Stand-up Paddleboard Buyer's Guide
Paddleboarding (or SUP) is among the fastest growing water sports in the world. It is an excellent form of exercise for the whole body and a great way to enjoy a sunny day on the lake. There are two very good reasons for this sport's growing popularity. First of all, paddleboarding is accessible. It is relatively easy to learn and there a numerous opportunities to try it out. The second major appeal is versatility. Paddleboards have been developed to meet a vast number of needs and uses. Whether its coastline touring, flat water racing, whitewater rapids, big wave surf, yoga or cottage cruising, there's a paddleboard for you. And this guide will help you figure out which board meets your personal needs.
If you have an interest in paddleboarding but haven't had a chance to try it out, there are ways you can.
Boardsports Demo Days - Every Wednesday morning at 7:30am, we offer demos at Cherry Beach. Use promo code "FreeSUPDemo" when signing up on our website and the first one's free. We have a variety of different styles of boards in our demo fleet and will be sure to find something you like.
Toronto Adventures - For SUP rentals and lessons for all abilities at Sunnyside Beach in Toronto, check out www.torontoadventures.ca.
Choosing your Board
Most of the boards we stock at Boardsports and that we will discuss in this section have an EPS (expanded polystyrene) core. They are then laminated with either fiberglass, carbon fiber or wood veneers and finally glassed with an epoxy or polyurethane resin. The paddleboard market is growing very quickly. So, if you are looking for a durable product that will stand the test of time, make sure to get your board from a quality manufacturer. We strive to provide our customers with product from world renowned factories such as Cobra (Naish, Amundson, Fanatic, etc.) and Kinetic (Jimmy Lewis). Both these factories have been in the construction of surfboards, windsurf boards and paddleboards for decades. Low quality manufacturers will use inferior single-density cooler foam as a core and substantially fewer layers of fiberglass and resin. This will severely limit the longevity of your new SUP.
The shape of your new paddleboard will determine which conditions and paddling styles it is best suited to. Broadly speaking, there are two categories: planing hull and displacement hull.
This is your traditional SUP design. Essentially oversized surfboards, planing boards sit on top of the water.
If you are planning to use your new board in strictly surfy conditions, this is the style of board you want. Generally surf-style boards will be shorter (10' and under) and have three or four fins for greater turning and maneuverability. They tend to have more rocker (curvature) to allow them to sit in the pocket of a wave and avoid the dreaded nosedive. However, these boards are ill-suited to flat water conditions because they are significantly less buoyant and have a tendency to zig-zag as opposed to tracking straight. Some great examples of surf-style boards are the Naish Hokua and the Jimmy Lewis Mano.
If you want a board to use in both surf and flat water, you are looking for an all-rounder. All-round paddleboards are planing hull boards typically 10-12' long. Their greater length and flatter rocker allow them to track straighter and achieve greater speeds. They also tend to be the most stable beginner-friendly boards. All-round paddleboards have either one or three fins. However, the three fin configuration is for those days you are using your board in the surf. In flat water, we recommend removing the side fins as they will only create drag and slow you down. Some great examples of all-rounders are the Fanatic Fly and the Naish Nalu. Some all-round paddleboards, like the Fly, feature an insert that can be used to rig a windsurf sail. Although these boards are designed first and foremost as paddleboards, they are great for casual cottage windsurfing as well.
Growing in popularity is SUP yoga. It is great way to enjoy time on the water and get fit. For yoga, you need a wider board for stability (32" or more). And some, like the Amundson Source 11'10, feature full-length deck pads for slip-free traction tip to tail.
You may have seen some paddleboards that feature a more streamlined, almost boat-like shape. These are displacement hull boards. These boards are designed to cut through the water, allowing them to reach unmatched speeds in flat water. They are usually 12'6 or 14' long with a single fin. There are a variety displacement designs. Remember that narrower boards might give you a bit of a speed boost but at the cost of stability.
The Ontario SUP racing circuit has been exploding and if you are looking to get involved a displacement board is essential! Some of the fastest race boards on the market are the Fanatic Carbon Falcon and the Bark Phantom. However, displacement hull boards are not just for those looking to compete. The unmatched speed of displacement hulls make them ideal for paddling around cottage country lakes.
A variation of the displacement design is the piercing hull. This is essentially a hybrid. It is rockered like a planing board but features a pointed nose and greater length. These boards are designed for touring. They are fast but proficient in chop and even ocean swell. The Bark Expedition is a good example of a touring board.
So far we have been discussing boards with a solid construction, but there have been recent advances in the development of inflatable stand-up paddleboards. These are great for people who are restricted by factors such as storage or transportation.
The construction of these boards is no simpler than those discussed above. They hold a solid shape due to a network of thousands of intertwined fibers inside the inflatable chamber. And made with a variety of super durable polymers and urethane materials, inflatables have also sparked a new trend: white water paddleboarding. In fact, there is now an inflatable design for whichever style of paddleboarding interests you.
However, if you can accommodate a solid-body board, we usually recommend you go for this option. Though inflatable boards may be convenient, they are do not offer the same speed or performance. Even pumped up to 15+ PSI, inflatables still have a slight amount of give that creates drag in the water.
Choosing your Paddle
Sizing your Paddle
There are a number of methods for sizing paddles and it is important to realize that there are a number of factors at play. For instance, some recommend approximately 8" above head for surf conditions and 10-12" for flat water and racing. There is some truth to this since racers usually demand a longer stroke and have boards that sit higher above the water. But remember that this also makes an assumption about the length of your arms. For this reason, Laird Hamilton has suggested that the length of your paddle should be such that you can just comfortably rest your wrist on top of it, with your arm extended directly up and the base of the blade resting on flat ground.
In the end, paddle length is a matter of personal preference and style. So, if you are unsure or if you would prefer to purchase a paddle that can be used by paddlers of various heights, go with an adjustable paddle. There is an array of adjustable paddles on the market and you should have no trouble finding one to suit your needs. However, adjustable paddles will always have some degree of flex. So, if you are looking for a personal performance paddle, fixed-length is definitely worth consideration.
Types of Paddles
The original SUP paddles were made of wood. Wood paddles are light, inexpensive and look great. However, they are not adjustable and have tendency to flex, making them ultimately less efficient than stiffer paddles.
Another inexpensive option is the aluminum paddle. These are typically widely adjustable and have a plastic blade. They are a great starter paddle for the whole family but unfortunately, they are quite heavy and have a tendency to sink if left uncollected in the water for an extended period of time.
For performance, carbon and fiberglass paddles are your best bet. Even in these higher-end paddles, adjustable options are still available. 100% carbon paddles are the lightest and stiffest on the market. If you are going to be paddleboarding for a couple hours at a time, having a super-light paddle can make a world of difference. Some high-end carbon paddles are now available with an ergonomic bent shaft. These reduce wrist strain and allow for a longer, more powerful stroke.
Cadence and Blade Size
Cadence refers to the rate at which you paddle (strokes/minute).
Low cadence paddling (characteristic of recreational paddlers and surfers) consists of fewer strokes and dealing a large amount of power at the beginning of each stroke. In short bursts, this style of paddling offers quick acceleration but can be tiresome in the long term. Low cadence paddles have shorter, wider blades.
High cadence paddling (for example, touring and racing) typically makes use of more incremental strokes to give steady acceleration and maintain speed. High cadence paddles have longer, narrower blades. They are the most efficient for flat water and long distances.
Transporting your SUP
Getting your stand up paddle board to the beach can be tricky sometimes depending on what size car you have. If you have a truck or a van sometimes you will be able to fit the board in the back but in most cases the board will have to be strapped to the roof of the car. First you are going to want to check if your car has a roof rack. Most cars will have either a factory style roof rack or at least runners to attach a roof rack to. If your thinking about getting roof racks for your runners we highly recommend getting racks made by a company that specializes in transporting your gear. Car company racks tend to not be as strong as the aftermarket company's version and you will be able to get a rack designed for SUP's. Your other option is to get some soft racks for your car. Soft racks are a pad that straps onto roof of your car to protect your car roof from the board and vice versa. These are an awesome option because they usually come with a strap for the board that is attached to the pad making it a very secure option. The only downside to the soft rack is that it sits directly on top of the roof of your car where a hard rack will be raised a few inches above. At Boardsports we have put hundreds of boards on hundreds of different cars, big and small. When you buy a board with us we will always put your board on your roof for you and give you a walk through on how it is done. The first step is to make sure your racks are set up right and wont damage your board, for hard racks this involves getting a rack pad. Next is putting your board on the car, usually you will place the board on the roof upside down with the finbox to the front of the car, this will reduce the amount of lift the board will get. By having the rocker of the board bend with the car the wind will be able to flow with the car the way it was intended. When strapped to the roof the board is always going to act like a wing, catching wind and trying to lift the board up so you always want to have it with the least amount of wind resistance. The last step is strapping your board to the roof of the car,
You've picked out your board and paddle; what else do you need? There are a few other essentials. The first is a leash. Leashes strap around either your calf or ankle and connect to the tail of your board. They are absolutely necessary for windy or surfy days as they enable you to retrieve your board should you fall. But they are even useful on calm days as there is a tendency for paddleboarders to kick out their boards in front of them. You can use a traditional straight surf leash. But there are also coiled SUP leashes available that will not drag in the water.
By law, you are required to wear a PFD paddleboarding in Ontario and may be fined at least $200 for failing to do so. Some people find traditional PFDs bulky and difficult to paddle in; not to mention hot! Mustang inflatable belt PFDs are an excellent solution to this problem. Their minimal design fits around the waist and stays out of the way until you pull the inflation cord.
If you are interested paddling on the Great Lakes, it is a good idea to invest in a wetsuit to keep you warm. A 3-4mm thick suit will extend your season into the spring and fall. Thick neoprene booties will also keep your feet warm.
Finally, make sure you have the right equipment to transport your new board. We have been successful strapping SUP boards to pretty much any vehicle. We highly recommend getting board bag as it will protect your board from nicks and scratches whether you're driving it down the highway or storing it in a garage or boathouse. If you are going to be moving your board around regularly, you might want to consider purchasing a padded flat bar surf rack. It is then just a matter of strapping your board down and hitting the road.