How narrow should your race or touring paddleboard be?
A lot of emphasis is put on specific numbers when you are shopping for paddleboards, but what does it all really mean? And what do you really need? As usual, the answer is not one size fits all. There are very few definites when it comes to choosing a paddleboard. The only two that come to mind are that you want a board with enough volume to float your weight and a board that you will be able to control and stay on- either now, or before you get too frustrated trying to learn how.
Generally speaking narrower boards are faster than wider boards of the same length, and, wider boards are more stable than narrower boards. But other factors like the shape of the board, whether or not it has a sunken deck, and the contour of the bottom will also affect a board’s stability and speed.
SIC X Pro-Lite 14′ x 24″ SIC X 14′ x 28.5″
When choosing a board for racing or touring, you need to consider your goals. If you are a weekend warrior racer who just wants to have fun, doesn’t take things too seriously, and has a one-board quiver, you will probably want the quickest board that you are immediately pretty comfortable on. It likely won’t be the narrowest, and it won’t need to be the widest. You don’t have a whole lot of extra time for a big learning curve. When you have the time, to paddle, you want to spend more time ON the board than IN the water.
If you are a serious racer and/or have multiple boards, you will likely want the fastest board you can handle. And you are probably willing to swim a bit for the sake of extra speed. In this case narrower is better (within reason).
And if you are a recreational paddler who likes to tour around, exploring your local waterways, maybe carry some gear, and perhaps jump into a race here and there, comfort will likely trump speed, you might find yourself at the wider end of the spectrum
Race to the narrowest…in recent years there has been a trend toward narrower and narrower race boards, and wider and wider recreational boards. Realistically, most people probably want to be somewhere in the middle. Race boards 22” wide are not going to be practical for the majority of people. And touring boards 32” wide are overkill for most, unless they are carrying a big load. For the majority of us, race boards between 24” and 28” are going to be appropriate. But again, where you fall in that range depends on you and your goals. For touring boards, 28” to 32” is plenty for most people. There are many ways to challenge yourself without going so narrow that you have no confidence on your board and fear ends up holding you back.
Some things to consider when shopping for a new race or touring board
How big are you? At 200 lbs you will likely not be as comfortable on a 24” wide board as someone who weighs 130 lbs. And at 130 lbs, you might have more trouble maneuvering a 30” wide board than your 200 lbs counterpart.
How good is your balance? If you have excellent balance, you can get a narrower/faster board without the big learning curve other people might face on that same board.
How good of a paddler are you? Like your balance, if you have good paddling technique and know a variety of strokes and braces, you will be much better able to control a board of any shape and size. So if you want to open up your board possibilities, one of the best ways to do that is to work on your paddle strokes.
What kind of conditions are you going to be paddling in most often? If you are paddling almost exclusively flatwater, you can probably go a bit narrower than if you are constantly finding yourself in open or choppy waters where a little extra stability can go a long way.
The best way to choose a board is always to try different ones and see what you like. If you have a good local shop, there should definitely be demo opportunities there. If you don’t have a good shop in your area, look for other paddlers in your area that you can meet up with to test out each other’s gear. Races can be a good venue for this. Many areas also have meetup groups or something similar where paddlers already gather together. Don’t be afraid to get involved…the paddling community is a really special bunch of people.