What is Stand Up Paddle Boarding?
Stand up paddle boarding (often shortened to SUP) is one of the fastest growing watersports and, although can be traced back thousands of years, its current style originated in Hawaii in the 1900s as surfers experimented using a paddle with boards up to 5m in length. Once the sport reached California in the 2000s, with the likes of Rick Thomas, Laird Hamilton and Bob Pearson involved in paddle surfing, it began to grow globally and divided into subcategories such as racing, touring, rivers, fishing and yoga.
As most people can be stood up and paddling around almost instantly, it’s no surprise it’s become so popular; there’s always room for improvement, new styles to try or areas to explore so SUP will constantly leave you wanting more.
SUP Shape/Size and Purpose
Depending on your choice of discipline, the shape and size of your paddle board will change as varying the length/width will alter the board’s strengths.
For example, a wider SUP will be more stable but, it will have less glide and tracking (ability to stay in a straight line) as you’ll paddle further away from the centreline of the board. If a board is narrower, your paddle will stay closer to you and this line, making it easier to stay in a straight line and improving your tracking.
A ‘surf’ paddleboard is usually shorter, wider and has a narrower nose and tail, with more rocker than an all-round or flat-water board. This shape is great if you’re going to be spending all your time in the surf as it’s easy to manoeuvre but, will be slower and won’t track in a straight line very well.
An ‘all-round’ paddleboard shape is possibly the most common you’ll see due to its versatility. They tend to have a rounded nose and tail but, can vary in length and width so, everyone can find the right volume for them. All round boards are wide enough for stability, long enough for glide and tracking and usually enough rocker – allowing you to use the board on flat or surf waters or try open ocean touring. This makes an all-round board great for beginners as, you can try the board in different conditions and see which area you like best, which often then prompts a second purchase of a specialised board.
A ‘touring’ or ‘cruiser’ SUP is designed for flat waters so, if you’re exploring rivers, lakes or coastlines and know you won’t be experiencing any surf, you may find paddling with one of these boards more enjoyable. These boards are longer, improving your glide and tracking and reducing the amount of paddle changes/strokes, which also reduces fatigue and can increase the length of your session. However, they are wide enough to be very stable and can still be used in smaller waves but, they won’t be as manoeuvrable as an all-round board. A narrower nose will also improve glide as it will smoothly cut through the water.
The ‘race-touring’ category combines the technology and shapes needed for a race board, while remaining a SUP that can be used to cover long distances with ease. This can be a good if you know you have good balance, feel fairly confident on a paddle board and know you are going to spend the majority of your time in flat water as, you’ll be able to paddle faster, more efficiently and cover larger distances.
As you would expect from the name, race paddle boards are designed to be the fastest – combining length with a narrow width creates maximum glide from each paddle stroke, with minimal resistance. As the paddle remains near the centre line of the board, your tracking is greatly improved as you’re pulling the board forwards rather than causing a turning movement. The increased length (between 12’6 – 14’0) can make the board’s fairly stable (if you have good balance and are a confident paddler) despite the narrow width, making them exceptional boards for a fast-paced tourer.