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HOME arrow GEAR INSIGHTS arrow Is a Bigger Stand Up Paddle Board More Stable? You Might Be Surprised
Is a Bigger Stand Up Paddle Board More Stable? You Might Be Surprised PDF Print E-mail
By: Stand Up Paddle Surfing Magazine   
Thursday, 22 January 2009
    The search for new stand up paddle equipment often begins with the quest for stability in the board. It’s natural to assume that a bigger board means more stability. While this is sometimes the case, it’s not silver bullet for finding the board that refuses to tip. In doing some experimentation with new paddlers, we’ve found some surprising results. Now, let’s talk about it.

    First, let’s define what we are going to refer to as stability. One type of stability could be described as a board’s resistance to flipping upside down. The only way to really determine how this relates to you is to stand up on the board, put one foot on the rail and bounce that side until it flips upside down. If it takes a double hop on one foot to flip that baby over, it’s a stable one. The other stability would be the degree to which you feel at ease on the board while paddling around and negotiating surface chop on the water. When you’re at ease, you aren’t falling off.


    We put several new paddlers on the biggest widest board we could find; round nose, flat bottom, square tail, 31 inches wide, and thick rails. For the average person to actually flip this board upside down would take some effort and planning. You have to get all your weight on one side and bounce a few times until it finally goes over.

    The same paddlers were put on a more narrow board, about 28 ¾ inches wide, about a foot shorter in length, with some sexy vee bottom contour on the underside. Getting this board to tip over in flat water definitely takes less effort, but it is less stable? For some of our testers, this board won out on the stability chart. Why?

    In talking with our paddlers, here’s what we found. The bigger, flatter board was of course less tippy side to side, however, the way this board responded to the surface chop created a degree of instability that the narrow board was not affected by. The big board has what we refer to as “the jitters.” What we mean with the jitters is when the surface chop of the water hits the side of the board, instead of rolling over the ripples, the big board gets a side jolt from the water. Although the board isn’t going to tip over, a certain degree of instability and uneasiness results from this continual jittering of the board. The chop it, the board edges one way or the other and your feet skitter on the deck of the board like causing you to stumble. Although that board isn’t likely to tip, for some there was a sense of uneasiness about it in choppy waters. In flat water, it’s a dream, stability wise. However, in rough waters it had the jitters.

    Contrasting that with the more narrow board with some bottom contour, nose and tail rocker, in the choppy water, some found this to be the board of choice for overall stability. Here’s why. When the ripples come rolling in, instead of punching into them, like the big board did, the more performance board, would gently slide over the top of them almost eliminating the jitters experienced before. The result, a sensation of increased stability and control on the rough waters. Instead of a power struggle with the surface texture the performance board easily navigated the bumps.

    So, what’s right for you? Well, the let down is, we don’t know. Many board manufacturers have models that seek to bridge the gap of side to side stability and performance, and do it quite well. If you’re going out on the lake with a cooler on the back a kid at your feet and the dog on the nose, go for the wide boy. However, if you’re up to brave the challenges of the elements, a more narrow performance shape may be in your board quiver crystal ball. Happy paddling.

feed2 Comments
January 23, 2009

In the sit down canoe paddling world what is being talked about here is the difference between initial or static stability and dynamic stability. And it works exactly as you describe it.

With a flat-bottomed hull the center of buoyancy moves towards the depressed side, initially it’s forgiving as the center of buoyancy moves to stay under you as you move about and tip the hull. i.e. it has high initial or static stability.

With a round bottomed hull shape the center of buoyancy stays put, it just doesn’t move around as much as the hull tips. Low initial stability means the center of buoyancy doesn't follow your weight shift and seems tippy if you are not in control of your body placement.

Dynamic stability deals with how the hull shape responds to the water not the rider. With a flat hull the center of buoyancy runs over to the side to meet the wave as it hits the board and it raises that side. In rough water the hull’s center of buoyancy is moving around all over trying to follow the water, making it "jittery" it has low dynamic stability from the riders viewpoint.

With a round-bottomed shape (or your vee shape) when a wave hits, the center of buoyancy doesn't move laterally (as much), so the board doesn't tip (as much), it's just not as jittery unless the rider moves, it has high dynamic stability.

Think of it as riding a Trike vs. riding a Bike. The Trike has high initial stability, you can sit on while it’s not moving, but when moving every bump one of those outrigger wheels in the back hits, lifts that wheel tips the structure and pitches you side ways. A Bike has high dynamic stability and it is just the opposite. You play hell sitting on it standing still, but you can ride across the face of a hill and the slope of the hill won't tip the Bike or you. The Bike does what you tell it to do not the hill, the Trike responds to the hill not you, the Bike to you not the hill.

The same is true with boards a flat hull bottom shape is more responsive to the waters shape and movement than a rounder one and a round (vee) hull is more responsive to the rider.

January 23, 2009

Interesting article, and I commend you for taking this subject on. However, I've found that the opposite is true re stability, board size and bottom contour.

My experience is limited to a small number of SUPs, primarily the Angulo boards (I've paddled and surfed all six of the production boards) and the Surftech Takayama Alii 10-3 and 10-7 models.

The three 2007/2008 Angulo models (10-4, 10-8 and 11-9) are 29.5, 30 and 31 inches wide approximately. They all have similar bottom contours, i.e. slight concave in the nose, slight double concave into the tail, and then vee out the tail. The 2008/09 models (10-2, 10-10 and 11-11) are based on the earlier models (same approximate widths) but the designs are a bit more radical, with more rocker and the same general bottom contours, just more of it.

The Taks are vee bottoms nose to tail.

Without exception, the Angulos are easier to stand on overall, from calm water to wind and backwash chop and bump. The Taks (because of the less stable vee bottom) are less stable and more difficult to balance on when not surfing, period. However, that being said, the Tak (10-3 especially) surfs more like a performance longboard. So you have a trade-off.

Because the board is shorter, does not mean that it will be less stable by default. A long, narrow downwind board takes some getting used to in the open ocean chop and swell it was designed to run it. But we're comparing apples to oranges here.

As the evolution of SUP continues, there are many smart and experienced designers and shapers out there who are making the stable but responsive SUP for surfing a reality. But for now, generally speaking, the longer and wider your floating "dock" the more stable it will be to stand on in all conditions. My 2 cents...

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