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SUP Surf Boards is a huge subject as they’re very specific so we’ll try to give you some insight into what and why.
Are you planning to buy a board for sup surfing?
Stand up paddleboarding has opened the doorway to more people than ever before being able to access the waves and enjoy the sport of surfing.
Being able to stand above the water gives you the chance to view the horizon and see the waves in advance of surfers and others in the water. You may also like the more relaxed effort involved especially if you’re getting on in years or maybe have an injury that stops you from laying down on a surf board.
So how do you choose a paddle board for sup surfing?
To be honest you could surf on any board, but some are designed to properly perform and others will simply bowl along and give you a lacking experience.
If sup surfing is something you really want to get into, you’re going to have to get hooked up with a hard board or isups that has been designed and has the right level of performance.
A board that has been truly shaped for the sole purpose of sup surfing will probably not be as well suited to other disciplines such flat water touring so it may be you’re going to end up with two boards in the quiver.
That said if you only have the capacity for one sup board then it’s worth looking into something that will still have the ability to surf, but also offer that dual purpose when needed, but as I said it will be a bit of a compromise for those looking for uber performance.
A full on performance surf sup board will be from about 7ft up to 10ft e.g Infinity New Deal for a longboard style, but then may reach 12ft for something like a high performance gun such as the Jimmy Lewis Bombora. They generally are thinner in thickness and have a very refined rocker line, rail and tail shapes to deliver the performance needed.
Volume and volume distribution is an all important factor with any surf sup and these boards are all rated in a way that most riders relate to their weight as the smaller boards will sit low if not sink when you stand on them.
If you compare that to an isup that is thicker and immediately has more volume and you can see and ultimately feel why hard boards used for sup surfing delivering more performance even for the lesser experience paddler.
You also have the designs of tail shapes that make a huge difference, changing how a board turns and works in a wide range of conditions. Tiny pin tails offering control at very high speeds on big waves and the more rounded tail giving pop and lift in mush beach breaks.
If you consider each factor, being less volume, rocker line, short length, thinner rails, it is generally recognisable that these boards don’t work in an environment such as flat water so it’s a compromise as I said before.
If you look at both boards you’ll see that they have a shape that looks surfy and that immediately gives you the idea it may well work along with the length being more towards general use and easier use.
What you find with these boards is the slightly longer they are, the easier it is to pick up tiny waves and just roll along with them, whilst turning them becomes a technique thing whereby you have to move around the board and not just stand mid ships and never move the feet.
As a rough guide I would say to anyone looking for an all round board to go for something around 5 inches thick, 30-32 inches wide and between 9 to 11ft long. This gives you stability and glide depending on the rider ability and weight, but more importantly doesn’t hugely detract from the surf capabilities of the board. Something to bear in mind is that the big boards become more difficult to use as the waves get bigger and faster.
Just one final point worth considering is if you only intend to go into tiny knee high surf. At this sort of level you’ll find a touring board like the Infinity eTicket will work just fine allowing you to catch every tiny bump. The only difference is you won’t get the experience of really dropping some turns so much as the board rails and tail volume will hinder that, but all round you’ll feel the glide of the waves and potentially glide along even on open water wind driven swell.
When we move into proper surf shapes for stand up paddle surfing, you’ll start to consider fin setups and placement as this has a big effect on a boards performance.
The first setup most of you will experience is the single fin and that’s found on most all rounder boards.
Old school surf boards had single fins which were long and really locked you into the ride. Depending on the shape and size of the single fin, you can get one of two experiences, less drag or more. Something like a dolphin shape with reduced thickness body will be less draggy and so quite quick, but the same sort of shape, but thicker as you may find on a nose rider, would have increased drag and can be notably slower.
A single fin on a hard board can be super adjustable, by either reducing its size or simply moving it back and forth in the box to change how directional and locked in it feels.
The problem you may find with single fins on isups is that the turning of the board is pretty much entirely based on the fin as the isup has no rail shape. This is when some little side biters on the isup can help control the board when you bank it into a turn.
Most shorter hard boards used for sup surfing will have an option to have either a tri fin setup or a quad fin setup , but when we get to this level of tuning, it really is down to the rider and the conditions they’re in and how they prefer to ride it.
For me I love my tri fin set, even on my long 10ft Infinity New Deal as I get the speed and control when it gets bigger and faster, but having said that I can easily take out the side bites and leave smaller centre fin in for some tail sliding and board 360 fun.
It all gets complicated and super detailed, but if you’re in it just for fun and your conditions aren’t perfect and it’s all just about getting wet then you can just get out there and use whatever you have tbh. Any board and fin setup will catch a wave. It’s then down to you.
Do we need a deck pad or not as surfboards use wax for grip?
The biggest thing here is that you’re standing up most of the time on a sup waiting for waves so being able to be comfortable is important.
I’ve ridden surf sup with wax decks and it is definitely an acquired taste and not everyone is going to love it.
Boards generally come with deck pads already fitted and those on sup surf specific boards will be designed to offer maximum grip, but not lock your feet down. What I mean is you’ll want grip when you drive into turns, bu as you goto step around you don’t want the grip to be snagging your booties and giving you a weird velcro feeling.
Some boards, like the Jimmy Lewis Black and Blue have full length deck pads and this gives you a area to step around on from nose to tail which is great if you’re into nose riding, but also there’s the added bonus of offering protection to the board.
You can also find on some tail pads that they have a raised back edge to give you something to wedge against when pushing hard into a turn but also acts as a guide for where the end is save you missing it and falling in. You can also get a raised section in the middle of the tail pad that sits under the arch of the foot, again adding grip and a push point, but don’t get hung up if these things aren’t on your board – we surfed for years without them.
As I’ve said before, if sup surfing is the ultimate goal and no compromise, then a hard board will out perform an isup in every way.
The overall shape, rails, volume and rocker line along with the stiffness will give way more control. This is especially true if you’re coming from a surfing background and want that classic surfing feeling. On the flip side compare that to how you want to use and even store the board. An isup packs away to nothing and so is easy to travel if you have a car packed with kids.
The family experience is another thing to factor in as kids love trampolining on boards, so an isup is perfect for that. They can bounce all day long and not leave a dent and even bash it on rocks. If they fall then they’ll bounce and generally you’ll feel less emotional when you see the the board crashing into another surfer.
The extra volume an isup has can make it a problem when paddling out through waves and that odd feeling of the volume taking control as it is pushed around underneath you can also be very off-putting for anyone who is more experienced. That ability to get settled on a board is easier on a hard board as you learn how it feels, but in my experience the isups can be a little volatile underfoot due to that constant movement in waves so it’s something else to consider.
If you do need to lay on your tummy and paddle, then isups can be more difficult as they’re quite often wider and higher up and this height off the water makes them more affected by any wind and side chop also.
The whole experience of surfing an isup is quite different to that on a hard board.
You can’t simply cut into a turn, you need to use the paddle more and learn to control that buoyant volume underfoot which will certainly feel weird if you have experience of surfing a hard board.