Many factors will play into your SUP’s performance, weight, durability, capacity – and, ultimately, price tag. And SUP construction is one of those factors.
What are paddle boards made of, though? How do boards differ based on the materials used? And on a related note, how can you make sure that the SUP’s construction will suit your lifestyle and needs?
I figured you may have quite a few questions on the matter, so I’ve prepared a detailed overview of how boards are made, the different materials used – and their strengths and weaknesses. So, be sure to stick around until the end!
SUP Material and Construction – Key Takeaways
- What are paddle boards made of? Solid (hard) paddle boards are typically constructed from fiberglass-reinforced plastic or wood; inflatable SUPs are generally made from PVC – or, in some cases, Hypalon or Nitrylon.
- How are paddle boards made? The manufacturing process can vary from one brand to another and depends on the board’s construction – whether it’s an inflatable or hard SUP. Solid boards are typically made with an EPS core wrapped in different types of materials, including wood veneers, fiberglass, and epoxy resin. With inflatable boards, that “core” is made of drop-stitch fabric, followed by an airtight PVC coating.
- Types of SUP materials: Paddle boards can be made from a variety of materials, including wood, plastic (rotomolded polyethylene or thermoplastic), composite (fiberglass or carbon fiber), and inflatable materials (PVC, Hypalon or Nitrile).
- Soft top vs. inflatable vs. solid paddle board: The choice depends on your needs and expectations. Inflatable SUPs are convenient, light, and easy to transport and store. Soft top boards are a great choice for beginners, while hard SUPs offer superior performance in a range of conditions and environments.
What Are Paddle Boards Made Of & How Materials Affect SUPs
When talking about SUP construction and the different materials paddle boards are made from, the first thing to note is that your stand up paddle board will perform differently depending on how it’s made.
To some, this bit might be obvious enough – but others may be surprised to learn that the choice of materials used in the board’s construction affects many different aspects of the SUP. Some of the factors that are influenced by and can vary depending on the materials used include:
- Overall Performance – Maneuverability, stability, speed, and tracking are all affected by the board’s design – and yes, the materials used play a role in this, too.
- Physical Weight Of The Board – On average, paddle boards tend to weigh around 30 or so pounds – but depending on the materials used, they may go as low as 15 pounds and as high as 40 pounds. Inflatable and Carbon fiber SUPs are typically the lightest, and on the other end of this spectrum, you have the heavy plastic boards.
- Durability & Lifespan – Not all boards are made equal – especially when it comes to the amount of abuse they can withstand during everyday use. Some are more susceptible to dings and scratches and may be harder to repair, while others boast excellent resistance to impacts.
- Weight Capacity – The amount of weight that a SUP board can hold and stay afloat is mainly a function of its volume – and volume is closely related to the construction. Inflatable SUPs can, on average, hold around 400 pounds of load, while hard paddle boards usually have a weight limit of 200 to 300 pounds.
- Portability – When it comes to transportation and storage, some paddle boards are much easier to handle than others. The best example here is an inflatable board made of PVC; it can be deflated and folded down for storage – and weighs less than a rigid SUP.
- Cost – Obviously, the choice of materials will also affect the prices. Inflatable boards tend to cost less than their hard counterparts, especially boards made of composite materials – such as fiberglass or Carbon fiber. That said, there are inexpensive solid SUPs, as well – plastic boards are generally easy on the wallet.
Paddle Board Construction – How They’re Made
Hello – and welcome to another episode of “How It’s Made.” In today’s episode, we will be taking a look at how stand-up paddle boards are manufactured. (In case you can’t tell already, I’m a big fan of the “How It’s Made” documentary series.)
In all seriousness, though, I’ll get into the details of each individual SUP material later on, but for now, I’d like to provide some insight into how SUPs – both hard and inflatable – are made.
Before we get started, here’s an actual episode of “How It’s Made” dedicated to SUPs:
Solid Paddle Board Construction
Solid SUPs – yes, those that pretty much look like large surfboards – are the most common type. Their construction starts out with a so-called core or blank made of EPS (Expanded Polystyrene Foam). The foam core is then wrapped in several different types of materials – including layering wood and PVC veneers, or fiberglass fabric strips, held in place with epoxy resin.
That EPS foam core is what essentially dictates if the SUP will be lightweight or heavy. You see, a less dense core means the board will be lighter, but it won’t be particularly tough, which is why manufacturers wrap it up in several layers of tougher materials.
It’s a matter of adding strength and durability to the SUP’s core.
Of course, that’s hardly the only way to manufacture SUPs. There are many other methods and techniques used, including the following:
- Hand-shaped SUPs, although labor-intensive and time-consuming, are still produced by certain custom paddle board makers and independent shops. The end result is always a unique-looking board – and a true work of art.
- Rotomolding plastic SUPs – which are surprisingly similar to how recreational kayaks are made – where polyethylene (PE) is heated and continuously rotated until it is molded into the shape of a paddle board.
The point is that solid or rigid paddle boards can be made of foam, plastic, wood, fiberglass, and Carbon fiber layers – but I’ll get to that later.
Soft Top SUPs: A Special Mention
There’s a subcategory of rigid boards that deserves special mention here – the “soft-top paddle boards,“ also known as foam SUPs.
These SUP boards are constructed almost entirely out of wood stringers that were packed into a molded foam or a foam-based EPS core. The high-density polyethylene is laminated (using heat rather than glue) to the top and bottom of that core.
The result is a relatively cheap SUP with a spongy, soft foam deck – hence the name “soft tops.”
These boards are a highly recommended choice for beginners who will stick to calm, flat waters. Furthermore, the softness of the deck makes them a great fit for SUP yoga practitioners, fishing, and families with kids or pets.
Inflatable Paddle Board Construction
While they can definitely be as durable as their rigid counterparts thanks to the advancements in manufacturing and materials, inflatable boards still come in a wide range of prices and “grades,” which is why it’s so important to be aware of how they’re made – and how they might differ when it comes to construction methods.
That said, all inflatable paddle boards start the same – with an inner inflatable core (also called a bladder) made using drop-stitch technology. In case you’re new to inflatable SUPs, “drop-stitching” refers to the process of connecting two sheets of polyester fabric with thousands of polyester threads – usually 5 to 6 inches long.
These threads limit the movements of the top and bottom layers – which, in turn, helps the board maintain its shape when fully inflated.
Next, the airtight coating is applied on all outside surfaces and both sides of the material. Finally, the wide-seam tape is applied – or, more specifically, glued – to each of the seams to ensure that the inflatable SUP is, indeed, airtight.
Now, here is where things get complicated – and where the differences in construction become a lot more obvious:
Inflatable paddle boards can have either single-layer or double-layer construction, which, as you can imagine, impacts their overall rigidity, puncture resistance, and, ultimately, prices.
Here’s a quick overview:
- Single-Layer Construction – This type of construction is found in cheap inflatable SUPs and involves a drop stitch core made from a single layer of fabric (at the top and bottom), which is then sealed with a flexible PVC coating.
- Double-Layer Construction – Dual (double-layer) construction obviously includes some additional materials. It starts with the same single-layer inner bladder – but that bladder is then laminated with another sheet of PVC-coated fabric, leading to increased rigidity and durability, lower risk of punctures and leakage, and better performance.
- Monocoque Structural Laminate (MSL) – This refined, industry-leading process, known as MSL, is reserved for manufacturing premium inflatable SUPs. The difference is in how the PVC is added. With MSL, the drop stitch core is coated in a layer of strong adhesive before a layer of high-density PVC is machine-laminated and fused onto the board.
Types Of Materials Used To Make Paddle Boards
Looking at all these types, designs, sizes, and shapes of paddle boards, you might be under the impression that there’s an infinite number of materials that SUPs can be made of – but, in reality, it all comes down to a select few:
Solid boards are usually constructed out of fiberglass-reinforced plastic or wood, while inflatable ones are made from PVC.
Of course, that is an oversimplified way to put it. So, here is a more detailed explanation of each of these materials, their properties – and their main advantages and disadvantages.
Wooden Paddle Boards
When it comes to paddle boards made of wood, you can count on one thing:
They look absolutely stunning.
Construction-wise, the basic principles are pretty simple:
It all starts with a hollow wooden frame, which is then strengthened with strips of cedar, cypress, pine, paulownia, or other types of wood, glued on to form the top and bottom of the board. From there, the paddle board is waterproofed by adding a layer of fiberglass cloth and epoxy resin.
Obviously, wooden SUPs come with significantly higher prices due to their custom construction – but if you want a unique-looking paddle board that will attract attention, earn some compliments, and look incredibly cool just hanging on your wall, then wood is the way to go.
- Exceptionally cool and unique-looking boards with elaborate detailing and finish
- These boards have increased buoyancy by design
- Depending on the construction, wooden SUPs can offer a smooth and fast ride
- Larger scratches can let the water in and damage the unprotected wood
- Repairs are often costly and difficult
- Storing and transporting a wooden SUP is a delicate process due to the weight – and the often intricate finish
- Custom construction generally implies a significantly higher price tag
Rotomolded Paddle Boards
There are two ways to manufacture plastic SUPs. One involves rotomolded polyethylene, while the other involves thermoplastic. And yes – there are some vital differences in the manufacturing process, as you’re about to see.
Here’s one way to look at this:
Rotomolded polyethylene SUPs are essentially made from the same type of plastic that a typical milk jug or Tupperware is made of; the only difference is in the thickness. Boards are made by pressing and “molding” a single block of solid Polyethylene plastic into shape.
These boards are typically hollow. So, to make the plastic rigid enough for a paddler to stand up on, manufacturers had to increase the thickness of the PE – which explains why these SUPs are the heaviest among plastic SUPs and may even weigh up to 20 pounds more than a similar-size fiberglass board.
But there’s an advantage to plastic boards, too:
They are surprisingly hard to damage with daily use and can handle quite a bit of “abuse,” which makes them the perfect choice for SUP rental companies and beginners looking for tough SUPs that won’t break the bank.
- Rotomolded SUPs are an inexpensive option
- They are widely available at sporting goods stores and big-box retailers
- Suitable for beginners and SUP rental companies
- Can weigh up to 20 pounds more than a similarly-sized fiberglass SUP
- These boards are generally susceptible to UV damage
Thermoplastic Paddle Boards
The second type of plastic paddle boards would be those that feature a thermoplastic molded shell that’s added on top of either a hollow or foam-based core.
It’s worth noting that these stand up paddle boards are usually heavier and, as a result of that, harder to transport – and might not perform that well on the water compared to other types of rigid SUPs.
But there’s a plus side to choosing a thermoplastic paddle board:
They’re relatively hard to damage and can withstand quite a bit of “abuse” – meaning you’re less likely to end up with tons of scratches and dings on your board. As such, thermoplastic SUPs are a great choice for paddlers who want a step up from a typical rotomolded board – but are not yet ready to invest in fiberglass (epoxy) board.
On a related note, they’re also relatively inexpensive compared to composite SUPs.
- A great choice for paddle boarders who want to upgrade from a rotomolded board but don’t want to invest in a composite SUP
- Strong and durable, suitable for daily use, and less likely to suffer scratches and dings
- They tend to be heavier and, as a result, harder to transport
Composite Paddle Boards
Composite paddle boards are, without a doubt, the best in class. Featuring fiberglass or Carbon fiber, these SUPs are designed for serious paddle boarders, offering the best performance and a remarkable balance between weight, strength, and flex.
Granted, they’re also the most expensive – but the step up in performance is arguably well worth the investment.
There are a few different methods used to make composite SUPs, but they generally all start out the same:
The shaped foam (EPS) core is laminated using layers of different composite materials, typically fiberglass, Carbon fibers, Kevlar, or Innegra – depending on the SUP’s exact construction, that is – which is then topped off with an epoxy resin coating.
That’s followed up with a wooden veneer – as well as additional layers of composite material and epoxy resin on top – creating a “sandwich” construction of sorts, with layers that contribute to the board’s strength and durability.
The term “epoxy boards” or “epoxy SUPs” are often used to describe a paddle board made out of composite materials. In my opinion, this terminology is misleading because epoxy is simply a material used for reinforcement in conjunction with other substances like glass or carbon fibers (or both).
– Sam O’Brien
Depending on the exact techniques used in constructing composite SUPs, you can split them up into the following two categories:
- Wood Sandwich Fiberglass Construction – The more common of the two, this method of SUP construction involves using a wood veneer as one of the sandwiched layers, with PVC in the middle of the board.
- Advanced Sandwich Technology (AST) Fiberglass Construction – This method does not involve PVC, but the layering approach otherwise remains the same.
- Composite paddle boards are generally fast, responsive, and handle extremely well on the water
- They are typically lighter than most other types of paddle boards – especially when compared to plastic boards
- Due to the additional glide, they can be a good choice for long-distance paddle boarding
- They are more expensive than any other kind of SUPs
- These boards are pretty high-maintenance and somewhat tricky to store and transport
Inflatable SUPs: What Are Inflatable Paddle Boards Made From?
Inflatable SUPs, or iSUPs, are a popular option among paddlers who have limited storage space and value portability above all else. The reason, I hope, is obvious enough:
These boards can be deflated and packed away when not in use. Plus, they typically weigh less than a similarly-sized hard paddle board and, as such, are easier to store and transport when needed.
That should be enough to explain their sudden rise to fame and popularity in the paddle boarding community. Inflatable SUPs are simply hard to beat in terms of convenience.
Oh, and don’t let the misconceptions get to you:
Inflatable SUPs aren’t made from cheap and flimsy materials. In fact, these boards can be quite rigid and durable – although, of course, punctures are possible, depending on the conditions you typically paddle board in. But overall, they’re pretty reliable.
So, what are inflatable paddle boards made from?
More often than not, PVC is the go-to choice – but you’ll also see boards made from alternatives like Hypalon or Nitrylon. Some may even be constructed from a resilient thermoplastic known as polycarbonate. It really depends on the manufacturer.
The choice of material and the overall construction obviously dictates the price – so you may find that inflatables can cost as little as foam paddle boards or as much as lower-end fiberglass paddle boards.
- Inflatable SUPs can be deflated when they’re not in use, meaning that transportation and storage typically aren’t an issue
- They weigh less than their plastic, fiberglass, and wooden counterparts
- Due to their thickness and rounded edges, inflatable boards can’t quite compete with solid SUPs in terms of speed and performance
- There’s always a risk of puncturing the board (although patching it up is generally pretty simple, as most iSUPs come with a repair kit)
Hybrid Construction SUP Boards – The Best Of Both Worlds
So, composite boards are fast and light but can be easily damaged. On the other hand, plastic SUPs are heavy but strong and durable – but what if there was a way to have the best of both worlds?
Well, some SUP manufacturers have given it a go by creating paddle boards that combine the best features of both types of materials.
Hybrid construction SUPs have an eps foam core – like traditional solid boards. The foam blank is then covered with layers of glass fiber or other composite materials – and rather than using epoxy resin (which is prone to chipping) – is topped with an infused PVC veneer.
This results in a paddle board that’s both extremely durable and lightweight – making it a great choice for those who want a board that can handle daily water use but is easy to transport and store.
So, if you’re looking for a high-quality paddle board that won’t let you down – regardless of the conditions on the water or how badly you treat it – then a hybrid construction method might be just what you need.
The Most Common Paddle Board Materials: A Side-By-Side Comparison
How do all these different SUP materials compare to one another? And when it’s time to choose a new board, which material and type of construction should you consider?
Let’s get you some answers.
Plastic Vs. Composite Paddle Boards
Yes, composite boards are generally faster and tend to provide better tracking performance than their plastic counterparts. Plus, they’re lighter by design. Then again, plastic boards are cheaper and capable of withstanding quite a bit of “abuse,” making them a much better choice for casual, recreational use and beginners.
Thermoformed Vs. Rotomolded SUPs
When choosing between thermoformed and rotomolded plastic SUPs, the key thing to note is that while both types of boards are made of plastic, the thermoformed ones are created using higher-quality polyethylene. Even more so, thermoformed boards typically weigh less than rotomolded ones – which might be a deciding factor for some people.
Soft Top Vs. Inflatable Vs. Solid Paddle Boards
The whole inflatable vs. solid paddle board debate is pretty extensive in itself – but once you add “soft top” boards into the equation, things can get beyond complicated.
So, which one should you choose?
I guess that mainly depends on what you need and expect from your SUP performance-wise, as well as in terms of storage, portability, and, ultimately, your budget. In other words, the answer is rarely straightforward – let alone “universal.”
The differences between inflatable and rigid paddle boards – and, by extension, soft top boards – are many. So, the best way to settle this would be to look at their individual strengths:
- Inflatable SUPs tend to be lightweight, compact – and, hence, easy to transport and store – and have a higher weight capacity than their solid counterparts.
- Hard boards have a definite advantage when it comes to handling and performance. They are more agile, faster, tend to create less drag – and perform better in a broader range of environments.
- Soft top SUPs are fairly inexpensive and are considered a fantastic choice for beginners due to their wide and padded decks.
What Material Is Best For Paddle Boards?
I can’t tell you which material is the best for paddle boards – just as I can’t tell you which one you should choose, an inflatable or a solid SUP. Granted, I have personal preferences – and I’m sure you do, too – but that doesn’t make this question any easier to answer.
If anything, it highlights the importance of assessing SUP construction in terms of what you want and how you expect the board to perform.
Fiberglass SUPs (and composite boards, in general) are something an advanced paddle boarder – someone who values speed and smooth handling – should consider. Beginners are likely going to appreciate the lower price points and general durability of simple, plastic SUPs and “soft-top” boards. And for those who value good looks and unique designs above all else, wood is the way to go.
See what I mean? There’s really no universal answer here.
Summary: What Are Stand Up Paddle Boards Made Of?
Depending on their construction – whether they’re inflatable or rigid – paddle boards can be made from several different materials:
Hard SUPs can be made from wood, plastic (thermoplastic and rotomolded PE), and composite materials – namely fiberglass and Carbon fiber. Inflatable paddle boards are constructed using a combination of drop-stitching and high-grade PVC.
Frequently Asked Questions on SUP Material
Are there any questions left unanswered? Then be sure to check out the FAQs section below for some additional information on SUP construction and materials:
Are paddle boards plastic?
While there are paddle boards made of plastic, I would stay away from any generalizations here – especially since SUPs can be made from other materials, including wood and composites, too. Besides, “plastic” is too broad of a term; SUPs can be made from rotomolded and thermoformed plastic – and both types of construction have some unique characteristics.
What is military-grade PVC?
“Military-grade PVC” sounds like a tough, long-lasting material, and that’s exactly what inflatable SUP manufacturers want you to believe. However, the unfortunate truth is that it is nothing but a marketing phrase. When evaluating the overall durability of an inflatable SUP, it’s much better to focus on the denier ratings (or thickness of the PVC) than the manufacturer’s claims of it being a military-grade material.
Are paddle boards eco-friendly?
Paddle boarding – like kayaking – is generally viewed as a sustainable and eco-friendly means of exploring the waters. After all, the SUP is powered by the paddler’s muscles, winds, waves, and currents. But while many SUP brands strive to make their manufacturing process sustainable by using renewable sources and recycled materials, it would be wrong to label all paddle boards as “eco-friendly” by default.
Is a foam or inflatable paddle board better?
There is no right – or wrong – choice here. Deciding between an inflatable board and a so-called “foam SUP” comes down to your needs and preferences. Foam boards are typically faster than their inflatable counterparts, though, and are often more affordable, too. Inflatable SUPs, on the other hand, prioritize portability and convenience, as evident by their lightweight and “packable” design.