Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP) is a sport that involves standing atop a floating platform and propelling yourself over the surface of the water using a paddle. SUP has a long history with records claiming it was practised in Italy, China, and Peru thousands of years ago.
There are now many iterations of the sport from surfing and racing to more recreational pursuits of fishing and yoga. Paddleboard touring is a more focused version of paddleboarding where you travel from one place to another, over multiple hours/days and across long distances. Touring adventures often occur on flat or placid bodies of water, although coastal conditions are enjoyed by experienced paddleboarders.
Paddleboard touring is popular with many groups as it combines aspects of canoeing, kayaking, surfing, and swimming into one thrilling sport. It’s a different way to explore the environment, creating the perfect blend of adventure and fun.
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Why Go Paddleboard Touring?
Paddleboard touring is a fantastic way to explore the UK’s backwaters and unseen waterways. It is a fully off-grid experience where you can immerse yourself in natural surroundings, discovering the world at your own pace.
You can learn a new skill while enjoying the peace and serenity of being on the water. Paddleboard touring also allows you to connect with wilderness areas that are usually hidden from human eyes. It is a tough sport that comes with a healthy mix of challenges and fitness benefits, yet it is suitable for many age groups and fitness levels.
There is a relatively small skill jump required to start paddleboard touring. After a couple of attempts at SUP for leisure, you can soon progress to touring. This makes it an approachable activity with many keen to map out their next adventure.
Equipment used in paddleboard touring
Paddleboard touring uses similar equipment to all forms of paddleboarding. The key component is the type of board which provides the platform for you to stand on. A touring paddleboard is longer and pointer than your standard 10’6 all-rounder. This shape enables the board to glide better in the water, meaning you can cover more miles faster.
Unlike surfing, where a leash is attached to the ankle, most touring boards now have a waist belt leash. This prevents the board from drifting away should you fall off, but it also has a quick-release buckle/toggle that will immediately separate you from the board in dangerous conditions.
Touring paddleboards often have straps and clips to fasten equipment for longer journeys. Carrying extra equipment is an important part of paddleboard touring. If your paddleboard has plenty of bungee cords and straps, you can pack tents, sleeping bags, cooking equipment, clothes, fishing rods, or any other gear you might need for a multi-day adventure.
As a safety precaution, personal flotation devices are worn when touring.
Waterproof bags/containers for electronics are essential and a GPS device can help you to navigate or act as an SOS beacon if you need help in an emergency.
Planning a SUP touring adventure
To plan a touring adventure, you should be confident in your ability to paddleboard over longer distances. You should have a reasonable knowledge of your equipment and ideally, you will be aware of your board’s strengths and weaknesses. As always with outdoor sports, dress in layers to manage the changing temperatures. If you’re wearing a wetsuit, ensure it’s the correct length/thickness for the time of year you’re touring.
Writing a checklist helps you stay on top of your equipment as you pack. Forgetting a small item such as sunglasses or a hat may not seem too dramatic, but the glare may give you headaches or even heatstroke – problems which could have been avoided! Bring plenty of fluids (water and isotonic drinks are best) and food that is energy dense, high in calories, and has a balance of carbohydrates and protein.
Next, organise a “paddle plan”. Don’t overstretch yourself and allow for flexibility in the length of your route. Build up to longer and more challenging journeys over multiple trips. Starting with a multi-day 50km adventure on your first tour is too risky an undertaking.
Research OS maps or online interactive maps to sketch out a loose route. Check out weather forecasts (Met Office), tide tables (Tide Times), and river flows (Gauge Map). Avoid extreme spring tides, tidal bores, flooding, and thunderstorms.
Have an idea of where your route might start and finish and how you can navigate between these locations. Bailout points also give you a safety net in case you don’t feel up to completing the entire journey. Going with a friend helps to alleviate the planning burden and it puts you in a better position should anything go wrong. Don’t forget to share your paddle plan with a close friend or family member, so someone knows where you are!
Where can I go paddleboard touring in the UK?
There are many locations to go paddleboard touring in the UK – each offering different conditions and challenges. Rough areas of surf and open ocean are best avoided for new paddleboarders. Only attempt coastal routes when the weather, tides, and wind conditions allow for a smooth crossing.
Rivers, lakes, estuaries, and canals all make for excellent touring locations. In the Lake District, Ullswater and Windermere are both popular spots for SUP. The upper sections of the River Thames are excellent for paddleboarding due to the wide, flat water and peaceful surroundings. The Wye Valley is wild and rugged with fantastic stretches for paddleboard touring – as are the lochs and byways of the Caledonian Canal in Scotland.
If you’re feeling confident, you can explore areas of the Pembrokeshire Coast or the Isle of Wight. Burgh Island or the many bays and inlets of the Cornish coast are also desirable. Cuckmere Haven in East Sussex benefits from a lovely winding estuary that leads onto the Seven Sisters at Beachy Head.
What makes a good touring SUP?
A good quality touring SUP will have slightly different requirements than other paddleboards. When you go paddleboard touring, you want to feel comfortable and stable on your board for long periods. The aim is to minimise effort and exertion over greater distances.
Wider boards move slowly through the water, but they provide excellent balance. However, if you want to move with speed and are confident with paddleboard touring, select a board with a narrower frame.
Typically, a racing board is about 28 inches wide. This reduces drag but these boards aren’t ideal for touring as they become off-balance when carrying additional equipment. As a compromise, touring boards should be at least 30 inches wide to provide support and stability.
A key differentiating feature of a board that is used for paddleboard touring is its displacement hull. This will provide extra balance on flat water but will increase friction on rough water. This slows the speed of movement; hence it is appropriate for long-distance touring but not racing or surfing.
Naturally, a thicker board is more buoyant and less prone to tipping. This is great for beginners or casual paddleboarders. A thinner board is lighter and thereby faster. Again, this is a good feature for any paddleboard tourers who wish to move rapidly over long distances. 6 inches is the average thickness for a touring paddleboard.
A SUP for touring will often have a slightly different nose shape. It will be more angular and pointed to create a streamlined effect through the water. A classic SUP will have a rounded nose. Conversely, the tail of a touring paddleboard should be square to anchor you in the water with a stable base.
How long is a touring SUP?
Paddleboards are generally between 10-12 feet in length. Choosing the right board for you will depend on your weight and height. You may also have a different preference depending on your experience level and chosen touring location.
In general, a slightly longer board is better for paddleboard touring. For example, a board that is 10 feet or under is ideal for surfing as this allows for more manoeuvrability in the waves. However, a board of this size is less suitable for touring as you will find it harder to maintain balance over a long distance.
Instead, search for a board that is 11-14 feet. This will move rapidly through smooth water, and it allows you to track effortlessly without having to constantly adjust your movements to stay on course.
Paddleboard Touring vs All-Round SUP?
Some key features make paddleboard touring different from other types of all-round SUP. A recreational paddleboard has a round nose and a planing hull which differs from a touring board with its pointed nose and displacement hill.
For casual SUP, you might not have a specific plan, per se, and this is often reflected in the style of the paddleboard you use. A short and wide paddleboard will provide the perfect platform for a relaxed paddling session.
However, if you are going paddleboard touring, you will have a clear route and objective. As such, you may require deck rigging to carry all your gear. You might be moving across different water types and need a board that is slightly longer and narrower to cope with these conditions.
In both instances, your paddling action is largely the same. However, for paddleboard touring, you may require greater fitness and muscle strength to cope with the longer distances.
If you are embarking on a multi-day adventure, you may benefit from using an inflatable standup paddleboard (iSUP). This is convenient as it can be inflated and used on waterways, then deflated and carried overland before being inflated again. If you plan to travel via waterways and canals that have weirs or locks, this may suit you.
Can you surf with a touring paddleboard?
The water conditions when surfing are radically different from those when touring. These conditions are reflected in the varied builds of the boards. Technically, you could use the boards interchangeably, but your performance will be drastically reduced.
Generally, a touring paddleboard only requires one removable fin for stability. However, a surf paddleboard might have two or even three fins for added balance when riding waves. If you plan on touring in faster-flowing water where manoeuvrability is important, you may wish to have the option of multiple removable fins.
Paddleboards are made from foam and then covered in a range of materials. Surf paddleboards often have an epoxy resin coating to strengthen the board in rough waters. Taking a touring paddleboard surfing may cause the board to damage or break as it lacks this additional reinforced layer.
Repairs when paddleboard touring
If you are on a multi-day adventure, the last thing you need is a mishap that damages your board and leaves you stranded. Often these issues are unavoidable, but you can mitigate their impact with prior planning.
For example, an epoxy-covered paddleboard should be avoided for touring as a crack to this surface from a sharp stone or branch will cause the inner foam to absorb water and become waterlogged.
Although it’s extra weight, carrying a spare paddle could save your skin if you lose your primary paddle in some rapids. The same goes for a spare fin. Not all repairs can be fixed on the fly but if you have a repair kit, this can temporarily patch up smaller damages which can then be fixed later.
Clearly, there is plenty of variation in what makes a good paddleboard for touring. What suits one person may not suit another. Most decisions come down to the type of adventure you want to pursue, and your decisions and modifications are down to personal preference.
However, when you go paddleboard touring, there’s no harm in thorough preparation. Knowing the tides, water conditions, and wind direction are small details that will help your adventure run smoothly.
Your paddle plan is flexible but having a general idea of your route and the distance you want to travel each day will ensure your adventure goes off without a hitch. By following these tips, you are sure to have many exciting and successful experiences paddleboard touring!
About the author
Matt is a travel writer with a passion for outdoor adventures - from catching swells to trekking through jungles and climbing mountains. He is currently travelling down the Pacific Coast, from Canada to Chile, surfing as he goes. Follow along at mattwalkwild.com.