What are Epoxy Stand Up Paddleboards and How are they Different than Regular SUPs?

man paddling on a lake on an epoxy sup

What is the deal with epoxy paddleboards?

If you have heard the term “epoxy” in regards to SUPs and you don’t know what it means, well keep reading, we are going to clear that up for you.

An epoxy paddleboard is the first, the original type of stand up paddleboard.  Stand up paddleboards are an offshoot of surf boards and epoxy boards are built in the same manner as traditional surfboards.

They start as an EPS foam core.  EPS stands for Expanded Polystyrene, basically it’s just a type of foam.  You can think of an EPS foam core as a big piece of Styrofoam in the shape of a surfboard.  This is how the board begins it’s life.  An EPS core is also easy to shape because it’s easy to cut through Styrofoam.

Styrofoam is light and easy to work with but it is obviously very fragile and easy to break.  You can’t just ride on a bare EPS foam core because it will quickly snap in half.

To strengthen the board, the foam core is wrapped in several layers of fiberglass.  Fiberglass is a durable and lightweight material that used in a tremendous amount of applications including the manufacture of surfboard and stand up paddleboards.

Fiberglass is basically a bunch of flexible glass filament threads woven together and soaked in a resin so that it can be formed or molded to any shape.  The resin the fiberglass is soaked in is epoxy resign.

The way that epoxy is able to harden is due to chemistry.  The epoxy resin is made up of two chemicals, epoxide and polyamine that when they are combined, chemically bond together and form a hard smooth clear surface.  The resin does not harden instantly.  It takes some time to bond and fully harden.  You can speed up the hardening process with heat like a heat gun or for industrial manufacturing purposes like SUP manufacturers, you can place the boards in a large oven to heat and bake the resin.

For SUPs it is common to have multiple layers of epoxy to create the stiffness required.  The end result is a board with a light foam core and a hard outer shell that is still relatively lightweight.  This is how traditional surfboards are made and this is how the first stand up paddle boards were manufactured.

Benefits of Epoxy SUPs

The biggest benefit of riding an epoxy SUP is the level of performance.  Epoxy SUPs out perform inflatables on every measurable level.  An epoxy board in more maneuverable and responsive to the paddler.  The reason is because there is no loss of energy transfer from the paddler’s legs to the rails and fin of the SUP.

An inflatable SUP has a certain level of bounce or give in it.  Think of a trampoline and how you always sink a little bit on the surface, it’s the same way with standing on an inflatable.  When the rider goes to push on the rails of the inflatable to turn on a wave, there is less energy that transfers from the legs of the rider to the rails and fins of the inflatable SUP.

An epoxy board will turn quicker and will glide easier and for longer distances over the water than an iSUP.  This is important if you use your SUP for longer trips.  The glide length on an epoxy board is far superior to that of an inflatable, for the same reason that epoxy boards are more maneuverable and this is important if you want to paddle board surf.  You don’t lose any energy when you pull you paddle through the water because there is zero give where the board and your feet meet.

When you pull the paddle through the water on an inflatable, then you hold the paddle in the air as you glide over the water propelled forward by the energy of the paddle stroke, you can feel the SUP bounce a little.  This bounce takes energy from your stroke.

You are losing energy from your paddle stroke, that makes the inflatable bounce a little, that would otherwise go directly in to propelling you forward if you were on an epoxy SUP.  This goes back again to the issue of performance.  If performance is your main goal, then you need an epoxy board.  If you are going on long distance paddles or long tours, you’ll want an epoxy SUP.

On shorter outings it doesn’t matter that much if you lose a bit of energy because you are riding an inflatable, but if you go on a longer or multi day tour, it matters greatly.  Over thousands and thousands of paddles, that little bit of lost energy on each stroke adds up to a lot.  You’ll simply have less wear and tear on your muscles over a long tour, on an epoxy board versus an iSUP.

You see the same situation in racing paddleboards.  For the most serious paddlers that participate in racing, they all use epoxy boards.  Look at probably the best racing SUP on the planet the Starboard SUP All Star, it is an epoxy board for a reason.  Yes they do make inflatable racing SUPs, but for real competition, you’re going to need an epoxy shell.

There is also a way to test out this theory about epoxy board being better at transferring energy, and therefor faster, than inflatables, from Starboard SUP.  Starboard also makes an inflatable All Star.  Now, to be fair, the Starboard inflatable All Star is a great SUP that is even faster than most hard boards.  But it’s not faster than the epoxy All Star.

You can get two fairly equal in experience and strength paddlers and place one on the inflatable All Star and one on the epoxy All Star.  The competitor on the traditional epoxy All Star will smoke the competitor on the inflatable, every time.

We are not bashing iSUPs in any way, we actually love inflatables.  We are just using these examples to illustrate the significant difference in power and energy transfer, and therefor increased performance of an epoxy SUP.

Basically it comes down to your personal preference.  Epoxy boards strengths are more agile, allow for better control, and performance.  This makes them the ideal choice for SUP surfing, long distance and multi-day touring, and competitive SUP racing.

The downsides to this traditional style of SUP is that you need a large place to store it.  Unlike an iSUP, an epoxy cannot shrink down in size, so you’ll need a large open area in your garage to store your board.  Also, you’ll have the same problem when you go to transport your board.

It’s not easy strapping a 12 foot epoxy paddle board to the top of your car.

If you can live with the downsides of an epoxy, and you crave performance on the water, the choice is clear.