Paddleboard volume is a measure of how much weight a paddleboard can float. A liter of water weighs 1 kilogram. If you divide your weight by 2.2, you will get an idea of your volume and the liters of volume that your prospective paddleboard must have. Don’t forget to add some extra for your board, paddle, clothes, and any gear that you carry. That measurement is somewhat practical for knowing if a board will float your weight. However, it says very little about how a paddleboard will feel to you or how stable it will feel. And it says nothing about how a given board will paddle for you. If you have spent any time looking at different paddleboard shapes and sizes, you know that there is a lot of variety. And what you are looking for in a surf style board vs. a race board are two totally different things.
Finding the right paddleboard volume for your needs
When you are surfing, generally you are looking for lower volume relative to your weight so that you can really lay into your rails to carve things up. However, if you can’t stay on your board, or you expend so much energy keeping your board afloat then you will not be having a lot of fun. One of the most common mistakes that people new to paddle surfing make is to get a board that is too low in volume.
When you are racing, you want a narrower board, so you have less drag to slow you down. For race boards, shapers get their volume by making the boards thicker. You can have a narrower board with thicker rails and get all of the volume that you need to float you with much less drag.
As you can see from the chart below, the amount of volume you need varies by the type of board you are looking at. And this is just one example…the suggested weight limits vary from manufacturer to manufacturer based on board design. This is why paddleboard volume is a somewhat arbitrary measure of how a given board will paddle.
Paddleboard volume does not equal stability
What use is knowing a paddleboard’s volume if it isn’t going to make my ride more stable? Not a whole lot. Beyond knowing whether or not a board will empirically float your weight, paddleboard volume isn’t a very valuable number. Some critics will disagree. But volume in and of itself doesn’t translate into much of practicality. The distribution of the volume and the shape of the board are generally going to have more of an effect on the way a board paddles than merely the liters of volume in it.
The board on the left is the SIC RS 14′ x 23″. It has 271L of volume. You can see how much thicker the nose is than the standing area and back to the tail. This is a flatwater race board.
The board on the right is the SIC Bullet 14′ x 27.25″. It has 275L of volume. This board has a thinner nose and tail with the volume more evenly distributed throughout the deck. This is a touring and downwinder board.
The two boards are designed to excel in different conditions, and though the paddleboards’ volume is almost the same, the distribution of that volume is very different. The stability of the two boards will be very different and a much heavier person can feel comfortable on the Bullet than on the 23″ RS.
That thick, narrow race board is almost certainly going to be much less stable than it’s thinner, wider counterpart despite having more volume in many cases. Wider typically equates with stability- at least primary stability when you first get on a board as opposed to secondary stability when the board is interacting with the environment like wind, chop, tides, etc. Thinner boards get your center of gravity lower making a board feel more stable than thicker boards do. That doesn’t mean one is better than the other. It depends entirely on the type of paddling you want to do, your paddling ability, and the time you want to put into adjusting to something new or working toward your paddling goals.
The best way to understand what paddleboard volume really means to how a board paddles is to paddle a couple of boards with similar volume and different shapes and feel the differences for yourself. You will see that volume is just one of a myriad of factors that affects a board’s performance.