Board Choice and wave hunting...
With paddle boarding being the fastest growing water sport in the world, all disciplines have increased in popularity. I personally, am hooked on the surfing aspect. If like us you don’t have a consistent break on your door step, the chances are if you have also chosen SUP surfing or any other water sport that relies on waves you have to travel to get your wave fix. There are plenty of good breaks around the cost of the UK and Ireland for the wave hungry. I have managed to visit a few and in this blog going to give the low down on my favorites. I am also going to give my thoughts and experiences on the ever murky world of board choice.
Being based in Kent our local breaks are inconsistent at best and wind driven. With the English channel being fairly small the period isn’t great either. That said we still score some solid waves and sessions, and paddle boards have opened up access to more and more spots. Dymchurch being the most noticeable for me. It was/is largely over looked but when conditions are right it throws out a great wave that I have ridden from low tide to high on a long board sup. I have never seen more than a handful of people out at this spot. Let’s be honest if your travelling for waves your not going to be coming to Kent!
Starting close to home, the south coast offers more consistency than Kent and only improves the further west you go. Shoreham harbour is one of my go to places when the wind is still kicking in. It offers protection from the wind unless it is bang on southerly. Any swell from South Westerly through to South Easterly will make it work. Low tide is best and when it is firing it offers a truly unique urban surf against the backdrop of a industrial harbour wall.
On the east coast one of my favourite spots is on the coast of Norfolk. In a small area of the vast stretches of beaches that occupy most of the coast are a few man made bays in Sea Palling. The large boulders placed in the water as sea defenses allow the swell to tidy up and hit the sand bars jacking up some awesome waves. The best bay on the day depends on the swell direction. It works on a range of Swell directions but I found it to be better on a North Westerly, it has the potential to barrel here when swell is big enough. I have paddle surfed here on a head high day and it was trying! It works at all tides but was better from mid to high.
Heading west, Boscombe is another fantastic spot on the south coast. It has an artificial reef which hasn’t had the desired effect but the beach breaks offer some fantastic rides. It has some great amenities and a strong local scene but friendly. Almost next door is Kimmeridge which is a more advanced wave but with a stunning backdrop! It’s nestled below some cliffs on the Jurassic coast, if your lucky you may find some fossils. It has lefts and rights on the respective outer shoulders of the bay and a good sup wave in the bay itself, can be rocky and shallow. When its good it gets busy! Again these spots work on a range of Southerly swells and most tides.
As you hit the West country, the breaks speak for them self and are probably well known by all. But there are two I feel are worth a mention, Bantham and Saunton sands. Bantham is described as they most popular break on the south coast. Near Plymouth it is a beautiful beach with various peaks along the beach and river mouth. Saunton sands has long be known as a long boarders paradise and this is just as true and enticing for paddle boarders. It is ultra consistent and offers a range of waves from mellow long board waves to barreling charging waves. This is a go to choice of ours.
Now I’m going to pen my thoughts about board choice, it is an ever controversial topic particularly in less than ideal conditions. We have all experienced those days where you should have brought a different board or if you don’t have the choice the feeling of the board holding you back or throwing you off. I appreciate that not everyone can have a multi board quiver as much as we would like one! So in my past 5 years of paddle boarding I have tried as many boards as I could, I also own three of my own. I am a strong believer in using what you have. My first board was a 10’10 X 27″ Long board sup, it has since been named the ratlog due to its evolving looks. I brought it because it was cheap, I didn’t really know what I was looking for or what I needed. It was super narrow for a beginner board but I learnt how to deal with it and think that would be true for any one – it took a lot of perseverance. I have surfed this board in everything from small shore dump to head high peelers. I didn’t buy anther board till I thought I had out performed this one. I’m not saying my surf skills where that good but I found myself over comfortable on the board between waves and on the flat water. I think this should be the indicator for everyone, don’t give up on a board too easily. That said buying the right board first is always helpful. Buying your first board is a big step and seeking advice from the sellers is crucial but bear in mind they are trying to sell you a product! Shop around.
My Second board was going to be dual purpose a smaller lighter board for Louise and a wave board for me. We got a 8’6 x 28 3/4″ @ 120L a big drop from the ratlog! This Board was great for progressing and definitely ramped up my surf skills with snappy turns and at least 70L less float – my balance improved no end. It was no longer just side to side I had to worry about. Unfortunately Louise didn’t get on with the board as much as hoped. I have long thought that volume means stability and I think this is echoed a lot by what I have seen and heard from friends, in articles etc. There’s even some equation around about how much you weigh to how much volume you should have in your board according to your ability. I started questioning this when watching the pros on their sub 8 foot boards and shin deep in water. I wanted to surf like them so surely i need to ride similar boards? I started to question this whole volume thing and reading up about it. Now from my limited understanding there are lots of different factors that equal stability including volume. If you weigh 80kg say, a board with 80L will float you. So a simple rule is to have a board with more volume than your weight. The more volume you go over your weight the more stable it is right?
Well I’m not convinced… My favourite board and most recent purchase is only 112L I probably weigh around 85KG maybe more in my winter gear. It’s 9’6 X 27″. I find it easy to float but as it is super thin compared to my other boards it sinks quickly when on an edge or the nose or tail. The board is designed to have water over the rails which is suppose to add stability. It does! If I listened to the equation or some of the other info out there I shouldn’t be riding this board at all let alone in the choppy mushy stuff we get in Kent! Yet I have ridden it in all conditions and it just goes on any wave. A lot of it is down to the design of the board. Now I’m looking at going sub 8 and to a board that’s 94L all in the name of progression. I want to dial in my balance and on a shorter board the turns will be super snappy! My board of choice for this is the Sunova speed 7’11. There’s a lot to be said for design in this debate. A well designed board doesn’t need lots of volume.
In my experience boards with lots of volume often come with big rails, the bigger the rail the less bite on the wave face therefore less performance. I am no expert on the matter but from what I have experienced boards with lots of float are slower and more cumbersome to maneuver not just on the waves but between them. When you go down in volume a bit I found the boards are unstable as the buoyancy makes the board bob around on the surface of the water rather than cut through it. Have you ever felt the board bounce out the water just after sinking a rail? As the volume drops further the board locks in to the water and you are not just lifting the weight of the board from rail to rail but the water that’s on it too. So when you see the pros shin deep the boards are not affected by the surface chop at all and are probably super stable. The struggle then becomes about catching the waves and getting the board to plane on the surface!
I think the only real way of getting the right board is to try them out! Don’t necessarily go for a high volume board think about design, shape and purpose. I have heard different schools of thought from not riding any board less than 9ft to needing double your weight in volume. For me progression is getting on smaller boards with thinner rails. The fact is there is no real way of telling what board is for you just by the specs, get out there and try them! Different shapes, sizes and brands, they will all feel different. If you know the style of riding you want to do this will help narrow it down. All purpose boards will not excel at any particular thing so bear this is in mind but it is a good place to start.