The market of SUP boards is gradually becoming really unmanageable. Every year, a multitude of new brands and supposed innovations come onto the market. But what actually makes a touring SUP a good touring board? Which criteria should it fulfill and which points are really important? To find a generally valid answer to this is impossible!
Our approach is of course to present you boards that we have really tested. We have paddled the boards over long distances and have also done multi-day tours with some of them. Touring for us doesn’t just mean getting from point A to point B as fast as possible, but SUP touring always means “adventure” in our eyes.
We would like to use the somewhat hackneyed saying “The way is the goal”. So it is not primarily about speed and thus we have defined our evaluation criteria differently. But we start with the basic question: What makes a touring SUP different from other SUP shapes?
No question: we are SUP nerds and prefer hardboards for our daily SUP trips. BUT especially for long, multi-day SUP tours and SUP adventures, iSUPs, inflatable touring boards have the edge. Anyone who has ever had to carry his SUP around a lock or had to heave the board over a high edge out of the harbor basin knows exactly what we are talking about. Landing on rocky shore sections to set up camp will bring you to the brink of a nervous breakdown with a hardboard. It’s easy to bang the nose against a rock or the tail against the edge of the bank. Chipped paint or even holes are the result. An iSUP is usually not only lighter, it is also much less sensitive than a hardboard. In addition, it can be packed up quickly, for example to cover a short distance by public transport.
A not insignificant advantage, which is especially interesting for BAJAO: You can use the board as a sleeping mat and build your BAJAO Cabin on it, and thus spend the night on your SUP.
A disadvantage is of course that with an iSUP you are very limited as far as the shapes of the SUP are concerned. A real displacement hull is impossible to implement with Dropstitch. You always have round rails and a round nose. However, since we’re not going for total performance touring, this disadvantage takes a back seat to the advantages. In addition, iSUPs are less expensive to purchase than hardboards.
Length runs, or so the sailor says. A longer board runs faster and better straight. So simple, so accurate. The disadvantage: It’s harder to get it around the bend. Half so wild, just made a step backwards, lifted the nose out of the water, turned tight and off goes the wild ride. If it weren’t for the luggage in front of us, which pushes the nose down vehemently, and the luggage behind us, which simply doesn’t allow us to step back far enough. Therefore, length is not always the deciding factor for a touring SUP. A length of 12.6 has become the classic measurement. But shorter touring SUPs can also make sense, especially for lighter or smaller paddlers. You should find the right length of SUP for you. If you want to go faster and accept the lower turning ability, go for a 14-foot board. If you prefer to be more agile and the speed is secondary, then you can also enjoy an 11.6 or 12. The golden mean is still a 12.6.
Gone are the days when there were two board thicknesses: 6 inches or 4 inches. The latter was reserved per se for the cheap boards in the hardware store. Nowadays you can find many different thicknesses from 4 inch as the flattest variant to 4.75 or 5.25 up to the ubiquitous 6 inch boards. Unless you’re traveling as an absolute lightweight, you should stick with 6 inches for touring SUPs. Finally, you have to consider luggage. A flatter board offers advantages in terms of wind susceptibility and also a bit in terms of tipping stability, but primarily without luggage. Therefore, we make it easy for ourselves here, as do most manufacturers, and recommend the 6-inch variant for the touring ISUP.
With the hardboard, of course, it looks quite different again, because here you can choose between flat deck, dugout, with hump or without, etc.. But as mentioned in advance, we will focus on iSUPs in this article.
Over the past few years, we’ve noticed more and more that touring SUPs are getting narrower and narrower. iSUPs with widths under 28 inches are now not uncommon. Even 26-inch boards are now dubbed touring SUPs. What was called a race board a few years ago now ranks as a touring board. This trend completely misses the actual purpose of touring SUPs and shows that many manufacturers misinterpret the touring sector, completely neglect it or have no idea. A touring board is allowed to have a width of 30 – 34 inches. We can already hear the outcry from the SUP scene: 34 inches? I might as well paddle on a door. Bullshit! We’re not talking about sport tourers built to paddle against the clock. We’re talking about thoroughbred touring SUPs that need to offer enough volume to carry weight, room for luggage, and enough stability to not send you swimming at the slightest chop. Once again, SUP touring is not for speed junkies, it’s for adventurers. And hand on heart, if you’re afraid of going too slow on a 33-inch board, you need a technique course rather than a narrower board. Besides, have you ever tried paddling a touring SUP with luggage in a bit of a sidewinder? Then you know exactly what we’re talking about. This brings us to the next point: carrying luggage.
If you’re planning a longer SUP tour, there’s obviously room for luggage on your board. On almost every SUP you have luggage nets on the front third to stow your belongings. The classic here is the bungee strap, which is stretched between four to six D-rings. On a well-designed touring SUP, you’ll have another luggage net at the rear to stow even more luggage.
Some brands offer luggage nets that prevent luggage from rolling out the side. Handy if you have a lot of items underneath your luggage, like water bottles etc. However, on a tour you will usually carry your gear in a waterproof bag, so this feature is nice to have at best. More importantly, you need to be able to securely and tightly brace all of your gear. So tight that they stay firmly on the board even if you capsize. After all, you don’t want to have to go diving for the bag with the fresh slippers and the toothbrush after you’ve hoisted yourself back onto the board.
Optimally, you reach for a luggage system that can be firmly anchored to the existing mounts. Unfortunately, there is little really good on the market so far, but we are working on it.
The position of the luggage net is also not unimportant. For example, on some boards the luggage nets are unnecessarily far forward, which pushes the nose down too much with heavier luggage and makes the board unstable. It is also not a good idea to position the luggage net too close to the center of the board, i.e. close to the carrying handle. This unnecessarily restricts your range of motion.
Hotly discussed and yet it is so simple: For a touring SUP you only need a center fin. Here, too, we see trends from various manufacturers that add side fins to the touring SUP. We’re talking about these little fins, right and left in front of the big fin in the middle. Let’s cut to the chase: this is unnecessary nonsense! The center fin is enough to give your board the stability and to keep the direction. The side fins increase the pack size unnecessarily (when rolling up the board) and are more of a nuisance than a benefit.
More important is a touring fin, which offers a bit more surface than a sickle fin. However, even this fin has only a moderate influence if the paddling technique is not right.
We favor the classic and well-tried US box fin system. You can get a replacement fin in every surf store for little money, should something break. The slide-in fins or even more unorthodox systems usually offer less stability and often have sharp edges. Even more, such fins are often made of soft material and therefore break more easily than even cheap composite fins.
By the way, side fins are hardly ever used on touring hardboards.
We don’t really want to go into individual brands, but in this case we’ll make an exception:
Brand new and known to us only from RedPaddle: Instead of a center fin, two side-by-side fins are installed. Both are only minimally smaller than a center fin. The advantage that the manufacturer expects from this: better directional stability and less draft. We can confirm both after tests, but it also makes maneuvering more difficult. The remedy is a pivot turn, which, however, is almost impossible with a lot of luggage on the board. The special feature of RedPaddle’s touring boards is the V-shape in the hull. This was not invented by RedPaddle (we already knew the process two years earlier from other companies), but in the new Voyager series consistently implemented.
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