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How To Transport Paddle Board Without Roof Rack. 5 Great Ways To Do It

Updated December 1st, 2023

how to transport paddle board without roof rack

Transporting a rigid paddle board can be intimidating for those not used to using roof racks. If you like the performance and feel of a rigid paddle board, you have to learn how to transport it. For most people, the best way is on your car roof. Some people don’t like to inflate and deflate their inflatable SUP with each use. They need to learn to carry it on the roof too. What if your car doesn’t have a factory rack? Can you still use it with a rigid paddle board? How to transport paddle board without roof rack? Here are 3 ways to transport your paddle board if you have a vehicle with no roof rack.

How to transport paddle board without roof rack

1 – Use a soft rack

Soft racks are designed to work with cars, SUVs or trucks that don’t have a roof rack. These racks are basically foam pads that lay on your car’s roof instead of using a rigid cross bar like a hard rack. The straps run through the door openings, through the car and then over the roof. This will not work as well as a proper roof rack system. You won’t be able to get the board tied down as hard this way no matter how hard you try. It makes a good SUP roof rack for short trips below highway speeds.

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The straps run through the occupant compartment of your car. If you are taller, you might find you hit your head into the straps. Another reason this isn’t the best or more comfortable way to transport your paddle board but it will get the job done.

If you have a panoramic glass roof, this rack may not work for you. You don’t want to strap your board down into the glass or you risk cracking it. Soft racks don’t work as well on 2 door vehicles because you have to put the pads closer together. In this case a nose and tail line will really help.

If you have a convertible with a soft top, this may not work well for you either. You don’t have a hard roof panel to compress the pads against.

The AlfaGear Rack sold on Amazon and several other places is one of the most popular soft rack systems and a great option.

Let’s go through how you put a soft rack onto your car.

Put roof rack pads on top of your car

Take the pads out and set them on your car’s roof. The more distance you put between them, the more stable your board will be. Do not put the pads on top of moonroof or panoramic roof glass. The best place to put the pads is where your car has extra structure under the roof panel. This is right behind the windshield and at the top of the B-Pillar and C-Pillar. These are across the top of the door frame pillar where the rear doors are hinged and the next pillar back just behind the rear door opening. Your car has metal reinforcements for the roof panel at these locations.

If you have a 4 door vehicle, put one set of pads across each door opening. The farther apart you can spread the pads, the more stable your board will be.

Set board on top of your car, fin up (top side down)

Because the board will have some rocker to it, it works best if it is top side down. The fin should be pointing up if you leave the fin on. The wind flowing over the curvature of your board will push down on the board. If you put it the other way, it will create lift and pull the board up away from your car. Most people like putting the board fin end facing forward. That reduces some of the downforce effect of the board.

Put straps over the board and then through the door opening of your car

You need to get a good set of straps. I like cam straps. They make nice ones that are an inch wide and have material padding under the cam. This keeps the cam from damaging your board. I don’t care for ratchet straps. I think they are overkill and it takes a lot more time to put on and take off a ratchet strap. You can also use rope if you don’t have straps. Learn to tie a trucker’s hitch to tension the rope. A trucker’s hitch is one of the most useful knots for tieing anything and has a ton of uses. They are super easy to tie.

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I do not recommend using a bungee cord instead of straps. If you use bungee cords enough you’ll learn how easy the fittings on the end of the bungees break off. If you use bungees to tied down your board, sooner or later, there is a good chance your board will leave your car while going down the road.

After you put the straps over the vehicle, position the cam buckle end inside the car. You can tighten them and keep the ends inside your vehicle where you can see them. It also makes it harder for someone to steal the board since the strap ends are inside. Do not depend on this for anti-theft. Roof racks with built in locks are still not secure. I know this from experience after leaving 4 pairs of skis on a roof rack over night at a hotel. I woke up to 4 missing pairs of skis in the morning.

Pull the straps tight. You want the foam pads to be compressed. You can damage the weather seals on your car if you pull too hard. You don’t have to gorrilla tighten it but don’t go too easy on it. Get in your car and make sure the strap across our front door opening isn’t getting in the way of your head when driving. If it is move that pad forward or rearwards so you can comfortably drive. Tighten the strap back up.

If your vehicle has roof rails but doesn’t have cross bars, you can wrap the strap around the roof rail on each side. This will be more secure than wrapping it inside your car and you won’t risk damaging the weather seals. If your car has roof rails, there is a good chance there is a cross bar set out there for it too.

Feel how stable the board is

Check the board. It won’t feel rigidly tight. You should be able to pull and tug on it without moving it. The wind is good at moving things at highway speed and you don’t want that. If you can easily slide the nose and tail of your paddle board side to side, then you need to add tail and nose lines.

Use nose and tail lines if necesary

Hopefully your board or board bag has fittings or loops at the nose and tail. Use 1/4 to 3/8 inch line to make nose and tail lines. Any bigger and it may be hard to tie it. Any smaller and it may not be strong enough.

Run a line from one corner of your bumper, through the nose or tail loop and back to the other corner of your bumper. If your bumper has nothing to tie around, feel under the car for tow hooks or anything else you can wrap a line around. Most cars have something you can use if you get creative. This is another place where a truckers hitch can really help tighten things up.

Take it easy on your first drive

Soft racks do not hold the board as firmly as roof rack cross bars. Take it easy on your first drive until your confident the board is attached to your vehicle roof and isn’t going anywhere. Don’t go straight for the highway and gun it to 80mph. If you do you might leave your board along the highway. Start slow, if your board is moving around a lot, you need to tighten the straps and lines more. If it feels like it’s staying put your good to go.

Stop after a few miles to check the straps and board. Tighten if needed

It’s a good idea to stop after a few miles and check your straps and lines. If things have loosened, tighten them up more. If things are still tight, your good to go and you can finish your trip. Once you have tied your board to your rack a few times you’ll get a feel for how tight it needs to be and you can skip the check. Until you’ve gotten some experience with soft racks, you should stop and check it.

The below video has some good tips for setting up and using a soft roof rack.

Can you use this for more than 1 paddle board?

What if you want to go paddle boarding with a friend and neither of you has a car roof rack and you don’t want to take 2 cars. Can you use a soft rack for 2 paddle boards?

You can double deck your paddle boards with this method but I wouldn’t use it for more than 2. Lay the 2 paddle boards on top of each other with bottom sides facing each other. If you don’t have your boards in board bags, you will want to put some foam pads between the boards. If you have board bags, they have enough padding to be okay. Wrap your strap over the top of both boards and into the opening of your car just like you did for 1 board.

You have twice as much weight and wind resistance with 2 boards. Make sure your straps are tight enough. Stop and check on things after driving a little bit.

2 – Make a DIY soft rack from pool noodles

For those who don’t want to spend money on a soft rack system, you can improvise with some pool noodles. Go and buy the thickest set of pool noodles you can find. Don’t buy the cheapest dollar store set out there. You need thick enough foam for this to work.

Cut the pool noodles so they are roughly the width of your cars roof or an inch or 2 shorter. If they are too long they will cause problems when you go to wrap the straps around your roof and into your car door openings.

You will need to get 4 cam straps. You will use 2 of them to hold the noodles in place. You will use the other 2 to hold the board down to your car.

Thread the loose end of a cam strap completely through each pool noodle. Leave a couple feet of strap at the cam end.

Set the pool noodle onto the roof of your car in the same manner as described above for a soft rack. Wrap the straps around inside your car and tighten them. This is to keep the pool noodles from rolling around. The foam blocks that come with a soft rack are square and will stay in place. If you don’t use a set of straps in your pool noodles, they will roll and work their way out from under your board. Your board will be resting on top of your car without a pad by the time you get where your going.

Use a second set of cam straps to attach the board. Tighten them enough to squeeze down on the pool noodle but not so far to damage the weather seals of your car or dent your roof panel.

Use a nose and tail line if needed to get your board more secure.

The below video shows how to use pool noodles for a roof rack.

3 – Add a roof rack to your car

If you plan on using your car to transport your board a lot, I highly recommend investing in a good car rack. Thule and Yakima make roof racks that will fit almost any car made and work great as a SUP rack. They are very well built and are easy to install and remove. In most cases, you can put the rack on or off your car in 10 minutes or less. I have personally used a Thule Rack on a BMW, Mustang, Explorer and Escape.

Seasucker makes rack bars that attach with suction cups for an even easier installation. They are a much more universal fit if you want one rack to use on several cars.

They are worth the money. Once you have invested in the paddle board roof rack system you can get rack bar attachments for other sports such as skiing or biking or mounting a kayak. You can drive cross country with your board with no worries of it coming loose at highway speeds.

If you have roof rack bars on your vehicle, you can either strap your board down on padded racks or use a specialized carrier. The Thule SUP taxi is one of the best purpose built SUP board carriers out there. It will work with a rigid board or inflatable paddle board.

4 – Use pickup truck bed

If you have a pickup you have a couple of options. You can still use a soft roof rack or DIY one. You can use your pickup bed for your paddle board. The best way to carry your SUP board in a pickup bed is with the tailgate down, then strap the board down flat in the bed. You may want to carry your board in a bag or pad under the board so it doesn’t get scratched up.

A more fancy way of putting your board in your bed is to use a bed extender mounted in a trailer hitch. If you have a short bed it may be necessary to use a bed extender rack. Thule and Yakima both sell these. You get an extra support for your board several feet behind the tailgate.

Many states require a flag attached to anything extending out the back of your truck bed. Getting pulled over on the way to the lake doesn’t make for a good day.

The below video has some good tips for transporting a paddle board in a pickup bed.

5 – Use a trailer

A trailer is not that practical for transporting just a single paddle board. If you have to transport multiple paddle boards, it becomes the best way to do it. You can stack a couple boards on your roof. If you have more than 2, it really doesn’t work that well. If you need to transport 3 or more boards on a regular basis a trailer can be the best way.

The best way to use a trailer is to build a rack system onto a boat trailer to hold as many boards as you need. Another option is building a large box. You can put the boards and your other paddling supplies inside. This isn’t a cheap option. You can expect to drop over $1000 for a trailer with a SUP rack on it.

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Doug Ryan Portrait Skiing 200x200

Doug Ryan
Co-Founder & Chief Editor

I grew up back east in Pennsylvania and learned to ski on a family trip to Killington, Vermont when I was 6. I immediately fell in love with the mountains and outdoors and have been skiing across the US and Canada ever since. I went to school for Mechanical Engineering, and have a Master’s Degree in Material Science and Reliability.

I am a total gear nerd and love learning how things work and thinking about how they could be improved. Nothing excites me more than trying out new gear. I’d rather spend 3 hours taking my bike apart and learning how to change something than go to a bike shop. These days I reside in Michigan by the Great Lakes and go skiing, biking, and boating as much as possible.