Post updated 8/4/16

I get a lot of folks asking how to tie their SUP to their car rack. Here’s a few tips to make the search for the tying down solution easier..

First of all, many cars already have racks. Why add more if you don’t need to? Subaru for example as other vehicles have cross bars built in – you’re good to go!  One thing I try to avoid is a rack system that takes over the top of my car preventing me from using it to carry other items whether it be a bicycle, lumber, etc.

TIP for SUPs – Place boads on your roof fins first and fins up (over windshield). This is more aerodynamic and if they slip while in transit, the fins hit your rope first. Sometimes I put the deck up so I can get into my trunk easier, without the curved (or rocker) of the boards getting in my way.  I also remove my fins when I have a few boards to stack more evenly. Stack each by matching the board rocker (curve of hull). SUPs are so big that there really are no true aeodynamic solutions.  But I do on long road trips place a minimal length of the board over my windshield – thus sticking more out the back to help gas mileage.

Where do I put my paddle?
My 86″ long Werner Nitro and Accent ProBolt are attached to the inside ceiling of my car to the ‘oh shit’ handles via bungies.  Here it stays clear of my head and from others in the car, and is more secure than on my rack. I’m not using Gear Tie’s from Nite-Ize to secure the paddle to the handle. Years of a bungi created too much pressure this removing part of the handle from the car. Two piece adjustable paddles can be stored inside the car easier. If I have a few 2 pc paddles I don’t want to break down, or a few one piece paddles, I’ll wrap a Gear Tie around both ends of the shaft to keep them together then place the bundle from the trunk area to the rear seating area, then secure the bundle to the rear seat head rest posts with another Gear Tie or bungi.

Alternatively, you can attach your paddle to your rack with attachments from Yakima, Thule and others, some of which have secure locks.  I sometimes use bungy for this when security isn’t an issue.

What type of rack should I get?
I prefer Thule as the rail attachments are stainless steel whereas Yakima has more plastic parts which I don’t necessary trust when carrying heavy loads. For a Subaru, for example, I have two cross bars and that’s all your need. (see pic of 3 boards on Subaru Forester above). This is also a nice system if you want to tie down wood or other items – you won’t be stuck with having to tie down stuff over curvy kayak racks. See the links below for tying down boards to various type of car roofs and racks.

Bob Smith loading his gear.

Soft Racks –
These are great if you don’t want a dedicated rack system attached to you car.  These are ideal for travelling (taking with you) for rental cars.  The compact HandiRack is an inflatable soft rack that can hold both SUPs, regular surfboards, and kayaks.  Soft racks are secured down by running straps through the doors and tied or attached inside.  Others may use a similar old school method of placing a blanket or towel on the car roof and securing the board down with straps through the doors.  Since SUPs are heavy, a towel may not be a enough protection to prevent dings or rather dents on your car.
Consider using a 3rd tie-down from your leash plug (up front) to your bumper to prevent sideways slippage.

Straps or Ropes?
Use cam straps or rope to tie your load down. Bungy stretches thus will put your load and the car behind you at risk. Straps can whistle in wind, so twist them before securing. I used to like rope which was low key, works fine, doesn’t whistle, and I can find it anywhere for a replacement.  But it can shift and needs to be adjusted if on highway hauls. Learn the Trucker’s Hitch for using rope, a simple knot system that I now use for lots of non related uses as well.

Mile 22 straps are 2″ wide with wide plastic buckles which hold the strap quite well. I use these straps for big loads or big boards. Seattle Sports has 1″ wide straps which have a bit of texture in the fabric which is less likely to slide in the buckle. Companies can add their name to their straps as well.

Some cam straps come with paddled buckles, a great idea for when you need to throw the buckle over the load and want to prevent ding or window repairs!

Securing Kayaks and/or Boards:
If you also have kayaks, the two padded bars work fine. I routinely add surf kayaks, sea kayaks and SUPs together on one load without any additional attachments. Add additional block foam if needed for rounded kayak hulls. Kayak Stacker bars from Thule help as well for multiple gear loads.  The SUP Carrier from Seattle Sports is another great option.

Some recommend not carrying more than 2 SUPs at once. If you’re in business like me, I have to carry several. With 78″ long bars cut to the width of my side mirrors I can carry tow stacks of 4 boards side by side, each tied down separately. In a full load of 8 boards I’ll throw an additional 1-2 straps over the entire thing and secure the buckle inside the car as a backup safety. If the straps come too close to the end of the rack bars, I’ll attach 1-2 straps across the roof of the car (between boards and rack bar) pulling in the rack traps (inwards towards roof) to prevent them from sliding off the bar. Close the loop then tighten as needed.

*See comment below about carrying 8 boards. Here’s a photo of a busy summer teaching day with 10 boards which was carried a short distance from my garage to the beach (about 4 miles). There are a few deflated inflatables in there which also prevent slippage between the hard boards. Note not all straps are secured in this pic..

10 boards on a Thule Rack & Subaru Forester

10 boards on a Thule Rack & Subaru Forester

I place pipe insulation foam or cut sections of pool noodles in between the boards which have a lot of rocks to prevent sideways shifting. This also works in loading race/tour boards on top of surf style boards, each with different rocker and foil (thickness) outlines.  Some may tie the extra strap ends around the rack towers while others throw them in car to be secured by the car door.

Check to make sure you load is 100% shift free and solid before getting on the road. At our first gas or snack stop, check your load again and adjust and tighten as needed.

What if I have a pickup truck?
Check out Thule’s truck rack options. The rack in the picture below pushes down or flattens when not in use. Some add padding to the bed door then attach the board on the roof of the truck at an angle.  The classic surfer style is to place one end of the board in the bed below the window then have the other end out over the bed door. This is ok only if it’s not sticking out too far. Pad the bed door and secure with straps to inside attachment points.

How about vans or tall car roofs?
Around here adding to vans means possible over height charges on the ferry. Try to keep your load low (helps in drive-ins too). A friend has the extension bars that pull out to place his kayak on one side, then he lifts up the other to put on the rack when paddling solo. A stable step ladder helps.  Consider roller rack systems for kayaks which allow you to easily push your board on the car from the rear with little effort then secure once on the car. Or get an inflatable SUP to avoid the height issue altogether.

Protecting Your Boards:
If you’re stacking boards, usually the traction pads will give each a little cushion. If not or the rocker profiles of each board (curve) are different so they don’t stack evenly, consider using a variety of items – towels, foam, noodles (foam for pools), etc. Surfboard bags are helpful in protecting boards for this situation and also give them protection from flying gravel and UV. Caution: Don’t put your paddle in the bag with a board. A student of mine did this end ended up with a 5″ long ding after a 14 hour drive.

How do I lock/secure my boards down?
There’s a few separate systems out there for this as well as SUP racks that can secure your board the car:
KanuLocks – These are straps with metal inside with a locking camp lock. Many friends trust these.
Docks Locks are quite good. They lock into the leash plug.
– Also, the Lasso Cable system for kayaks loops around the ends of your board. Ideal for 14′ and UL  length boards.
Inno Board Locker.

For Safety – 
If you have a factory rack (Yakima, Thule, etc) check it’s condition regularly to make sure it’s properly secured to your car.  If you have a local car rack business nearby, have them professionally check your rack. Do a Shake Test regularly – shaking each rack end to make sure it’s solid to your car.

My Way is the Best or Safest Way!
Every paddler thinks their way of tying down their gear is the ‘the way’ to do it. Approach a friend’s car with caution knowing that they may correct you or even take over the task.

More Useful SUP Rack Links:

Check out our SUP classes in Seattle – Beginning to advanced instruction including freighter and tug wave surfing, coastal surfing, rivers and racing, plus PSUPA Certification.

Salmon Bay Paddle SUP Tips

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This