In this video from SUPboardguide, featuring Bill Dawes, he gives us his thoughts on paddle board shapes and design. Factors that go into deciding which board to choose and how to pick the right inflatable paddle board for you.
Introduction to Paddleboard Shapes
Today, we’re diving deep into the world of paddleboard shapes. You might have noticed a variety of paddleboard shapes out there, with different dimensions like widths, lengths, volumes, and maximum weights. We’re going to explain what all these mean. I’m currently at the SUPBoardGuide.com headquarters, surrounded by over 200 boards, and we’ll use these to illustrate the differences in dimensions.
Length is a crucial parameter. Often, paddleboards are named after their length, like the Red Paddle Co Ride 10’6″. The length of the board indicates its role in the maneuverability-to-glide spectrum: shorter boards are more maneuverable, while longer boards provide better glide and directionality. In our range here, we have boards from 9’6″ to 14′, covering the standard spectrum for all-around paddleboard sizes. It’s important to note that length doesn’t necessarily relate to stability. For instance, a 14-foot board, standard for racing, is highly directional but requires advanced turning techniques and is not inherently more stable than shorter boards.
Width determines the board’s stability and weight capacity. A wider board is invariably more stable. All-round boards typically range from 30 to 34 inches in width. Anything beyond that, like a 36-inch board, are exceptionally stable, designed for heavy loads. However, width is a Goldilocks parameter: too narrow, and the board feels unstable; too wide, and it creates unnecessary drag. The right width depends on the paddler’s size and skill level. As skills improve, paddlers can transition to narrower boards.
Thickness is particularly significant for inflatable boards. Unlike hardboards, where thickness can vary across the board, inflatables are uniformly thick due to their construction. The first inflatable paddleboards were around 4 inches thick, but this led to flexing issues. Nowadays, 6-inch drop-stitch construction is standard, offering rigidity. However, some high-end models use 4.7 or 5-inch thickness for better connection to the water and enhanced performance, especially in surf. Thicker boards, like an 8-inch one, add volume but can feel disconnected from the water.
Volume is often quoted in paddleboard specs, with calculators available online to determine the needed volume. However, for general-purpose, all-round boards, volume is a less critical factor. The needed volume to keep a paddler afloat is about a liter per kilogram (2.2lbs) of the paddler and gear. Since most recreational boards have 200 to 300 liters of volume, they offer more than enough buoyancy. It’s interesting to note that some of the least stable boards are high-volume race boards, which are also very narrow.
Maximum Weight Capacity
The maximum weight a board is rated for is a rather arbitrary number without standardization. This figure does not provide a reliable measure of a board’s capabilities, as it varies widely across different models and sizes. Some brands use full carrying capacity figure if weight was distributed over the entire board, others use just the paddler weight. Centralized weight, ie. a paddler, places more pressure on a single point about which a board can flex. Therefore having a higher maximum paddler weight, as opposed to carrying capacity, often indicates a higher quality board. But again, many brands use a different system to assign these numbers.
Board Plan Shape
Plan shape significantly affects board performance. The fastest potential plan shape resembles a diamond, cutting through water with minimal wake. However, this shape offers zero stability. Stability is achieved by adding area to the ‘hips’ and ‘shoulders’ of the board. Most all-round boards have a rounded plan shape, offering stability and ease of turning. Touring shapes often feature a pointed nose and a square tail for directionality and stability.
Board Design Evolution
Traditional paddleboard design focused on aesthetic lines and elegance. Newer brands are experimenting with different shapes, such as wider tails, to enhance stability without much downside at low speeds. Some modern designs are pushing the boundaries, trying narrower tails and noses, which may affect stability.
The rocker line, or the curve of the board when viewed from the side, is crucial for handling chop and waves. Inflatables tend to have a simple rocker line due to manufacturing constraints. A board with too much rocker can slow down, as the convex curve creates a suction effect. The right amount of rocker prevents the board from plowing through water and is especially useful in dynamic environments like rivers or surf.
In board design, the most crucial parameters are length and width, which indicate the board’s suitability for surfing, maneuverability, or speed and directionality, as well as its stability and weight capacity. Plan shape also plays a vital role in determining the board’s purpose. Other factors like volume and weight capacity are less critical for all-round boards.