How to Put a Paddle Board on Your Car

Unless you’re lucky enough to have a house or storage at the edge of the water, you’ll have to transport your board when you want to go paddling. 

Hard paddle boards are big pieces of gear to move about, or you might want to move an inflatable board while it’s inflated, so you don’t have to pump it up at your destination. To protect your investment – and drive safely – you need to know how to put a paddle board on your car the right way. 

This article will take you through the many different ways to load your board onto your car. We will show you how to secure your stand up paddle board and protect it, so you arrive without any damage. 

Five Ways to Transport your Paddle Board

In general, we’re going to be talking about moving hard boards.  Most people will transport inflatable paddle boards deflated packed in their board bags. 

However, if you want to move your inflatable board filled with air, you can follow this information. Use it together with the inflatable-specific tips shared below.

1. Use a Soft Roof Rack on Your Car

Soft racks are probably the best paddle board transport solution if you only need to carry your SUP occasionally. Soft racks are relatively cheap, and so long as you don’t push your luck, they are reliable.

Generally, you should use a soft rack for local journeys only. If you need to travel with your stand up paddle board on the highway or drive longer than about 15 minutes, a hard roof rack is a better choice. The rigid structure means that it’s possible to tie your board down more securely.

Soft roof racks have foam bars that lay across your car roof for the board to sit on instead of the sturdier fixed crossbars on a hard frame. The foam bars are held in place by straps that wrap around the car’s roof through the cabin via the door openings. You then load your paddle board on top of the bars and use straps and ropes to secure it.

Soft rack systems don’t work well on two-door cars as you usually can’t spread the bars wide enough apart. You also can’t use them on vehicles with panoramic glass sunroofs.

Additionally, because the straps run inside your car, they can get in the way of you and your passenger’s heads.

How to Use a Soft Rack

  1. Put the two rack pads on your roof of your car
  2. Position them as far apart as possible for maximum stability
  3. Secure the pad straps through the vehicle cabin
  4. Tighten the straps but check you don’t damage the car door rubbers
  5. Load your SUP onto the bars with the deck pad down and the tail at the front of your car
  6. Put locking cam straps over your board above the soft rack pads. 
  7. Run the straps through the door openings and tighten them enough to compress the rack foam pads a little
  8. Check how secure your board is by pulling at it and making sure it doesn’t move
  9. Run nose and tail lines through your paddle boards D-rings and tie them around your car’s bumpers or tow hook for extra security. Always us water-resistant rope
  10. Drive slowly and carefully
  11. Stop after a few minutes and check that the board has stayed in place

It’s possible to use a soft rack to carry two paddle boards, although we wouldn’t recommend you use them for any more than that.

Always load the largest board at the bottom and use basic foam blocks to pad between them. Load the boards one on top of the other and carefully strap them down.

2. Make Your Own Soft Roof Rack

If you’re short on money and only need to carry one board a short distance, it’s possible to make your own paddle board transport soft rack system.

You can cut thick foam swimming pool noodles to just shorter than the width of your car to make inexpensive rack pads. Run cam straps through the pool noodles and tighten them to secure the foam and stop it from rolling. As we detailed above, you can then strap and tie your paddle board down.

Alternatively, you could lay thick foam blocks onto your roof, load your board on top and then secure it with multiple straps. With this method, the blocks themselves are not secured, so you should only use them with rigid paddle boards that you can strap down tightly.

If you use either of these methods, take your time to make sure the straps are tight and the board can’t move. Drive slowly and carefully and frequently stop to make sure everything is secure. You should only use DIY methods for short journeys at low speeds.

3. Fit a Hard Roof Rack to Your Vehicle

If you want to carry your stand up paddle board on your car a lot or need to make long journeys, then a hard roof rack system is the best option.

Hard roof racks are the most secure method to transport your paddle board. So long as you take the time to strap your board correctly, you don’t need to worry about it coming loose at highway speeds.

Rigid roof rack crossbars attach to the factory-installed rails that run front to back on your car. The bars run across the roof of your vehicle to provide a really secure platform.

As these bars are solid metal, you’ll want to fit plenty of padding to protect your board. Soft covers are available that fit around the bars and are secured easily with velcro. Alternatively, in addition to using a board bag, you could use foam pads, pood noodles, or even towels to stop your SUP from getting damaged.

Once you’ve fitted roof rails to your car, you can strap your board to them directly. To make things especially easy, you could attach a specialized SUP carrier. These come with everything you need to carry your paddle board safely.

If you’re strapping directly to the bars, load your paddle board deck down with the fin at the front of your car. Use at least two cam straps (or one long one if that’s all you have) to secure your paddle board to the front and back crossbars. Hold onto the cam buckle end and loop the strap underneath the front crossbar on one side. Throw the loose strap across the board and go to the other side of your car. 

Loop the strap underneath under the remaining side of the crossbar. Throw the strap back to the first side, walk back around, tighten the strap and fasten the cam. Repeat to strap the SUP board to the rear crossbar.

Once secure, give the board a good shake to ensure it won’t move. Drive off slowly and stop after five minutes to check nothing has moved.

If your car doesn’t have rails to accommodate a roof rack, rack bars that use suction cup anchors to provide a secure attachment are available. These are more expensive than regular roof rack bars. However, they are flexible, and you can readily fit them to a variety of different vehicles.

4. Use a Pickup Trucks Load Bed

You can put your stand up paddle board inside the load bed if you have a pickup truck. The easiest option is to put your SUP in the back with the tailgate down and strap it to the flat truck bed.

Alternatively, you can rest the SUP partially on the closed tailgate if you are carrying other gear in your pickup bed. Use a board bag and plenty of padding to protect your board in either case. If your SUP will stick out further than the length of the truck, put a red flag on the end so that other drivers can see the extended load.

Make sure that you strap the paddle board down securely, so it doesn’t slide about in the pickup bed while you’re driving.

5. Use a Trailer

A trailer is the best option if you frequently need to carry multiple paddle boards.

You can build or buy SUP carriers to fit boat trailers that make it really easy to transport several boards across long distances.

How To Load Your SUP Onto Your Vehicle

When you’re getting ready to load your paddle board, take care to lift it correctly and look after yourself, your board, and your vehicle.

General Loading Tips 

  • Always bend your knees and keep your back straight when lifting
  • Be aware of the length of the board and take care when moving it around your car
  • Be careful if there is wind, as this can easily cause you to lose control of the board
  • Don’t let your board slide unprotected on the ground
  • If possible, load the board with two people to make it easier and safer
  • Remember your paddle and other gear – Don’t leave anything behind
  • If loading multiple boards, put the longest at the bottom and pad in between
  • Use a board bag to protect your SUP from UV damage as well as physical knocks

You can use different methods for loading your board on your own, depending on the height of your vehicle. If you have two people, you just need to take an end each and lift the board face down onto the roof rack with the fin forward at the front of the car.

Tips for Shorter Cars

One way to load a stand up paddle board onto a shorter car is to lift it above your head and onto your rack. 

Lean the board up against your car lengthways on the ground with the deck facing you and the board’s tail set towards the front of the vehicle.

Hold the board with one hand on the center handle and the other on the upper rail. Lift the SUP onto your knee. Carefully lean against the car if needed. Swap your hand from the handle to the lower edge of the board. Carefully lift the SUP over your head and slide it, deck downward, onto the roof rack.

If you have a suitably light board and are confident of the strength of your car doors, you can use them to pivot your paddle board up onto your roof.

Put your board deck down next to your car with the front door open. Lift the tail of the SUP onto the top of the open door. Carefully lift the nose onto the roof rack, ensuring that the board doesn’t slide on the door. 

Return to the tail and lift that end off the door onto the rack.

Tips for a Tall Vehicle

If you need to get your SUP onto a taller vehicle like a minivan or SUV, you can lift it onto the back of the car first and slide it forward lengthways.

Lean your board with the deck facing down against the back of the top of your vehicle. The fin end of your SUP should be at the top.

Lift the board from the floor and slide it up and forward until it’s in place on your rack.

Tying Down Your Paddle Boards Securely and Safely

  1. Before you tie your SUP down, check that you’ve positioned it parallel with the length of the vehicle. The broadest part of the board should be evenly located over the crossbars.
  1. Tighten the cam straps so they are snug and compress the protective foam slightly. However, don’t over tighten them. Too much tension can deform your board.
  1. Tie the free end of a slack strap securely around the rack, so it doesn’t flap when you’re driving.
  1. Don’t use ratchet straps as it’s very easy to overtighten these and damage your board. Cam strap systems allow for more controlled tightening.
  1. Tie the nose and tail lines to a secure attachment point on the vehicle for extra security and to help prevent sideways movement.
  1. Use a step ladder to ensure that you’ve tightened the straps properly and the board can’t move.
  1. Put a twist in straps that run over the top of your board to reduce vibration and noise when you’re driving.
  1. Use locking tie down straps or a padlocked cable if you’ll be leaving your vehicle unattended.
  1. Drive cautiously and stop and check that your board is still secure frequently.

Important Advice for Transporting Inflatable Boards

In general, you can put an inflatable stand up paddle board on your car in the same way as a rigid board. However, here are a few extra tips to keep in mind.

Loading and Securing Your Inflatable SUP to the Roof Rack

Pay particular attention to make sure you don’t drag the SUP on rough ground when loading. If possible get help from another person.

Carefully consider how you pad the rack and your board. Put foam blocks or a towel underneath all straps to prevent rubbing and scuff marks.

Remember that you shouldn’t leave your inflatable board in direct sunlight. Not only can the UV rays damage the graphics and materials, but the heat can cause the air inside the SUP to over pressurize.

Let 2-3 PSI pressure out of your board before you strap it down to allow for a bit of expansion during transit. Use a sup bag or secured cloth to protect the board from the sun. Get your board into shade as quickly as possible after you arrive.

If you have rigid boards and inflatables, stack the hard boards at the bottom and inflatables on top.

Be aware that the manufacturer’s warranty on some iSUPs excludes damage caused during transportation. Take extreme care not to cause any harm to your board.

The safest way to carry an inflatable stand up paddle board is rolled up inside its bag. Consider if you really need to drive with your board inflated or if you could blow it upon arrival.

Common Paddle Board Transport FAQ’s

How Do You Put a Paddle Board on a Car Without a Roof Rack?

You can use a soft rack to put a paddle board on a car without a roof rack. Soft racks fix through the door openings of your vehicle. You then wrap cam straps around the board and roof to secure it.

Can You Fit a Stand Up Paddle Board in a Car?

A regular stand up paddle board will not fit inside your car. It would be dangerous to load it in sideways and have it sticking out of a window. You should secure your paddle board to a suitable roof rack.

One significant advantage of inflatables over rigid boards is that you can carry them rolled up, in any car.

How Do You Attach an Inflatable Paddle Board to a Car?

You can attach an inflatable paddle board to a car using cam straps and a suitable roof rack. Make sure that you use sufficient padding to protect the board. Don’t over tighten the straps. Be aware that you need to protect an inflatable board from direct sunlight.

Can You Transport an Inflatable SUP on a Roof Rack?

Yes, you can transport an inflatable SUP on a roof rack. Ensure that the rack has suitable amounts of padding before carefully securing your board with cam straps. Protect the board from direct sunlight.

Can You Transport an Inflatable SUP Fully Inflated?

You should let 2-3 PSI out of your inflatable SUP to allow for air expansion during transit and prevent overpressurization.

How Fast Can You Drive With a Paddle Board?

You should always drive slowly with a paddle board on your car. The faster you go, the more likely it is that your board will come loose. Some hard roof rack manufacturers state a maximum speed of 55mph that you shouldn’t exceed.

It’s a good idea to drive more slowly if you are using a soft rack or homemade system. Always stop driving about five minutes after you’ve set off to check that the board hasn’t moved.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully, you’ve found this article helpful and are now feeling more aware of how to put a paddle board on your car correctly. Take care loading, protecting, and securing your board. With careful driving, you should reach the water safely.

Let us know in the comments what you think about transporting your SUP on the roof of your car. If you have any questions or you’d like to add any more tips, let us know in the comments. Don’t forget to share if you have friends or family that want to carry a paddle board on their car.