SUP Rocker: What it is and Why it Matters
What is Rocker?
When selecting a paddle board, it is helpful to go beyond just the dimensions and outline shape of a board and consider an often disregarded aspect of SUP design known as rocker. The term “rocker” refers to the upward curvature at the ends of the board. The main types of rocker are called nose rocker and tail rocker, which is the upward lift at the front (nose) and back (tail) of the board.
It is important not to confuse rocker with bowing which can occur to poor rigidity or sub-par construction. Rocker is a deliberate characteristic given to board design for specific performance enhancements and is a desired element in a high-performance SUP board. An optimized rocker profile works with the other physical factors of a boards primary design such as shape, length, width and thickness adding a unique feel to the board. The placement, angle, and degree of rocker will vary depending on what the board shaper/designer is trying to achieve.
Nose rocker is what prevents the front of the board from going underwater when encountering waves, chop, boat wake, or any other kinds of ripples on the water. All SUP boards have some nose rocker. What varies between boards is the degree and location of the upward curvature.
Moderate nose rocker is found on boards designed for all-around use including flat water, ocean paddling, and various calm water activities that can be done on a SUP board such as yoga and fishing. A moderate rocker profile can also be used in whitewater and for surfing and is the most versatile for an all-around board shape.
High Nose Rocker is a feature of boards designed for particular conditions where additional vertical clearance is needed at the nose. This generally includes whitewater river running and river surfing, where it is important to channel moving water under the board without submerging the nose of the board in these specific conditions. The downside to a high nose rocker is that it isn't as smooth to paddle on flat water due to increased air resistance and less surface contact which is why it is generally reserved for whitewater-specific boards.
Low Nose Rocker is typically found on boards designed for racing or long-distance touring. This is because the glide of a board increases with the flat length of the board that is in contact with the water. An extreme case of low nose rocker would be zero rocker, a completely flat board profile.
A board with no nose rocker would typically have a displacement hull, which is designed to stay submerged and cut through the water instead of planing over the top of the water. This design feature can increase the glide of the board on flat water but results in less stability.
A smaller percentage of boards have rocker at the tail, which is usually a very slight upturn that starts less than a foot from the end of the board. A little bit of tail rocker can make a board turn with less resistance in certain conditions. The downside to tail rocker is that it can make a board a little slower, which is why most touring and all-around boards are made with straight tails and no tail rocker.
Banana Rocker refers to a continuous board curvature that runs all the way from the nose to the tail of the board. This is found mainly on specialized whitewater SUP boards made for downstream river running or river surfing, situations where the board sometimes needs to conform to the contour of a wave to prevent the nose or tail from going under and allows the rider to shift rocker height with their positioning.
Many paddlers purchase and use their boards without giving rocker any thought, which is fine for most leisure paddling uses. But if you’re looking for a SUP board for a specialized purpose, it’s helpful to examine the side view of the board and consider how the rocker profile will contribute to the performance of the board for your particular use.