What is the Difference Between Paddle Boards?
Paddle boards tend to look very similar. Especially, if you’re new to the sport and have begun shopping for your first SUP. Considering most of the products look pretty much alike, prices can vary by several hundred dollars between brands. So, what is the difference between paddle boards?
The difference is paddle board technology.
PADDLE BOARD TECHNOLOGY
Paddle board technology is all of the things that go into producing a paddle board. It consists of the processes and techniques that are used to construct a board, as well as the types of materials that are used as part of the construction process. Paddle boards built with advanced processes and materials, and require more skilled labor to be produced will be more expensive.
TECHNOLOGY AND RETAIL PRICE
The retail price of a paddle board is directly related to the technology level of the paddle board. The more advanced the technology, the more expensive the paddle board.
That’s why inflatable paddle boards are inexpensive compared to their hard board counterparts. There is simply less technology in inflatable paddle boards which means that they are cheaper and easier to build than a hard board.
Hard paddle boards all start with some sort of foam core which then has a variety of martials placed over top to form a paddle board. Inflatables are simple a polypropylene material sheet sewn and glued together to form a paddle board shape when inflated. Even the cheapest hard board with minimal technology requires more effort to build than an inflatable. Hence the difference in price.
HARD PADDLE BOARD TECHNOLOGY
Hard paddle boards can range in price between $800 - $4000. The big swing in price difference is due to the technology.
While all hard paddle boards are rigid, two main factors make the difference in price points; the materials being used to build the board as well as the manufacturing techniques used in the construction process.
Below is a quick explanation of the various types of construction methods used to build hard paddle boards.
This is the original way of building surf boards and later paddle boards. Start with a foam core and then apply layers of fiber glass and epoxy until the desired strength is desired. While a tried-and-true construction technology for surfboards, paddle boards can be quite heavy with excess epoxy. Small local builders tend to use this method.
Injection molded paddle boards tend to be very tough, very heavy and at the lower range of the hard board price point. With injection molding, a hard plastic shell is molded in a form, and then injected with foam to make the board buoyant.
Companies that build kayaks will often build paddle boards by the injection method. Pelican or is a good example of injection molded paddle boards.
Thermo Molding is often marketed as ABS Construction
With thermo molding, a foam core is placed in a mold and a plastic sheet (ABS) is heated and compressed in the mold around the core. The result is a very hard paddle board with an outer plastic shell. Although lighter in weight than injection molded boards, boards made by injection, this construction method has limited paddle board technology and is at the lower end of the hard board price points and quality.
Compression molding is often marketed as ACT or Advanced Compression Technology.
This building technique is the new kid on the block when it comes to paddle board technology. Created as an alternative to hand shaping epoxy paddle boards, ACT boards are built by compressing layers of fiberglass, epoxy and other materials around a foam core and compressing it in the molded shape.
Similar to an epoxy board in quality, paddle boards built with compression molding can be considered to be better than either of the injection or thermo plastic molded boards.
ESVC is short for Epoxy Sandwich Vacuum Construction and is the grand daddy of building paddle boards, and the top boards in any brand’s line up will be built with ESVC methods.
Built around a foam core, this technique consists of building layers of fiberglass and epoxy. Often with this construction method, other materials will be substituted for fiberglass. Bamboo and carbon fiber are the most popular alternatives. For example, Wappa uses a layer of bamboo in this process.
One of the key features of sandwich construction is the differences in the materials between layers. Fiberglass sheets may be run in in different directions in different layers to add strength. Different materials will be used in different layers for add strength and to reduce weight. Once all of the layers of the sandwich are built, the board is than placed in a vacuum bag to compress the layers and drive out any excess epoxy to create a very strong and very lightweight paddle board.
Please note that not all epoxy paddle boards are vacuum bagged and even more aren’t sandwiched. There is a reason why boards built with the ESVC method are more expensive than other technologies. They are built by hand, and not simply placing material into molds.
While paddle boards also differ on shape, those difference are related more to the board’s function. When it comes to the quality and price of paddle boards, its all about the technology. Higher quality materials and the more craftsmanship that goes into producing a paddle board, results in a better quality and more expensive paddle board.
Are Inflatable Paddle Boards Better Than Fiberglass?
Fiberglass paddle boards are better than inflatable paddle boards. In fact, inflatable paddle boards strive to be as good as fiberglass boards. Like everything, you get what you pay for, and there are several reasons why fiberglass paddle boards are superior to inflatables.
The technology that goes into building a paddle board is a primary factor in a board’s price. The better the technology and materials, the better quality the paddle board and the more expensive the price.
As a general rule, Inflatable paddle boards are less expensive than their fiberglass siblings. The reason for this is that they are easier to build, and are made with less expensive materials. Inflatables are simple a sheet of polypropylene that is stitched and glued together to form a paddle board shaped bag that holds air. No matter how inflatable paddle board companies present their technology, it all boils down to it being a plastic bag containing air.
The technology of fiberglass paddle boards is more complicated. All fiberglass paddle boards start around a solid foam core and then layer different materials such as fiberglass and epoxy to make a sturdy platform.
The days of poorly made, inexpensive fiberglass boards are disappearing. Superior companies like Wappa who manufacture fiberglass paddle boards are doing more than simply layering fiberglass over foam. Foam cores with special densities are used. Technologies using compression techniques such as sandwich construction and vacuum bagging result in fiberglass boards that are very lightweight and very strong. A lot more time, energy and craftsmanship go into building a fiberglass paddle board than any inflatable.
STABILITY and GILDE
Fiberglass paddle boards offer better stability and glide than inflatables.
Fiberglass board designers shape and contour the bottoms of their boards to improve the board’s performance in the water. Fiberglass paddle boards can be shaped to have concave and double concave hulls like a catamaran to provide stability while not losing speed and glide.
Inflatable paddle board designers do not have the option to create contoured bottoms on their boards.
Because they are essentially bags of air, it is impossible to have a concave shaped bottom. The air pressure required to hold a person will not allow it. As a result, all inflatable paddle boards have a flat bottom. Flat bottoms provide stability and good glide on FLAT WATER ONLY. Once the water is no longer glassy, flat bottoms quickly lose stability and glide. Concave bottoms are not affected by water chop.
Safety is another aspect that makes fiberglass paddle boards better than inflatables.
Fiberglass paddle boards are built around a dense foam core. Fiberglass and other materials are applied in layers with epoxy resin to make a hard sturdy platform. While out on the water, nothing outside of a very large wave crashing down onto it will break a fiberglass paddle board. Even if a wave did break the fiberglass board in half, the two pieces would float, offering safety and support for the paddler.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about inflatable paddle boards. It’s possible for inflatables to suddenly deflate while out on the water, leaving the paddler stranded and at risk of drowning.
Inflatables are held together by glue and the glue can suddenly give out causing rapid deflation. There have even been product recalls issued by the United States and United Kingdom because of such incidents.
To learn more about the product recalls and how inflatable paddle boars are dangerous, please read our other article on the subject:
Ask yourself the following question:
What is more durable, fiberglass and rock-hard epoxy resin, or a bag of air with seams held together by glue?
While it is true that a fiberglass paddle board can be cracked, the likelihood of that happening is quite small. As long as you’re not dropping your board from the top of your vehicle directly onto hard pavement, cracking isn’t an issue.
On the other hand, inflatable paddle boards often come with patch kits to deal with punctures and other air leaks. No fiberglass paddle board needs to come with a patch kit.
Fiberglass paddle boards are better than inflatables in a lot of important metrics. They are safer and offer a better paddling experience with superior stability and glide. While fiberglass SUPs may be a more expensive paddling option, like everything in life, you get what you pay for.
What is a Sustainable Paddle Board?
A sustainable paddle board is made using materials that are renewable or won’t be permanently depleted, and built using manufacturing techniques that do little damage to the environment. Just because you say that something is sustainable doesn’t mean that it is. Unfortunately, the word “Sustainable” has been developed into marketing jingo and many brands or products call themselves sustainable when it isn’t actually true.
The adjective “sustainable” has several definitions, however, we will only examine the ones closest to the manufacturing of products.
The common theme of these definitions is production by using resources and techniques that allow for reuse and do little or no damage to the environment.
The Concept of “Sustainability” Applied to Manufacturing
To build a sustainable product, it must be made using resources that aren’t permanently depleted and using technology that allows manufacturing to build products with as little damage to the environment as possible.
There is more to building a sustainable product then joining a few environmental organizations and planting some trees. A lot of thought and effort has to go into building a sustainable product.
To build a sustainable product, the following factors need to be taken into account
What Makes a Paddle Board Sustainable?
A sustainable paddle board is made using renewable materials that aren’t permanently depleted, and built using paddle board technology that enables manufacturing to minimize the damage to the environment.
For shoppers interested in purchasing a sustainable paddle board, they need to examine the factors that go into a products manufacturing.
A sustainable paddle board will be built with renewable energy. If the factory is powered by coal, then the product isn’t very sustainable. Look for factories that are powered with green renewable energy like hydroelectric, solar, wind or geothermal.
Sustainable paddle boards are built using materials that are renewable and aren’t easily depleted. Look for materials like wood or bamboo. Bamboo is an excellent choice for sustainable products because it can be harvested more regularly than wood, and when it’s cut, that action actually spurs the bamboo plant to spread and grow even more.
Other building materials that are factors of sustainable paddle boards are the board’s core and the materials and resins that are applied over the core. The best paddle boards are made with layers of carbon fiber, or fiberglass and bamboo. They are held together by epoxy resins. Sustainable paddle boards use plant-based resins for their epoxy. Cores will also be made with recycled materials and be recyclable.
Paddle board technology plays a large role in a board being sustainable. Cores should be precision formed. This eliminates waste in core shaping since the cores are cut perfectly the first time. Sustainable paddle boards will be built using manufacturing techniques like sandwich construction and vacuum bagging. These methods reduce the amount of epoxy required to make a board strong.
A part of a sustainable product is it’s packaging. If you can’t easily recycle the products packaging, then the product isn’t as sustainable as it could be. If packaging can’t be recycled, then environmental damage has been done.
When shopping for sustainable paddle board, it’s important to remember the definitions of “sustainable” and how that concept relates to manufacturing. With that thought in mind, it will be easier to determined which products are sustainable and which one are just making claims. Checking into key factors such as the energy used in the manufacturing process, the materials used to build the paddle board, and how it was built will enable the smart shopper to look past the hype and find the real sustainable paddle boards.
Are Hard Paddle Boards Easier?
Paddle boarding is a great way to get out on the water and enjoy the outdoors. But when it comes to choosing the right board, there are a few things to consider. One of the biggest decisions is whether to go with a hard or inflatable paddle board. While both have their advantages, many people wonder if hard paddle boards are actually easier to use. Let's take a look at some of the pros and cons of hard paddle boards and see if they really are easier.
Advantages of Hard Paddle Boards
One of the biggest advantages of hard paddle boards is that they are more stable than inflatable ones. This makes them great for beginners who may not be as comfortable in choppy waters or for those who want to try out different activities like fishing or yoga on their board. Hard boards also tend to be faster than inflatables, so if you’re looking for speed then this is definitely something to consider. Finally, hard boards have better tracking capabilities which means they will stay in a straight line better than an inflatable board would.
Disadvantages of Hard Paddle Boards
The main disadvantage of hard paddle boards is that they can be more expensive than inflatables. They can be difficult to transport since they are solid and can’t be folded into a back pack and stored inside a vehicle. This means you’ll need a car roof rack in order to transport your board from place to place. Once you have the roof rack, it only takes a couple of minutes to attach and remove your board from the rack. Outside of the initial cost of the rack investment, transport is no longer a disadvantage.
Are Hard Paddle Boards Easier?
When it comes down to it, hard paddle boards are easier. If you want a superior experience or you just want something stable and easy to maneuver then a hard board is the way to go. However, if you have limited transport options and a smaller budget then an inflatable might be better suited for your needs. Enjoy your next paddle!
The Wappa Blog
Written by Wappa's founder Layne Pennell, the blog's aim is to educate and share his love of stand up paddle boarding with anyone interested in SUP.
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