Reviews, SUP

Which iSUP to buy? A Tourer or a Race Board?

So, looking at the title, you might be thinking that the answer to the question is simple – if you want to ‘tour’ buy a’ touring’ board, if you want to ‘race’ then buy a ‘race’ board. But I would suggest that when you start looking at the details of what is available, things are not that simple or obvious, especially in the world of inflatables…

You see, I originally owned a Red Race 12’6 x 28′ and loved it, although I never actually raced it.  We then bought a pair of Red Explorer 13’2 x 30′ boards after a successful demo where we were convinced they would be great all round boards with a nice balance between stability from the slight extra width, load carrying from the extra bungees, and speed due to the extra length.  They were meant to be our ‘go to’ SUPs for everything from lake touring to cruising on the canal, but more and more I kept finding myself preferring to paddle the Race because it was a faster and more engaging ride and still did almost everything the Explorer did…

And this gets to the heart of the issue – for most days out on the water a standard inflatable Racer is a great choice for the developing paddler and perhaps you don’t actually need a Tourer at all…

A big day out, with a Tourer and a Racer…

So, what factors to consider?

If you are in the market for a board for covering distances on the water, perhaps full days out, what are the key differences between Race SUPs and Touring SUPs…

Stability – Yes, boards marketed as Racers tend to be narrower than those advertised as Tourers. But there isn’t always a big difference and for a paddler with some skill a 28″ wide board, which is the widest race board available for most companies, is plenty stable for a day out in most conditions. If in doubt demo the board, but I would suggest that something like the Starboard Air Race 14 x 28 is a pretty stable board…

Speed – It is almost certain that if two boards are the same length then the narrower board will be faster. In a back to back test I did I even showed that the 12’6 Red Race was faster than a 13’2 Explorer so a shorter Racer can outpace a longer Tourer. This is a significant factor for a couple of reasons. Firstly, over a long day on the water you will use less energy to cover the same distance, or simply arrive faster, and this is effectively free speed if the board does the job in all other respects (stability, load carrying etc). Secondly, storage and handling of a shorter board is easier, not to mention that the shorter and/or narrower board is lighter too.

for most days out on the water a standard inflatable ‘racer’ is a great choice…

Agility – Paddles are not always about just covering distance, you might want a bit of fun on route. In my experience, boards marketed as Tourers tend to be safe, steady options for cruising and aren’t particularly lively or engaging rides. Racers are designed for straight line speed yes, but the technical race scene demands they also turn quickly and spin on their tail. All of which can make them a little more exciting when you want to have a play…

Load Carrying – In almost every instance you will find a Tourer has better load carrying capacity, often with both front and rear tie downs for balancing lots of kit. And this is really important if you are a multi-day adventurer – but are you? Because if not, most inflatable Racers can carry on their front deck more than enough kit for a big day out, and with a bit of careful packing, an overnight bag wouldn’t be a problem either…

Other features – There are a couple of other factors to consider when making your choice. The first is handles, of which a good Tourer has plenty, which makes lugging the board around, even when loaded, much simpler. Although, it’s worth mentioning that most of these only really come into play if you are travelling with others and the simple handle in the centre of the board remains the best option if you are carrying your board alone. The second feature to be wary of is the supplied fin; the Red Race comes with a wonderful, sleek carbon fin but you do not want to be dragging it along a river bed or pebbly beach. By contrast, Tourers often come with rugged plastic fins more suited to a bit of abuse.

So, give me an example…

As the owner of both boards below, one marketed as a ‘Racer’ and the other labelled as a ‘Tourer’ perhaps it is worth comparing these boards directly to illustrate my point.  Firstly, I think the Race is more fun to paddle; the ride is lively and engaging and rewards effort with acceleration, encouraging a faster paddling cadence.  The Explorer is definitely more of a cruiser, slower to get up to speed, requiring more power resulting in a slightly slower cadence, but more stable to ride and once at speed does hold its momentum.  A surprising factor was it felt like the Race was the easier board to keep on track, but it is also definitely the faster board to turn when you want it to (go figure…). The Explorer has more carrying options, allowing it to be carried between two people, but the Race is lighter so easier to carry for one person. The Explorer has much greater load carrying potential, and I do like to use the rear load area to secure a flexible bucket when litter picking on the boards, but on a big day out I’ve always been able to carry all I need on the Race.

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Two great boards, but perhaps you only need one…

So what is best for you?

So, there you have it, some of the pros and cons of Racers and Tourers and some food for thought that might have changed your perspective, cut through some of the marketing spin and helped you decide what board buy. Think carefully about what you actually want to use it for, where you are as a paddler (and how you want to develop) and try different boards before buying, ideally back to back if at all possible.

Whatever you end up riding, enjoy your time on the water!

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