What’s Up With Foam SUP’s?

Foam Stand-Up Paddle Boards vs. Epoxy/I-SUP/Plastic SUP’s

So you took a lesson, tried a rental or borrowed a friend’s paddle board and are considering buying one of your very own.  Now you need to decipher through the information that exists on the web, and there are endless pages filled with brands, ads, how to’s, gear guides, blogs, product reviews.  If you are the type who does extensive research, by the time you’re finished reading everything, September will be here and you’ll be looking for winter jackets instead.

Basically, you have 4 choices; Epoxy/Fiberglass, Inflatable (aka I-SUP’s), roto-molded Plastic or EPS/PE all Foam boards.  I’ve researched and read many articles over the years, but most of what I’ve found is on the epoxy or I-SUP boards, with not much on the plastic or foam SUP’s.  It’s likely that the plastic SUP articles are not readily available because kayaks have been constructed this way for two decades or more, and practically everyone has or has had one in that same time.  I’ll leave you to discover the other three SUP’s on your own.  I’d like to give you some facts about foam paddle boards.

Since we started making our foam paddle boards, we’ve seen feedback like “my dog scratched it when riding on it” or “it floats well but it’s too slow for me” or my favorite – “it’s covered with stickers”.  When contemplating a foam paddle board, you should know a few simple facts.

  • It is made entirely of foam or foam based material, except for wood stringers, a few plastic parts and on some versions, a traction pad – also made from foam of course.
  • It will dent and it can be scratched.
  • It is slower than an Epoxy SUP, but is usually as fast as an I-SUP and is always faster than a roto-molded plastic SUP

But you should also know this.  Foam SUP’s cost less than Epoxy’s and most I-SUP’s, but are a little more expensive than plastic SUP’s.  But plastic SUP’s weigh 40 lbs. and up, and a standard sized foam SUP weighs just over 25 lbs. and plastic SUP’s are nowhere near as good looking nor can they perform as well.

Foam SUP’s are constructed by inserting 3 wood stringers inside a molded, EPS foam core.  From there, high density XPE or IXPE (polyethylene foams) is heat laminated – not glued! – to the top and bottom of the core, completely “sealing” it.  It is important to note that both foams, the PE and the EPS, which is a styrene foam, are waterproof.  If you do put a dent in it, it will not absorb water.  The key to this is the word “absorb”.  With both foams being closed cell, water cannot penetrate inside.

I should add a disclaimer here . . . from time to time, there can be a bad lamination of the top or bottom foam to the core inside.  When that happens, and if you do get a hole in that same area, water can be “trapped” between the layers – but it will not be absorbed.  Cuts or dents can easily be fixed by using a hot melt glue gun.  Back to the construction . . .

The wood stringers are very important too.  They give the board it’s durability, and most 10’6” to 11’ foam SUP’s with a width of 31” or more can support up to and over 300 lbs.  The heavier the rider, the slower the board, but that’s true with anything other than a motorized boat, right?

Foam boards can come with deck traction and if yours does not, simply add some surf wax in the area that you stand.  Foam boards also come with a built-in handle, a leash and built in plug and a built-in carry handle.  Some brands offer other accessories in their package like an adjustable aluminum paddle; a bungee storage mount on the deck (usually at the nose); and some brands even give you a simple yet effective roof rack.  All SUP’s that I’m aware of also come with at least one bottom tracking fin.  Some come with three to allow you to surf ocean waves better.

Most foam boards come with graphics on the deck.  These are semi-permanent meaning they’re very durable, but they can wear in the area that you stand the most.  Rest assure, they are not stickers and yes, take your dog for a ride!  Heck, he/she is likely scratching your hardwood floors already, what’s a few scratches on your board – and your dog will much prefer a foam board over a fiberglass any day.  No slipping!

Also, foam SUP’s are better on flat water, like lakes and bays.  They have a squarer rail where the rail meets the bottom of the board.  This is why they are slower than fiberglass boards.  They are faster than most I-SUPs because most I-SUP’s sit higher in the water with a 6” thickness versus 5.25” for a foam board.

And finally, you should know that foam SUP’s are very durable and dependable.  Any company that sells to a major retailer must have their boards tested at labs for many, many attributes.  If the board or any part of the board fails, the problem must be fixed before it receives a passing grade which then allows the retailer to buy it and sell it.

If you have decided to purchase your first board, you will be very satisfied with a foam SUP.  They are lightweight, very strong and dependable and will look just as good on your car roof as any other out there, and you’ll likely have enough money left over to buy one for your kids or significant other.

California Board Co./Scott Burke Surf

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