Stand up paddleboarding is an excellent way to explore the waterways around you. One of the most minimalist ways to travel on the water, it can be peaceful, fun and provide an excellent workout. Stand up paddleboards or commonly abbreviated SUP, can be used to do yoga, fish, surf and just about anything in between. If you’re considering getting a paddle board, you have many options. However, it is important to consider the factors that make a paddle board right for you.
When choosing a paddle board the most basic consideration is the dimensions and buoyancy of the board and the relationship they have with your weight, height, and center of gravity. Generally, the heavier/taller you are, the larger your board should be. This rule applies to the length width and buoyancy of the board, Additionally, your paddling skill level, balance confidence are other important factors that can have an impact on your board choice. For example, although a tall paddler would be recommended a larger board, they may be able to use a smaller board due to their experience, or balance abilities. On the other hand, a smaller paddler may still choose a large board if they have concerns about their balance. Lastly, if you intend to have others use the board as well, then going larger is a good idea.
Generally, paddle boards fall into three main categories. We’ll walk through the characteristics of each board and how it may fit you as a paddler and where you plan to go.
Recreational Paddleboards (all-around paddleboards)
An excellent choice for a first-time buyer, recreational paddleboards are the best boards to learn on and also the most budget-friendly.
- Best Conditions: Recreational paddle boards are the best for the flat water of lakes or slow-moving rivers.
- Stability: While the stability of your board depends on how well your board is matched to your body and experience levels, recreational kayaks are often between 10 and 12 feet long and 31 to 37 inches wide and deliver great stability.
- Tracking/Turning: recreational paddleboards offer great turning and maneuverability. This helps get around boats, docks or navigate river bends. This handling ability comes at a trade-off of tracking. Tracking Is the ability of the board to move forward in a straight line while paddling. Boards with extra fins can improve the tracking of a flat hulled recreational board.
- Speed: Due to the large surface area, and wide profile, recreational paddle boards are somewhat limited in their speed. They have more water resistance than other designs and sometimes the heavier of the three designs we cover here. The nose design also has a pushing effect on the water adding to the speed resistance (see picture above).
- Recommended Experience Level: Recreational paddle boards are the best choice for a beginner due to their stability
- Price: we recommend spending at least $500 on a paddleboard and good recreational boards can be found in the $600 to $1,000 range.
If speed is your game, then a touring board may be for you. Designed for efficiency and moving effortlessly through the water touring paddle boards are a great choice for paddlers looking to go far and fast.
- Best Conditions: Touring boards are best for covering distances on oceans, large lakes, and open waterways.
- Stability: While the stability of a touring board is near to a recreational board it’s v-shaped hull allows it to rock slightly more in the water. This requires a little more experience and balance of the paddler. Depending on the board this difference can be negligible.
- Tracking/Turning: Tracking is the touring kayaks strong suite. These boards cut through the water with their nose resembling a kayak or canoe. In addition, the v-shaped hull enables the board to stay straight and true under paddling, a requirement for any long distance paddling. However, tight turning and general maneuverability comes is the cost.
- Speed: The touring paddleboard is all about speed and efficiency. Its low water resistance and ability to cut through the water makes it the fastest variation of the paddleboard.
- Recommended Experience Level: Beginners and intermediate paddlers alike can enjoy a touring paddle board. However, it is even more important to properly match your body to paddle board.
- Price: A touring paddle board may not be the best board for beginners due to the price. When spending at least $1,000 on sporting equipment, it’s important it make sure it will see use.
Surfing Paddle Boards
Surf-inspired paddle boards are the best board for those of us that love the waves and using their boards in the surf of coastal areas. Surfing paddle boards are a great way to learn how to surf. While paddle board surfing does require some surfing skill it isn’t to the extent that traditional surfing does. Paddleboard surfing was pioneered in Hawaii and has gained significant popularity throughout coastal areas.
- Best Conditions: Surfing paddle boards are best suited for the small to medium waves found in coastal areas or the great lakes. Experienced paddle surfers can even tackle large waves with developed skill.
- Stability: Surfing paddleboards do not deliver a lot of stability, intentionally. The nature of using the board on cresting waves requires quick changes in direction and ability for the board to dig into the water.
- Tracking/Turning: Surfing paddleboards do not offer much tracking performance, due to their shorter overall length. This short design, however, helps aid significantly in turning. They are generally the most maneuverable board design.
- Speed: Speed achieved with a surfing paddle board on open water is similar to that of an all-around recreational board. If catching a wave, however, mother nature can propel you very fast using the right technique.
- Recommended Experience Level: While any beginner can learn how to paddleboard surf, it is more likely that you have graduated from another form of paddle boarding. In addition, being in the surf requires you to be proficient with swimming and understand the principles of waves and how to be safe around them. We recommend Surfing paddle boards for intermediate to experienced paddleboarders with excellent swimming abilities.
- Price: Surf inspired paddle boards are typically more expensive than recreational all-around paddle boards. Most fall into the $800+ range.
- Board Weight: regardless of the design or paddleboard type, there are large variations in weight. The weight of your board can have an impact on your speed, how stable the board is and how much effort is required to propel yourself forward.
- Construction/Durability: Take some time to research the various construction materials and methods used to manufacture paddle boards. You may find by raising your budget slightly you can buy a lighter, more well-made paddle board.
- Other Activities: If you plan to fish, do yoga, or tandem on your paddle board, consider this when selecting your size board.
- Choosing the Right Size: You can ensure you’re buying the right size by referencing the manufacturer's size/weight charts. Make sure you take a look before choosing your size board.
Testing different boards: One of the best ways to make sure you’re getting the right board is to test it first hand on the water. Many retailers offer boards of testing or even host demo days on nearby lakes or rivers. Take advantage of this and get some free paddleboarding experience.