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by Shawn Payment - Johns Island, South Carolina - USA

Form Over Substance - Experience Trumps Theory

Back in 2010, I became interested in Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP), a new recreational watersport which was quickly gaining a ground as the latest and greatest "new thing". After seeing the $1,000+ price tags that commercial shapers were charging for SUPs, I said to myself: "Self, how hard could it be?" Then, an art gallery near my office set a pile of shipping containers made of nice 1/8" Luan plywood out for the trash and I saw an opportunity. In short order, I was making sawdust!

Although I had never actually paddled a stand up paddleboard, I had some general ideas about how one might be cheaply constructed. Some inspiration was derived from my previous construction of Gavin Atkin's mouseboats and in particular, the "flattie" versions that many had successfully built and paddled. A quick bit of research revealed that commercial SUPs generally came in several varieties. "Recreational" or "Rec" boards which were 12' or less and shaped more or less like big surfboards and "Race" boards which were longer and pointier like a canoe or kayak, ranging in length from 12'6 - 14'. I determined that a flat bottomed, mouse-like hull of about 12' should be easy to knock out from my salvaged materials.


I used no plans and just built it by eye/feel and a general understanding of the engineering required to float and support my weight on a think 1/8" plywood deck. I butt-blocked several sheets of my re-purposed packing crate Luan to achieve the desired length and ripped some cheap 2x4s down for chine logs/cleats/etc. Having settled on a length and beam, I simply sprang a batten to determine the shape, cut some bulkheads to suit and assembled it more or less akin to Bolger/Payson "instant boats" methodology. I also inset some longitudinal stringers between the frames to provide additional deck support. Given that it was a generally boxy, unattractive shape, I also decided to "glam it up" a bit by raking the stern and adorning it with cedar strips as well as mounting two cedar strip fins at the stern. (Kind of like putting lipstick on a pig but hey...) Furthering my"form over substance" theme, I photo-copied an Aloha shirt out of my closet, projected the image onto the hull and then painted the bow and stern decks with a hibiscus design. I painted on some grey "foot pads" which were liberally coated with epsom salts while the paint was still wet to create "home-made non-skid". A deck plate on the bow deck and a drain plug in the stern (both purchased from Duckworks!) would ensure that the hollow interior stayed dry and free of mold/rot.

The ultimate result was an SUP a little under 12' long, 32" wide and 3.5" thick. Finished weight was a little under 35 lbs which is actually comparable to commercial SUPs. Having been too cheap to buy a commercial SUP, it should be no surprise that I was too cheap to buy a commercial SUP paddle. Accordingly, a few more scrap cedar strips were assembled, shaped into an approximation of a commercial paddle blade and then epoxied to wooden dowel, scarfed to what SUP websites said was an appropriate length for a paddler of my height.

Internal frames and deck supports
Frame corners removed for easy drainage
Aloha shirt + projector = deck graphics!
Grey paint + epsom salts = Non-skid!
Cedar strips adorn the transom
Twin cedar strip fins
Raked transom featuring Duckworks drain plug!
Cedar strip SUP paddle blade.
SUP paddle T-grip handle
Project complete!

Project complete! Time to launch...

Keep in mind, that prior to starting this project, I had never even paddled an SUP before and so, admittedly, had no idea what I was doing. So I was pleasantly surprised when I launched the board into my local river and easily popped to my feet and began paddling. It worked! It was stable and easy to paddle and held my 190 lbs with ease. Sadly, it was also slow, sluggish to maneuver and not all that enjoyable to paddle. In truth, it was more fun to paddle sitting down with a double-blade kayak paddle (but not very.) I paddled it perhaps a half-dozen times before putting it up for sale at our local paddlesports festival. A couple of girls who knew even less about SUP than I promptly bought it for $250. I hope they enjoyed it!

I turned around and sank the proceeds into a commercial 12' recreational paddleboard and year later, advanced to a 12'6" race board. Over the past few years, I have paddled both of those SUPs extensively and competed in many flat water and ocean races which have given me some insight into what is really needed in an SUP and why my first attempt was such a marginal success. Knowing what I know now, I expect that I might be able to construct a fairly decent SUP as a reasonable weight/cost.

So there we have it. My "theory" about how easy it would be to build an SUP is proven! And "experience" has shown that proving a theory is not the same as "success"! A humbler and wiser paddler am I. But I do have some great idea about how I could do better next time... Stay tuned!

Fair winds!

Shawn "Lawless" Payment

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