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Have you visited the beach recently and admired the people who seemingly were floating on the water? They’re enjoying one of the hottest new sports around right now: paddle boarding.
Also known as SUP – stand-up paddle boarding – the water-based activity is far more than just a casual vacation hobby for some. Paddle board racing is a serious sport and requires equipment that is specifically designed to provide the best speed and efficiency.
Whether you’re a newbie paddle board racer or an experienced pro, check out our essential guide to paddle board racing equipment including the top tips to buy.
What is paddle board racing?
Paddle boarding is an ancient skill, originally used in places like Hawaii as a means of catching fish and traveling to other islands. However, over the years it’s gained a cult following as a sport, hitting the headlines in 2004 after Hawaiian guru Laird Hamilton started using it as a way to train for big wave surfing.
Up until this point, paddle boarding was primarily used as a surfing technique to get the rider onto the big waves more quickly. Things started to change as people discovered the appeal of pure paddle board racing but at the time, the boards were poorly suited – the good news is that much has changed since.
Fast forward to the modern-day and paddle board racing scene is huge with events being held in all types of water. You’ll find events in lakes, rivers, bays and on the ocean, with some being open to other types of watercraft such as kayaks and surf-skis.
Paddle board racing in a river means potentially facing rapids while being in the ocean offers the challenge of the surf. Lake racing is probably the most accessible of all, and the best pick for beginners.
How to choose your racing paddle board
To be competitive in paddle board racing, you’ll need to develop strength, agility, and balance but it’s not all about your body. Having the best equipment will give you a real advantage on the water and help you perform to your very best ability.
Racing paddle boards are advanced designs that are specifically intended to meet the needs of those who race. This means they’re not suited for those who are new to paddle boarding. Before moving on to pick a racing paddle board, make sure you have secure basic skills first.
Regular paddle boards can sometimes accommodate more than one rider or include a storage area. Racing boards are different because they’re only intended for one person, and adding storage could destabilize the board or slow it down.
Racing paddle boards are all about premier performance, not practicality or convenience – see their typical design below:
But what should you look for in a racing paddle board? Here are few key things to look out for:
The longer the board, the more cleanly and smoothly it will travel over the water. If you ski, you’ll be familiar with the principle: longer is faster but also more difficult to control.
Most racing boards are between 12 and 14 feet – or longer! – while regular boards are significantly shorter. You can get hybrid boards that fall in between at around 10-11 feet but these won’t offer the same speed as a proper racing paddle board.
Wide dimensions slow the board down so if you’re all about speed, you’ll be looking for the narrowest possible board. Expect to find racing paddle boards with an average width of 28 inches, or below.
Narrow boards are harder to balance on; the taller or heavier you are, the more difficult this may be. If you find this too challenging at first, you could start with a board that 32 inches wide and work your way down to the narrowest racing style.
A thicker board will slice through the water more effectively while still being capable of comfortably carrying your weight. Rigidity and stability are essential for good racing speed so a thickness of around 6” or more is usual.
Volume and buoyancy
Your weight will play a factor in the type of paddle board you choose. As a general rule if you weigh less than 200lbs you don’t need to worry and can take your pick. If you weigh more, you’ll need to check the weight capacity a little more carefully.
The volume of the board will determine how much weight it can carry while still remaining stable. A volume of 175L can carry up to 235lbs, while a volume of 242L can carry weights of up to 275-300lbs. For those over 300lbs, look out for a board with a minimum volume capacity of at least 272L volume.
You may well find boards with a volume capacity that far exceeds the minimum you need, which is great. Cutting the volume capacity too finely could result in a board that has lots of drag, is slow and hard to maneuver.
You have the option of choosing either a solid or an inflatable paddle board when racing; if budget is a consideration the former may be a better pick. However, make sure you look for a design that has heavy-duty stitching and PVC and you’ll find it’s just as robust as a solid paddle board.
For solid boards, a lightweight material is usually preferable. This allows you the thickness without any weight, giving you a racing advantage. Look for racing paddle boards made from carbon fiber or Kevlar.
You will need to choose between planing and displacement hull shapes, but for a racer, the latter is better.
A planing hull is better for stability with a flatter and wider nose. By contrast, a displacement hull is more pointed and pushes the water to one side allowing it to be more aerodynamic and move quickly. The flip side is that a displacement hull isn’t so stable so you’ll need to be on top of your balance to stay on the board.
Of course, there are many other features that you may want to consider when buying a racing paddle board but these are the main basics that you can’t skip past.
Bearing all this in mind, here’s a look at three excellent racing paddle boards that are well worth consideration.
Width: 24”, 25”, 26”
Volume: 220L, 229L, 238L
One of the racing paddle boards in the Pau Hana Viper range, this carbon 14’ board is an absolute beast. Despite its extreme length, the carbon fiber composition means that it’s incredibly light. This allows it to deliver extraordinary speed across the water but the compromise is that it’s not quite as stable as some others.
Its shape means it’s best suited to racing on flat water while the dimensions making it more compatible with advanced riders. If you have the experience to handle a board that challenges you from the start, you’ll discover the Viper offers an incredible performance among the best in its class.
If you’re dying to get out on the water but can’t quite cope with the Viper’s very narrow surface, you can opt for one of the models which is slightly wider. Still comfortably within the range for a true racing board, the couple of extra inches provide the volume and width which make it easier to conquer.
Although carbon fiber has a reputation for being fragile, this paddle board is remarkably resilient. Easy to carry and with a striking design, this is a paddle board you’ll be racing on for many years.
• Very fast and smooth on the water
• Lightweight but durable
• Specifically designed for racing competitions
• Comfortable handgrip position
Thickness: 8.3”, 9.1”, 9.1”, 9.3”, 10.1″
Width: 23”, 23.5”, 24.5”, 26”, 28″
Volume: 236L, 277L, 293L, 303L, 340L
A premium model that comes in at the top of the price bracket, the Starboard All Star is worth every cent. Loved by racing paddle boarders all over the world, its versatility on the water allows it to be used in all conditions.
Whether you’re carving through buoys or navigating over breaking waves, the shape of the Starboard ensures you come out on top. Offering speed and easy maneuverability, this racing board makes it easier for the rider with a flattened, center channel, delivering superior glide and stability. The unique shaping of both the deck and the overall board creates clever features that reduce splash, rolling and unwanted drag.
A carbon sandwich composition provides just enough flex coupled with rigidity in the reinforced mid-section. This creates a racing paddle board that is tough, lightweight and super-durable. A heady pairing of lightweight and strength helps to explain why this is voted as one of the most popular racing paddle boards around.
A fast but stable racing paddle board, this inflatable design is excellent for those looking to race on a budget. It’s a good pick for those who are just starting to race and move into more advanced paddle boards, offering a top-notch performance for racing events.
It comes with the highly recommended Titan Pump which offers quick and easy inflation. The downside is that it is a manual pump so if you’re looking for an electronic pump to do all the work, you’re out of luck. However, with a total inflation time of no more than 5 minutes, it’s surprisingly fast and easy to get the board ready to hit the water.
A thick drop-stitch with a fused airtight coating ensures the board remains impervious to water while the premium-grade valve ensures it remains pumped up. The high-tensile core is capable of withstanding a pressure of greater than 20 psi, giving you the option of a board that is tough and rigid.
A two-texture deck pad makes riding on the water comfortable with handle placement in the center and upfront provides versatility.
• Rapid inflation
• Stiff and rigid
• Large deck pad
• Design minimizes leash drag
Choose your favorite
The above three are just a few examples of some of the best racing paddle boards available. For more models, designs and expertise head over to the paddle board experts, Stand On Liquid, today.