy nose or displacement nose. The displacement nose cuts through the water which allows you to track straighter through the water and go faster. The tail shape is your final consideration – a wider tail will be more stable where as a narrower tail will be less stable but will help you move through the water.
Should you want to enter any competitions then this type of board is for you. Alternatively, if you just want to further improve your core body strength then this is also the ideal paddle board.
SUP Yoga Paddle Board
It seems that it didn’t take long before someone had the idea of doing Yoga on a stand up paddle board. The first SUP Yoga classes are credited as being started in 2008 and since then the activity has gone from strength to strength. If you don’t know about the health benefits of yoga then you can check it out at www.yogajournal.com.
The additional benefit of SUP yoga is that you work your core even harder. This achieves a better balance due to having less stability than you do when you do it on dry land. You will also refine you technique a lot faster as you get instant feedback from the board. If you are not balanced then you will feel the board shift, get it right and the board will be stable. People generally comment that it is also more calming due to the floating sensation combined with the natural surroundings.
The usual advice when buying a SUP Yoga board is to get one which is longer and wider than standard boards. Our advice is that ‘longer’ is relative to your height, someone who is 5 ft tall won’t necessarily need the same size board as someone who is 6 ft tall. Bear in mind the longer the board, the more difficult is can be to transport or carry. An inflatable SUP can be a good choice for yoga as they are inherently softer than hard boards and you also get the benefit of them being easy to transport.
Wider is definitely where you want to be though. Look at boards which are at least 30 inches wide as this will give you the stability you need. Consider something with a soft surface to help with comfort and you might want to get a board places to attach things like resistance bands and other exercise equipment. You have the option to anchor your board which is useful if you are with a friend or a group as it will stop you drifting away and having to paddle back.
Inflatable Stand Up Paddle Board
The real upside to an inflatable SUP is the flexibility it gives you. You can use these in locations which are hard to access by car. If you live in an apartment then you don’t have an issue with storing it. Maybe you would struggle to transport a solid board – this would fit into your trunk, making it much easier to transport.
The trade off is that you have to spend time inflating and deflating your paddle board when you get to your location. You are normally looking at around 15 minutes to inflate a board which we think isn’t a bad trade for all the added flexibility you get.
Inflatable SUP’s are getting more popular ever year as people are realising that, in addition to the benefits mentioned above, they are lighter and therefore easier to carry – typically ranging between 15 lbs and 35 lbs. The vast majority come as a package so you get a paddle, a carry bag, a pump and other accessories such as a leash or waterproof bags.
If you are thinking that inflatable boards are not as good as solid boards then think again. They look like solid boards and they perform like solid boards. When inflated to the correct psi, they are very rigid and strong with many of them being virtually indestructible or ‘ding’ proof.
The traction pads tend to be a bit softer which is great if you kneel regularly on your board or if you need a little extra cushioning for yoga.
Different Types of SUP Paddles
The paddle is made up of three main parts, the handle, the shaft and the blade. You can get SUP paddles with different length shafts and different shaped blades. The paddle you choose should be based on your height and the specific type of paddle boarding you are going participate in.
The Handle - SUP paddle handles come in two types as standard, a typical T bar shaped handle or an ergonomically designed handle. The ergonomically designed SUP handles are the most popular as they are more comfortable but some people do prefer the typical T bar shape. As with a lot of things, it is down to personal preference.
The Shaft - The shaft is constructed from four main materials, aluminium, glass fibre, carbon, and kevlar. Each type of material will change how the paddle performs so this is still an important part of your decision making.
Carbon paddles are the most common as it provides the paddle with stiffness and memory.
Glass fibre paddles are considered a lower budget material as it tends to bend more, resulting in the paddle having a softer stroke.
Aluminium paddles tend to be heavier as it is quite a rigid material.
Kevlar paddles perform in a similar manner to carbon paddles but have the added benefit of being made from a high impact resistant material.
Blades - SUP blades come in different sizes but they are usually categorized into small, medium and large. Large blades will offer more power and help you move forward more quickly. The downside is that they are more difficult to paddle, especially for beginners and women. Therefore they tend to be used by strong paddlers and those people who surf paddle. Smaller and medium blades are easier to paddle and make it easier to manoeuvre your board around. They tend to be used for touring and recreational users – they are a good choice for beginners.
Paddle Length – The length of your paddle will have an impact on how comfortable you are while paddling so make sure you get the correct size. The general rule of thumb is that the paddle should be between 6 and 12 inches taller than you.
Getting more specific, you should buy a paddle length which is suited to your SUP activity. Surf SUP paddles are usually 6 to 8 inches taller than you, Flatwater SUP paddles are usually 8 to 10 inches taller than you and Racing SUP paddles are usually 10 to 12 inches taller than you.
Adjustable Paddles - You can also get adjustable paddles which are great if you are using your stand up paddle board in different situations or if you need to store it away, as you do with the inflatable SUP boards.
How to Carry Your Stand Up Paddle Board
You will obviously see that SUP boards are quite large and therefore can be somewhat awkward to carry around. Here are some helpful tips on how you can carry your paddle board.
Handle Carry – all SUP boards have a carry handle built into the side of the board. It is located at the centre point of the board. Simply tip the board onto its side, grab the carry handle then lift and off you go.
Head Carry – Carrying your board on your head can be easier as it spreads the weight rather than having to carry it using one arm (with the built in handle). The hardest part is getting it up and onto your head in the first place. It isn’t as difficult as it sounds, it just takes a little practice.
This how it is done – lift the tail of the board and move your hands along the sides of the board until your head is near the centre. Then grab both sides of the board and tilt it until it is balanced on your head. With a little practice you will be able to do this while also holding your paddle in one hand.
Paddle Board Carrier – you can buy a paddle board carry strap which makes it easier to carry. It is an adjustable strap and padded shoulder straps. Some will also have a place for your paddle as well.
How to Transport your SUP
Car Racks – Transporting your paddle board can be done quite easily with a car rack. If you already have a car rack then you can simply throw a towel on the rack, as this will help protect your board, and strap your board to it. You can get racks with built in locks which will stop your board from being stolen. Always strap your board down flat with the fin pointing up. If the board is on its edge then it will act like a sail when hit by wind which could cause you to lose control of your car.
Air Travel – It is much easier to get your board on to an airplane if you put it in a travel bag. SUP travel bags are padded to give added protection to your board. However, it is always worth adding some padding of your own by using bubble wrap or towels to go around your board. We recommend using towels as you will be taking towels with you anyway and this will free up space in your luggage bag.
Handy Hints and Tips to Help You Get the Most Out of Paddle Boarding
Use a Leash – we might as well tackle this now, you are going to fall into the water. I don’t know a paddle boarder that hasn’t. A SUP leash will make sure your board doesn’t float away into the horizon with you swimming after it. You can get back on your board quickly and then go get your paddle.
Wear a Life Jacket – Did we mention you were going to fall into the water at some point? When you do you want to make sure you are safe and the best way to this is by wearing a life jacket. We read too many news stories where people have found themselves in danger and they weren’t wearing life jacket.
Make Sure Your Paddle is the Right Way – I know, you’re thinking that it’s obvious but believe me it’s easy to use it the wrong way. Beginners normally think the paddle blade should be used with the scoop facing towards the rear of the board however that is not correct. The scoop should face the front of the board as this makes is easier and smoother to move the paddle through the water. Try it.
Know Your Front from Your Back – It’s always worth checking that you know which end is the front and which end is the back of your board. Be sure you know where the fins are on your board. If you try using your paddleboard with the fins are at the front you will find that your board will not go straight and will be difficult to steer.
Use Your Core – your core is the strongest part of your body and therefore it is better to use this to paddle. If you just use your arms to paddle then you will find that you get tired more quickly. You should turn your body as you paddle rather than just pulling the paddle with your arms. Using your core is one of the 4 Golden Rules of Paddle Boarding.
Don’t Look Down – when you are first learning, it is easy to think that looking down at your board is the best way to see what is going on but that will inevitably cause you to be less stable. Keep your back straight and your head up. Look forward at the horizon and in your direction of travel.
Know Your Ability – Mother Nature has a way of teaching us lessons when we overstep the mark and push beyond our limits. Make sure that you only go paddle boarding in locations which you are comfortable with and that you can handle. You should build up your skills and experience as this will make for a more enjoyable time on the water.
Take Care of Your Equipment – I am a believer that if you look after your equipment then your equipment will look after you. Take care when transporting, carrying and storing your board. Clean your equipment regularly and you will get more use out of it. This will also save you money as you will not need to replace your equipment quite so often.
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