They say that if you can paddle a kayak or a canoe, then you can can paddle a stand-up paddle board (SUP). You probably already have experience with an SUP if you’re now interested in purchasing one. There are many aspects to picking the right board for your activity and circumstance. If you have access, before you get started rent a few different boards, or find a demo in your area, this will help you find exactly what board is right for you.
Different Paddle Board Categories
First off, you need to know what type of boarder you are going to be, flat water or surf, and fun and fitness or racing and touring. Knowing how you’re going to use your board will ensure you choose the right SUP for your activities. Different activities have different categories of boards and their features vary as well.
Surf: short boards that have maneuverability, you will want to be sure your board is meant for waves and not flat water.
Cruise: these are longer boards and will be best on flat water
Race: you’re looking for a board that is long and narrow that will work in any type of water
Yoga: these boards are going to be long and stable, they should have deck pads for better grip
Features that Affect Your SUP Board
In helping to choose the right board, you also need to look at the features that boards have, your most important features will be stability and maneuverability. However, there are other features: hull type, length, width, volume, materials, and fins that will affect the speed, stability, efficiency, and maneuverability of the board.
This is the main body of a SUP, there are two types: planing and displacement. A planing hull is stable and versatile as well as flat and wide, will strike through the water like a surfboard. This type of hull is great for beginning paddle boarders in either a recreational or surfing environment. A displacement hull is pointed at the front end (similar to a canoe), and is designed to slice through the water making them faster, but less stable. They are longer and narrower than a SUP with a planing hull and would be best used paddling long distances and races.
Weight and Volume
It is important to find the right paddle board for your size. For example, if you’re short a board that is too wide will only force you to reach further over to paddle, making it awkward. The board will also not support you if you choose a board that is not meant for your weight. Each board has a weight capacity for its rider, if you are too heavy for the board, paddling can be difficult because you will be sitting lower than necessary in the water. The volume of the board is determined by its width, shape, length, and thickness. The higher the volume, the more weight the board will be able to support.
It’s important to take into consideration where you are going to use your stand up paddle board, whether flat water or surfing. The two different water types, means not only different styles, but different lengths as well. The length of the board determines the speed and maneuverability, a longer board travels faster and straighter, while a short board can turn better.
Long boards (12.6 – 14’) are ideal for racing, since they are faster and straighter.
Medium boards (9-12’) are versatile for either flat water or waves.
Short boards (under 9’) are great surfing boards because of their maneuverability.
Kids boards are generally around 8’ long.
This is the most important factor in stability, knowing how you will use your board will help determine the width you are looking for. Wide boards (31” or wider) are more stable than a narrow board and are easier to stand on, though they don’t get much speed. Narrow boards (29-30”) are faster, but less stable.
There are 4 different type of materials that can make up SUPs: expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam, hollow core, polyurethane foam, and inflatables. EPS foam is the most common board type and also the lightest. The negative to this type of material is that there is air between the cells. If the board is damaged in any way, water can get into the cells and ultimately degrade the core. Look for a board made with fused-cell EPS, this material is watertight and will provide a longer life. Hollow core is found in mid-range plastic boards because of the manufacturing process. You might find that high end boards have hollow cores to save on weight, but increase performance. Polyurethane foam is used on beginner boards. These boards are heavier than those boards made with EPS. Inflatables are durable, light, and easy to store. They can hold up to 12 psi of pressure and can be used anywhere.
Made from either fiberglass or nylon, fins are used for tracking and stability, a SUP can come with up to five fins. For boards used in flat water, a single fin works best, the more fins the board has, the more specialized the board gets. Fiberglass fins will give the best performance, though they pose a danger due to their sharp nature.
3-fin, also known as a thruster, provides great stability in surf.
Race fins are straight and stiff, and can help longer boards track better.
When all is said and done and you purchase your board, there’s a few more key pieces that you will need to fully enjoy the whole spectrum of paddle boarding. You will need to choose a paddle, preferably 6-8” or 8-10” taller than you depending on the manufacture. You will also need a personal flotation device (PFD), proper clothing, leash, and a car rack (unless you are purchasing an inflatable SUP.