How to Choose a Stand Up Paddle Board

how to choose a stand up paddle board

SUP surfers do it for the thrill. Anglers use paddleboards to access the best fishing spots and to bring a new challenge to an old game. And families see stand up paddleboarding as a fun way to get the whole family exercising and enjoying the great outdoors.

The point? There are many ways to use a SUP. And what you’ll come to find is that each board is adapted to suit its purpose.

This is where things can get a little tricky for the beginner. With so many different sizes, styles, and brands, it can be difficult to decide on the right paddleboard for you.

But there’s no need to fret. We’ll hold your hand through the sup buying process and answer all the questions a beginner paddler might have.

Let’s get into it.

Choosing the Right Board Begins With Clarity

The paddleboard best suited to you depends on several factors:

  • Your level of experience
  • Your weight and the weight of any equipment you’ll take on board
  • Where you’ll paddle (lakes, rivers, oceans)
  • Activities you intend to do (recreational paddling, racing, touring, fishing, yoga)
  • How much you have to spend
  • The design and colour of the board
  • Available transport

It’s important that you give the above criteria some thought before you go out hunting for your first board.

SUP boards come in different shapes and sizes to accommodate the variety of ways they’ll be used. The differences in dimensions and body shape and the materials used in construction drastically affect the performance of the board.

So think about it: Do you want to crush big waves, enjoy a leisurely paddle across a lake, or maybe even compete in SUP racing events? It’s important to be clear on what you need in a board from the outset.

One of the main factors that significantly influence how a board reacts is its overall length and width.

What Size Paddle Board Do I Need?

There are three dimensions you need to pay attention to when buying a paddleboard: length, width, and thickness. The right combination of these dimensions for you will depend on your experience and how good your balance is.

Length

Paddle boards typically range from 9-14 feet, which is significantly larger than a traditional surfboard.

Longer boards are faster, stay on course better, and move through the water more efficiently, which makes them popular among SUP racers and those wanting to keep a good pace on long day trips. They also tend to be easier to balance on when stationary.

Shorter boards are typically easier to turn and move around, but increased manoeuvrability comes at the cost of reduced speed.

Width

Wider boards are more stable than narrow ones, so beginners that are still finding their feet should stick to a wide board that is 30” and over.

Narrow boards are faster, but they’re better suited to experienced riders who have a strong sense of balance.

Thickness

Paddle boards range from 4-7” thick with most being around the 5” mark. Working in combination with the length and width of the board, the thickness influences the volume of the board and hence, its buoyancy.

If you’re new to paddleboarding, a board that is around 9-11 feet long and 30” is perfect to learn on. If you’re a complete newbie who needs a little more help making a decision, check out our top rated beginner paddleboards.

Other Criteria to Consider

Volume

Volume is a measure of the overall amount of materials or space in the board and is measured in litres. The more buoyant material in the board (volume), the more the board will float, and the more load it can take (capacity).

SUP Buoyancy Infographic

This handy infographic from REI.com shows how the board dimensions affect volume and buoyancy.

Weight Capacity

This is simply the maximum load the board can take. The closer you encroach on the max weight limit, the more the board will sink into the water, and the more difficult it will be to paddle and the less stable it becomes.

Shape of the Hull

Paddleboards come in two different body styles; planing hulls, and displacement hulls.

Planing hulls are flat and wide and resemble a surfboard. They are the most stable and versatile hull shape. As such, they make good beginner boards as well as general purpose boards.

Displacement hulls have a sharper, more angular body. The nose of the board is pointed similar to that of a kayak or canoe so that the board cuts through water effortlessly. Displacement hulls are typically narrower and longer than a planing hull making them faster and better for long distance paddling, but also making them easier to tip over.

Fin

Paddleboards feature fins similar to what you find on a surfboard which help the board to travel straight and also increase stability.

Many boards have three fins; two smaller thruster fins on the outside, and a larger dolphin fin in the centre. The thruster fins are used for steering the board when you’re surfing, and the dolphin fin is primarily used for tracking (traveling straight). Touring boards will only feature a dolphin fin.

Surface Grip

It’s important to select a SUP that is both comfortable underfoot and has enough grip that you can move your feet and shift your weight without slipping. A cushioned deck pad with a profile will do the trick.

Ease of Transport

This is often an overlooked component of buying a SUP, but you should really be thinking about how equipped your vehicle is for transporting your board from the beginning. It may result in you ruling out boards over a certain length.

Transporting your paddle board on a roof rack is the most secure option, but you could also use a large trailer.

Also, take note of the weight of the boards and the amount and placement of the carrying handles. Most boards will have a carry handle in the centre of the board allowing you to carry it underarm easily, but check it is manageable for you.

Types of Paddleboards

Bunching several of the above characteristics together results in SUPs with a clearly identifiable style. Here are the three types of boards.

SUP Board Types

Image from active weekender.com shows the main board types.

Traditional (All Around) Paddleboards

Most paddleboards will fall into this camp. Traditional boards are designed for general paddling and can handle a variety of conditions from flatwater lakes to surf at the ocean.

Touring

Touring boards will mostly be used for flatwater paddling and often for traveling long distances. They’re longer and narrower than typical paddleboards, making them faster. They are harder to balance on due to their slimmer bodies.

Hybrid Boards

These boards are a mix between traditional and touring models. They are shorter and wider than a touring board but feature the same pointed nose.

Many hybrid boards are constructed from plastic using roto–moulded techniques similar to kayak construction. They have an air-filled core instead of foam. Their design makes them heavier than other board styles which requires more effort to move on the water, but also gives them the advantage of being extremely durable.

Board Activity

Paddle boards are often sub categorized into the activity they'll be used for and you'll hear of people talking about racing boards, touring boards, yoga SUPs, and surfing SUPs. These boards fall into one of the broad categories mentioned above.

Inflatable paddleboards are also becoming popular. They are made from durable PVC and come in both traditional and touring models.

What Are Paddleboards Made From?

Foam

Most boards feature an expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam core like traditional surfboards. The core could also be made from polyurethane (PU) or regular polystyrene (PS). The high buoyancy of the foam allows paddle boards to float easily.

The foam core is protected from the elements by coating with polyethylene or fiberglass and epoxy.

Polyethylene

Polyethylene is the most durable covering material and is used when a tough outer shell is a must. This widely used plastic is lightweight, resists impacts well, and is also low friction.

Fiberglass Epoxy

Epoxy finishes provide a smooth, glossy coat, which apart from looking nice, also helps the board move more effortlessly through the water. Layering with fiberglass gives the board stiffness, but you can also have a carbon or bamboo top which is then covered in epoxy which provides similar rigidity. Fiberglass and epoxy is the most common type of construction, and it also has the advantage of being a little lighter than polyethylene.

How Much Do Paddle Boards Cost?

Paddle boards come in a wide range of prices to suit every budget. Entry level SUPs can be picked up for around $400-$600. If you’re prepared to go to the higher end of this range, you’ll have much more options available, and you’ll be able to pick a board that matches your requirements and taste, and that will often come with a paddle.

Premium boards can cost a couple of thousand dollars. There’s really no need to spend this much on a board unless you need a specific type of board, or stand up paddle boarding is your passion and you want an awesome riding experience.

Summary and A Video Recap

Choosing the right paddle board doesn’t need to be overly complicated. The main thing is to be clear on where you’ll paddle, what you want to do on the board, and to be honest about your skill level. Keep these points in mind, and you’ll match yourself with a board that is perfect for you.

If you can, head along to your local SUP shops demo day to test a few boards before you commit.

If you want to recap what you should be looking for, here’s a great video that talks you through the process of choosing a SUP.

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