Anatomy Of A Paddle Board - What Are The Parts And What Do They Do?

Posted date: 06-January-2022

How well do you know your paddleboard, it’s various parts and what they do? Hopefully, after reading the following dive into the anatomy of a paddleboard, written by ASI Master Trainer, Glenn Eldridge, you might just know your ride that little bit more intimately.

Anatomy of a Paddleboard

Strangely enough, some of the parts of your board and paddle are named after areas of the body. Other elements meanwhile hold onto names associated with ocean going vessels. As the design of paddle boards rapidly evolves, plane shapes and hull contours blur the lines between what is a traditional paddle board or something more similar to a canoe. Despite all of these changes, names given to each area remain the same.

The following is a description of what these are and an attempt to demystify how they affect your paddling.  

Deck:

The top part of the board and the platform upon which paddler stands. The deck is generally flat (highest part of the board) however, many manufacturers are increasingly moving toward what is known as a dug-out design where paddlers literally stand in the board.

What does it do:

Decks obviously keep the paddler out of the water allowing the paddler to walk up and down the board if needed.

However, the more recent dug out design improves stability of a board by lowering the paddler closer to the water. Quite often this is done to compensate for boards which are becoming increasingly narrow and therefore potentially more tippy.

Nose:

Front of the board and can come in a variety of different shapes and sizes (just like humans); some are thin and drawn out, others short and round and some can be sharp with inverse designs e.g. upside down!

What does it do:

The nose can add greater stability by being flatter and rounder, while others which are curved up and thin are often seen as being faster. The upward curve like that of the bow of a ship help when there is a cross wind or chop as it lets the water pass underneath.

Relatively new nose designs are inverse with the curve upside down. These noses help with flat water speed and can be very good going up wind. It is because of these characteristics that this design feature is being used in race and touring oriented boards. These noses do not do quite so well in cross winds or very confused sea states and are often used by the Pro’s.

Tail:

This is the back of the board. Like the nose, tails can come in a variety of shapes and sizes that affect speed and stability but can be generally classified as being either square, round or a pin tail.

What does it do:

Rounded tails are often found on inflatables and have fantastic stability characteristics, which is why they are used more frequently on these types of boards than hard fibreglass boards.

The square tail is just that, almost as if the back end of the board has been sawn off. This is the most common type of tail used across cruisers, touring and race type boards. It provides good stability whilst also improving speed – the sharper or harder edge to the tail encourages water to be released from the board and thereby potentially increasing board speed.

Pin tails like rounded tails increase stability as water likes to stick to this type of shape. Because of this, it makes the board feel more stable. However, the pin tail will often be used in specialist boards like those used for downwind paddling, where paddlers regularly venture into open water and very strong wind, paddling in one direction from one point to another.

Rails:

This is the side of the board running from nose to tail. The shape affects the stability and speed of the board.

What does it do:

Round rails give greater stability as water wants to stick to this type of shape; imagine a football in a swimming pool, when hitting it with your hand on the water it does not want to move.

Sharp rail edges are the opposite and help to release water quicker making a board faster and more manoeuvrable. Up at the nose, rails are rounded providing stability, whilst at the tail, rails are sharper, releasing water quicker and creating greater manoeuvrability but less stability.

Fin:

A fin helps to improve tracking of board. In other words going in a straight line. Top tip – going in a straighter line is more to do with paddle entry and board length (longer boards go in straighter lines than shorter boards) than fins alone.

What does it do:

For general purpose paddling, the number and composition of fins is almost irrelevant. Simply, they must be there! Where fins really come into play is when surfing, and paddlers could have anywhere from one known as a single fin to five fins (a bonza) in their board.

Quite often paddle boards follow a three fin set up, with one bigger central fin and two smaller (tweaker find) placed forward of the larger central fin. Racers and touring type boards will invariably have only one fin which is plenty for most of our needs. 

Thickness:

Board thickness is the depth measured from top to bottom of the board (deck to bottom). Inflatable boards are generally thicker to help with rigidity (flex) of the board and are often 6 inches deep; hard fibreglass boards are usually less thick because the foam core of the board (wrapped in fibreglass) has greater buoyancy.

What does it do:

Along with overall size (length and width) the thickness increases the volume of the board and can have huge implications upon performance from stability to speed.

A board that does not have sufficient buoyancy will be slower to paddle, making you feel like you are excessively dragging in the water (it is literally sitting deeper in the water). Top pro SUP surfers want their boards to completely sink under water as this gives them additional stability on very short and low volume boards. It is when the board does not provide sufficient buoyancy the board will also feel unstable. Interestingly, at the opposite end of the spectrum boards with too much buoyancy will feel corky, bouncing out of the water. These boards can also feel too reactive and less stable for paddlers who are too light for them plus, the additional height above the water can make it difficult to control the board in the wind.

It is difficult to provide a hard and fast rule as to how much is too much volume or not enough given the wide variety of paddling disciplines, however, as a general rule most boards will state the amount of litres of their boards and this should as a minimum match your weight in kilograms.

Length:

Length along with width in a board provides both stability and speed.

What does it do:

Longer boards in general will be more stable, faster offer better directional tracking e.g. touring or racing. Extremes of these can be found in downwind paddling in places like Hawaii where some boards are so long they have rudders on them to help the paddlers turn. This additional length gives them greater speed. Shorter boards will be slower, less stable, with reduced tracking but with better manoeuvrability e.g. SUP surfing

Width:

This is the widest point of the board measured from rail to rail (one side to another).

What does it do:

Like board length width provides stability, where the widest point occurs on a board has an influence upon its overall speed and manoeuvrability.

Generally, the widest point of a board occurs around the standing area. Modern boards extend the wide point to occur for longer along the board increasing stability – this is found in more modern race boards. Because boards are becoming more narrow, stability is potentially compromised. One way of getting around this is rather than making the widest point literally that, a point, manufacturers are making the widest area extend further along the board.

In boards used for surfing, however, the widest point occurs at a single given point. This helps with the turning characteristics of the board, important for performance surfing and tight turns on the wave.

Handle:

This is where the balance point of the board can be found and usually occurs in the mid-point of the board and is used to carry board to and from the water.

What does it do:

Not only does this provide a handy (pardon the pun) visual cue for the mid-point of the board it also is how we carry the board more easily.

Some manufactures provide a shoulder strap making it easier for paddlers to carry wider boards like those used in SUP Yoga. Hard boards will have a soap dish handle, a recess placed in the middle of the board where the paddler can place their hand. The benefit of this type of handle is that it is less likely to get in the way when paddling or storing the board.

Leash plug:

This is the anchor point of the board and is the strongest area where a leash can be attached using a plug or ‘D’ ring depending upon the board construction hard board (fibreglass) or inflatable.

What does it do:

A vital part of the board rarely checked for damage or wear. If the leash is considered the life line in SUP paddling then a weak or damaged anchor point makes the leash redundant.

On hard boards the leash plug will be an integral part of the board deck. Check that there are no cracks around its edge or the tell tail sign of salt accumulating around its circumference, a sure sign that on a hot day there is damage and a repair is needed.

In terms of inflatable boards, it is common for manufacturers to use stainless steel ‘D’ rings. It is important that leashes are attached to this anchor point and not mistakenly attached to paddle handles (a handle placed by some manufacturers at the tail to secure a paddle when out on the water so that it does not drift away from the board).

And there we have it. A tour around the anatomy of the paddle board that we hope has left you feeling like you know your own board that little bit better.