What's the Difference? Paddle Board Construction.
What You Should Know About Paddle Board Construction
Stand up paddle boarding (SUP) offers such a variety of activities that there’s a paddle board to fit everyone. However, the many choices in sizes, designs, and construction materials can be overwhelming. To help you choose a SUP that’s right for you, here’s what you should know about SUP construction. (For more information about finding a SUP for your size and paddling experience, read here: Buying a RAVE Stand Up Paddle Board).
Paddle boards can be segmented into either solid or inflatable, and solid SUPs can be constructed of several different materials.
The sport of paddle boarding grew from surfing, so the most common construction is a board that resembles a surf board: a solid board made with an EPS foam core wrapped with fiberglass and epoxy. These SUPs are fairly lightweight, stable, very rigid and durable. Other construction options for solid SUPs are soft top and thermoplastic. Epoxy fiberglass and soft top SUPs are typically sold at sporting goods stores, marine stores, and with online retailers while plastic SUPs are often purchased in big box retail stores.
The traditional paddle board, epoxy fiberglass boards have EPS foam cores covered with multiple layers of fiberglass and epoxy resin to prevent dings. A wood spine (stringer) is often used for additional stiffness & strength.
Performance: Like a fiberglass boat cutting through the waves, epoxy fiberglass SUPs travel faster and smoother and have the best glide, tracking, and control. They can have a surf-style keel for stability and more general paddling, or a more pointed displacement keel for cutting through waves for faster paddling and better steering. Displacement (pointed) hulls are higher performance and require less effort to paddle, thus making them the ideal choice for SUP racers.
Stability: Epoxy fiberglass SUPs are generally more stable and are constructed in a wide range of lengths and widths so you can find a SUP shape that fits your weight and desired performance.
Cons: These boards are the most difficult to store and transport, are less durable as they can be dinged and cracked, and cost is higher since manufacturing typically requires more artistic painting & hand labor.
A good match for: Adults who are either recreational paddlers or are more serious about paddling; SUP surfing and racing; and long-distance expeditions and journeys
Similar to an epoxy fiberglass board, but the top is covered with a soft, spongy material that show less dings or scuffs.
Versatility: Soft top SUPs are best suited to families and / or beginner paddlers who are more likely to run into docks, rocky shorelines, or other hazards. Plus, falling down on this board won’t hurt!
Cons: The extra padding makes these boards more heavy than epoxy fiberglass SUPs, and they are generally limited to fewer options in size and design. Bottoms are made of a polyethylene sheet that is more prone to punctures.
A good match for: Families with lake or beach homes, recreational paddlers, and those who want a one-size-fits-all type of SUP.
Plastic SUPs have a hard thermoplastic molded shell around either a foam core or a hollow core. While these are typically heavier and less performance-oriented, they are more affordable. Some are also rotationally molded PE which are the heaviest but also may last the longest.
Durability: It’s difficult to ding or scratch plastic, so these boards are the most durable. This style is popular with camps and rental locations that get heavy daily use, and with families with younger paddlers learning to SUP.
Cons: The thick plastic construction makes these boards heavy and difficult to transport, plus makes them less maneuverable and less performance-oriented.
A good match for: Camps, resorts, and families looking for a SUP that won’t break the bank.
The quality of iSUP construction in recent years has contributed to this category’s rising popularity. These SUPs feature heavy duty commercial-grade PVC material with drop-stitch construction that creates an air core. When properly inflated, an iSUP should be very rigid like a basketball.
Portability and storage: Because they can be deflated and stored in a small bag, iSUPs are a good fit for those with limited storage space and who want to SUP when they travel. Most iSUPs come with a hand pump and storage bag.
Whitewater Paddling: Like a raft or inflatable kayak, iSUPs handle bumps against rocks and logs better than solid boards.
Cons: Inflatable paddle boards need to be … inflated! You will need to spend a few minutes inflating and deflating on every SUP trip. Another slight disadvantage of iSUPs is performance, as they float on top of the water rather than cut through the water as solid boards do, although the difference in performance is only slight.
A good match for: Travelers and those with limited storage space.