The Board Size Debate Continues

As with age and taxes, there's no running from change. And this year, the sport of standup has seen a lot of it. Not the least of which was the formation of another association aimed at safeguarding the sport of racing and its disciples—the Stand Up Paddle Athletes Association (SUPAA), headed by Chase Kosterlitz.

SUPAA came out firing in March, publishing a quasi-press release boldly calling out race directors who were delinquent on race payments and putting both upstanding and potential promoters on notice to watch their monetary P's and Q's when it comes to prize money payouts. SUPAA also teamed with a list of big-name athletes to form a "Champions' Tour," a loose conglomerate of the discipline's best race events in a point series to decide a world champion—putting this new tour directly at odds with existing world championship events such as the Standup World Series.

If that wasn't enough to get SUPAA trending in Facelandia paddling circles, their most interesting proposed change—and the one most likely to affect all of us—was a new board length standard for racing. SUPAA would require that 14-foot boards boast a 23-inch width minimum and minimum weight of 22.05 pounds (10kg) and 12'6" models have a minimum width of 23.75" and minimum weight of 19.84 pounds (9kg) for sanctioned races.

There are a number of arguments for, or against, limiting board specifications but as far as we can tell, SUPAA's main intention is to keep new paddlers coming back for more, hoping to keep board designs from getting too narrow and thus applicable to common paddlers like you and me. The prevalent analogy for this case, it seems, is that windsurfing gear became too "high-end," so regular joes couldn't hang with the pros. Or flatwater canoe racing became a balance contest. The fear of bigger paddlers (including the tall, muscular Kosterlitz) is that SUP will become about who can balance the narrowest board—which is where lithe paddlers have a distinct advantage—and still negotiate a course. These restrictions are a way to keep the smaller guys from paddling svelte toothpicks in races.

The arguments against the spec requirements are just as passionate—some manufacturers believe it will hinder development and sales, while other paddlers believe that the only fair solution is to keep racing completely open and unlimited (they're probably into chaos theory, too).

What does it all mean? Well to be honest, we're not exactly sure. The rules don't go into effect until 2015, when SUPAA proposes that all major races become SUPAA-sanctioned events, which would require field marshals trained in the organization's rule book. An ambitious goal. The Battle of the Paddle's Barrett Tester told us that the BOP won't be adopting the restrictions anytime soon—or at least until they get help on the ground to enforce them (imagine measuring and weighing the boards of nearly 400 Elite competitors). Plus these measurements don't even begin to tackle river-racing standardization, an entirely different sect unto itself.

It's hard to imagine that every major event in the world will be able to implement this new system by next year. Some insiders who support board restrictions have even told us they're not sure these measurements are the correct call. But they are a starting point to standardization.

There is precedence in all of this, of course. In 2008, when the BOP created the 12'6" and 14-foot race divisions, they essentially set the standard for manufacturing in the SUP industry as companies developed boards loosely based on those dimensions. And on the other side, we've had associations attempt to sanction races before, too—like the World Paddle Association—but they've never truly caught on worldwide, governing every major race, setting board standards and acting as a voice for professional athletes in the sport.

Is there anything you can do about it? The only thing we can think of is to keep paddling and trying new gear, like narrower boards. And generally try to stay aware—follow for updates and follow these associations on Facebook. Educate yourself on the goings-on in the professional ranks. Because even if you never, ever watch an elite SUP race, there's a good chance that the boards these athletes are using will somehow influence the design of what you ride in the near future. –Joe Carberry

This article originally ran in our 2014 Gear Guide as “Board Size Matters.”

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