SUP Materials and Construction
Choosing your ideal Stand Up Paddleboard (SUP) can be a surprisingly difficult process. A dizzying array of styles, types, and prices await newcomers to the sport. We suggest our customers begin by becoming educated as to the pros and cons of ‘Hard Boards’ vs. ‘Inflatables’:
Hard Boards represent 80% to 85% of the North American Stand Up Paddleboard Marketplace. Within this category the following material choices exist:
Composite SUP’s are made using fiberglass, carbon fiber, or a combination of the two. Composite materials create lightweight boards, which are relatively tough but also offer the aesthetics and not found in other material choices. Composites are made using a ‘Sandwich Compression Technique’ in-which a high-density EPS foam core is coated with resin and is then covered with resin-saturated cloth. The the materials are sandwiched together in a mold under pressure. A thin layer of gel-coat or automotive type paint is applied for glossy, eye-catching looks.
A Bamboo deck &/or hull can be included in more expensive composite builds for even greater appeal, and more importantly to provide a greater strength to weight ratio.
- Rigid nature optimizes efficiency, glide, and performance
- Offers superior aesthetics
- Provides the lowest weights
- Tend to be more apt to damage than other choices – thankfully cracks, dents, and even holes can be repaired
Moderate to Highest
Thermoform SUP’s are made from a new process, which uses sheets of compatible abs / acrylic plastics with substrate layers to form a board over a mold. Thermoform kayaks’ outer surface is much harder than polyethylene (soft plastic), so in theory, this construction is stronger than composite materials against impacts and abrasion. Furthermore, an exterior capstock prevents quality thermoform from fading like polyethylene.
Buyer beware! Thermoforming is a proven and accepted process within the kayak industry, but the technology has proven to be challenging regarding stand up paddleboards. A lot of companies have tried and failed at producing quality thermoform boards with acceptable pricing and weight ratios; while we are sure someone will get it right in the near future, we suggest holding out until they become mainstream.
- Provide similar on-water performance to composites
- Offers glossy, bright visual appeal
- Provides increased durability vs. composites and soft tops
- Low availability – the technology has proven to be challenging regarding in stand up paddleboards manufacturing
- High costs of manufacturing make prices comparable to composite boards
- Repair techniques are unproven
- High board weights
Moderate to High
Soft Top stand up paddleboards feature an EPS foam core with a pliable EVA wraparound the entire board. The hulls are strengthened using fiberglass and / or thin wood layer underneath a nylon plastic skin. High density EVA crash bumpers are usually added to the board’s nose, tail, and sometimes rails (sides) to better protect impact and abrasion points.
- Lightweight and easy to carry
- Inexpensive yet great ‘bang for your buck’
- User-friendly in nature – a good choice as a first board or family SUP
- Durability and longevity is questionable
- Outer materials tend to breakdown quickly
- Softer, more flexible hull hinders efficiency, glide and performance
Low to Moderate
Plastic, Tupperware, and Poly are slang terms used to describe Polyethylene SUP’s. A polyethylene powder is poured into a mold, which is sealed and then rotated on several axis in an oven to melt the plastic throughout the mold. A hallow core, roto-molded SUP is the least expensive & heaviest material choice as its average build time is only 30 minutes.
- The least expensive material choice to get started
- Designs cater towards beginners and families with young kids
- Heavy, Heavy, Heavy – Poly boards weigh twice as much as other material choices
- On-water performance is very poor when compared to any other construction
- Tend to lose their shape and scar when exposed to sun or heat.
- Fade easily U.V. rays making them non-appealing and quickly lose their value.
Inflatable Stand Up Paddleboards represent 15% to 20% of the North American marketplace and is growing. Typically, inflatables are made using extremely tough PVC or similar rubbers. The obvious advantage is their ease of handling and the tiny space required to store and transport them. Most packages come complete with an all-inclusive carry SUP carry bag w’ pump, which paddlers simply toss into the car, carry to the beach, or backpack to the normally inaccessible launch site.
Although inflatables are ‘NOT’ as fast or will never glide as well as hardboards, they are remarkably tough and take little care.
- Take little space to store
- Easily transported in a car, airplane, or backpack
- Great for urban centres with less than ideal launch points
- Widely regarded as the toughest material choice
- Only choice for whitewater conditions
- Take about 10 minutes to blow up
- Non-rigid nature transforms to a slower, more plodding paddling experience
- A true displacement-style hull is ‘NOT’ possible as the bottom of inflatables are always flat and cannot assume a concave shape to efficiently cut through waters
Moderate to High
We trust this Stand Up Paddleboard Material Choice article has helped narrow your search for your ideal SUP. We suggest your next step is to consider what design (planing vs. touring / displacement) best satisfies your aspirations. To learn more about how to choose a stand up paddleboard that meets your needs, Click Here!
Lastly, as an on-water destination that offers free test paddling, nothing beats trying before buying. Frontenac Outfitters Paddlesports Experts invite you to Come Paddle With Us!
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