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.
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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