How to Load and Tie Down a Paddle Board on Your Car

Tying down your paddle board is the most important part of traveling with your SUP. Whether you’re traveling with one, two, or several boards, you will need a sturdy roof rack, strong tie-down straps, and attention to detail so that your SUPs don’t go flying onto the highway. Fortunately, this isn’t a difficult task, and there are numerous ways to approach this process.

To tie your paddle board onto your car’s roof, you will need a roof rack (temporary soft roof racks are acceptable) and 2-3 tie-down straps. The fin should face the front of your vehicle. Tighten the straps across both ends of the boards, looping them through the cross beams or loops of the roof rack for added support. Finally, make sure all straps are tightened and secure by wiggling the board.

There are a few more things to consider when transporting your SUP. Tying down an iSUP is different than carrying hard boards on a roof rack. Also, you may want to consider whether you want your board in a bag along the way. This article will give you multiple step-by-step approaches for mounting and tying down your paddle boards and tips for further considerations.

Securing Your Paddle Board with Tie-Down Straps

There are numerous ways to secure your stand-up paddle board (SUP) to your vehicle to transport. The most widespread method is to tie down the board using straps. There are several different types of straps you can use for this. They can all be positioned in the same way according to the basic instructions listed here. 

Before you get started, you will need to make sure that you have a roof rack. Although it is possible to secure your paddle board without one, it is best to have the extra security the rack provides. The towers and bars of the rack system will lift the board above your vehicle, so you don’t have to risk damage to your boards. (Direct contact between the metal roof and board can result in harmful friction to your board’s material.)

Further, you will need to double-check that your tie-down straps are enveloped by rubber. This way, you can protect your vehicle and the board as you work to secure it to your car’s roof. Without the rubber protection, you risk scratching up (or puncturing) your windshield, doors, and roof, and damaging the surface of your SUP.

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Safely strap up your board using these steps:

  • Start with taking your two straps and positioning them around the crossbars. 
  • Pass the buckle underneath the bar and let it fall toward your windshield. 
  • Wrap both ends around the bar evenly, until they are equal in length, facing the front of your vehicle.
    • Note: The ends do not have to be perfectly aligned, as long as they are somewhat at the same length. It’ll be easier to reach once you start to tie down the board.
  • Take the second strap and do the same on the opposite end of the vehicle. 

Then, it is time to lift your board. Most people get a little intimidated by this step since the SUP is much larger than the average person. You can get help if you like, but it’s not necessary. 

To safely pick up your board:

  • Make sure that the board is bottom-up. (The fins should be pointing up.) 
  • Stand at the nose of your board.
  • Crouch down, bending at the knee. (Although the board is not that heavy, you should never lift with your back. To do so is dangerous and can lead to injury.)
  • Hold the board by the nose and stand up. 
  • Slowly lift your board off the ground by walking toward the end of your board with the nose pointing to the sky as you do so. 
  • Stop walking and lifting once you are face-to-face with the handle.
  • Position your hands on either rail while adjusting the top of your head to press against the handle comfortably. 
  • Once both your hands and your head feel secure in place, lift the tail off the ground.
  • Position yourself so that the board is parallel to the vehicle. 
  • (Optional) Lift the board off your head, extending your arms just enough so that the board can clear the roof of the car. You do not have to fully extend your arms if you can position the board this way without doing so. 
    • Note: This is a safety precaution to protect your neck. The weight of the board may become too much for your neck to support. Further, if anything were to bump the board during this process, your neck may bend in the direction that the board was hit, increasing the risk of injury.
  • Slide the board onto the roof rack (Make sure that the fin is facing toward the front of the vehicle). 

Once your SUP is positioned on your car’s roof, you can stop working with the board and refocus your attention on the straps:

  • Take the straps that were left at the rear of the vehicle and pull them over to the opposite side of the SUP’s nose and down against the rocker. Make sure not to cross them over each other. 
  • Realign the ends of the strap so that the buckle is now resting on the very edge of the rocker.

Depending on the height of your car, you may need a bit of help at this point. Since you’ll now be working from the top of the board, a step stool would make the process a bit easier. If you do not have access to a step stool, you can use the floor of your vehicle instead. Simply open your car door and stand on the floor in front of the seat, leaning out of the cabin to reach your board.

Once you can see the roof and the top of your board, proceed in tying down your SUP. (If you notice that the strap is slightly twisted, do not worry about it. You may be tempted to straighten them out (and you are welcome to do so!) However, know that this does not make a significant difference in the strength of the tie-down.

Finish mounting your paddle board by following these steps:

  • Place the buckle on top of the board.
  • Take the end of the strap that does not have the buckle and wrap it underneath the crossbar. 
  • Thread the free end through the buckle, holding down the lever while you do so. 
  • Pull the entire free end of the strap through the buckle without tightening it too much against the board. 
  • Repeat this step with the strap located at the other end of the vehicle. 
    • Keep in mind the straps should also be on opposite sides of the car. For instance, if the rear straps were on the left side of the vehicle, you’ll want the front one to be on the right. This will provide the maximum security for your SUP as you drive.
  • Now that both straps are in place, tighten the first one by pulling the free end of the strap down toward the ground, without holding down the lever. The closed lever will keep the strap in place once you have tightened it to your desired level.
  • Repeat this step for the straps at the rear of your vehicle. 
  • (Optional) You can wrap the remaining material around the rack system’s bar. 
    • Wrap the strap over-and-under about two times. 
    • Wrap the strap once more, but only half-way, leaving a loop to thread the remaining material through. This will create a tension knot that you can use to add a bit of extra security to your board’s transport. 
  • Give your board a quick shake to ensure that you’ve done your job properly and reliably tied it down to the roof. If it does not budge when you attempt to wiggle it from side-to-side, you can be sure that it’ll stay put throughout your entire drive.

This is one of the most straightforward ways to lift tie paddle board onto your car for transport. Still, you may not always be traveling with just one SUP. What if you need to secure two? 

How to Tie Multiple Paddle Boards to Your Car

Tying multiple paddle boards to the roof of your car is almost the same as securing one. However, there are a few more details to be aware of, as now you face the increased risk of damaging your boards if this is done incorrectly. 

There are a few primary alterations you will need to make to the template guide outlined above. (These steps assume that you are transporting two boards.):

  • Instead of two straps, you’ll need to get three.
  • The straps will be secured to the roof of your car, but one will go through the cabin. (Any tie-down strap will work for this – ratchet, cam, whatever you want to use.) 

One of the most crucial aspects of traveling with multiple boards is ensuring that they are stacked properly on top of your vehicle. You may be tempted at first to place one fin-side down and the other fin-side up to minimize damage to the boards. Although this may eliminate the risk of damage to either board, it might still be a threat to your car, mainly by scratching up the roof or the top of the windshield.

You might not even be able to accomplish a stack like this, as the fin may be too long for the boards to lay flat against the rack system. Using steps 4-14 from the previous section, place the first board onto your roof rack (if one of the boards is longer than the other, it should be the first one up).

Carefully stack the second board by following these steps (Source: wikiHow):

  • Lift your second board so that it is parallel with your vehicle, just like the first one. 
  • Instead of centering it on the rack like the first one, you will need to place it slightly closer to the vehicle’s rear. This will ensure that the fins are offset from one another, allowing both boards to lay flat.

You probably noticed that you did not start by looping the straps through the rack system first when tying down two boards. It is not until now that you’ll need to start handling the straps, which will be positioned much differently than they would be for a single board:

  • Thread the free end of the first strap underneath the crossbar and pull it so that both ends are aligned with each other. 
  • Toss the free end of the strap to the other side of the car and walk the end with the buckle to the same side. 
    • Do not toss the buckle, especially if it does not have a rubber coating. Doing so will most likely damage your car or board. Make sure that both halves are draped over the top of the board – neither should be underneath. 
  • Place the buckle on top of the board on the edge of the rocker, as described in the steps above. Follow steps 19-20 from the previous section to begin tightening the strap. You mustn’t tighten it too much quite yet. Doing so will result in too much unnecessary, uneven pressure on the board. Wait until you have both ends ready to tighten before you tie it down too snugly. 

Now, you are ready to use the third strap, which is there for added safety. Your boards should already be secure with the two straps you have attached already. However, a third one will add another much-needed layer of safety.

Add a third strap for safety:

  • Open both rear doors. If you have an SUV with a sliding door, then open those. As long as your strap can loop through the middle section of your vehicle, either will do.
  • Toss the end of the strap without the buckle to the other side of your car, over the boards.
  • Crawl into the car with the buckle in hand, and tighten the strap inside the car.
  • Secure the free end of the buckle as you see fit. Your priority here is to ensure that no one can accidentally pull on the strap and that it stays nice and taut inside the vehicle. 
  • Close the doors. (Even if the buckle loosens, the closed doors will keep the safety strap in place. This is why it is critical that you keep the buckled section inside – so that the boards won’t go flying if it were to come undone.)

Other Ways of Lifting Your Board onto Your Car

Not everyone will be able to lift their boards in the manner described in these methods. That’s just fine! There are many ways you can get your board where it needs to be. 

Here are two alternatives to lifting your SUP onto the roof of your car (Source: REI):

For Relatively Short CarsFor Taller Cars
1. Lean the bottom of the SUP against the vehicle. The fin should be pointed toward the front of the car.1. Lean the board’s tail against the rear of the vehicle. The fins should be up top and facing you.
2. Take hold of the handle and the uppermost rail (not the rail that’s sitting on the ground). 2. Slowly lift the board by the rails and gradually slide it onto the roof rack until you reach the nose.
3. Pull the SUP up onto your knee.3. Finish sliding it onto the rack until it is in its proper position.
4. Let go of the handle and grab the other rail. 
5. Lift the SUP over your head. 
6. Slide the SUP onto the roof rack. 

How to Secure Your SUP without a Roof Rack

If you need to transport your SUP and you do not have a roof rack, don’t worry – you are not out of options. The only drawback is that you will likely be unable to move your board any further than outside your town. (The strength of this tie-down method is not as reliable as it would be with a roof rack. Because of this disadvantage, your board is far more likely to go flying off the roof when driving at high speeds.)

The most important thing you will need is a soft rack system. This alternative is much more easily accessed by most vehicle owners than standard roof rack systems with crossbars and towers. Also, they’re relatively cheap. The soft rack will offer a bit more protection to your boards while you’re traveling, due primarily to the protective padding that will sit between the board and the roof.

To install your soft rack, follow the steps below:

  • Place the pads 2-3 feet apart on your car’s roof. (You may need to double-check the length of your board to ensure that this is appropriate spacing). The buckles should be facing upward, and the straps will be draped over the doors on either side of the vehicle.
  • Thread the strap through the first buckle of the rear pad (you can begin on either the right or left side).
  • Toss or walk the strap through the car to the opposite side. 
  • Connect the other end of the strap to the opposite end of the pad, threading it through the buckle.
  • Tighten the strap by holding down the lever on the buckle until you feel the strap become taut. Let go of the lever and pull on the strap once or twice more to secure it in place. 
  • Thread the free end of the strap through the side loops of the roof pad, if applicable. Leave them hanging, as you will use them in the next phase of mounting your board.
  • Repeat with the second pad.
  • Tug them gently to ensure that they are snug against the roof.

From here, you will place your board on top of your car in the same way you would if there were a roof rack. However, your method of tying down your board will be much different:

  • Take the free end of the strap you left hanging against the car door. Toss it over the top of your board, being careful not to damage it. 
  • Thread the strap through the side loop on the opposite side of the pad, then through the buckle. Tighten and secure it.
  • Repeat with the free strap on the other pad.
You can buy this full kit on Amazon

To reduce drag and further secure your setup, close any free ends of the straps in your car door. This will help hold the boards down and provide a bit more strength against the wind, keeping your boards in place. Be aware that if you transport your boards this way in rainy weather, the small gap created by the tie-down strap in the door may let a bit of moisture in.

Transporting Your Standup Paddle Board

A safe trip with your paddle board does not just stop at securing it on the roof. There are a few more things to consider when planning out the logistics of getting your board up and on the road with you. For instance, though not everyone would consider it, traveling with an inflatable SUP (iSUP) on your roof rack might not be the best idea.

Inflatable SUPs are lighter and more malleable than standard boards, and thus, have a higher chance of being blown off the roof of your vehicle. The iSUP could gradually deflate as you travel due to being tied down too tightly, which could ultimately cause it to loosen and slip through the tie-down straps’ grip. Even if the board does not deflate, they could become damaged as a result of accidental punctures.

With a high-quality board, however, these risks should not be too much of a concern. Fortunately, many iSUPs are rigid enough to withstand such hazards. You have a good chance of dodging these issues with most of the inflatable boards that are currently on the market. Still, the only benefit you’ll get from storing an iSUP on your roof is saving a few extra minutes of prep time. There is hardly a need to avoid deflating it and folding it up in your bag. (Source: Paddling Magazine)

Should You Transport Your Board in a Bag?

One additional detail that paddle boarders wrestle with when transporting their SUPs is whether they should bag their boards. 

This choice depends on several aspects of your trip:

  • What type of weather do you expect?
  • How long will you be driving?
  • How long is your board?

Surprisingly, the length of the board is a crucial element that dictates the price of the bag you’ll be using for transportation. I recommend the Abahub line of protective storage bags, available in different sizes on Amazon. Longer boards can push the price to well over $300, so be sure to weigh the price tag against the specific benefits you’re looking for. One unique risk that comes with bagging your SUP during travel is damaging your board due to heat exposure.

Without a bag, your board can be cooled down by the constant breeze. Inside a bag, it will only bake in the hot sun. If you happen to be traveling on a rainy day instead, you’re not quite out of the woods. You’ll need to keep a zipper cracked open to let out any water that accumulates in there with your board. Still, you’ll get the advantage of shielding your SUP from any stray rocks and debris on the road, despite these potential hazards.

In Conclusion

Transporting your SUP is a relatively straightforward process that can be tailored to anyone’s needs. Whether you are traveling on a rainy morning or a sunny afternoon, using either a standard or soft roof rack system with reliable tie-down straps can save you the trouble and heartache of losing your precious board. There are numerous ways to get your SUP on top of your car, no matter your car’s height.

Even if you are working alone, you can get your board on the roof by either hoisting your board over your head from the ground, pulling it up onto your knee and onto the roof, or sliding it on top of the car from the rear. The board can be secured with 2-3 tie-down straps, depending on how many you’re moving at once. One board will only require two, whereas two boards will need three straps for added safety.

Once you’ve got those details ironed out, you’re almost ready to hit the road. You’ve just got to decide whether you’ll need to store your SUP in a bag along the way. It’s not entirely necessary, although it can protect your board from stray debris on the highway. Come back and check out this guide when you’re ready to get on the road so that you can be sure that your boards are safe and secure as you travel.

Sources:

https://www.wikihow.com/Tie-Down-Two-Paddle-Boards

https://www.rei.com/learn/expert-advice/paddle-board-how-to-transport.html


Tim Conner, M.D.

Tim Conner, M.D. started boating in 1974. He has been involved in recreational boating continuously since then. Dr. Conner has been active in boating and watersports safety education for decades. He rode his first jet ski in 1997, and rejoined the personal watercraft arena in 2012 with a Sea-Doo GTX 155, followed by 2 supercharged SeaDoos. Scuba certification came in 1988, and he and the family have traveled the world snorkeling and scuba diving for decades. The family has recently taken up paddle boarding. Click the photo for a lot more.

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