If you are looking for decent paddle board you may wonder why some SUP prices cost as much as they do. The answer to that question can get complicated because we are not talking about just an ordinary slab of foam or plastic that simply floats on the water. Stand up paddleboards come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and construction. They also employ a wide variety of expensive materials. Specialty boards are made for performance in specific usages like surfing, racing, and white water river rapids for example. In between those extremes there is a range of paddleboards that can accommodate any combination of surf and flat water discipline to one degree or another. These types of paddleboards are commonly referred to as “50/50” or all around boards and they make up the majority of paddleboards that you will find on the market today.
You might pay anywhere between $800 and $1800 dollars for your average paddleboard. Lets look at several factors that contribute to how much a board costs.
- Size: Boards that are larger tend to be more expensive than shorter boards because of the amount of materials used in making them and the amount of time it takes for them to be completed.
- Materials– EPS vs XPS: Most paddleboards are made out of Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) or Extruded Polystyrene (XPS). Some boards (surf boards) are made out regular Polystyrene (PU) but EPS and XPS are lighter, more buoyant and more water resistant than PU foam cores and they are environmentally safer than PU foam. The downside is that EPS and XPS can only be glassed (fiber-glassed) with epoxy resin which always at least twice as expensive as polyester resin, which PU foam cores take. XPS foam, in the past tended to have a tighter cell count than EPS and was easier to work with, but advancements in EPS have caught up with XPS quality. Consequently, the cost of this new technology has also gone up.
Fiberglass, Carbon, Kevlar: All EPS/XPS stand up paddleboards are wrapped in layers of fiberglass. The more layers of glass that are applied the more durable the board will be. In order to make a board that is durable and light, the shaper needs to use higher quality materials like carbon fiber and Kevlar. The boards can also be reinforced with PVC and wood (which we will cover later). These materials are very expensive and affect the price of the board. Shapers will often use the higher quality materials in select areas of the board to keep the costs in check. It also takes a lot of time and research and development to get it right- adding to the cost of the board.
- Stringers: Many boards use stringers (thin strips of balsa, carbon, Kevlar, PVC) that lie on the outside of the foam core and are glassed over. They provide the board with structural integrity, and varying degrees of stiffness in select areas. This is one way the shaper can make a board that performs well for a specific use, i.e. surf, race, touring, etc.
- Wood Veneer: A lot of boards are wrapped with a wood veneer, usually Australian pine or bamboo. The wood veneer also makes for a board that should last the owner many years. Some wood-veneered boards are painted over and some are clear-coated. The clear ones are very beautiful and can really make the grain pop out in beautiful patterns. Consequently, the clear-coated boards take more labor to stain, tape-off, detail and apply the clear-coat and so usually cost between $100 and $200 dollars more. They also need to be much more careful with the veneers they choose and the finish on the glass because there’s no paint to hide any imperfections.
- Production: The other factor in paddleboard cost is the production process. To get one model of paddleboard that works flawlessly for the purpose it was intended, you have to make 10 to 20 that do not. Paddleboards rely on highly technical shapes that allow them to perform in specific ways. It can take a shaper many tries before the right one is found.
A lot of boards are designed using computer programs, which are then fed into a CNC machine, which cuts and shapes the board from a “blank” (square piece of polystyrene). Other boards come out of molds that are specifically designed for one particular board. These molds can cost tens, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars. And other boards are shape entirely by hand- a process that takes significantly longer and often involves a lot of trial and error. In addition, many boards are made overseas where labor costs are low, but there are higher distribution costs due to the distance factor. Some companies make their paddleboards in the U.S., where the distribution costs are lower but the labor costs are higher.
As stand up paddle boarding gains in popularity, there will be more demand for boards in the future. Consequently, the paddleboard market is being flooded with cheaper, low-quality options, which are isolating the quality boards in price. Eventually, the cheaper stuff will get weeded out and the higher end paddleboards will drop in price to arrive at a balancing point where the market can grow stronger.
However, due to the inherent value, durability and functionality of a quality paddleboard these prices will probably not drop significantly. With no moving parts, solid, and highly technical design, a quality paddleboard is meant to last many years and give the rider consistently great performance every time he/she goes out on the water.
As you look for a paddle board that will meet your needs you should go to your local SUP shop and talk to the dealers about what type of riding you do, or want to do, and how much you are willing to spend. Some shops offer free demos of their paddleboards. After they help you narrow it down to a few boards that you like you can try them out and then choose the one you really like based on your experience with them. There is no better way find your board. A paddleboard is an investment. If you make a well-informed decision it can provide you many years of enjoyment.