Rob Casey is the owner of Salmon Bay Paddle in Seattle and is the author of two paddling guides.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Tying a SUP to Your Car Rack

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.  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 is 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.    Alternatively, you can attach your paddle to your rack with attachments from Yakima 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 Yakima as they have round bars which allow insulation foam or store bought surf rack pads to them to act as rollers when i push a board on from the back. For a Subaru, for example, I have two cross bars and that's all your need. (see pic of 3 boards on Subaru Forester).
There might be other similar rack products, but I happen to have Yakima. 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.  Inno has some interesting options as well.

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. Straps can whistle in wind, so twist them before securing. I like rope, low key, works fine, doesn't whistle, and I can find it anywhere for a replacement. Learn the Trucker's Hitch for using rope, a simple knot system that I now use for lots of non related uses as well. A friend uses one long rope to tie his whole load down - whatever works for you.  Note that there is some tension between paddlers on whether straps or ropes are the best or safest solution.

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 help as well, my favorite.  Some recommend not carrying more than 2 SUPs at once. If you're in business like me, I have to carry several.  The Kayak Stackers allow me to safely stack up to 6 on my Subaru providing I secure them properly.

What if I have a ton of boards to tie on?
With the above set-up, you can attach 5-6 boards stacked ontop of each other. Use the Yakima Kayak Stacker to add more boards and/or offer more anchors to tie your load down with. I've had these for years from my kayaking days. They allow me to add 5+ boards and even a long race board or sea kayak on it's side if the stackers are arranged properly. I attach insulation foam to my stackers for additional protection. You can push the stackers down flat when you're not using them.

What if I have a pickup truck?
Check out the Yakima Dry-Dock truck rack. See pic! The rack pushes down or flattens when not in use.

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.

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 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:
- 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.
- Inno Board Locker.

For Safety - 
If you have a factory rack (Yakima, Thule, etc) have the 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.

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:


Anonymous said...

Hello Stoke Magazine,

I came across these straps with steel in them called KanuLock and they are working perfect for securing my SUP board to my car.

Thought you may like them.

Carrie Ellen said...

Would it be safe to use the softrax system for my 11 foot SUP on top of my Toyota Carolla?
I'm thinking of buying the THULE SUP Taxi carrier but first need to find a base rack. Lots of money to spend.
Hoping the SoftRax I currently have will be ok in the interim.

Anonymous said...

Tried Kanulocks. Work very well and are a good design.

Daihatsu Terios 4WD said...

Resources like the one you mentioned here will be very useful to me! I will post a link to this page on my blog. I am sure my visitors will find that very useful.

Evan Marcus said...

Thanks for taking the time to discuss this, I feel strongly about it and love learning more on this topic. If possible, as you gain expertise, would you mind updating your blog with more information? It is extremely helpful for me.
Steering Rack

singapore car rent said...

You can learn to tying sup to your car rack. Good post

Rob Casey SUP Instructor, Writer & Photographer said...

Thanks for all the comments. I update posts or do new posts on previous subject occasionally as I have time. I've also adjusted my settings so I can see your comments as they come in, apologies for late response!

@Carrie, you can attach a soft rack to any car rack. I recommend tail/nose ties to the bumpers if you get into windy or highway conditions.

Stephanie said...


Curious what you would do for two SUPs that have a streamlined hull like a kayak or touring board. I have a Thule taxi rack and not sure the best way to stack them since they are not flat.

thanks, steph

Mystial Batwoman said...

Thanks for this! It helped a lot. We're heading out to pacific coast with our 4 kids, a sup and a kayak.

Rob Casey - SUP Instructor, Photographer & Guidebook Writer said...

Glad to help! Give me a holler if you need additional info!

Diana Hayes said...

This is good news for Subaru drivers who are fond of Kayaking, like you. And as for other Kayak-enthusiasts out there, it goes without saying that they must choose a car that already has built-in crossbars in them, to avoid the hassle of buying and installing a new rack. Nonetheless, thanks for sharing this trick!

Diana Hayes @ Baldwin Subaru

Rob Casey - SUP Instructor, Photographer & Guidebook Writer said...

Diane, you don't need a car with a existing rack, the soft rack or simply adding a yoga mat to the roof will work for 1-2 boards with end tie-downs. Many stock crossbars are curved which is odd and not helpful for tying down gear. If a Subaru only has the rail bars, you still need place a pad on the roof to protect the paint and such. Rob