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How to choose your first SUP Race board? Tanja Ecker shares her top tips

It’s most likely the million dollar question in our sport: “How to choose my first SUP racing board”, especially when it’s a one-time investment and it has to be done right from the get-go. To tackle the subject, TotalSUP caught up with Tanja Ecker, 11x German SUP Champion, Coach and Founder, who has recently taken over the European distribution of the Californian brands 404 and Hippostick, developed by the legend, Danny Ching.

Hi Tanja, we’ve been receiving heaps of questions regarding SUP race boards. Especially choosing the very first (and right one) to kick off the SUP racing adventure. What did you learn about SUP racing boards when you first started competing?

When I first started the narrowest race boards on the market where 23-24. Back then I was paddling on the 24” wide 404 V3 and later on the 24” 404 Arrow. In the last couple of years, the boards got narrower and narrower. There is not “the one board fits all” choice. It always depends on the shape, volume, how stable the board is and more.

To everyone who wants to start racing I would suggest, choosing a board that is stable enough for you to have a nice technique and that you can put all your power in your paddling, not only focusing on balance. A small and light person can go for a narrower board. I found out that for me the 22 width is a good choice for most conditions, because I’m quite tall and have been struggling with my knee stability. I’m also a more powerful paddler than with a high frequency, so I also need a board that has a bit more volume in the front. If conditions get rough I even choose a wider board to be more stable.

Did you have to go through many different board choices before you found “the one”?

I started with an inflatable race board and switched to the 404 V3 in 2017. From then on, I stuck with the 404 boards and the different designs that were developed. My first two boards were 24” wide, then I had the 22” 404 M4 and 22” 404 LTD and now I normally use the 22” 404 Jump and I love it. Every time when I’m on another board, because somebody tests mine, I want to jump back on my Jump!

Photo by Edwin Westra | SUP11 City Tour

Based on your SUP coaching experience, what are the key barriers for aspiring paddlers to start competing?

I think the whole effort. Not only it’s quite expensive to go to the different places, but it is also time consuming, the training and the travel. I’ve noticed that the number one problem is, that people are afraid, that their level is too low and they don’t want to be the last. I think, you just have to start somewhere and go for it!

Can your students demo the 404 quiver with you?

Yes, for sure. I have test boards and paddles to rent out and to try.

Photo by Marloes Kaal

The gear – flat water or all-water – A lot of paddlers are settling for the all-water option as the conditions during most races are never perfectly flat. What is your opinion?

I can agree with you! Even a flat water race is never flat at the start. It always depends what you want to do most of the time. If you only train and paddle on flat water, I would opt for a flat water board and get used to some chop. Because an all-water board can get heavy to paddle on flat water overtime. Depends on the board and shape of course.

The width – A lot of paddlers choose to invest in a super narrow board from the start which very often proves challenging and they quickly switch to something wider. What’s the safest approach?

Like I said before, I would try to test as much as possible. Different boards and shapes, but also different widths. It is safer to go wider first and switch to a narrower board once you’ve advanced. Of course, that can be cost-intensive. It can also help to get a feeling how good your balance is and see from there if you can handle a narrow board. If you are struggling all the time with balance, you can’t focus on paddling, technique and so on, you won’t really improve your stroke and strength. That’s why it’s important to choose a board you are comfortable with.

The construction:

a) Dugout or flat deck? Depends! Both have their pro and cons. With a flat deck, most of the boards must first be brought up to speed and then you have to keep it there. A dugout normally has better glide and is easier to keep on speed. Once you fall into the water or at the beach start a dugout can be tricky, but you can also get used to it. With the lower stance (on or below the water level) a dugout offers more first stability, whereas a flat deck can feel a bit tippy.

b) Carbon or sturdier choice (fibreglass etc.)?
I would go for carbon because it’s easier to fix myself (ha ha) but difficult question I think carbon is the most common construction at the moment.

Is there even such thing as a perfect board?

I think you can find your perfect board, but of course, again, it depends (by the way, that’s coaches’ favourite answer ;). You have to decide for yourself what you would like to have, where you paddle most of the time, what you need and see from there if you can find a board that fits all these criteria. Tapping into reviews and other paddlers’ experience may help as well as gaining more information about race board brands. So, my suggestion is: test, test, test and find a board that fits you!

What’s your favourite 404 board set up and why?

At the moment my favourite set up is the 404 Jump 14×22 and the Hippostick Triple G. But there are new Hippostick Paddles (Verve and Orca) coming which I’m really curious to see. I love the Jump because it’s super versatile and works well from flat to ocean with smaller waves. It has such a nice glide and is easy to keep on speed, because it’s so light! Also, the construction and the distribution of the volume fits for my paddle style. The Hippostick Triple G I like, because it is a powerful, but forgiving blade which is good for every long- or even ultradistance paddling.

Your golden tips for choosing the first SUP racing board?

  • Make a “wish list” how the board should be
  • Research different models, brands, widths
  • Test different types
  • Invest in a high-quality board that lasts long

Thank you Tanja for your time and insights, and see you soon on the racing circuit!

To find out more about the 404 brand, visit www.404-sup.de . Follow the brand on Instagram and Facebook

To find out more about Hippostick, visit Follow the brand on Instagram and Facebook

Follow Tanja Ecker on Instagram and Facebook and visit her website tanjaoutdoors.de

*Images courtesy of Tanja Ecker

About the Author

Anna Nadolna

Anna is the Founder of SUPer Whale, a Cambridge(UK!)-based emerging watersports brand and a stand-up paddleboarding community. She is a certified SUP Flat Water Instructor accredited by International Surfing Association (ISA). Anna is also a digital marketing, storytelling aficionado and a growth hacking enthusiast.

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