Choosing the Correct Board for Flatwater Paddling
Whether you are planning to build a new board for the surf zone, flatwater paddling or for downwind runs, the correct board for your size and for the conditions you paddle are critical for being able to get the most out of your new equipment. Your level of experience is also a major factor when choosing the right board for optimal performance. Building a board for the conditions you typically paddle will keep the “stoke meter” maxed out whereas a board that is not right for you will be a lesson in frustration.
3 Things to Consider Selecting a Board
- Body size
- Conditions paddling in
- Level of experience
“The Beach House” part of the Story
“The Beach House”
The “The Beach House” was always a magical place for me and my brothers and nephews. On the windy dunes north of Lincoln City, Oregon, well before there were many houses, and near what is now Roads End State Park, we ran wild (outdoors where the grownups wanted us!) through the dunes on family “beach house” outings. The line we couldn’t cross when it was just the kids playing, however, was the trail down to the beach where we were told there were “sneaker waves”. I never quite figured out what those sneaker waves were all about until I got serious about spending time in and on the ocean. I just heard the stories that my Grandmother used to tell to scare us kids into not going onto the beach without an adult. As a surfer and sailor with decades of time spent around the marine environment, a lot of conditions regarding Mother Ocean have become much clearer. Sneaker waves can be seriously deadly if you aren’t playing by the rules Mother Ocean lays down. I’ve spent a great deal of time trying to understand those “rules” and how to work with the ocean and the other aquatic environs.
I’ll never forget the “old school” coastal tugboats that used to ply the Pacific Northwest Coast. I didn’t make it onto a tugboat, or any other boat for that matter until quite a few years later, but there was always something about those images of the far off ships and tugboats that seemed adventurous, wild and engaging.
The obsession with small boats, and now wooden paddle and surfboards, started in our family garage where my Dad and brothers and I built a small wooden sailboat. We learned a lot and got a fun toy out of the “deal”, which we enjoyed for years. Later, after being discharged from the US Army, the building of a boat I could travel on and that would lead to an adventurous lifestyle was a high priority. I built the boat, a very bare bones but strong boat, and had some great adventures for a few years.
My own 32’ blue water sailboat solved some of the wanderlust in me. I learned the ways of the sea building and sailing that boat and along with crewing on sailboats in the South Pacific and running my own commercial fishing boat for a couple of seasons I learned much about the sea and life on the waterfront.
Even with my heavy attraction to the sea and live aboard/traveler lifestyle, life ultimately presents many possible directions to pursue. Building anything of quality has always held attraction for me. Whether it was the complicated silkscreen prints I made as a college student or the estate level residential construction that was my long term career, I have always gravitated to quality built watercraft.
Building and paddling hollow wooden paddleboards and surfboards has taken center stage at this point in my life. The boards are interesting to build, look beautiful and perform great. I look forward to engaging with this process every day. But the most satisfying part of the experience is mentoring other builders. I meet so many interesting and accomplished individuals and get to share my hard won experience and knowledge about watercraft and the art of building them on a daily basis.
Rogue 8′ 4″ Performance Surf SUP
The Rogue 8′ 4″ performance surf sup has been an interesting adventure for me. My first surfs on it left me a bit confused about what I had just created. It took a number of sessions to figure out that the Rogue isn’t a longboard style ride!
My experience with short boards is quite limited so the idea of riding a board off of my back foot was something I needed to almost learn from scratch. Previously I had to move around on my boards to be on the sweet spot. When I started riding the Rogue the way it was intended to be ridden, off my back foot, the board came alive.
When first learning to ride the Rogue it was too easy to just pull out my previous “go to” board and just paddle out and have fun. Then a big problem turned into big plus; my old “go to” ride developed a crack around one of the fin boxes and got pretty wet on the inside so I had to retire the wet one for a rebuild and was “forced” to ride the Rogue. How fortunate I was to have this “problem”!
Initially, the low volume 105 liter size was challenging, and still, when paddling into surf with a a side shore wind, the chop is challenging. But once on a wave I’m so happy to be riding the Rogue with its agility and speed out of the turns. Many of us with deep experience in the surf zone have had the good fortune to find a magic board in our years of surfing. I’ve had the good fortune to have a few and my Rogue is the latest.
Would I do anything different if I were to make any changes? I might, but it would be limited to tail configuration and fin set up. I’m so stoked to be riding the Rogue!
Hollow Wood SUP and Surfboard Structures with Integrity
Hollow SUP’s, surfboards and prone paddleboards that are built from strips of wood over a light framework all have one thing in common; a semi monocoque structure. What is a semi monocoque structure? Think of an aircraft fuselage or wing on most aircraft and you are looking at a semi monocoque structure. Other terms used to describe this structure would be “torsion box” or “stressed skin”. The loads applied to the structure determine the size and spacing of the internal framework.
Generally speaking, in hollow wood SUP and surfboards the loads are such that a fairly light internal frame can be used. High quality marine plywood is a good example of an engineered composite material with a very high weight to strength ratio and is the typical material used for the internal framework on most hollow paddle and surf craft. The skin to frame attachment is critical to maintaining the integrity of the structure; as long as the skin stays attached the structure will maintain its form which is why most hollow boards have added gluing surface attached to the perimeter of the plywood frames.
The performance of semi monocoque structures can be enhanced in a number of ways. Point loading such as that produced by a paddlers feet or the impact from going down hard on your knee(s) can be resisted by decreasing the span between the frames or by increasing the strength of the skin or both. Heavier paddlers and riders or those wanting to maximize the overall strength of the board often fiberglass both sides of the deck panel and install the panel in one piece. When single panel installations are not practical the deck panel point load resistance can also be increased by fiberglassing between the frames on the underside of the completed deck panel.
In my years building hollow wood paddle and surf craft I’ve seen many overbuilt and unnecessarily heavy boards due to a misunderstanding as to the nature of the structures involved. An over built board may not last any longer than one built to suit the loads and may not be as much fun to paddle or surf (or carry!)
Sustainable SUP and Surfboard Production
Building a hollow wood SUP can be a great way to build a board with a low carbon footprint. Tom Blake started building hollow wood paddleboards in California the 1930’s and they were the standard surf rescue craft for several decades. The good news is that hollow wood SUP’s are now available to paddlers inclined to build their own board and they have become much lighter and more durable as a result of the use of epoxy resins, fiberglass cloth and paulownia timber. Hollow wood boards can now be built that weigh no more than, and in many case less than, fiberglass covered foam boards.
The SUP’s we ride when we go paddling are made in several different ways, typically involving fiberglass covered foam but the boards we ride on any particular day are probably not something we give a lot of thought to in terms of how they are made. Board construction methods and the question of sustainable construction is typically not something most paddlers think about. The idea of sustainability in the construction of SUP’s has been in the mix of industry topics for years, and now with the huge numbers of SUP’s being built worldwide, it might be something for us as to consider. Should we, as SUP paddlers be concerned about this?
Although not a practical choice for everyone, many paddlers have embarked on the path of building their own hollow wood board from paulownia timber which is plantation grown in Spain, New Zealand, Australia, China and many other countries around the world. The carbon footprint we leave in our wake can be reduced, and for paddlers wanting to build their own board, building a hollow “woody” is a viable option for limiting our carbon footprint. Paulownia timber for those of you not familiar with this species of wood, it is the wood of choice for building hollow strip planked SUP’s, and it is now available in the UK from http://www.ipaulownia.co.uk/. Paulownia timber is the wood of choice for several reasons; it is plantation grown and can often be sourced without being shipped great distances, it has the highest weight to strength ratio of any hardwood on the planet and has beautiful grain character. Paulownia timber is also “reluctant” to absorb water and grows to maturity in approximately 15 years.
What makes a hollow wood board a “sustainably” built board? Most of us that live around the sea have seen and appreciated the classic wood boats we see that are still in good shape after decades of use. Wood SUP’s are similar; hollow wood boards can be used for years if properly built and maintained. Of course board shapes change, but quality designs with a fit paddler aboard will perform well and look great for a very long time. Plantation grown timber combined with some of the new epoxy resins such as “Super Sap” made by ENTROPY RESINS will produce a beautiful board with a low carbon footprint that is fun to paddle. Paddlers that are interested in building a hollow SUP have numerous resource available. Online forums such as http://www.grainsurf.com/forum/ are great sources for information on how to build a hollow boards. There are also teaching environments that are dedicated to the craft of building hollow boards.
Paddlers interested in building their own board but who are not ready to take on a project of this nature without guidance can now do so via several schools scattered around the world that have been set up specifically for the purpose of teaching the skills and build methods necessary in crafting their own hollow wood SUP. In the UK, James Otter at http://www.ottersurfboards.co.uk/about is now offering classes for SUP builders as well as Patrick Burnett in South Africa at http://burnettwoodsurfboards.co.za/. In New Zealand, Ben Godwin is setting up a school environment for building hollow SUP’s and he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Paddlers not inclined to build their own board can still reduce their carbon footprint when buying a new SUP. Recycled foam blanks are increasingly available worldwide and local shapers that have access to these recycled foam blanks can be a great option for “keeping it local”. A knowledgeable local shaper will be able to customize a shape that suits the size, ability and local conditions of a particular paddler with the added benefit that buying a board from a local shaper supports a local craftsman. A board that is shaped for a specific paddler will most likely be a board that will be paddled for many years thereby reducing the number of boards sent off to a landfill. Is sustainable board construction something we should be concerned about given the quantity of waste and mountains of refuse created globally? Is the contribution of our leisure activities make to this problem something that matters? We as individuals are the only ones that can answer these questions. The good part of the sustainable board construction story is that there are options available to us should we be concerned