Buying a paddleboard
In collaboration with Protégez-Vous
The paddleboarding craze has been growing for a few years now. Are you one of the people who have been seduced by the fun and diversity of this sport? If you plan to ride your own board this summer, here are some tips before you buy.
A paddleboard, also known as an "SUP" for "stand-up paddleboard," allows you to navigate waterways while standing, sitting ,or kneeling with a paddle in your hands. Specialized sports and activities, such as yoga, long-distance touring (or "SUP camping"), surfing, racing, and whitewater rafting, can also be done with this equipment.
The paddleboard is believed to have its origins in Polynesian traditions. The Polynesians used planks made of huge tree trunks on which they stood to explore and conduct trade in their archipelago. The practice of surfing was then taken over in Hawaii, where it’s now an integral part of the culture.
Renting a board and taking a course
Before you get your own board, you can rent one. Taking a course is also a good idea, as there are certain basics you need to know before you get on the water. Learning the proper techniques for keeping your balance, moving forward, stopping, or turning efficiently will help you, even if you have some experience.
If you want to go out in white water or surf with a paddleboard, specific training is important, since the techniques are different from those used in calm water. This knowledge is essential for your safety.
Ready to gear up?
Inflatable or rigid, hybrid or touring, rounded or pointed nose... depending on your needs, you may be looking for a board with specific characteristics.
If you’re a beginner, but athletic, you could quickly get bored with a so-called "hybrid" or "all-around" board, which is often recommended for novices. Moreover, as the learning curve of this sport is very fast, especially for calm-water paddleboarding, it’s better to think beyond your abilities as a beginner.
Of course, if your goal is to have fun with the kids from time to time, your criteria for sturdiness and price will be different. But expect to pay at least several hundred dollars for a new board.
What activities do you want to do with your SUP? What types of water do you plan to ride? The answers to these questions will guide your purchase.
Types of boards
There are two main categories of paddleboards on the market: the inflatable models and the rigid models. Each one has its advantages.
Made of PVC, they’re surprisingly strong. Their light weight and sturdiness make them the best choice for whitewater activities, for example, in the rapids of a river. While the sliding sensation on this type of board does not match that of rigid composite boards, there are excellent inflatable models that are both efficient and rigid.
Inflatable boards are popular with beginners, but also with many enthusiasts, because they’re generally cheaper, lighter, and easier to store and drag around, even if you only have a small car.
Inflating the board can take time and effort, but some boards only require about 10 minutes. Having a good hand or electric pump will make the job easier. You can also store your inflated board on the roof of your car to avoid this recurring chore.
They come in subcategories: there are composite models (Styrofoam core surrounded by various materials, such as fiberglass, polyethylene, or epoxy) and molded plastic boards.
- Rigid composite boards are the most efficient when it comes to gliding, thanks to their hydrodynamic shape that follows the water's movement. This makes it easier to glide through the water efficiently, without getting tired; each paddle stroke allows you to go further and faster. However, boards of this type must be treated with care. Although they mend easily, they're sensitive to collisions and knocks (against rocks, in particular) and could crack or nick quite easily.
- Molded plastic boards (e.g., 100% polyethylene) are cheaper, but less efficient and heavier than composite boards. On the other hand, they’re extremely durable, making them a good buy for keeping the kids entertained at the cottage or cabin.
Worried about your balance? There are many factors to consider. In theory, inflatable boards, which are generally thicker and bulkier, cause your centre of gravity to be a little higher, making it more challenging to stay stable. In practice, however, a rigid board is more responsive to paddle movements and shifts, which can be disconcerting to the less experienced paddler and, more importantly, give the impression of less stability.
With practice, you'll probably get used to one or the other. But don't be afraid to try out different types of boards to compare them before choosing your own.
Inflatable or not, the popular SUPs carry a significant expense. Expect to pay between $600 and $2,000 for a rigid board (few composite models cost less than $1,000) and about $500 to $1,200 for an inflatable board.
Prices vary greatly depending on the manufacturer, materials used, quality, and origin of the products. A board that is both designed and manufactured in Québec, such as the DO Sport composite boards, will generally cost a little more than a board designed here but manufactured abroad. This is the case for almost all Québec and Canadian companies.
In addition, all inflatable boards, even those designed by local companies, are manufactured in Asia, mostly in China. That said, there are different qualities of design and assembly that will influence the rigidity and durability of the board. The price paid is often a good indication of its real value.
Thus, products offered online by foreign and unknown brands, such as those found on Amazon, are often economical, but it’s more difficult to be sure of their quality.
Many retail outlets allow you to try out their boards. Don't hesitate to consult customer reviews or contact the company's customer service department to find out about their policies.
Features to consider
There are many board shapes, and some are better suited to one type of activity than another. There are many board shapes, and some are better suited to one type of activity than another. To help you find your way, keep these main principles in mind.
A paddleboard generally varies between 2.7 and 4 m (9 and 13 ft). The longer models are for racing and touring. The shorter models are for youngsters or for surfing or whitewater outings.
In between, you'll find boards designed for touring, yoga, or a little bit of everything (sometimes called "hybrids" or, more often, "all-around" boards).
The wider the board, the more stable it is. On the other hand, narrowness means speed and ease of gliding through the water. SUPs range in width from about 63-91 cm (25-36 in), but for most recreational purposes, you should aim for 71-84 cm (28-33 in). A board that’s wider than 81 or 84 cm (32 or 33 in) will not allow for easy gliding.
Usually expressed in litres, the volume represents the board's flotation capacity and takes into account its length, width, and thickness. For example, a board for long- distance touring may be narrower than a hybrid model, but it will probably be longer and thicker.
The higher the volume, the more the board floats; hence, it must roughly correspond to the weight of the body or the load to be carried. Some practices require less volume, such as surfing. The best tip? Follow the manufacturer's instructions, which generally mention the board's capacity, i.e. its weight limit.
This aspect also comes into play. In general, the smaller and leaner you are, the lighter your board will be, depending on the range of products designed for the practice you’re interested in.
The front of the board, called the nose, can be rather round or rather pointed. A round and wide nose creates more stability and is more forgiving of an inaccurate paddle movement. A sharper and more streamlined nose provides a better glide and more precision, but it also requires a more skilled paddler. The board will be more reactive to the direction and power of the paddle stroke.
Boards usually have a centre fin at the back. This fin should be long enough to help the person move forward in a straight line, but care must be taken to ensure that it does not rub against the bottom of the waterway. Some boards have three fins, one in the middle and a small fin on each side. This configuration is most often found on surf or river boards, as it facilitates quicker direction changes. Consider buying a board with a fin that can be removed for transportation.
Carrying your board
You don't have direct access to the water and want to transport your paddleboard in your car? You can do it relatively easily, whether your vehicle has roof racks or not.
With roof racks: Install protective pads on the roof racks. Then place your board on it and wrap straps around it and the bars of the rack. Make sure to tighten the straps to secure the installation.
Without roof racks: Install the protective pads directly on the roof of your car and place your paddleboard on them. Then wrap straps around the board and attach them to the inside of the car by passing them through the windows. Tighten the straps to secure the installation.
Choosing the right paddle
Many boards are sold with the paddle, but this isn’t always the case. Moreover, it’s sometimes enough to change your paddle in order to progress and perform better on the same board.
- Aluminum: This type of paddle will do the trick for most uses. It’s often the one provided in sets. However, some aluminum paddles can be heavy.
- Carbon: These are the ultimate performance paddles, given their light weight and resistance to torsion. However, they should be treated with care, as they’re fragile if they hit a hard surface, like a rock. Moreover, they can be very expensive.
- Fiberglass: This material is between aluminum and carbon in terms of weight and price. Products made of fiberglass are also fragile and can break under powerful paddle strokes.
- Hybrid: Several paddle models are made of carbon and fiberglass, offering the best value for your money.
The paddle is made of three parts: the blade, which is submerged in the water; the shaft; and the handle.
To choose the right paddle size, keep in mind that the whole blade is submerged during the movement to propel you, but that it’s useless to plunge the shaft too far into the water or to extend the movement too far back.
It’s better to have a shorter paddle than a longer one to prevent shoulder injuries. Moreover, some practices, such as whitewater paddleboarding or surfing, require a shorter paddle than for touring.
To determine the maximum length of your paddle, place the blade on the ground and hold it straight, slightly in front of you. Raise your arm, keeping your shoulders low, and bend your wrist to 90°, palm down. Adjust the length so that the handle is level with your wrist.
Thinking of getting a two or three piece telescopic paddle? It will be easy to carry and will fit more than one person.
Above all, make sure the paddle is comfortable and don't hesitate to ask for advice on how to handle it properly and how to choose its length. And don’t forget that compared to the shaft, the blade is tilted forward (away from you) when you paddle.
Storing your board
Storing your board is not difficult: choose a dry place where the temperature is moderate (over 5°C). A rather dark place is preferable.
In the case of an inflatable board, you can store it in its storage bag or leave it inflated. Follow the manufacturer's instructions. Decreasing the air pressure by a few pounds per square inch (PSI) or not rolling it too tightly in its bag may be recommended for extended storage.
The most important thing: never leave a board in the sun. The UV rays and the intensity of the heat could damage it. Also avoid leaving it inside a car. Also remember that air that heats up expands: a fully inflated board left in the sun or in a very hot place could burst.
Cleaning your board
Scrub both your board and your paddle with clean, fresh water after each use, above all to remove sand, dirt, or salt. Make sure your equipment is dry before storing it, especially before packing it away for several months.
If you change waterways, it’s important to remove all alga from your board to avoid the propagation of unwanted species. It’s therefore better to clean your board and paddle not only after using them, but also before.
Sépaq has put in place measures to protect the lakes under its care. Consult its rules concerning the use of personal watercraft.
If you have a composite board, you should also examine it carefully for nicks and cracks. Any such damage should be repaired and allowed to dry before the next launch. Most breakages can be repaired. If you can't do it yourself, seek professional advice.
The personal flotation device: a must
Paddleboarding is subject to Transport Canada regulations for human-powered craft under 6 m in length. Each person on the board must have a lifejacket or personal flotation device (PFD) of appropriate size and approved in Canada.
Wearing a PFD is recommended at all times and for everyone, but it’s mandatory for youth under 18 years of age and for whitewater trips. For adults on calm water, there are two options:
1. Wear the vest or PFD
- You can use a floating or inflatable model.
- You must have a sound device, such as a whistle.
- If visibility is reduced, especially at sunset or at night, you must have a light device so that other watercraft can see you.
2. Place the vest or PFD on the board
- It must be a floating device (an inflatable model is not accepted).
- It must be easily accessible and immediately available for use.
- You must have a sound device, such as a whistle.
- You must have a floating rope of at least 15 m (water safety equipment required in different watercraft and not to be confused with the strap of the board, worn at the ankle).
- If visibility is reduced, especially at sunset or at night, you must have a lighting device so that other boats can see you.
Note that in both cases, the ankle strap is optional.
If you don't follow these rules, your safety is comprised. In addition, you run the risk of being fined up to several hundred dollars, depending on the number of missing pieces of equipment.
Note that in cold water, a wetsuit and boots are required. In whitewater rapids, a helmet is required. For surfing, in surf zones, such as those found in certain sectors of Côte-Nord or des Îles-de-la-Madeleine, completely different safety standards apply. Be sure to find out about safe practices for your type of activity.
Beyond the wearing of safety equipment, paddleboarding requires safe behavior as well as certain knowledge adapted to the waterway being frequented: wind, waves, water temperature, currents, tides, other vessels present, and more. The realities are different on the waterways of southern Québec , Gaspésie, and Côte-Nord. Find out about the specificities and risks of the location you intend to frequent.
Finally, know and respect your limits, use the services of a guide, or take appropriate training before exploring a whole new environment.
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