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.
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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