Can I SUP surf my McConks inflatable stand up paddle board?
Pics: Richard Heathcote
‘Surfing’: such an ambiguous term in the grand scheme of things. For some surfing will never be anything other than using arms to propel a prone surfboard, without a paddle, out into the brine to do battle with clean, overhead and hollow sets marching in procession from the deep Atlantic. For others ‘surfing’ is any act that involves sliding along, or upon, a moving piece of oceanic energy otherwise known as swell (this can also include stand up paddle boards).
Using a paddle to get from point A to B has been done for thousands of years. Standing and paddling also isn’t anything knew. It may also surprise you to learn that standing, paddling and riding waves is also an old technique that some fisherman (and women) of the world have employed for centuries. Only in the last few decades has sliding liquid walls become more a recreational activity with no real purpose other than fun.
It’s no secret stand up paddle board can give you ‘more’ in wave environments. Especially those locations where the surf is slack, inconsistent, small or hard to access. Perhaps it’s a combo of all those elements. You won’t necessarily get higher numbers of wave rides than a person piloting a longboard nose rider. But you will get longer slides if you become particularly adept with a SUP and paddle.
For ultimate SUP surfing performance you need a hard board, there’s no two ways about it. Hard boards are just that: hard. Whereas air-filled boards, or iSUPs, are enclosed cavities, with a top and bottom joined together by fine strands of thread – commonly known as Dropstitch. An iSUP’s deck and hull are then secured to one another but the board’s rails. There’s a bit more to it than that but in a nutshell there you have an inflatable SUP. The only thing left to do is fill it with air.
The continuing search for more and more rigid iSUPs, and technology/solutions to make it so, is ongoing. All air boards have what’s known as a deflection point. This is the part of the board that even when filled with optimum amounts of air (PSI) will still ‘give’ slightly. There’s nothing wrong with this, it’s a trait of inflatable SUPs. When surfing though, due to inflatables having deflection points forwards of where the paddler stands (generally), it tends to ‘give’ slightly as you take off. Therefore adjusting your SUP surfing technique is a requirement. If you don’t you’ll ‘pearl’ or nose dive.
Sliding along waves on a hard SUP allows the pilot to engage the board’s rail. You can’t do this with an inflatable as the PVC material is rounded and won’t grip. That said, with practice you’ll learn how to coax your inflatable SUP onto the green face of a wave to track down the line.
In recent years some brands have employed a ‘hard release rail’ which is usually a strip of rubber, though harder than the board’s material itself is still malleable enough to allow your iSUP to be folded when not in use. This edge aims to fake a rail and get air boards to grip more than without. It can also increase rigidity to a degree.
Inflatable stand up paddle boards are generally made from PVC. This tends to stick, or suck, to the water. As riders take off on swells they won’t get quite the acceleration a hard SUP will give. But with a few glides under your belt this will be forgotten.
So can you surf your inflatable SUP? Answer: yes, of course you can. And iSUPs are much more efficient at SUP surfing these days than they were a few years back. There are some limitations if you compare to a hard shell board. But then if you’re comparing it’s a bit like putting apples and pears next to one another – it’s not like for like so isn’t a fair test so to speak.
Many paddlers use inflatables for surfing. The benefits of being able to pack them down, stow them in the boot of car, or travel overseas without too many excess baggage fees, means they’re the practical choice. There’s plenty of fun you can have atop an iSUP in waves as long as you approach sliding swells with an open-minded view. But don’t take our word for it. Next time you get chance to chuck a McConks inflatable stand up paddle board at some surf why not? We guarantee it’ll put a mile-wide smile on your chops…