-Solid vs inflatable
iSUP design and manufacturing technology have come a long way. Inflatable stand up paddle boards are now incredibly rigid and control of the rocker is now possible through updates in drop stitching capabilities. This means there is no longer a great trade off between portability and performance. iSUPs are easy to travel with and easy to store, you can even fold them in half and stash them under the bed. If you have ample storage space and are doing a great deal of competitive racing or very extreme SUPing, a rigid board is worth considering. For the vast majority of SUP use, the benefits of rigid boards go unnoticed or are outweighed by their inconvenience. In the end, it comes down to personal preference as well as storage and transport considerations.
-Shape, Length, PSI and rocker
Shape, length, PSI and rocker have a huge influence on any iSUP’s performance. A few things to keep in mind:
- A gently pointed nose cuts through choppy water and surf while helping the rider maintain balance so long as it doesn’t stick up too far out of the water.
- A sharply pointed nose is best for racing quickly in a straight line.
- A rounded nose like a traditional longboard is best for leisurely paddling and small waves.
- The rocker of a board is the appearance of a curve when the board is viewed from the side. Different apexes are better for different uses but they should all be gradual from nose to tail.
- A gentle, gradual rocker makes for a smooth and efficient glide while paddling through flat water in a straight line. It also allows you to cut through waves without the nose planing over the water making for bumpier than necessary paddling.
- More rocker makes for more aggressive turning and carving. This is useful for surfing but not for other kinds of paddling. In fact, it makes stability and tracking more difficult so save it for dedicated surfboards.
- Longer boards provide the straightest tracking and most efficient forward movement. They are also the quickest covering more distance with each stroke of the paddle. They require slightly more effort to turn from side to side.
- Wider boards increase stability and make balance easier. Boards for all around use should be at least 15” wide. The wider the board in proportion to its length, the slower it will be.
- Narrower boards are better for racing but are more challenging to balance on. A long, narrow paddle board will be quick but it will also require more skill and core strength to paddle effectively or turn.
- The thickness of a board from top to bottom affects both buoyancy and balance. 4” boards are appropriate for children or very small adults. 5”-6” boards are ideal for the majority of adult paddlers. When you stop on board this thick, buoyancy will be maintained.
- Rigidity is essential to stability and single chamber boards should be inflated to a PSI of 12 to 15 when ridden. Higher PSI is possible and the majority of boards but can be pumped well above 20. This does not noticeably increase their performance or rigidity and does tax the deck and stitching over time.
- Multi-chamber boards often have lower PSI per chamber but are equally rigid underfoot to single chamber paddle boards.
-Paddler’s height and weight specifics
Bigger, taller paddlers are more comfortable on longer, wider boards due to their higher center of mass. A larger board provides more surface area over the water which makes the difference between standing comfortably and struggling to stay upright This is particularly true in the learning stages.
- Paddlers over 6’ tall or weighing more than 90 kg will feel more stable on a board that is over 12’ in length or 77 cm in width.
- Paddlers who are under 6’ tall and weigh less than 90 kg are able to balance comfortably on shorter, narrower boards more easily.
-Touring & Racing vs. All Around Use
- Touring & racing boards are designed for speed and distance with the smoothest glide and straightest tracking possible. They usually have a longer waterline and narrower deck space which makes them quicker in a straight line. These factors mean you can get from point A to Z quicker and with less effort. They are particularly good for downwind paddling.
- Boards for all around use will have a less aggressive shape overall. They strike a balance between length and deck width to prioritize ease of balance and maneuverability over speed. These boards are not as quick as touring and racing boards, but they are more versatile for use in a wider range of conditions and across more types of paddling.
Deck pads are important for providing traction on an otherwise slippery, wet surface.
- They should be firmly attached to the deck of the board with a raised pattern for enhanced grip.
- Deckpads give paddlers a tactile sense for the tail end of the board so as not to step too far back, particularly when turning.
The rigidity of an iSUP is largely determined by the construction of the board. The basic components of high-quality board construction are as follows:
- Drop stitching – this technique evenly spaces thousands of threads between 2 pieces of PVC material creating the body of an iSUP. Drop stitching allows the production of inflatable SUPs so rigid that they can stand up to their solid counterparts in the water.
- Machine laminated, PVC-layered deck and hull. These should be UVF resistant and taped at the side rails.
- Internal heat-sealed seams complete the first layer of an iSUP’s air and watertight seal.
- A second, external side rail reinforces the internal seems. At least 2 layers of reinforcement should be present to ensure durability and longevity.
- All inflatable stand up paddle boards have a valve a hard plastic. There will also be a small pertrudance on the underside of the board to accommodate it so don’t be alarmed.
The majority of iSUPS today come with a detachable centre fin or skeg.
- The better iSUPs will also have a smaller, fixed fin on either side of the centre fin. This tri-fin set up is known as a “Thruster” design and is excellent for optimizing tracking without sacrifice to either speed or turning ability.
- Ideally, the detachable centre fin is anchored in a slot and lock system which provides a firm enough attachment point that the fin does not move around when in place.
- Look for simple attachment systems that don’t involve excessive removable parts. Never put weight on your iSUP on land if the centre fin is in place.