Paddle boards are a lot of fun, but they tend to be much larger than their cousin, the surfboard.
If you live far away from a body of water, paddle boards can be difficult to transport unless you own a truck, a van, or a trailer. Inflatable paddle boards are an exception. These can be deflated, rolled up, and tossed into the back seat (check out our reviews of the best inflatable paddle boards). But solid (also called “hard”) stand-up paddle boards (SUPs), even if they’re made with lightweight materials, often require special equipment to transport.
Knowing how to strap down your paddle board without causing damage is a basic skill for any rider. Here’s everything you need to know about how to transport a paddle board. We’ll cover several different methods, so you don’t actually need to purchase a rack unless you want to.
But first, let’s talk about the proper way to carry your paddle board.
How to Carry a Paddle Board
Paddle boards tend to be bulkier and heavier than surfboards, but they aren’t always heavy. As technologies become more advanced, manufacturers are finding ways to make them even lighter. A lightweight paddle board is around 25 pounds. A heavy board clocks in at 30 pounds or more. Still, even heavier models can be carried at least short distances by the average adult.
Nearly all SUPs have a handle built into the center of the board, on the top. Here are the steps for picking up your SUP:
- Stand the board on its side, with the bottom of the board facing you.
- Reach over the top of the board and grab the handle.
- Lift and start walking.
- To prevent scratching, do not drag the board along the ground.
As you carry your SUP, remember these pointers:
- Lift with your legs, not your back. As you bend your knees to reach the handle, keep your back straight. It would be a shame to throw your back out moments before a day on the water.
- Be mindful of the wind. As you carry it, remember the board is acting like a sail. A stiff wind could throw you off balance. If the wind is particularly strong, turn it at an angle so that the nose of the board is pointing into the wind.
- Find your paddle. Some boards have straps for storing the paddle. If your board lacks this feature, maybe tuck your paddle under your arm before lifting the board.
Some resorts have carts designed to transport paddle boards. If you are parked a long distance from the body of water, consider using one of these, if available.
How to Transport a Paddle Board: 3 Different Methods
There’s more than one way to get your paddle board from point A to point B. We’ll walk you through the steps for each method. Some methods depend on the type of car, truck, or SUV you own. We will start with the safest and most reliable transport method.
Method 1: Buy a SUP Rack
Many manufacturers supply racks designed specifically for transporting paddle boards on the roof of your car. There are too many varieties to cover in this article, but this is the most convenient and secure way to transport your SUP. Most racks designed for SUPs don’t require additional straps, but they feature their own built-in belts, cords, or straps. The most difficult part is installing them on the roof of your car, but even this is usually pretty easy.
There’s only one reason why you should seriously consider investing in a SUP rack, and that is if you are transporting more than one paddle board. If you are hefting two or more paddle boards to the shore, then any other method comes with risks. A specially designed SUP rack is your safest bet.
Method 2: Cushion Your Roof Rack
This method requires your car to have built-in crossbars. These are bars, usually two or three, that run across the roof of your car. They can be used to suspend and secure luggage, including your paddle board.
If your car or SUV features crossbars, we recommend you don’t set your paddle board directly on the crossbars. This could lead to scratching as the paddle board shifts during the ride. Find some method to cushion the crossbars. In a pinch, you can wrap a beach towel around the crossbars and secure it with duct tape.
My favorite approach? Get some pool noodles. Cut them the length of the crossbars. Then, use a razor or a pair of scissors to cut along the length of one side of the pool noodle. Make sure it is cut all the way from the surface to the hollow middle.
Next, fit the pool noodle to your crossbar so that the crossbar fits into the hollow middle of the noodle. You can secure the noodle to the crossbar with a bit of duct tape or plastic zip ties. It’s a bit scrappy, but it gets the job done.
You can also purchase special foam blocks that are designed to do what the pool noodle method does. These are essentially high-quality foam blocks with a hollow middle and one slivered side that allows them to “eat” the crossbar.
Once the crossbars are sufficiently cushioned, set your paddle board on top (for tips on how to lift your paddle board safely, see below) and strap it down (we’ll get to that in a moment).
Method 3: Create Your Own Rack
Let’s say you can’t afford a specially made SUP rack, and your car doesn’t have crossbars. What now? We strongly advise you not to lay your board directly on the car’s roof. This is insecure and it will likely scratch your board (and maybe your car). You need to find a way to suspend your board above the roof of the car.
To do this, you can purchase special foam blocks. These usually need to be cam-strapped to the roof of the car. This is done by opening your car doors and looping the length of the strap across the top of the foam blocks, then through your car along the ceiling. Connect the ends and cinch the strap tight. Repeat this process for the backseat so that you have at least two blocks on the roof. Lay your board on the foam blocks and strap it down.
How to Lift Your Paddle Board onto Your Car
Paddle boards aren’t exactly heavy, but they are unwieldy. Getting them on top of your car can be a chore. With two people, it’s fairly simple. But if you’re alone, here’s the best approach.
Eventually, you want the board settled on the center of the roof of your car, top-side down and nose facing the rear of the car.
- Lean the board against the side of the car. The deck should be facing you. The nose should be pointing toward the rear of the car.
- Grab the handle at the center of the board with one hand and the top-facing edge of the board with the other.
- With legs bent in a squat, lift the board onto your knee. Release the handle and, with your now-free hand, grab the bottom edge of the board.
- Lift the board over your head. Do not lock your arms.
- Straighten your knees slowly.
- Settle the edge of the board on the edge of the rack or padding and push until the board is centered on the roof of your car or rack.
If you have a car with a high roof, you may need a second pair of hands. Once the board is centered on the roof of the car or rack, backwards and upside-down, you are ready to strap it on.
How to Strap Down a Paddle Board
To strap down your paddle board effectively, you will need at least two cam straps or ratchet straps. Obviously, the more straps you use, the more secure your board will be. But two is enough to do the trick. As you drive, air will inevitably flow under your board and attempt to lift it. If you only use one strap, the board will slip out and sail away.
If you are using a rack designed to transport a SUP, you may not need extra straps. These racks usually include a few built-in belts, straps, or levers that secure your paddle board with a few cinches.
For the rest of us, here’s how to secure a SUP to your car with cam or ratchet straps:
- Your SUP should be centered on the roof of your car so that the widest point is between the crossbars of your rack.
- Rest the end of the cam strap with the buckle on top of the board near the edge. Toss the other end across the board.
- Walk to the other side of your vehicle. Grab the end of the strap you tossed. Loop it underneath the crossbar and toss it back over your board.
- Return to the other side of the vehicle. Grab the end of the strap you just tossed, loop it under the crossbar, and then link it to the buckle.
- Tighten the strap until taught. Do not overtighten, since this could damage your board.
- If you have any slack in your strap, tie off the loose end so it doesn’t flap freely while you are driving.
- Repeat this process with the other crossbar. Afterwards, grab your board and give it a good shake to make sure it is secure.
If you do not have a roof rack with crossbars, then after completing step 2, open the doors of your vehicle and carry the loose end of the strap along the ceiling of your vehicle and link it with the buckle on the other side. Tighten until snug.
Few of us are lucky enough to live right next to large bodies of water. Securing and strapping your SUP to the roof of your car might be tedious, but it is a basic skill for any rider. And the more you paddle, the more important it is to learn how to transport a paddle board yourself. You might even learn to like it.