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.