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correct paddle board for flat water paddling

Choosing the Correct Board for Flatwater Paddling

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

Flatwater Defined

Let’s start by talking about flatwater paddling and boards designed specifically for the purpose of flatwater paddling. What does the term “flatwater” mean? As it turns out there isn’t just one description. For the purposes of our discussion we will say that flatwater is any paddling venue where waves that can be ridden are not a factor. This includes a wide range of conditions, but the essence of “flatwater” is a surface condition where there is either no wind, or the wind that exists produces waves of a size that can’t be “picked up” and ridden by paddling. In general, boards designed for flatwater paddling have a limited rocker profile, meaning that the curve of the bottom from nose to tail is relatively flat. There can be some curve to this line but generally there isn’t much. This produces hull characteristics that perform well in conditions that are on the calmer end of the wind generated, surface turbulence spectrum. Flat rocker profiles tend to track straighter and “push” less water.

correct paddle board for flat water paddling

Sizing a Flatwater Board for Increased Weight

One question I often get about flatwater boards is how to size a board as paddler weight and or loading on a board increases. Sizing a board for a specific paddler can be addressed in several different ways. One of the main features in boards that performs well for a given paddler weight is how the water exits off of the tail of the board. If the tail is submerged it’s like having the breaks on. There are two ways to keep the tail from dragging and keeping a clean release of water off of the tail as paddler weight increases. Either the width or the length of the board can be increased to upsize the volume of the board or the rocker profile can be increased to get the tail up and closer to the surface of the water. In some cases length can’t be increased if the board is to be used in any type of SUP racing venue where maximum lengths are specified (unlimited class excepted with no length maximum). In the case of increased rocker vs increased width, increasing the width would lead to a more stable paddling platform and increasing the rocker without increasing the width would lead to less stability for heavier paddlers, particularly in choppy or rough water conditions. Rocker profile increases work well to a point but every aspect of design needs to be considered as volume increases.

2 Key Components for Increased Loading

  • Increase width or length to upsize volume of the board
  • Increase rocker profile to get tail up and closer to surface of water

Most hollow wood and production foam/glass manufacturers measure their boards in several ways using the most common values of length, width, thickness and total volume in liters. But in addition to these measurements, paddler experience should always be a consideration in the mix when choosing a board. For paddlers weighing over 250 pounds (113 kg) it’s difficult to find a big enough board without moving up to what’s called the “unlimited” class board which is anything over 14’ in overall length.  Adding width and rocker helps as paddler weight increases but at some point, the boards become very bulky and slow to paddle.

Test Paddle Before Buying

Regardless of whether you are buying a production board or building a hollow wood board, it is important to test paddle a few boards before you decide which is the right board for you. It’s not always easy to find a dealer or rental venue to sample the various designs and options available, but it could save you from buying a board that is the wrong size for your weight or the wrong shape for the conditions you typically paddle.

If you are building a board you will be spending a great deal of time creating your new “stick” and you want to make sure that at the end of the process you have created a board that will be fun to paddle for many years.