What makes a good paddleboard? SUP technology explained
You wouldn’t believe the amount of effort, careful thought, and testing that goes into the design of a McConks board. Right down to the very core of the board, we design and specify every component to ensure they meet the highest standards, and that ensure our boards help you on your journey. Whether that be from Beginner to Coach, or from Lechlade to London.
INFLATABLE CORE LAYUPS
The core of all inflatable paddle boards is the air filled ‘bladder’ made from drop stitch fabric. Drop stitch, in simple terms, is two parallel pieces of fabric joined together by tens of thousands of tiny threads. It is these threads that stop an inflatable paddleboard from turning into a balloon when filled to high pressure. The drop stitch needs to be bound together at the rails (sides) by a strip of PVC, and then reinforcement added to the top (deck) and bottom (hull). However, there are a number of different ways the drop stitch, reinforcement and rails can be put together:
SINGLE SKIN (DROP STITCH FABRIC + PVC)
In a single layer construction, the drop stitch core is made from a thin, single layer sheet of fabric at the top and bottom, with a single layer of thin PVC plastic coating.
This type of layup is what you’ll find in most boards under the £500 mark. The thin layer of drop-stitch and PVC are not very stiff, and the boards will have a bouncier feel. They’re also more likely puncture and develop leaks at seams.
Sadly, some companies are now dressing up single layer board construction with fancy names to make them sound like better technology, such as super light fusion.
It’s pretty common for manufacturers using single skin layups to overcompensate with three or four layer rails, sometimes even with carbon weave in the rail. But there is little benefit in these additional rails as they add weight, but no real strength to the inherently weak core.
It is possible to strengthen the core to some extent with fibreglass or carbon stringers on the deck or hull, but at the expense of weight: A stringer extensive enough to add sufficient stiffness to a single skin board adds more weight than making the board with a decent layup in the first place.
Single skin boards are also significantly more likely to develop twists and bends in the board overtime as seams weaken.
McConks has never used, and will never use single skin fusion or single skin + stringer on any of our boards.
FUSION TECHNOLOGY (DROP STITCH FABRIC + WOVEN FABRIC + PVC)
Fusion construction is the best balance between weight, rigidity, and cost effectiveness. The top and bottom sheets of the drop stitch have two layers of fabric that are permanently bonded to each other, and a layer of PVC is fused to the outside of this double ply fabric. This technology is most commonly called fusion, but is also branded as many different technologies by different companies, the most famous of which is Monocoque Structural Laminate or MSL, created by a factory in China, and copyrighted (not patented) by a well know major brand.
The resulting fusion technology is significantly stiffer, less bouncy and less likely to puncture than a single layer board. The additional stiffness of the fusion board means that smaller all round boards can be made from 4.75 or 5″ thick, rather than needing to be made 6″ thick for the sake of rigidity.
There are different types of fusion, the first kind to be used widely across the iSUP market, and still the most common, is based on a cheaper heavier Korean drop stitch, that was knitted rather than woven. This heavier fusion is significantly less rigid than the woven fusion, based on German technology, and is both lighter and stiffer. We’ve been using this type of woven drop stitch since 2016 at McConks, and it’s pleasing to see that many brands are now following our lead and switching to the fusion technology that gives THE best rider experience for most types of paddling.
One thing to note is that some manufacturers claim single skin boards are double layer or fusion boards by counting adhesive or coatings as layers than actual PVC or fabric layers. It’s often the same brands that claim to use Military Grade premium materials that can be found resorting to such marketing sleight of hand!
McConks uses fusion technology in all of our boards (including our budget Go Simple SUP), with the exception of our whitewater and race inflatable boards
FUSION+ (DROP STITCH + WOVEN FABRIC + PVC1 + WOVEN FABRIC2 + PVC2)
This is the jewel in the iSUP Manufacturers crown. Dual layer or Fusion+ boards are significantly more rigid, durable and less prone to leaks. It’s also possible to hold much better rocker profiles. The additional materials used in this construction add significantly to the cost of the board, and add a couple of kilos in weight for a touring board. But you can really feel the quality of a fusion+ board under your feet, because the bounce is almost eliminated, and the board feels extremely well balanced and grounded underfoot.
Our whitewater, river surf and race boards all use fusion+ technology.
While some brands may be using similar materials to our fusion, and fusion+ boards, different methods of constructing the board coupled with the quality of the factory, and time taken to make the board have the most impact on the longevity and performance of a board. Most manufacturers use multiple factories for different ranges and shop around for cheaper suppliers every year; we only use the one factory that meets our environment and quality standards, and we’ve used that factory since 2016.
The rail, or edge, of an inflatable SUP is made by joining the top and bottom sheets of the board with strips of reinforced PVC coated materials to make the board airtight. And the type of rail has a big impact on the performance and longevity of the board.
SINGLE LAYER RAIL WITH TAPED SEAMS
A single strip of relatively thin PVC coated fabric along the rails of the board is the cheapest way to seal the board, but the most vulnerable to puncture and leakage. Boards made with single layer rails are normally reinforced with 1cm or 2cm strips at the top and bottom of the rail to give a little extra protection. Some less scrupulous manufacturers call this a two layer rail, despite it only being a reinforced single layer.
DUAL RAIL BANDS
This is the most common rail configuration, where a single rail band seals off the dropstitch, and then a second layer is fused over the top. Boards with a larger gap between the edges of the drop stitch layers (less overlap with the inner rail band) are easier to build but have less structural integrity than boards where the drop stitch fabric layers fold farther over the sides leaving a narrower gap to close with the rail band. The amount of overlap between the different rails and dropstitch is also critical. At McConks every overlap is at least 1cm, mean that there is a total overlap on the top and bottom of at least 2cm.
Some manufacturers have started adding carbon or fibreglass to the rails accompanied with the mistaken claim that this increases stiffness. Whilst this might make the rails more resistant to scratches and punctures, it does nothing to increase stiffness or rigidity.
HEAT WELDED RAIL
As of 2019, some manufacturers are experimenting with bonding the rail layers using heat instead of adhesive layers. Doing so has potential to reduce manufacturing costs, which is why it has been adopted, but time will tell whether boards constructed with this technique can match the dimensional integrity of boards bonded with more expensive adhesive based methods. In 2019, we’ve seen this technology introduced mainly on lower cost boards while manufacturers decide if it is good enough for higher end boards.
At McConks, we use a method where the adhesive is applied using heat, and then cured, which forms a chemical and physical bond that can’t be broken. This is the best of both worlds!
But it’s not all about the layup
The layup affects the rigidity and robustness, but there are many other factors that affect how long your board keeps performing to the highest level. We use the very best fittings and components, and have never used cost as a deciding factor. Performance, longevity and sustainability are the only criteria that matter to us.
Cheap deckpads can wear because they are the place where all the action happens. We use a more resilient rubber on our pads that resists wear, disperses pressure, and provides an exceptional grip for the rider.
Our deckpads are also adhered to the board using heat. The board, adhesive and deckpad are machined together using pressure at 80 degrees. That’s why you should NEVER see a premium McConks board with the deckpad lifting off
Every premium board has a a kickpad at the tail.
A kickpad is the raised bit of deckpad that provides tactile feedback to a rider as they step back, and prevents paddlers from stepping too far back. An essential component for step back/pivot turns, and SUP Yoga.
Our boards are unusual in that we apply a UV protection to them in the final stages of production*. That means that the deckpad remains as bright and virbant three years down the line as the day you bought them. Some of our trade customers re still using the same boards three years down the line, and they’re indistinguishable from the brand new ones. Making things that are durable and that last are a key component of our core sustainability principles. We don’t believe in planned obsolesence!
The best valves
We use the very best Halkey Roberts valves. Rated to 45PSI, the valves are the best and most expensive SUP Valves out there. But we don’t believe anyone should cut on such a critical component of an inflatable device!
The valve and pump lock together effortlessly to get you on the water as quickly as possible.
Our boards feature our custom valve cover design with a key message – “Be safe | Know your limits” – We think it’s on point that safety should be something you’re always reminded of before every paddling session.
Are we really the number 1 best brand in the UK?
Claiming to be number one SUP manufacturer is really big claim, and we wouldn’t dream of making that statement about ourselves. But if other people want to, who are we to disagree?
SUPhubUK undertook a survey of over 1000 paddlers and SUP instructors in the summer of 2018 (1), to really get to the bottom of what real SUP riders thought of the different SUP brands. They published the raw data of the survey, and we’ve used that raw data to generate these visuals. We’re rather flattered to come number one across almost every category, from value for money, to rigidity, to happiness, to quality of accessories. Click the graphs below to go to the full snazzy animated results.
(1) The next survey will be in 2021, and we’re trying really hard to still be top of the tree in 2021!