What Material is Best for Paddle Boards?
What is the best material to make paddle boards? As a manufacturer specializing in bamboo paddle boards, it is pretty easy to write about the glories of bamboo. However, there is enough self-serving pap online. Instead, lets dig into the subject and do an analysis.
Before we begin, it is important to note that there are two main types of paddle boards; inflatable and rigid paddle boards. While prices of inflatables can vary from $300 - $1500, they are all made from essentially the same material – polypropylene. Rigid paddle boards can be made many different ways and from many different materials, and can vary in price from $300 - $4000. As a result, we will concentrate on the best materials for rigid paddle boards.
Creating a “Best” ranking means that criteria have to evaluated. Materials will be ranked upon the following:
Strength to weight ratio refers to the paddle board’s weight compared to its strength. Board strength is measured by stiffness and product durability. The lighter and stiffer a board, the easier it will be to paddle through the water.
BEST – CARBON FIBER
There is no doubt about it, carbon fiber is the absolute best material for paddle boards.
Carbon fiber is made from crystalline carbon filaments roughly 100 times smaller than a human hair. The carbon atoms form together in a tight, chain-like bond allowing the fiber to be exceptionally strong all on its own. When combined together with other carbon fibers, the material becomes even stronger.
It has an incredible strength to weight ratio. Carbon fiber boards are very strong and stiff and incredibly light. The downside is that they are very expensive. A carbon fiber paddle board may cost 50-100% more then the next best material – bamboo.
BETTER – BAMBOO
Bamboo has the highest strength to weight ratio of any natural fiber. It is superior to graphite which is a precursor to carbon fiber. In structural engineering tests, bamboo has shown to be stronger than some steel alloys.
In a composite environment like a Wappa paddle board, bamboo is a good substitute for fiberglass because it's stronger and lighter. Using a layer of bamboo in a paddle board can reduce the boards weight by as much as 15% while doubling the layer’s strength.
Bamboo offers a great value. Lighter and stronger than traditional fiberglass boards but not nearly as expensive (or light) as a carbon fiber paddle board.
GOOD – FIBERGLASS
For decades, all surf boards and paddle boards were built with fiberglass. Fiberglass boards are produced using multiple layers of fiberglass and epoxy around a foam core. The more layers of fiber glass, the stronger and stiffer the board. Unfortunately, a board becomes heavier with every layer, so most boards have between 2-4 layers. Bamboo paddle boards are a variation of fiberglass boards.
Fiberglass paddle boards range in quality. Cheap boards can be as little as $500 while the best ones are $1500+. They can be heavy or light. Not as light as either carbon fiber or bamboo, but still easy to carry under one arm. Generally, the lighter the fiberglass board, the more expensive it will be.
The downside of fiberglass boards is that delamination may occur if the board is poorly made or if the air vent is clogged from salt or debris preventing the board from breathing. Fortunately, proper maintenance and storage eliminates this risk. Rinsing your board at the end of the day and storing it away from direct sun are best practices.
MEH – PVC
Strong and durable, a paddle board made from PVC can appear almost indestructible. Made from the same material that is used for kayaks, a PVC board can hit a rock and probably bounce away undamaged. Some brands even demonstrate toughness by hitting their boards with a hammer.
PVC boards are created by injecting foam into the board mould. The other material types layer material around the foam core. Because of the injection manufacturing process, PVC boards are less expensive than carbon fiber, bamboo or fiberglass boards. It takes less time and labour to produce PVC paddle board.
While very strong, PVC boards can also be very heavy. Some PVC boards may weigh as much as 60 lbs. Compared to a same size fiberglass board weighing 25 lbs, and the trade off on the strength to weight ratio quickly becomes apparent.
POOR – FOAM
While all hard boards have a foam core, some paddle boards are essentially foam core with a spray coating to add grip and prevent water absorption in the foam. These are the cheapest rigid paddle boards available and may be available for a few hundred dollars.
These boards may appear to be a good bargain, but they are weak and may not last more then a season. They damage easily, and should be avoided at all costs. Frankly, if you want to spend that little, buy an inflatable SUP. It would be a better investment.
When shopping for a paddle board, most people the best board they can get for the least amount of money. If that type of thinking is something you can agree with, then your best option is a bamboo paddle board. A good quality bamboo SUP costs about the same as a good quality fiberglass board. It will just have a better strength to with ratio. If you will be paddling in a rugged environment such as rocky rivers with low water levels, a PVC board may be your best option. Now if money is no object, and you need the best of the best, then there is no question, your choice should be a carbon fiber unit.
“What do I need to know before buying a paddle board?” is the sort of question that a first-time buyer might ask. So, lets view the solutions from that perspective.
Before you seriously start shopping for your first board, you need to ask yourself a few questions. Then you’ll be better able to ask informed questions at the store to make the perfect choice.
WHAT ARE MY PLANS?
What do you want to do with your paddle board? Do you see yourself puttering around shore or would you eventually like to paddle a mile or two off shore? Will you have the opportunity to surf? Will your board be used a few times a summer, or do you have a passion?
These are the sorts of questions that you need to ask yourself. Someone puttering a hundred meters from shore will be happier with a less expensive and slower board then someone wanting to surf going for tours.
WHO ELSE WILL BE USING IT?
If others will be using the paddle board on a regular basis, then their weight should also be considered during board selection. When there are large weight differences between riders, a larger board may be needed. A big factor of board stability is matching the rider’s weight to the board. If a board is too small for a heavy rider, it may sink, or become less stable. A board to large for a rider will be very stable but become to much board to push through the water after a while. Eventually the lighter rider will become dissatisfied paddling the oversized board. You will need to find something for everyone if there will be multiple riders.
WHERE WILL YOU BE USING IT?
Your regular paddling environment should also influence what type of paddle board you should buy. Are there waves that will enable any surfing? Are you on a small lake? Will you be paddling on the ocean? There isn’t much point getting a surf style board if you will never have the opportunity to catch waves. No matter how good a Wave board looks, you would be better off with a an All Around or Touring style.
WHERE WILL I STORE IT?
Paddle boards need storage space. The average paddle board is 10’6” long. If you have the space to store something that long then you should get a rigid paddle board. Rigid boards can be carried down a flight of stairs easily and only take up about 6” of width.
Now, if your storage space is limited, then an inflatable board is your choice. While they don’t perform as well as a rigid board, they are much easier store. Most inflatables can fit into an oversized backpack and are easily stored in condo storage spaces or even a closet.
WILL I NEED TO TRANSPORT IT?
Planning to travel everywhere for unique paddle experiences means having to transport your board. Transporting rigid paddle boards is easy as long as you have a roof rack and two straps. In two minutes, your board can be ready to go!
Roof racks for paddle boards can be as simple and inexpensive as two foam blocks with straps, or cost a couple of hundred dollars for a top of a line rack that can carry just about anything.
Inflatable paddle boards are easier to transport then rigid boards, since they are stored in a back pack until needed. You can take one on a plane, bus or the back of a compact car. The downside side of this convenience is that you will need to unroll/inflate then deflate and repack your board after each use. The rigid board owner, straps his board onto his rack and is gone in five minutes.
WHAT IS MY BUDGET?
Your budget can be a large factor as to the type of board you ultimately select. Shoppers looking to spend around $500 will be getting an inflatable. The more you are prepared to spend, the more options become available. Better quality inflatables are available around $1000. Good quality rigid boards start above $1000 and carbon fiber boards can be more then $3000. Like all things, the better the quality the paddle board, the higher the price.
Answering these six questions will provide some guidance when you go shopping. You’ll already have an idea if an inflatable or rigid board is better for you. You’ll know if you have to take other’s weight into consideration when selecting board size. Understanding where you will be paddling will help you make a good selection for years of pleasure. No matter what you get, make sure you’re having a safe and great time on the water.
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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