Summit County gear review: Choosing the right stand-up paddleboard
July 2, 2014
With stand-up paddleboarding on the rise here in the High Country, we thought we'd take some time to explore the ins and outs of paddleboard designs and answer some frequently asked questions.
For any prospective paddleboard buyer, the first question is, inevitably, Where do you want to use it?
Are you looking to enjoy a quiet morning paddle on a pristine mountain lake? Or are you looking to take it on one of Colorado's many rivers?
Those completely new to the sport are often surprised to find out that whitewater stand-up paddleboarding exists. YouTube it. It's a thing.
The other major factor is how portable do you want it to be? A hardshell board can get up to 12 feet long — not the best thing to strap on top of your Mini Cooper.
For all those questions it basically comes down to hard or soft? (Also an important question when in line at Taco Bell, but we digress.)
Hardshell — like a traditional surfboard — or inflatable: Those are the two biggest distinctions in the world of paddleboarding. Each has its advantages.
Inflatables offer portability and a lower price point. They're also good for anyone looking to use them in a faster flowing river, because they'll stand up to contact with rocks and they'll flex in rapids. You wouldn't want to go whitewater paddleboarding on a hardshell because of the potential for damage.
But what you gain in practicality in an inflatable, you lose in performance on flatwater.
"Once you go hard-boarding you never go back," Matti Wade, owner of Ten Mile Creek Kayaks in Frisco, said. He recommends a hard board to anyone looking to stick to calmer water.
A hard board will track much better in flatwater, meaning you glide on top of the water instead of pushing through it. The result is a more efficient paddle stroke, and it's easier to cover more distance. The difference between hard and soft paddleboards is comparable to that between whitewater and touring kayaks.
Provided that an inflatable is well made, it can be the most versatile solution. And in recent years their quality has improved to a point where they perform adequately on lakes or other flatwater.
"A lot of people are buying an inflatable because they can do lakes and rivers," Wade said.
There are sturdy inflatables out there, but, Wade cautioned, "Be leary of cheap inflatables online. If the price is too good to be true, there's usually a reason for it."
It likely won't be made from the most durable material. He said he's seen a number of people come into his shop asking to have leaks repaired on cheaper boards.
That said, a good inflatable — made with durable material similar to a good whitewater raft — will stand up to a lot of abuse. They require a good air pump to get them rigid enough to perform well.
Costs will vary based on features and amenities. Some boards, for example, are now designed for specific activities, like fishing — with added straps or pockets — whereas others might be able to accomodate a canine passenger. As a general rule, inflatables are less expensive than hard boards. Expect to pay anywhere from about $700 to as much as $2,500 for a board — inflatables start on the low end of the price range; hardshells are closer to the high end.
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