What's the difference between a race and a fitness standup paddleboard?
Most fitness paddling is done on boards that cross-over to surfing. Since the goal of the activity is "working out," it seems that any board will do the job. Well, not so! If you run for a workout do you wear hiking shoes! If you cycle on the road do you use a mountain bike? Of course not, you use the right tool for the job. For covering distance on flatwater what's important is glide. To get good glide on a board thats also designed to surf you simply go long, 11' to 12'6". For body weight over 170# consider 11'6"to 12'6". For under 170# consider 11' to 12'.
The ultimate standup paddleboards for glide are race boards. They are not good in surf, but if you don't surf, or if you are OK with a quiver (more than one board) then a race board is most pleasing for fitness paddling. The size of race board seems to be standardizing around the race classes, of 12'6"(and under), 14'(strictly 14'), and unlimited length (and design, including rudder steering).
Nate, editor of supsurfmag.com says, "14' is a race board class because they likely determined 14' to be the point where things start to get really FUN for full size or bigger riders on downwinders. It is a huge stoker to be getting longer, funner glides. So, if that is where the most fun is, and you are already riding that for max hoots, why not race that? It is not like a 14 foot board or even a 17 is much more $$$ than a race weight 12'6. At least from what I can tell, the difference in speed in going longer over a great 14' is pretty negligable, so deciding to go unlimited may be a tougher choice. But that is for downwind races. Things could be different for flatwater races."
Hard-core race boards use exotic materials like carbon fibers and hollow cores. They also can be narrow and tippy, sacrificing stability for speed. Citizen racers and fitness paddlers can consider less expensive constructions that still offer great performance. The board companies are labeling these boards with names like Distance, Expedition, or Touring.
For me, I can't wait to get a 14 footer. It will be a Joe Bark Expedition from Surftech and should be available in May '09. The other one I'm awaiting from Surftech is the Laird 14', available sometime this summer. Check www.StandUpPaddleFlatwater.com for their arrival.
Along with design changes in the paddle boards are changes in stand up paddles. The SUP paddle blade trend is towards a smaller blade in distance conditions. In a down winder, the blade size can be larger because of board speed. Check out the Kialoa Methane paddle for distance paddling.
Note: In Oregon, two distance races (so far) are the Outrigger Canoe Race in the Gorge (formerly The Gorge Games) and the Odell Lake Pioneer Cup Canoe Race (6 mile race).