Stand Up Paddling and how to choose the right gear for you
Stand up Paddling was first discovered in 1940 when a Hawaiian Local named John Ah Choy used a canoe paddle on his surfboard, he struggled to get up on the board as he grew older so he would just stand up and paddle with the canoe paddle from the beach.
Another Hawaiian local, Laird Hamilton pushed the boundaries with what was possible on a SUP when he paddled from island to island and took on massive waves in the process. He believed that the action used when Supping was a full body workout and compared a Stand-up paddle board session to pushing a small car uphill as you burned the same amount of calories
As the years passed the boards and paddles started to evolve and newer shapes and designs flooded local surf and water sports shops. You could walk into any surf store and find a board that would be perfect for you without much effort at all and from the first buy you were hooked, and your Supping journey began.
So why would you want to start stand-up paddleboarding? What makes the art of paddling on the water so inviting? It could be the bronzed chiselled bodies you see on the boards paddling around or the girl you saw with her young son standing with her and enjoying the moment. Maybe it was simply the idea of getting out on the water and getting some well-deserved alone time while taking in the serenity of the sea and its wonders. No matter your reason, having the right equipment and getting the right advice on what will work and what won’t is vital.
But let us stop for a second and look at the process of choosing and buying the right board for you as there are so many factors that will determine whether you are in the right gear and by having the right gear you would be able to get all you needed to out of your SUP experience.
When walking into a shop selling water gear, the experience can be a bit daunting as there is so much to look at and so much to choose from that the whole experience can leave you a little overwhelmed. There are so many factors and questions that you need to ask and be asked so before you get flustered, take a breath, slow down and enjoy the first step in getting you out on the water.
In this edition we are going to look closely at the best board and equipment for open ocean and wave riding, ensuring that you get the most out of your gear and your water experience.
Let us look at the design elements that make a Stand-Up Paddleboard great in the ocean and a wave-riding vehicle and then we will look at how the riders’ weight, height, and physical ability determine the board that will be best suited for you.
This plays a massive role in wave riding ability as the shape of the rail determines side-to-side movement and grip along the wave wall. The best design for wave riding ability is a tapered deck to rail design which involves tapering the deck’s width from the centre towards the rail and then trimming down quite sharply at the edge of the rail. Tapered Rails allow you to grip onto the wave wall more easily whilst not losing any speed in the turns.
The shape of the tail on surfboards, SUPs, and other watercraft has always been a debate as different wave riders have different ideas of what the shape does and how it affects the performance of the board. There are numerous shapes with the most popular ones being the swallow tail, Box or squash tail, and the very popular rounded pin. When choosing the right SUP for you and what you want to achieve on the waves the tail shape plays a massive role especially as you progress and take on bigger and better waves. So, let’s break them down and have a look at each shape’s characteristics and how they adapt and change the way your board will perform.
- Squash, Box, or square tail – This shape allows for a punchier approach to the wave and greatly increases your top to bottom riding ability. The shape of the tail allows you to push out more water on every turn, therefore, keeping you in the pocket (Breaking point) of the wave. This tail shape is great on waves that are small and overhead and will suit most paddlers
- Rounded Pin – I am a big fan of this tail shape and use it on most of my boards as the rounded tail allows you to flow through sections of the wave without losing speed. Your turning ability is smooth and very responsive, and the shape works well on slightly bigger waves.
- Swallow or Fish Tail – This tail shape is incredibly popular for smaller boards and light riders. The two points of the tail aid the fins in grabbing the water or face of the wave on tight and quick turns. The action when on the wave face feels very responsive to weight adjustments and very fast on open face swells.
So, that’s a lot of information to absorb but when starting out the best tail shape is going to be the Squash shape as it’s the most adaptable shape for the conditions that you will be riding for the first few years.
Concave on a board on the bottom deck allows water to flow quickly under the board and adds to the responsiveness of the SUP on turns and speed. The level of concave will affect the board’s overall performance as too much concave can be a negative point when the swell and wave conditions deteriorate. Personally concave that runs from the center of the board to just in line with the first two fins do add to the board’s responsiveness and it assists the turning capability whilst still maintaining speed in the turns.
Firstly there are a lot of fin setups that can be used and work on wave-riding SUPs. Fins on a board don’t just provide a turning ability but also play a massive role in what is referred to as the drive of a board. Certain fins setups and what they are manufactured from will determine speed and agility. Hardened, more rigid fins that are made from polyester will not flex and bend and will therefore draw a direct line on a wave face so you will maintain speed. Composite or plastic fins that have a lot of flex will bend slightly in turns from the speed and pressure which is applied and with this, you lose a bit of speed or drive. The easiest way to understand this is to picture a car with smooth tires going around a sharp bend. As the car enters the bend the wheels start to lose traction s; lightly and therefore the car’s drive slows a little meaning that the driver must apply more gas to maintain his speed and turn. Now picture the same car with new wheels and the tread is perfect so when the driver enters the corner the wheels grip the road and allow the car to maintain speed or drive without having to apply added gas to the turn. The wheels with the good grip are the glass fins that are more rigid, and these allow you to maintain the board’s drive and speed whilst not having to work harder in the turns.
When starting out and choosing your new board to tackle the waves having a softer slightly flexible fin can play to your advantage as slowing down in turns will allow you to manage the board’s movement better and give you time to adjust to the action and direction of the waves.
The shape of the nose often plays a role in the speed and wave-catching ability. On most SUP designs the boards have a slightly fuller and rounded nose shape as this allows the water to part easily in front of the board pushing water to the sides of the rails and not over the nose.
Rocker – The rocker of a board is the lift of the nose and tail that allows the water to flow easily under the board and helps to avoid nose dives when catching waves. When you paddle into a wave the natural movement when the wave’s power picks you up is down the steep face of the wave. Having that rocker allows you to trim over the water and not nosedive when you turn off the trough of the wave. Tail Rocker will be very slight but helps you to retrieve your easily when wiping out. The board will glide back above the water and not dig in allowing you to get the board back quicker and out of the next waves way.
Height and Weight
Sups and surfboards have dimensions from length to width and thickness and they ultimately give you the board’s volume which is always measured in litres. Your weight, height, and ability will determine what length and litres of volume your board should have. As wave riding SUPS are shorter than flat water SUPs the boards need to carry more volume in their shape even though they have lost volume in length. Choosing the right volume and length is the first and most important step in your board selection as a board that is over buoyant will be difficult to turn and manoeuvre whilst a board that is under buoyant will hamper your catching wave ability. When starting out there are two factors that will allow you to catch and enjoy waves.
Length of Board
The length of the board allows you to generate more speed in the paddle and get onto waves easier.
Width of the Board
The width assists with balance and stability which aids in a more confident paddling style and approach.
These two factors combined allow for confidence to grow and when you are confident you enjoy yourself more. Also, let’s be honest, unless you are catching waves you are not wave riding, you are floating so having the right size and volume is key.
As mentioned earlier walking into a retail outlet can be a little intimidating and having a bit of know-how can go a long way in ensuring that you get the right board and the right advice. So, when you are ready to get your new board, ask a lot of questions and don’t be scared to mention your weight, fear of the ocean, maybe you have a bad back, who knows, but all of these and other factors will help the guy or girl at that shop get you on the right gear and out there catching waves and living the dream.
Written By Trevor Marsden – Vanhunks Pro-staff.
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