By taking what is essentially an oversized surfboard and adding a canoe paddle, off-season surfers in Hawaii created a new way to enjoy the water regardless of how big the swell is.
Whether you’re into action-packed sports or prefer a relaxing way to take in the scenery, so long as you like the water then stand-up paddling (SUP) could be for you.
By taking what is essentially an oversized surfboard and adding a canoe paddle, off-season surfers in Hawaii created a new way to enjoy the water regardless of how big the swell is. The incredible fact is that this craze only really took off around 15 years ago, but since then has turned into a global phenomenon.
Simply standing on a board in the water may not sound all that special, but when you consider the flexibility this mode of transport offers, the full potential of the activity is revealed. Not only can a stand-up paddler use their board for surfing, they can also use it for general leisure or even touring. Want a novel way of exploring a river or lake? SUP provides the answer.
But before you rush off on your first SUP adventure, you’ll need to know a few things about the gear involved. There are quite a number of different board styles, each designed for a different user, and getting the right paddle can make a huge difference as well. And it doesn’t stop there, with several key accessories to consider.
This guide aims to walk you through everything you need to know about purchasing your SUP kit, including some of the jargon that will help you talk the talk. However, the best source of information will be one of your local Rays staff, so make sure you continue the conversation in-store.
MAJOR TYPES OF SUP
There are four major styles of SUP, according to the major use categories: Surf, All round, Touring/Flatwater and Race. These types of boards are generally defined by their size and shape, so this is generally considered the most important decision to be made when selecting a board.
Keep in mind, styles are only a rough indication of a board’s actual size, as there is quite a bit of variety. This is because size should also be considered with relation to the height and weight of the user. In this case there’s a simple rule of thumb: the larger the person, the larger the board.
Surf: Most similar to a surfboard, these paddleboards are the shortest and most maneuverable style of board owing to their narrow nose and tail, as well as a more pronounced curve (referred to as ‘rocker’). This agility also makes the style less suitable for beginners and users looking for an easy, stable ride. This design also means the board tracks more slowly over flat water.
All round: As the name suggests, these boards represent the midpoint between all other specialty board styles. Coming in at a bit longer, thicker and wider than the surf type, it’s still shorter and more maneuverable than a touring board, making it a more enjoyable board to use for mixed surf-flatwater activities.
Touring/flatwater: Among the longer boards, one of the key differences between a touring and a racing board is the width; a good touring board should be a little wider for added stability, even though this may sacrifice some speed. Compared to an allrounder, touring boards have a more pointed nose to help slice through the water.
Race: Just subtle differences exist between touring and race boards, but you can expect a good race model to focus on streamlining and lightweight materials. A sharp nose shape helps it cut across flat water surfaces, while the narrow overall width improves speed while decreasing stability.
Solid or inflatable?
Beyond the different shape of SUPs on the market, there’s also a distinctive category of inflatable boards for people to consider.
Unlike solid SUPs (which the rest of this buying guide focusses on), inflatable boards are made from layers of PVC plastic with woven fibres connecting the top and the bottom of the board. This construction provides sufficient rigidity once fully inflated for the board to be used just like a solid option.
The benefits of choosing an inflatable board are: they’re lighter, they can be more easily transported when deflated, and can therefore be taken into situations you wouldn’t normally carry a solid board. The downside? Like any plastic, the materials used in an inflatable SUP are vulnerable to UV damage overtime, punctures from rocks or coral and some people may find they’re just a touch less stable than a solid board.
ANATOMY OF A SUP
Breaking down the various elements of an SUP will help you describe what you’re looking for in a board, while also gaining insight into how the shape and features impact the board’s use.
The following is a straightforward list on all the major elements of a standard SUP:
Nose: The most forward section of your SUP is shaped according to use. Sharp, narrow noses are generally seen in touring or race-oriented models, while more curved noses perform better in the surf. If your board is at risk of regular bumps and scrapes, ‘nose guards’ are available for certain models.
Tail: The rearmost section of the board also has an impact on how the board handles in the water, with wider, rounder tails offering better stability but less maneuverability. Also like the nose, the tail may be susceptible to damage and so there are some ‘tail guard’ accessories available on the market. You may also consider fitting your board with a ‘tailpad’, which provides better grip when standing at the rear of your board (mostly relevant when surfing).
Deck: Quite simply, this is the top of your board. The deck may be fitted with multiple pads depending on where you wish to have the most grip. This is also where you’ll find a leash cup for securing yourself to the board.
Deck pad: Most SUPs will come with a deck pad, which is the grip surface where you’ll spend most of your time standing on the board. As mentioned, other pads can be fitted to the board for specific use, such as while surfing.
Leash cup: This is the fixture installed into the deck of the board that allows you to connect a leash from your leg to the board. Touring boards may not necessarily be fitted with a leash, but anyone wishing to use the board in a surf environment should have one.
Handle: Due to the width and length of SUPs, it’s usually quite difficult to pick up and a carry a board like you would most surfboards. For that reason, many models will include at least one handle installed on the deck.
Bottom: The bottom of the board, where you may find at least one fin. The bottom is designed to be smooth and hard for better movement and protection as it goes through the water.
Rocker: The rocker describes the general curvature of the board or ‘hull’. You may notice that a board can appear to have a flat deck, but a significant curve underneath. The greater the curve, the less stable and more maneuverable the board will be.
Fin and fin box: To improve stability further, some SUPs may include a fin or multiple fins (up to four). These are installed into the bottom of the board via a fin box. It’s important to take care of your fin, particularly when touring, as they are vulnerable to damage from submerged rocks and tree branches.
CHOOSING A PADDLE
There are three main considerations when choosing a paddle: size, whether it’s fixed or adjustable, and what material it’s made from.
Paddle size: The length of your ideal paddle is determined by your height and how you intend on using the board. Shorter paddles are considered better for use in surf, however a lot of this comes down to feel. Be sure to spend time getting a sense of the paddle in-store, emulating a natural paddling movement to gain a sense of what’s best for you.
Adjustability: The ability to change the length of your paddle is handy when moving from a flatwater to a surf environment, or if you’re sharing with a friend. As a result, these are preferred by beginner paddlers, however it’s worth noting the adjustable mechanism may introduce an added point of weakness to the product and it thereby may not be expected to last as long as a fixed-length paddle.
Carbon fibre or aluminium alloy: These are the two main materials used to construct paddles. Carbon fibre is the more popular option as they’re considerably lighter for their strength. On the other hand, aluminium paddles are considered to be more durable if you’re willing to put up with the additional weight.
There are any number of products you may consider purchasing alongside your SUP and paddle, depending on your intended use. The following list explains the basics and any key factors you might need to know prior to purchase.
Leash: Mentioned previously, this accessory secures your leg to the board so that, should you fall off, you won’t lose your SUP in a current. This is especially important when surfing and may well save your life. When choosing a leash, consider the length it stretches out to, as well as how to the Velcro strapping fits your ankle.
Gloves and other apparel: Paddling gloves are essential to minimise blisters, and if you forget to grab a pair before heading out, you’ll soon know about it! Other apparel to consider includes a hat, wetsuit and water boots.
Deck bag and dry sacks: If you’re out for the day or even on a multiday touring adventure, being able to secure a dry bag to the front of your SUP is extremely useful. You might see some people wearing a small backpack while on their board, but why bear all the load when the SUP itself can do the work?
Roof racks: You’ve bought your first 10-foot-plus SUP and walked out of the store – now what? It won’t be long before you realise there’s no way it’s going to fit inside your Suzuki Swift. Save yourself the time and make sure you’re purchasing roof racks before or while you make your SUP purchase.
Ready for a paddle?
What better way could there be to enjoy our coastal and river landscapes? Stop dreaming about it and get into Rays to see what the latest summer season has in stock for you. Our staff will be on-hand to help you geared up and ready to paddle.