Stand up paddle boarding is quickly becoming one of the most popular sports around. It is a great form of exercise and fun that nearly anyone can enjoy. There are a wide variety of board shapes and sizes, all of which perform differently than one another. The reason for this is that stand-up paddling requires less skill than more traditional forms of surfing: just stand on your board and paddle yourself around.
Intro To SUPs
Essentially, Stand Up Paddleboards (SUPs) are larger versions of surfboards. Otherwise, all SUPs feature a handle—cut from the middle of the board—for convenient carrying, a cushion deck pad to stand on, and fins which allow the board to move in a straightforward manner through the water.
Otherwise, our buying guide here is designed to help you fit your SUP needs with your unique purposes. The buying guide will go more in-depth on some items to consider and then offer a few suggestions as the specific products that you can purchase.
This product is a likely one of the best beginner paddleboards on the market. Made from high-grade fiberglass and epoxy, the Surftech Saber also features an elegantly designed wooden half-deck layer. Novice paddlers will find this board one of the easiest to stand on and great for developing on the water skills.
The manufacturer makes available multiple models, including options that will provide more speed or more stability. The Surftech Saber is designed as a “touring” model and as such is one of the best “gliding” board designs available. Outdoor Magazine recently ranked this board in its list of “Top Ten All-Around SUP boards”, giving Surftech Saber an overall score of five stars out of five in the categories of stability and glide.
This SUP is a lightweight and fast paddle board. The Solstice Bali board is made from 1000 Denier PVC reinforced fabric. Among inflatable paddle boards, this is one of the best as far as rigidity and durability. It comes with four stainless steel tie-down notches that are great for securing your board during travel.
The manufacturer includes with purchase a carry bag, gauge, and a handheld air pump. The air-pump takes only a few minutes to inflate your board. The board is a little over ten feet in length and weighs about forty pounds when fully inflated. The weight makes it highly buoyant and therefore great for novice paddlers. Inflatable boards are generally not as stable as fixed boards but this one is one of the most around.
However, it should be stated that the board does not come with fins installed and therefore you will need to learn how to do this or have an experienced user do it for you.
The ISLE Classic is constructed of hardened foam with a polyethylene deck ideal for comfort. The Classic also comes with paddles and an underside fin. In my opinion, that’s a real bargain because paddles can be expensive on their own.
The foam material that this board is made out of appears to be the only concern among customers. Some have complained that the smallest of dings create noticeably indents on the body and tearing in some places. However, these cases are rare. Nevertheless, you should take care of the board and not treat it like an invincible object.
At 10ft, 8in, the Classic is an ideal beginner’s board that can hold upwards of 275lbs.
The CBC Hydra is a tri-finned paddleboard, helping it to glide through the water with less bumps. The body constructed of hard EPS (Expanded Polystyrene Scrap), helping the core to be watertight. EPS helps the Hydra to be more stable, allowing it to hold around 300lbs of weight. The polyethylene that holds the bottom together
As an added bonus, the front of the board has a small hardpoint for a mounted camera. The Hydra is one of a handful of non-inflatable paddleboards that make it easy for you to transport (using roof racks for cars) and diversify your experience.
The design of the TOUGH-TEC Performer allows it to be one of the best boards in level water. You can see that the tail end of the board is more rounded whereas most SUPs are flat and straight. While not exactly revolutionary, this gives the rider better control in the water, especially when using a paddle.
One of the best advantages of the Performer (only the 9’2″ size) are its abilities as a surfboard. If you’re not looking to splurge even more money on a nice surfboard, the Performer can be the one for you. There’s no need for conversions, all you need to do is take it out into the waves and give it a shot!
Best Inflatable SUPs
The SereneLife SUP is generally considered to be one of the best all-around SUPs, inflatable or not. While it doesn’t have that authentic feel of a hardened SUP, the board is perfect for all skill levels. It measures 10’ x 30” x 6”, plenty wide for stability and control. Balance is one of the most difficult things to master when using a SUP, so the SereneLife SUP uses a large surface area on the top for the grip padding. The body is constructed of PVC, so if you fall off the board, it definitely won’t hurt as much if you were to hit a hardened foam board.
Why should you buy the SereneLife? Apart from being (probably) the most popular SUP on the web, your purchase includes a pump, paddle, lease, storage bag, and repair kit. Most authentic boards that offer this package are a couple hundred dollars more expensive. Luckily for you, SereneLife keeps the price reasonable.
The manufacturers of the Atoll 11′ Cruiser Deluxe pride themselves on the board’s new, ultra-light construction. How does that benefit you? The lighter the board, the easier to manuever. Some people tend to think that a light construction less overall durability. The Cruiser is outfitted with layers of PVC (Pyvinyl Chloride), a common material used in the construction of both inflatable and non-inflated boards.
Apart from being an unusually strong board, the Cruiser is designed to be compatible with after-market fins. The length, size, and orientation of the fins actually goes hand in hand with the board’s construction.
- In other words, some fins are not going to be useful on some boards do to weight and the construction of the board.
If you’ve got extra fins lying around, be sure to pick up the Cruiser in order to make use of them.
The Adventurer, like the other boards on our list, is constructed of durable PVC and employs drop-stitching tech. Drop-stitching ties the top and bottom board together firmly to prevent any sort of bending motion in the middle of the board.
- With a firm center, don’t feel like you’re limited to just paddleboarding. Try out yoga or surfing if you’re feeling brave enough.
It’s a shorter overall board at 9 feet (a sizable portion of SUPs are 10 and 11 feet), but in my opinion that’s less board that you have to account for. Longer boards, while more streamlined in the water, have more weight and are harder to balance on. Looking for a good board for beginners and can still hold a good amount of weight? Stick with the Adventurer.
Things to Consider
The first thing to consider when buying a stand-up paddleboard will be to decide exactly what form of paddling you will be doing. Have you decided to take up stand up paddling as a hobby or recreation? If so, you will likely only need a board that can handle small to medium sized waves. In this case, your main consideration will be stability.
Are you doing the activity largely as a means of exercise? This too will require a board that can handle small waves to medium sized wave, but will also require more maneuverability. Will you be paddleboard racing? this activity will require a more advanced board that can handle faster speeds and longer distances. Otherwise, other things to consider are your body weight (more weight will require a more buoyant board), and budget.
This is likely the most important feature for maneuverability and stability. Wide boards, which are about 31″ or wider, will be more stable than narrower boards—making them much easier for a novice or beginner to stand.
However, what you gain in stability you will lose in speed. Most advanced user of SUPs tend to move on to narrower boards as they progress in ability. These boards usually range between 29″ and 30″.
Most boards will fall into the range of about 10-14 feet in length. A longer board will generally move faster, straighter, and with more efficiency (less muscle required) than a shorter board. For beginners, the longer the board the better.
Otherwise, the main consideration in the product feature of length will be to consider the exact location that you will be paddling. If you plan on riding in the ocean, a shorter board with more maneuverability will be required. If you’re racing down a quiet and calm lake, a longer board make will better suit your purposes.
While considering the length of board that you wish to purchase, you will also want to consider where you will store it and if your car can handle your transport needs. Also, consider the amount of time that you will be carrying your board, as longer boards are generally more awkward to carry. Lastly, a longer board can be fairly obnoxious to transport in windy conditions.
SUP Weight and Volume Capacity
Most boards will fall into the range of 25 to 40 lbs. Your board needs to be able to displace the right amount of water comparable to your own personal body weight. Otherwise, the board will not be able to support you in the water. The lower the board sits in the water the less stable it becomes. So, heavier persons will generally experience less stability than a lighter person and will want to consider purchasing a more buoyant board (more weight and volume)
Of course, the best way to determine which board is the best buoyancy for you is to test it out on the water. However, there are some ways around this. A paddle board will usually come with board specifications including volume and weight. The higher the volume in liters the more weight that it will be able to support. A shorter board can have a higher volume if it is fairly thick or fairly wide. Moreover, a narrow and thin board can have a lower volume and still maintain its stability.
SUP Core Materials
There are four basic varieties of material that make up the average SUP: inflatable materials, hollow core, Polyurethane foam, and EP foams. Inflatables are are some of the most durable boards that one can buy on the market. They are made up of a PVC external body and drop-stitch construction with creates an inner core of air.
The thing to remember with inflatable SUPs is that it is extremely important to pump the board up to the specified instructions. If you under-pump your board, you will feel it in your arms because it will be very difficult to paddle the device. If you over pump the board you risk rupturing it, especially over multiple uses and time.
EPS foam boards are encased in epoxy, carbon fiber, and fiberglass and are the most purchased SUPs around. Depending on the production process–usually having to do with the percentage of Carbon fiber versus the percentage of fiberglass–these sorts of boards can vary widely in weight and density. Polyurethane foam boards are usually quite a bit heavier than EPS boards and are usually recommended for beginners or novices.
The best hull choice for beginners is a planing hull, which is designed similarly to a surfboard with a round and flat nose that glides over the water as opposed to cutting through it. They are designed to push water down and travel above it (planing).
Planing hulls are often referred to as “all-around” and “touring” boards, because that ride well on calm waters and are therefore perfect for light recreational use. They tend to be the most stable SUP board, however, you won’t get much speed out of them—which is why they are recommended for novices. For the most part, the boards are essentially for leisure.
With a pointed nose, these hulls are designed similarly to kayaks or canoes. The aerodynamic hull “slices” or cuts through water improving speed and overall efficiency. Displacement Hulls tend to be much thinner than planing hulls, which makes them a less stable ride but very fast. These boards are really made for racing or long distance rides and are usually less strenuous on your arm muscles as you paddle.
Board fins, found on the underside of most SUPs, can add a lot of stability to your board. For the most part, the more surface area that a fin has the more stability you will experience in the water. Fins are especially important for SUPs because without them you would only spin out as you paddle.
Race fins are stiffer and straighter than other fins and are designed for downwind runs. For racers, these fins mean all the difference in winning and losing a competition. But, if you are a novice paddler you likely won’t need racing fins.
Large single fins
These fins are the most commonly available and your board will likely already come with one of these attached to the underside. Normally longer and wider than most other fins, these fins are designed to provide novices with the maximum possible control and straight forward motion (tracking).
Two Plus One Fin Setup
Another option for SUP purchaser is adding two “sidebites” on the undercarriage of your board. This will provide even more stability and straight forward motion than single fin models. It is usually recommended that these sidebites be about half the size of the middle (and larger) fin. Of course, this really depends on your board make and model. For best results when replacing your fins, contact the board’s manufacturer.
The twin fin design features two fins near the edge of your board. This setup is especially suited for speed and not recommended to novice paddlers. This feature allows for easier turning and drawing out of turns along the entire edge of your board.
The thruster setup features 3 fins. In this setup, all the fins are the same size with two installed about ten inches from the tail (back) and one installed in the center of the board. This setup is slightly less speedy than the twin fin setup and features less stability. Some paddlers prefer this option as means of exercise or practicing paddling skills.
This is, as the name suggests, four fins on the underside of your board. Unless you really know what you are doing, having too many fins on your board can become really tedious. In fact, it can much-unneeded weight to your board, which will reduce your overall buoyancy.
But, for the truly skilled paddlers—who have garned much knowledge about board design—this can be a great option to add maneuverability and speed. A nearly infinite number of differing fin designs and setups can be used in any number of positions. The quad fin setup has become a favorite of the SUP tinkerer or for those who enjoy constructing their own paddle boards.
In fact, some even add a fifth fin to their paddle. But, this usually requires many years of experience, knowledge, and know-how to do properly.
Inflatable SUP fins
These fins come in the same general type and design as regular SUP fins. However, they are usually made of flexible rubber and other semi-rigid materials. Inflatable SUP fins are designed to be easily detachable.
Other Accessories And Necessities
The best paddle is usually about 6″ to 8″ inches taller than yourself. However, most stand up paddles will come fully adjustable in length. The key to buying a paddle is to choose one that is sturdy but won’t be too heavy to push in the water. An Aluminum shaft with a nylon blade is a great choice for beginners.
Personal Flotation Device
Depending on where you are paddling, the law may require you to wear a life jacket. This is because the Coastguard classifies paddle boards as a “vessel” when used outside of swimming areas. This is usually only required when paddling on the ocean, rivers, or lakes and outside specifically designated “safe zones.” Otherwise, the Coastguard also requires that you carry a whistle and have a source of light available when swimming after sunset.
This accessory is fairly self-explanatory: you will need some way of transporting your SUP. Unless you have an inflatable device and can easily store your board, a car rack is likely your best option. It is usually fairly easy to find a rack specifically designed to fit your paddle board. However, some choose to use foam blocks and utility straps to secure their board on the roof of their car.
Leases tether the board to your ankle, keeping it near you if you fall off. This is not only convenient, is also a safety feature. Depending on the size of the wave, when falling off the board it can often be difficult to find the surface for air. The leash will assist you in this because it is attached to your board which floats. Leashes also come in a variety of shapes and sizes. For simple recreational uses, lightweight leashes are desirable. But, for more aggressive sporting activities, a more sturdy leash that won’t break will be your best bet.
If you are paddling in a colder climate, you will want to wear a wetsuit or drysuit in order to avoid hypothermia. In normal conditions, a bathing suit will suffice. Just make sure to wear something that won’t hinder the range of your bodily movement as you paddle or swim.