Here’s the dilemma: You’re looking for your first paddleboard and you are suddenly bombarded by boards. All-around boards. Wave runners! Tourers! Downwind boards! Which one do you pick? Most people will purchase an all-arounder, which are the bread-and-butter rides of the stand up paddling world. It seems like a safe decision, right? Buy something that is designed for all sorts of conditions. On the whole, it is a good choice, but to understand why, let’s get into what makes an all-around board.
If you think all-around look like big surfboards, that’s because, well, they sort-of are. They have the same flat bottom which is called a planing hull. This is so when the board is on the wave, it’s designed to plane over the surface of the water. This allows surfers to complete fancy turns and tricks surfer. Because of this, all-rounders make fair surf SUPs. As a matter of fact, in small waves they are excellent surf SUPs. The reason is that their large size and volume allows the paddler to catch a small wave easily.
Pros and Cons of All-Around Boards
The problem is when you want to do more than just ride a wave straight in. You can do a simple turns pretty easily, but not much else. An all-around is just too big for tricks. They’re designed that way — the extra volume makes the board float better, which makes it appropriate for beginners. The thing is, when the waves get bigger, these huge rides become difficult to control. Size and volume matters here. When waves get above waist high, then the smaller rides rule. That’s why when you see experienced surfers on big waves, they’re riding tiny potato-chip style boards.
The rounded tail allows the surf SUP to turn easier. The square tail of the all-around is little faster.
Another issue with an all-around board is that they tend to have very little rocker. Rocker is the curve of the board from nose to tail, so a board without much rocker — like an all-around — will be pretty straight. When you’re paddling on flatwater this is a good thing because it makes the board go faster. Unfortunately it’s a problem on the waves. Surf SUPs need a fair amount of rocker because it keeps the nose of the board from “pearling” or digging into the water as the board goes down a wave face. You can easily tell the difference between a surf and all-around SUP by looking at the nose. A surf SUP will have an upturned nose, and an all-around board’s nose will be much straighter and thicker. No matter what the nose shape, however, for learning on the small stuff, there’s probably nothing better than an all-around.
Flatwater paddling is where you usually see all-around boards, and this means another set of compromises. For the beginner paddler, a large, stable all-around can be pretty nice. They’re wide, which means they’re easy to learn on. If you get one with tie-downs (highly recommended!) you can carry water, cameras, bags and other gear with you. They are easy to paddle and handle. What could be the problem?
The compromise of an all-around board is speed and dealing with choppy conditions. It gets back to that plaining hull design. It lets you surf but it tends to be fairly slow on flatwater. Consider it this way: a planing hull is designed to go over the water, which is perfect for the waves. Unfortunately, on flat water the fastest way to travel is through the water. That’s why you see kayak-style noses on touring and racing boards. These sharp noses also cut through chop. Unfortunately, the round, flat nose of an all around will usually slam into chop, making a rough a ride, especially when going upwind.
To be clear, the same shape that allows this board to surf makes it slower during general paddling. This means that all-arounds aren’t great choices for distance paddling. Nor are they good race boards unless you compete in the surfboard category, which, yes, exists. That doesn’t mean that these boards aren’t capable; it just means that your pace will be a little more leisurely. A board with tie-downs in the front will also make it easier to carry gear just in case you do that longer paddle.
All the compromises aside, if you plan on dipping your foot into standup paddling and going everywhere, this jack-of-all-trades is an excellent choice. No question, they’re easy to paddle. They also tend to be less expensive than more specialized boards. Many can be purchased at half the price of a specialized board, and even less used. If you graduate to something more specialized, there are still great reasons to keep it around. They are excellent for teaching beginners. It makes a great “vacation board” — when you can only bring one board with you and you need a ride that will do everything. You’ll also always have an extra ride for that special someone, which is always nice.