With so many different standup paddleboards available today the first thing to think about when choosing one is, “How will it match up with the type of riding that you want to do?” That question is most often answered in terms of the size and shape of the paddleboard, both of which vary drastically depending on a board’s intended purpose. But it’s also important to consider what the paddleboard is made of. Carbon fiber stand-up paddleboards and fiberglass paddleboards are two of the most common constructions on the market today.
Most paddleboards are made of expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam cores, layered with a wood and/or PVC veneer, fiberglass, and epoxy. Carbon construction paddleboards also use foam cores, but they use carbon fiber in place of the fiberglass. Even full carbon boards sometimes have a thin layer of fiberglass applied over the carbon fiber so that it can be sanded down smooth. A thin layer of paint is lightly brushed over the black carbon shell to deflect the sunlight and keep the board from overheating.
Carbon fiber, as a material, is stronger and stiffer than fiberglass and it also weighs considerably less. So it can reinforce the core of a paddleboard using less material than fiberglass, which is often double and triple layered. Fiberglass paddleboard boards also need wood or PVC stringers (strips of material that run lengthwise through the board) to stiffen them up so they don’t bend or buckle under the weight of the rider.
Carbon Fiber Positives
Weight and Stiffness: All this makes for a paddleboard that is lighter, stiffer and presumably faster through the water. The added stiffness will make the stand-up paddleboard more responsive, which is great for surfing or any paddling where you are making lots of turns. The carbon board will be often be more maneuverable and react more quickly to your movement on the board.
The lightness of carbon reduces drag in the water making the paddleboard faster. This is one reason why you see the top SUP racing pros using them almost exclusively. The stiffer carbon fiber paddleboards will also not flex as much under the rider’s weight which will also cut down on the drag and increase speed and glide.
And lastly, carrying and mounting a carbon stand-up paddleboard on your vehicle or garage rack will be easier because of the weight savings.
Carbon Fiber Negatives
Cost: Carbon fiber offers greater strength to weight performance than fiberglass but it’s also considerably more expensive. The more carbon fiber a board has, the more expensive it will normally be. That’s why most boards have a percentage ratio of carbon to glass. Some designs will incorporate carbon on rails and glass on the top and bottom. Others boards will have a half carbon wrap over the deck or bottom of the paddleboard and others will have a full carbon wrap. By using carbon in certain areas of the board, the manufacturers can manipulate how the board feels on the water and arrive at a price point that puts quality, performance boards in the ball park for most non-professional paddleboarders.
Durability: Carbon boards may, if not reinforced by other materials, be more prone to dings than fiberglass because of the high tensile stiffness of the material. While carbon is a really strong material, it is also brittle and easy to ding. This is a huge consideration depending on where you paddle, how careful you are with your stuff, and how much you want to have to worry about it. This is one reason why you won’t see too many carbon river running paddleboards where there are plenty of rocks and tree flotsam to smash into.
Repair: Carbon fiber is basically long strands woven together in ways similar to sheets of fiberglass (biaxial, triaxial, etc). So when the board suffers a damaging impact such as a cracked rail, or busted nose, those fibers break apart and the area needs to be cut out or sanded down and replaced with new material. Fiberglass is much easier to work with and replace. Its flexibility allows it to blend well with the surrounding area. Carbon fiber needs much more attention to detail when repairing it and that may force us to bring the board to a specialist rather than try and fix it ourselves.
When looking at carbon fiber paddleboards remember that they come in all different shapes and sizes and more importantly, they differ in how much carbon they have and where it is used. A full wrap carbon surf style paddleboard will ride much differently than one that has carbon just along the rails. The same holds true for carbon race and downwind paddleboards. Carbon boards are really awesome to ride, but if you don’t know what it is you’re buying, definitely get in touch with your local shop to get the full lowdown.