Touring on a stand-up paddleboard can open you up to a new world of natural landscapes that can be experienced from an entirely different vantage point. Standing tall while paddling, you can see things you could not fully appreciate from the sitting position of a kayak or canoe while enjoying the otherworldly sensation of walking on water.
SUP touring is also a great way to stay fit, except that you’re getting a workout while exploring and savoring the outdoors, which can be more uplifting than a sweaty gym or studio.
If you are purchasing a SUP board with touring and fitness as your main objective, you’ll want to choose a board that gives you the most satisfying experience when covering distances on your board but also gives you a platform for your warm-ups, stretches, and even yoga which can transform your paddle outing into a complete fitness workout.
The most common length for a touring SUP is 12’6”. The length became a standard for racing SUPs and has been largely carried over to touring boards, which sometimes also double as racing boards or race training boards.
Board width is what really distinguishes a touring SUP from a race board, though there is no fixed line between the two.
A board that is 28 inches or less in width will normally be used as a race board. Similarly, a board of 30 inches or more width tends to fall into touring board territory. 32 inches of width can be a sweet spot for an inflatable touring board with plenty of glide but enough stability for carefree paddling and enough width for other fitness activities like stretching and yoga.
Most inflatable SUPs for touring are 6 inches in thickness. That is because touring boards are generally longer than other types of boards, and longer boards require extra thickness to aid with rigidity with the increased surface areas involved.
Some touring board outlines are smoothly rounded and symmetric with similar shapes at the tail and nose, while others are wide and flat at the tail with an outline that narrows as it progresses toward the nose.
Both outline concepts work well, but it’s best to avoid extremes. An excessively narrow “needle” nose will impact stability and make it more challenging to paddle with a passenger or pet on-board and will be difficult to turn. An excessively narrow tail will feel wobbly when you step back on the board to initiate a turn.
For touring and fitness paddling on flat water in calm conditions, a single center fin at least 7-9 inches tall will be the simplest fin configuration and will enhance paddling speed.
A board equipped with a US standard fin box will often let you move the fin forward or backward to change the performance of the board.
Pushing the fin to the back of the fin box will help the board to track straight with fewer corrective strokes while pushing the fin to the front of the box will make the board easier to turn. A taller fin will further enhance tracking but it may bottom out in shallower water. These are subtle changes that are going to differ from paddler to paddler, so experimentation in fin position is really the key.
A board with three removable fins can be advantageous for certain conditions. Adding side fins helps with board control in choppy or windy conditions, or on rivers with currents and turbulent waters. Having three fin boxes also opens some options when exploring shallow water areas, which are often some of the most interesting places to paddle.
With side fins contributing to the tracking of the board, you can ride with a shorter center fin to avoid bottoming out or hitting protruding rocks or branches.
Look for a board with fin boxes that takes a variety of industry standard fins so that you won’t be limited the fin that comes with the board.
For casual touring, a smooth deck pad surface with a shallow texture will be the most comfortable on your bare feet and on your body if you lie down to stretch or work in some yoga. If you’ll be paddling on rivers or choppy waters, a diamond groove deck pad provides extra traction which can help keep you on the board when things get rough.
A bungee tie down system at the front end of the deck pad is essential for touring, as you’ll need a water bottle at a minimum, and you really should paddle with a dry bag with first aid supplies on board for longer tours.
Bungees at the tail are less frequently used and can get in the way when you want to stretch or position your back foot near the tail to turn the board.
In real world use they can make it very difficult to balance your load. For this reason, many users end up removing the rear bungees that are provided on some touring boards, which then has its own drawbacks.
While a well-made inflatable touring SUP will easily carry the weight of extra cargo at the rear of the board, it does affect performance and can make the board difficult to paddle in strong wind and current, especially if poorly balanced. If you have that much gear to take on a long expedition, a correctly weighted touring SUP designed for that purpose is a good choice.
If an expedition is an occasional thing, or you are traveling as part of a group then towing a second SUP as a gear platform, a raft or even a kayak with cargo can be considered – and it gives you some redundancy on your adventure.
A board that is long enough to serve as a touring board can present challenges for storage and transport. Some buyers take touring boards out of consideration because they think such a long board will be too hard to manage.
This is why an inflatable can be an attractive option for a touring board. A 12’6” inflatable touring board is not much bulkier than a 10-foot all-around board once it is rolled up, so an inflatable can let you choose your board length based purely on performance considerations.
A hardboard of equal size and shape will have a bit more glide, so consider a hardboard only if small differences in paddling speed are a priority and you have a convenient spot near the water where you can keep it out all summer.
The softer surface of an inflatable SUP will also be appreciated when the board is used for stretching or yoga.
Your choice of a touring board will really come down to how you plan to use it. If going fast is your priority and you don’t mind sacrificing some stability, choose a long and narrow board.
If you care more about relaxing and taking in the scenery, or you want a fitness-oriented board that will be comfortable for stretching warm-ups and occasional yoga, go for an inflatable in the 32-inch width range. Finally, make sure the fin system gives you the options you need for the waters you’ll be exploring and you’ll be sure to make a great choice.
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