We might be a little biased, but stand up paddle boarding, also know as SUP, is the greatest sport in the world. With a single board and paddle you can try so many different elements of the sport from calm water cruising, to surfing, to SUP Yoga.
How to Choose a Stand Up Paddle Board
Inflatable vs Rigid/Non-Inflatable
The first major decision when choosing a stand up paddle board is if you want your new board to be inflatable or non-inflatable, most commonly referred to as rigid. Inflatables are inflated with either a hand pump Iincluded with packages) or upgrade to electric pump, where as a rigid board is made of a shaped foam core covered with layers of epoxy and materials such as carbon, wood veneers, and Kevlar.
When to Buy an Inflatable SUP
We are often asked if we prefer inflatable or rigid. Generally, rigid boards are our preference which will be explained further below, however in some cases inflatables are ideal. You should get an inflatable stand up paddle board if:
- You have very limited storage space and can not store a rigid board.
- You do not have a vehicle with a roof rack to transport a rigid SUP.
- You are going to be white water paddling, or paddling in other conditions where impacts with rocks are likely.
- You plan to travel often by airline, in which case, an inflatable is your only option as nearly all airlines will not take boards as large as SUP boards. Inflatables check just like normal suitcase.
In the scenario where you have no place to store a rigid board, or no way to transport it, an inflatable stand up paddle board, also known as an iSUP, is a great choice. They can be stored in a closet, and transported in the trunk of your car.
Does it sound like an inflatable paddle board is the board for you?
If you are not strapped for storage and transport, you will really want to consider a rigid board. Inflatables take effort (a lot of it!) to inflate, and can often take 10 minutes to pump up with the hand pump. They are not as stiff, do not offer comparable glide and tracking to a rigid board, and there is the ever present safety issue related to “what happens if it starts leaking when I am in the middle of the lake”.
When to Buy a Rigid Stand Up Paddle Board
If storage and transport are not a factor for you, without doubt go with a rigid board. Paddle board performance in terms of speed, glide, tracking, and maneuverability is dictated by the nose, rail, and bottom shape of the board. These elements of performance shaping are just not possible with inflatable technology. If we compared similar style boards in both rigid and inflatable, a rigid board will always have better glide, tracking, and feel both stiffer and more stable. Inflatables tend to be very thick and sit up high in the water, where as rigid boards are thinner for a lower center of gravity and more stability.
While we do like both styles, our general preference if storage, transport, or travel is not a factor, is always inflatable. With no pumping up to do, all you need to do is grab your rigid board and paddle and hit the water.
Stand Up Paddle Board Hull Shapes
Stand up paddle boards generally have two main hull shapes. Planning hulls are the most common, and are easily recognized by their rounded noses. Displacement hulls generally are much longer boards, and have a very distinguishable pointed nose like that of a sea kayak.
This is the style of board most people think of when picturing a stand up paddle board. They look very similar to a surf board with a rounded nose and relatively flat deck. Planning boards are by far the most versatile board, and are idea for nearly all aspects of SUP paddling including cruising in calmer waters, SUP Yoga, padding with kids or dogs on the board, as well as surfing. Planning hulls offer the easiest use, most stability, as well as the most versatility.
Generally, our choice for paddlers looking to make SUP as easy and fun as possible, or have the ability to paddle in the largest variety of conditions, is always a planning hull board.
With a longer length, and displacement nose that is designed to cut through the water, displacement boards offer increased speed and tracking. This style of board is ideal for more experienced paddlers looking for the ability to cover distance quickly. However, there are a couple of trade offs for this increased speed. They tend to be quite long (12’6 is the normal length), not as stable, costlier, and not as versatile as a planning hull.
If you are looking for speed and ultimate performance, a displacement board may be the way to go. However, for an all around board that is versatile and stable, a planning board is the way to go. With a planning board you can do it all, where as a displacement hull will limit your ability to try all that SUP has to offer such as SUP Yoga and surfing.
What Types of Stand Up Paddle Board Do I Need?
The conditions you are going to stand up paddle board in play one of the largest roles in selecting the best paddle board to buy. Getting the right board for the conditions is just about the same as picking the right tool for the job.
All Around Stand Up Paddle Boards
All around stand up paddle boards can do anything from flat water to small surf. In SUP, when we refer to flat water, we are referring to non-surfing conditions. The body of water you are paddling on may be rough and wavy, and not seem “flat”, but as you are not surfing, we refer to it as flat water.
All around boards are almost exclusively planning hulls, and offer ample stability and width to ensure stability as well efficient movement through the water. All around boards are also the most versatile board as you can try other elements of SUP like touring or surfing. An all around board is best if you are:
- Just starting out
- Paddling in non surf conditions (lake, river, calm ocean areas)
- Want to have maximum versatility to try other aspects of SUP
All around boards are some of our favorite boards as they are stable, easy to use, and offer the maximum amount of versatility possible. A great all around board will be equally at home in flat water, small surf, and still have the speed and tracking to let you cover some distance.
SUP Yoga Stand Up Paddle Boards
If you practice Yoga on land, you will naturally want to try it on your new SUP board. When selecting a board for SUP Yoga, you will want a board with ample width as well as either a full length or full wrap deck pad for grip and traction. SUP Yoga boards are always planning hulls, and tend to have flatter decks to allow for an easier yoga practice.
It is a good idea to make sure the board you select for SUP Yoga is also a good all around board. A few dedicated SUP Yoga boards on the market (by brands we do not sell) have taken their dedicated Yoga shapes a little too extreme. While great for SUP Yoga, they do not actually paddle very well and are best avoided as they lack versatility.
Touring Stand Up Paddle Boards
Dedicated touring boards tend to be displacement hulls, as they slice the water and allow for great speed and better tracking. More advanced paddlers looking to progress their skills after spending time on an all around board get the most of our touring boards. A touring board is your best selection if you:
- Do most of your paddling in flatter water and are looking for faster speeds than an all around board can offer.
- You are looking to carry gear, such as day trip supplies, or camping gear
However, you can tour on any board, not just a displacement hull. If you are looking at your first board, a touring board is generally not a good starting point as they tend to be very technical to paddle, and quite limiting in terms of conditions you can paddle in. If you know you are looking for touring board performance, then by all means that is the way to go. However, if you aren’t sure, or, want to still have the versatility to paddle in a variety of conditions, often a more glide and tracking focused all around board is the better choice.
Women’s Stand Up Paddle Boards
Women’s’ boards tend to be smaller, lighter, and come in more feminine colors. For a light weight woman, using a board designed for a 300lb man can make things excessively heavy and cumbersome. However, there is nothing that says that, if sized properly, a woman can’t use a men’s or unisex board, and a man can’t use a women’s board. A huge amount of what makes a board a “woman’s” model is the smaller sizing and graphics. Personally, I have no problem, as a man, paddling by daughter’s pink and teal Cruiser SUP Bliss!
Kids Stand Up Paddle Boards
We like to look at paddling with kids in two ways – the child riding on an adult’s board, or the child paddling on their own board.
If riding on an adult board, an all around board with full length or full wrap deck pad is without fail the best option. That way, your child has grip, traction, and comfort as they will be sitting on the nose of the board where they will be sitting or standing. We will cover things like board sizing a bit later, but if paddling with a child on board, you do want to make sure to factor their weight into the board selection.
If your child will be riding on their own board, then we can look at it in two ways. If no one other than light kids will use it, a kids specific board is a great option. This will keep the board as light as possible for them, which will make learning as easy and fun as possible. When it comes to teaching kids to SUP – easy and fun is key. However, kids are also pretty versatile. If you want your kids to be able to use the board, but you want to use it as well, get the board to suit you. Again, an all around shape is best.
Consider a kids specific SUP if:
-your child will be the only person using the board
- your child is quite light, and may not grow much more
See our Kids Paddle Board Collection
Consider an all around SUP for your kids if:
- You want your child to use it, but also others who are heavier
- You don’t mind a little larger sized board so he or she still has room to grow
Dog Friendly Stand Up Paddle Boards
A wide and stable all around board with a full length or full wrap deck pad is the best way to make sure you and your pup have fun on your SUP. Boards like touring boards tend to not have traction at the front of the board, which can be tough for dogs to get comfortable on. If you are paddling with your dog you will want to:
- Select and all around board with a planning hull shape
- Factor not only your weight, but also your dogs weight into board selection
Family Stand Up Paddle Boards
If you are getting a board or two for your family to use, versatility and durability should be the main things on your mind. Planning hulls give the most versatility, and a construction that includes either a full wrap deck pad or polycarbonate shell construction offer the most durability. We assume that family boards will be used by not only family members, but also friends of the family. As there will be a lot of different users, it is best to size the boards for the largest users. With a lot of users comes a lot of wear and tear, so a durable construction is best. Avoid very cheap fiberglass or soft top boards. While the low pricing may be tempting, the constructions are notoriously fragile and will not withstand the wear and tear of a family. Consider a family board if:
- A number of people will use the board
- A variety of user sizes, and skill levels will use the board
What Size Paddle Board Do I Need?
Boards have 4 main dimensions, but when it comes to choosing your board, there is one that is much more important than the rest. The length, width, and thickness of a board all combine to give a value referred to as the volume. This is indicated on the size charts of all our boards, and it a measure of the amount of water a SUP board will displace. Volume is what we look at as the most important dimension in choosing a stand up paddle board.
Measured in Litres, the volume of a SUP board is a very good measure of the weight it will support. We encourage you to not look at the length of the board as an indication of stability, instead, focus on volume. The higher the volume, the more stable the board is. However, it is possible to have a board with a longer length have a lower volume than a shorter one!
For a range of volumes that will be stable for you, take your body weight (add in any kids or pets that will ride along) in pounds and multiply it by 1, as well as 1.4, to get a volume range of boards sizing that will offer all around stability.
For example, I am 160lbs. So:
160 x 1 = 160L
160 x 1.4 = 224L
With these calculations, I can look at SUP boards that have a volume of between 160L and 224L. For reasonable athletic person, looking at boards with volume equal to, or slightly more than their weight is a good general guideline. To make a board more stable, or to accommodate slightly heavier riders go close to the higher end of the range.
For a lot more details on board volume, we have a more in depth explanation here
As covered above, volume is the main thing to look at. However, a generalization of SUP board lengths is:
- Boards less than 7’ are either expert level surf boards, or for very light kids. They will all be planning hulls.
- Boards between 7’ and 9’5 are either surf specific models, kids board, or all around boards for lighter weight riders. We do like to caution that a lot of low cost board options available at big box retailers and other non SUP specific retailer are in this size range. While the price may seem like a great deal, they are exceptionally small and will only suit light weight riders. They will all be planning hulls.
- Boards between 9’5 and 12’ are the most common size of all around boards. These are the most versatile sizes of boards, and likely the size range you will get. There does exist some displacement hulls in this size range, but for the most part, they will be planning hulls.
- Boards over 12’ are generally going to be some variety of displacement hulls. Very often boards over 12’6 will start to become quite narrow as they are racing boards. If you are focused on speed and distance covering, your board will likely be in this size range.
Fins are what keep your board going in a straight line, and all SUP boards have at least one fin on the bottom. This is referred to as the main, or middle fin, and it is what keeps the board going in a straight line. Without a fin of any kind, your board will spin around in circles as you attempt to paddle. Nearly all Cruiser SUP boards come equipped with either toolless or screwless middle fins. These fins do not require any special tools to install your fin, and really increase the convenience of both fin installation and removal.
Board designed to be used in both flat water and surf, or just surf, will have up to 4 smaller side fins, or thruster fins. In surf conditions, this will help you customize your boards handling to the conditions. However, in flat water, if your board has more than one fin, just leave the side fins off as your board will glide more efficiently without them.
Should you buy a board with wide fins even if you are just paddling in flat water?
Yes, as it adds to the versatility of your board. A single fin board can only ever be a single fin board. Even if you mainly paddle in flat water, you may want to try wake surfing behind a boat, or take a beach trip in the summer and try surfing. More versatility is always better, and a board with side fins is more versatile.
How to Store and Care for a Stand Up Paddle Board
If you chose an inflatable SUP, then storing an inflatable SUP really is quite simple.
- Deflate the board
- Fold it up and put in into its bag. If at the end of the season, or not to be used again for at least a couple of weeks, try to put away dry
- Find a place to store it like a closet, under a bed, or garage.
- When you are paddling the board, avoid sharp objects
- When off the water, try to find a shaded area to store the board to avoid excessive UV exposure
- If you are going to use the board daily, it is OK to leave inflated, but you will want to test the air pressure each use
- If you are going to go a few days without using, you can still leave partially inflated, but you do want to back the air pressure off a few PSI from the maximum inflation capacity.
If you chose a rigid board:
- Try to store in a cool, dry location that is shaded from the direct sunlight. Excessive heat isn’t ideal for boards
- When you are using the board and in for a break, try to find a shaded area. If that isn’t available, turn the board over so the deck pad is facing down. Like heat, excessive UV exposure isn’t ideal for SUP boards.
- Avoid impacting hard objects both in use, and storage
- Consider the purchase of a board bag
Pick a Paddle Board and Start Paddling
While this guide covers the basics of board selection, nothing beats a consultation with a SUP industry professional. At Paddleboard Direct, all our staff are veteran stand up paddle boards who have tested extensively everything we sell, and nearly everything our competitors sell. Our goal is to help you select the single best board for your needs.
We will take the time to get to know you, and help select the board that best suits your needs and budget. When you buy the right stand up paddle board, SUP can be easy and fun to learn. With the wrong board, it can be frustrating, hard, expensive, and in some cases, dangerous.
Get in touch with us at 888-291-9905, the Live Chat icon at the bottom right of the screen, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You will be glad you did.