Here are the SUP boards you’ll see at 2016 Pacific Paddle Games

Inlets, channels, lakes, bays and the wide-open ocean … However finely you slice it, one thing is for certain: There have never been so many standup paddlers out on the water.

An aerial shot from the 2015 Pacific Paddle Games shows the variety of boards being raced. Photo: Mike Yoshida

An aerial shot from the 2015 Pacific Paddle Games shows the variety of boards being raced. Photo: Courtesy of Mike Yoshida

While some might frown upon the newcomers, the popularity of the sport is not without its perks: Sept. 30 marks the start of the second annual Pacific Paddle Games, presented by SUP Magazine and Salt Life.

The three-day event takes place in beautiful Doheny State Beach in Dana Point, California, and gives even casual standup paddleboard enthusiasts the chance to sign up for a chance to compete against the top pro paddlers in the world.

With $60,000 up for grabs — the largest purse prize in paddle sports history — competitors of all ages will paddle out in technical and distance races (there are pro and open divisions).

There’s also a gear demo zone right on the beach, and instruction clinics to help paddlers improve their technique while testing out new products.

Which brings up another perk of all these people joining the sport: The gear has undoubtedly improved.

Boards are lighter, faster and more stable than ever.

Wider boards offer more stability but are slower across the water. Photo: Aaron Black-Schmidt

Wider boards offer more stability but are slower across the water. Photo: Courtesy of Aaron Black-Schmidt

The high-performance SUP boards that will be used in the Pacific Paddle Games are a combination of displacement-style noses (meaning the front of the board is slightly pointed to cut through the waves and chop) and planing hulls (flat bottoms with concavities to move the water efficiently back across the board while you’re riding a wave).

This is similar to (but slightly different than) pure flat-water boards, which tend to offer greater speed but just aren’t as agile in waves.

While it’s easy to go quickly over flat water, open ocean and downwind conditions — like those that the PPG competitors may have to deal with — pose variables that you just can’t control.

Think of it like this: you can ride a mountain bike on a paved road, and you can ride a road bike on rough terrain, but one will always perform better than the other.

Guests trying out SUP boards at the Pacific Paddle Games, 2015. Photo: Aaron Black-Schmidt

Guests trying out SUP boards at the Pacific Paddle Games, 2015. Photo: Courtesy of Aaron Black-Schmidt

“The boards the top competitors at the PPG will be using are narrow, approximately 24-inches wide and tippy, but because these folks are the best of the best they can balance on these things,” explains SUP Magazine Editor-in-Chief Will Taylor.

“More Average-Joe paddlers will probably be on boards with similar features, but [their boards] will be wider. If anybody is a serious racer, their board will be made of carbon,” Taylor continues.

On top of these two style boards, there’s an entire market with wider, stronger, heavier, lighter and more souped-up boards (from touring boards with straps to tie down your gear to a surfboard-shaped SUP boards wide enough to do yoga on).

There you have it. If you’re still confused, thankfully you can try out almost every version of the SUP board for yourself in the demo zone Sept. 30-Oct. 3 at Doheny State Beach.

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