Every week I get several inquiries from folks struggling to figure out how to tie down their SUP on their car.  My main suggestion is to keep things as simple as possible. Personally, I’m not a fan of SUP specific racks as they take over your rack not allowing you to tie anything else down and can be difficult to use. Sometimes I carry both kayaks and SUPs at once so I need flexibility for both type of crafts.

2 Cross Bars
Often I carry one board to the beach, other times I carry 8 for my classes. In either case, I have 2 cross bars with pads and tie boards down with straps for my Subaru Forester. A local surf shop whom I partner with supplied me with pads for the bars but I previously used insulation pipe foam which worked fine.  I use Yakima round bars, but Thule or other brands are certainly fine as well.

Carrying Big Loads
A friend recommend getting a trailer for my big loads of 8 boards for classes. But I’m not a fan of backing those up, finding huge parking spaces or storing it at home.  I found out that with 70″ wide bars, I could do two stacks of 4 boards (no wider than side mirrors). Luckily I mostly do smaller classes and don’t need to carry more than 8 boards.  If I need to do 2-4 boards on one side and 2 kayaks or race/tour boards on the other, I attach my Yakima Kayak Stacker which allows me to secure the boards and kayaks together without any issues. The Stackers fold flat on the car roof when not in use.

Towel / Foam Pad / Soft Rack Route
Several friends who only carry 1-2 SUPs go the Hawaiian surfer route and just put a towel, inflatable sleeping pad or soft foam pad on the roof then secure the boards by extending the straps through the doors.  Soft Racks are also available via surf shops.  This is a great method of if you’re on a budget or have a car roof which makes a standard car rack difficult to connect to.  If done right, you can use this method on highways.  Consider adding a line to from the tail to the bumper to prevent sideways shifting (tail first orientation).

How Many Straps?  I use two per each stack at both ends. Some know how to use one strap for all!

How Much to Tighten?  I hand tighten mine and test the boards by trying to shift or push them from the side and ends.

Which Board Orientation on Car?
Fin or Nose First? Many put fins first for the idea of having the fins catch the rope in case of slippage. For my Subaru, if i need to get into the back of the car, fins up means the board rocker curves down thus making it difficult to access my hatchback.

Wind Resistence – I find with SUPs, being so big there’s no easy answer for efficiency in wind so I put them nose first and see the wind as water flowing past the nose. On long drives I’ll push the nose of a surf style board nearly back to the top of the windshield to be more wind resistent.

Long Boards – I attach an old red strap to the end of the board which extends over the end of the car.  Sometimes a fin does the trick here as well giving the car behind something to see.

Stacking Boards – Sometimes the traction pad works well in protecting boards from each other. But if you have different shapes of boards stacked or with varying rocker shapes, they may scrape against each other or not have enough contact to make a solid hold. Stuff foam noodles, insulation pipe foam, foam camping pad, a PFD, or a towel in between the gaps prior to cinching down your straps.

Tips for Safety
– Do a shake test with your rack to prior to attaching any boards. Vigoriously shake the rack back and fourth, and up and down.

Straps vs Ropes?  I used to use ropes. But when I began carring large loads for classes, I found the loads slipped occasionally or were difficult to tie down even with my trusty trucker’s hitch. I use straps now but still tie off the extra strap end over the buckle as I’ve seen buckles slip and fail. I like straps with a bit of texture so the buckle grips better. Mile22 Straps are 2′ wide and have plastic buckles which don’t ding your board when you throw it over. For metal buckle straps I also use Riverside Straps.  In business?  Some companies can put your business name on your straps such as Salamander Paddle Gear.

– Twist your straps to avoid the humming sound on the highway.

– Check your tie-downs after the first ten or so miles on the road for any loosening or shifting.

– Try to keep your straps as vertical as possible when attached to the rack bar. Angled straps may shift on the road.

– Consider adding another strap under a double stack load wrapping around each strap just above the bar to further tighten and secure the loops onto the rack bar.  Tighten below the stack or above the car roof.

– Ratchet Straps. These are fine for SUP tie-downs providing you don’t over tighten it thus damaging your board.

– Hooks. These can work in some situations but may unhook on a bumpy road. Probably best on a truck bed or under car carriage attachment loop.

– Padding Under Straps – Straps can damage your rails if tightened too much. Place a flat piece of foam or similar under each strap bend over the rails.  With the double stack as below, I also had foam strips in between each stack to protect the rails from rubbing against each other.

The following set up is 8 boards on a 2 cross bars with pads. Each stack has two straps plus one strap under each to further tighten the stacks. The class required driving 180 miles RT.

More Useful Rack Links Below..


Any questions give me a holler: salmonbaypaddle@gmail.com / 206.465.7167
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Salmon Bay Paddle SUP Tips

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