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A SUP buyer's guide: What you should know before making the investment

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As the SUP scene continues to see exponential growth, more and more paddlers are entering the buyer’s market for their first, second or even third board. Unsurprisingly, the number of SUP manufactures and retail stores cashing in on the sport’s growth is also skyrocketing. While choice is generally a positive aspect when making a purchase, not all boards are created equal. Some manufacturers have been in the shaping business for decades and have a portfolio of products on offer such as windsurf boards, prone paddleboards and surfboards in addition to SUPs. Others may be relative newcomers to the market and lack the depth of experience and production capabilities of longstanding, reputable shapers and manufacturers such as Hobie, Bark, Surftech and Riviera. Mike Vaughan, owner of the Pro SUP Shop in Marina del Rey said buyers need to do their homework before making the investment in a new SUP. “Try to demo as many boards as you can before making your final decision. Is the company reputable? If something happens [to your board] is there someone at the company you can get a hold of to resolve an issue?” he said.

The first thing I always ask a person is, “What do you want to spend?” said Matt Becker, one of the West Coast’s top SUP athletes and star of the movie Driftwood. “If you are going to pick between a really good board and a really good paddle – choose the paddle”, he said. Boards can get banged up over time or you may simply out grow them and move on to a different shape, whereas a good paddle may last you a lifetime. Matt added that buyers need to think about how they are going to use their new board. Surfing, touring, racing, fishing, yoga and more, and also in what type of conditions do they plan to paddle. The uses for a SUP are limited only by a paddler and their ability.

Scott Anderson, a highly regarded local Los Angeles shaper, said buyers need to consider their current ability and what they are looking for in a board. “If you are a beginner, you need to have as much volume as possible”, said Anderson. For potential buyers looking to expand their quiver they need to think about the volume of their current board. “What are you riding now and where do you want to go?” is a common question posed by Anderson to individuals interested in purchasing a new SUP. Paddlers need to match their weight and ability to a board with the appropriate amount of volume and stability.

As a general rule of thumb, width provides stability and length gives you glide. The majority of touring boards, for example, are between 30-32 inches wide and either 12’6” or 14’ in length. The latter two dimensions are the standard SUP racing classes. Touring boards bear some similarities to racing SUPs in that they are generally the same lengths and have displacement bows. The displacement bow cuts through chop and provides an efficient glide for cruising.

Most SUPs simply resemble enlarged surfboards. These shapes are perfect for beginners and recreational paddlers in flat water. They come in a variety of lengths and widths each with a different volume. Once a buyer settles on a length, width and volume, the board’s weight is an important and often overlooked factor to consider. Mike Vaughan said buyers need to think about whether or not they can carry the board. “Can you lift it onto your vehicle?” is an important consideration, said Vaughan. He added that paddlers should also consider whether or not the deck pad will be comfortable for how they plan on using the board. A SUP surfer may want a deck pad with more traction than a racer or recreational paddler. Some retailers, such as Pro SUP Shop, offer buyers the opportunity to test boards before committing to a purchase.

Many boat owners now store SUPs onboard their vessels as a quick and easy way to explore during their excursions. Most SUPs are made with a rigid construction, wrapped in fiberglass cloth and coated in epoxy resin. This construction will inevitably lead to the board becoming dinged up or worse when maneuvering it on and off a boat. Soft tops with an outer layer of foam or the ever expanding range of inflatable SUPs is therefore the best option when looking to add a SUP to your boating experience. An inflatable SUP is not going to suffer dings or damage a boat. They are not vulnerable to getting crushed beneath a swim deck during loading and unloading and a lot easier to store than conventional SUPs. Unsurprisingly, this latter aspect has driven most manufacturers to now offer inflatable SUPs as part of their product line.

Follow Matthew Chebatoris on Facebook: facebook.com/chebatoris

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