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Buying a SUP board

SUP, short for ‘stand-up paddling’, is one of the fastest growing water sports. If you are looking to get a board yourself, here are some points to consider. You can find information both about solid SUP boards and inflatable paddle boards.

1.Types of SUP boards

As with most of sports gear, the first thing is to know what you will use it for in order to determine which one is most suitable. Similarly, there are a few main types of boards - surf SUP boards, allround, flatwater (touring) and race SUP. Deriving from those, there are several variations, such as allround windsurf SUP boards or Yoga boards which is basically a wider and longer version of the allround boards.

  • Surf SUP boards are normally shorter, narrower in the nose and tail and have more rocker (a curve on the nose and tail of the board) than the other kinds of boards. This makes the board more manoeuvrable, and therefore, easier to surf waves. However, it also means that those SUP boards are often less stable and harder to direct on flat waters.
  • Allround boards are generally wider, longer and thicker than the surf SUPs. As the name itself points out, those boards are perfect for allround use and allow beginners to explore the various aspects of SUPing. They are stable and easy to glide on flatwater but also have a decent rocker to perform on the waves. If you are looking for a first-time buy, an allround board is a good choice.
  • Flatwater boards (or also known as touring) are designed for paddling on calm waters, without waves. But you can also use them for paddling on the sea if the conditions are appropriate. Their construction is optimised to slice nicely through the water and glide smoother, all due to a sharper nose and longer deck. They are wide enough for beginners to balance on which also makes them suitable for a first buy if you don’t want to catch waves.
  • Race boards, similarly to the flatwater ones, are even longer and also with a sharp nose but narrower in order to gain speed easily. Those boards are normally not suitable for beginners since balancing on them can be very challenging.

2.Board size - length and volume

To find the right size board, the two key factors are volume and length. The volume (in litres) shows the ability of the board to float with weight on it and is calculated based on your own weight. The greater the volume, the more weight the board can carry. Beginners should normally look for more volume in the boards to add stability and buoyancy.

The rule is basically that one litre of volume displaces one litre of water, and respectively, creates one-kilo lift. That would say that one litre of board volume will carry/lift one kilo of weight. For beginners, we recommend approximately double the number of litres in reference to your weight. For example, a person weighing 88 kg should look for a board with volume ca. 176 litres.

Next step is to determine the length. The length (measured in feet and inches - e.g.10’8’’ read as 10 feet and 8 inches) depends on which type of board you have chosen (surf, flatwater, allround, race) and your weight. Longer boards have the advantage of being faster and more stable, whereas shorter boards are more manoeuvrable. In any case, however, make sure that the specific board you have chosen is suitable for your weight. Normally each product and manufacturer has their own recommendations in reference to the weight/length ratio.

3. Inflatable or solid board?

When buying a SUP board, you also have the choice of either a solid or an inflatable board. Solid boards are made of various materials, such as foam, fibreglass, kevlar, wood & plastic. The most common construction of solid boards is made of foam, covered in epoxy and fibreglass. This makes them a bit more fragile compared to inflatable SUP boards.

Inflatable SUP boards are made of layered PVC plastic with woven fibres connecting the bottom and top layer called a drop-stitch construction. They are easier to carry around and doesn’t require much storage space but, nevertheless, are quite rigid. Moreover, inflatables (iSUP) are very durable compared to solid boards and perfect for beginners. You can see the advantages of both in the table below.

4. The paddle

When we are talking SUP, we can’t skip the paddle as an intrinsic part of the equipment. The paddle consists of a handle, shaft and a blade. The main things to consider when choosing your paddle are its height and the size of the blade.

To understand easier the blade sizing you can compare it to a bicycle gear. If you want to bike longer, you choose lower gear which is not as heavy and gives you the momentum of turning. Whereas, if you need to speed up and have this speed sprint, you get into higher gear. It feels heavier but gives you that instantaneous, powerful push. It is the same with SUP blades. Larger blades give more powerful strokes, which respectively displace more water and therefore make the paddling more effective. They are preferred for surfing waves on your SUP since they give you stability and the powerful strokes when paddling for the wave. Smaller blades though are better suited for touring and allround SUP where you paddle for longer periods of time. Smaller, or medium sized blades, are good for beginners since they don't require as much strength.

The height of the paddle is determined by the type of SUP you have chosen and your own height. The paddle should always be taller than you, and the amount of inches you add to your own height depends on the type of SUPing. For example, if you will do surf SUPing you can add approximately 7 inches. However, if you will be racing, you can add up to 11 inches. If you want to use your board for both surfing and flatwater, you should either buy two paddles or an adjustable one, especially if you want to share your SUP board with family and friends.

As mentioned, you can get a fixed paddle which is purposed for a specific type of paddling and normally used by advanced riders who are clear in their preferences. The adjustable paddles can either come as 2-piece or 3-piece. The most common is the 2-piece one, whereas the 3-piece ones are primarily used with inflatable SUPs.

5. Fins

Lastly, the fins on a SUP board allow you to adjust the basic riding characteristics. The rule of thumb is similar to this for the board itself: larger and wider fins provide more stability, while smaller ones increase the manoeuvrability.

The fins are normally removable and easy to change. They come also in various setups but the main types are:

  • Single fin - does not slow your board that much down while paddling (due to weight and greater friction with the water surface). This setup is good for flatwater SUPing;
  • 3-fin setup or also known as a thruster setup provides straight tracking on flatwater and simultaneously good control when surfing. All three fins are normally nearly the same size;
  • 2+1 setup includes three fins as well but the centre fin is larger than the two side fins. This setup is preferred for surf SUPing.

Inflatable SUP boards can also have any of the above fin configurations. The only difference is that they use either detachable semi-rigid fins or flexible rubber one which is attached to the board. You can also ride Inflatables finless if you want to follow a course of a river with little rapids and shallow waters.

So, to sum up, the general things to consider before buying your SUP board are:

  • The type of SUPing you are intending to practice;
  • The board size in terms of volume and length;
  • Consider if you want an inflatable or solid board;
  • Pick the right paddle and fin setup