Selecting Standup Paddleboard Fins
Atmospheric venting of hollow surfboards or sup’s is critical. Without a functioning vent, your board will be vulnerable to structural failure due to (primarily) the expansion of air inside your board as the board heats up, which it inevitably does when out in the sun. The amount of pressure build up inside a board can increase to the extent that the board will actually pop! I know this to be true because it has happened to me. At first I wasn’t sure what the sound I had heard was, but as soon as I got to the launch site and looked at the deck of the board and how expanded and rounded up the deck was I knew exactly what had happened. The board didn’t actually explode but parts of the deck popped loose from the internal framework and the loud pop I had heard was the sound made by that structural failure. Oh man, did I feel horrible….I only had one board at the time, the surf was good and I needed this board!
I had installed two membrane (Goretex) vents and was confident that I had done the right thing. So what happened? The vents I had used were the Goretex membrane type. My comments are not about how “bad” the Goretex vents are, they are about the limitations of any membrane vent. Goretex vents will only transfer a certain amount of air through the membrane. The board I installed them in is a redwood board and what I hadn’t anticipated with the redwood skin on this board is just how fast the darker wood would heat up. So even with two Goretex vents in this board, the pressure built up to the point of failure….so, POW!! was the result.
The solution for me is that I now use mechanical vents which are simple screw in/screw out affairs….but you must remember to screw them in and take them out. Pretty simple but you can’t forget either operation. So is there a perfect solution to dealing with pressure build up in hollow boards? There may not be a perfect solution but there are options that should be considered beyond mechanical only or membrane only.
The current builds taking place in the CLEARWOOD shop may get both mechanical and membrane type vents so that even on a hot day in warm water I don’t have to worry about releasing pressure during my paddle outing. I have thought about this in the past but rejected the idea for reasons of keeping it simple. I’m now considering all options. I have heard that the newest membrane vents available from http://greenlightsurfsupply.com/leash-plugs-and-vents.aspx are better than the ones I used in my “exploding” board. I am not endorsing this product in any way, just putting some info out there for you to check out. I guess, at the end of the day, the one sure way to go is mechanical venting. As far as the the vented leash cup product, I’ve never been much of a fan of plastic leash cups in any form, vented or not….just my personal bias. I actually had a cheap plastic leash cup break on my first board and thankfully it happened at an uncrowded break with a sand beach. My current leash cup set up is one I make in my shop and I’ve had no failures. That’s with me and the board taking some serious abuse in some reasonably big (for me at least) 10′ surf. I’ll address shop made leash cups here soon and if anyone is interested in how they are made before I post the info you can get in touch with me directly through my website.
Here is a photo of the mechanical vents I like. The brass body threads into a wood block attached to the underside of deck, usually somewhere near the tail. The block is drilled through so that venting can occur. Some builders claim you need two vents in boards over ten feet in length but I’m not buying that argument for the mechanical vents. I can see using two vents if you are using membrane vents only, but then, I don’t think that’s a good idea.
It has been a hot and smokey summer around Southern Oregon this year and in some ways I’m glad to see the rains come. But this change of seasons is the classical double edge sword. On one hand, the hot days and the smoke from nearby forest fires has gone away for the year, but so has the beautiful summer weather and the great flatwater paddling we have on the local lakes. On the plus side is that the newest hollow wooden paddleboard kit I have designed, a 14’er that should be fast and fun to paddle, is sitting out on the assembly table with the framework all glued up and ready to start stripping. That’s where the season change comes into play; the lakes just aren’t as inviting when the temps barely get out of the 60’s and the sun is looking pitifully low in the sky even at mid day so it’s easier to be in the shop working on a new shape! Don’t get me wrong here; I really do like to design and build these prototype boards but the reality is that it’s hard to put in the kind of shop time required to do the job right when it’s also the time to be on the road going to races and other events that are mecca’s for the sup paddling community.
The new 14’er has been cut out via cad/cam cnc routing production methods, and although there are some very minor issues that need addressing in the next production run, this should be a fun board to assemble. A couple of things that make this board an easy build are the rocker tabs and the rail shape. The rocker tabs make for a quick assembly of the framework and the rail shape should make the rails easy to strip. This new 14′ board is designed for minimal surface area and a rail shape that keeps side chop off of the deck. I’m really looking forward to getting serious into this build and getting it into the water for a trial run by the end of the year!
I paddled my first down winder the other day and what an eye opener that was! I did ok for a first attempt but using my flatwater board for a down wind run was WORK! Not that a proper downwind board wouldn’t have been work but with limited nose rocker in my flatwater board I had to be really quick in stepping back to the tail in order to keep the nose from pearling. Most of my efforts were successful. The efforts that were not were, well, humbling. I consider myself a decent paddler and surfer both, but dealing with the short period chop left little time to get things sorted and organized for the next little wave train I wanted to go for so I found myself paddling “catch up” a lot and being slightly behind the curve. So I learned a lot, had fun and now know what the right board should be and have a design started for the next racing season.
In my world, we make things out of wood. But it wasn’t clear at first just how involved our relationship with hollow wood paddleboards would become. Surfboards, paddleboards, and sup paddles have become an obsession. I have always involved myself fully when I commit to doing anything worth doing and building these boards and paddles is no exception. True, I want to make this my business. It’s a hell of a lot more fun than building cabinets. But it’s as much about sharing the stoke and building an artful object that you can go out and play with as much as it’s about selling paddleboard kits and paddles. The boards and paddles come alive when they hit the water. “They” are in “their” element when they hit the water and I am right there to help in the effort! What do I get out of all this? It’s about sharing with others the idea that any of us can create a hollow wood paddle board or surf board if we commit to the process, show patience in our approach to the work and perservere in our efforts to bring life to humble bits of wood.