SUP Buying Guide
When it comes to choosing a Stand Up Paddle board there are many options and it can often be overwhelming. The goal of this guide is to simplify the process and assist you with selecting the best SUP for your needs.
Lets start with the basic essentials you will need to get started SUPing.
- SUP (Stand-Up Paddleboard)
- PFD (Personal Flotation Device)
There are lots of other accessories/gear that you might need while paddling but this is the minimum to get out and have a safe time.
The most important piece of equipment will be your board. There are a few basic types of boards and each one will have different benefits and be ideal for different paddling conditions.
Types of Boards: Board shapes can vary but the main styles are Race/Touring, All-Arounders, and Surf
- Race/Touring Boards – These boards are typically longer and narrower with a pointed nose or bow (front end) and a rounded, kayak-like “displacement” hull. The typical length for race boards will be 12’6″ or 14′ long while touring boards can go as small as 10’6 or 11′. The pointed nose or bow cuts through the water more efficiently and requires less effort to paddle longer distances. This makes them great for use in flat/calm waters.Race boards tend to have a narrow width which can make them less stable and are more suited for experienced paddlers. Here is an example of a “race” style board by Bark SUP that I like. Touring boards are usually a bit wider for increased stability and are well suited for anyone wanting to cruise on flat water.
- All-Around Boards – These boards are extremely versatile and very stable. This stability makes them best for beginners or anyone looking for a very easy paddling and stable ride. They offer a traditional surfboard-style “planing” hull and are 10′ to 12′ long, 29″ to 36″ wide. All-Around boards are great for yoga, fishing, use in small surf, and are great everyday paddlers.
Here are some all-arounders that I recommend: Riviera 11’6″, Surftech Generator 11’6
- Surf Style – Surf specific SUPs are normally shorter to allow for more maneuverability and responsiveness. Usually in the range of 7’6” to 9’6” and your specific size will be a matter of weight, skill, and preference. These boards are less stable for flat water paddling but excel in medium to large waves where quick response is necessary. Boards of this style are typically for a more experienced paddler or surfer. However, these can be very fun for wakeSUPing behind a large boat.Our favorite Surf SUPs: Boardworks Kraken, Surftech Channel Islands Caddi 10’1″ (see our full review of the Caddi here)
Board Length/Width and Volume: Paddleboards come in all different sizes and knowing your specific needs can make the decision process easier. The most important thing with boards is having one that works for your size. They need to be large enough to support your weight and ability.
Length: Beginners or anyone wanting a relaxing paddle will normally need a board 10′ to 12′ in length. With wide all-around boards, a longer board will provide more overall volume and be more stable.
Longer boards are faster than short boards so take that into consideration when choosing. If your goal for paddling is racing or longer distance touring, you’ll desire a board that is at least 11′ for touring and 12’6 or 14′ long for more competitive racing.
Surfers who are comfortable in the ocean and larger wavers will require a shorter board for more maneuverability
Also, make sure to consider overall board size and weight when choosing. It needs to be small and light enough that you can easily transport and store your board. Larger boards can weigh from 30-40lbs and will require a pickup truck or roof rack. If transportation and storage space is a problem then you might benefit from looking into inflatable SUPs.
More info on inflatable SUPs can be found below.
Width and Volume: Boards are made up to 36″ wide to accommodate a variety of body types and different ability levels. Board width is the most important factor in determining stability. Wider sizes are ideal for larger people or beginner level paddlers. The added width and thickness help displace your weight in the water.
Larger paddlers should aim for something at least 30” in width and with more volume (maybe a thickness of 4.5-4.75 in.)
Smaller paddlers can use narrower and lighter boards since they don’t need as much displacement in the water to counter their weight. A good starting point is 29-30 inches wide and with less volume.
These are just guidelines for a good starting point when getting a SUP. As you become more comfortable on the board you may find that you prefer a larger or smaller board for one reason or another. The beauty of paddleboarding is the huge variety of boards that allow you to choose exactly the ride you like.
Construction: Boards are made from several different materials and the construction of these boards is nothing new. Most of the construction technology has been carried over from surfboard or kayak construction techniques that have been in use for a while. EPS foam cores wrapped with fiberglass or carbon fiber are the most common. There is also rotomolding which is a heavy duty plastic. Most rotomolded boards are hollow due to their manufacturing process. To help you navigate the different constructions and ultimately choose what may work best for you we will touch on the basics of the three most popular constructions on the market today.
- Fiberglass and epoxy over EPS foam – This is the most common board type and can vary in price. Construction techniques vary with these boards, so weights vary widely, too. Some manufacturers use a sandwich construction that integrates a sheet of wood under the fiberglass deck to add durability and stiffness.
- Rotomolded – Made with a durable plastic exterior. These boards are usually the most affordable with the disadvantage of being heavy.
- Inflatable – Inflatables are vary durable and can be used for a variety of paddling. Made of PVC with drop-stitch construction, inflatables are vary transportable and easily stored in many different small spaces. They will come with a carrying bag for you to roll up the board when not and use and will typically require the purchase of a high pressure pump to inflate. Inflatables can range in price and style.
Board construction is constantly changing and evolving. This is simply an overview of the three most common types of construction but is not all-inclusive.
Fins: Fins are what allow the board to track in a straighter path and add stability. There are a few different fin configurations available and we will cover them below.
- Single fin – Single fins are probably the most common configuration on race, touring, and all-around SUPs. A large single fin slides into the finbox and is tightened with a nut and screw. The finbox normally allows for some forward and rear adjustment of the fin placement. With the fin closer to the tail the board will track better which is ideal for flatwater applications. With the fin moved forward it will allow the board to turn easier which is better for surfing.
- Thruster – This is a three fin configuration with one in the center and two side fins. The center fin can be the same size or larger than the sides (larger will add more traction and speed control). Thruster is the most common setup for surfing. Makes for a maneuverable ride with added stability that performs well under most conditions.
- Quad – A four fin “quad” setup is strictly a surf configuration that will be available on some advanced surf style SUPs. This style generates speed and forward momentum for fast and responsive turns. Great at tracking and creates a very snappy feel.
A paddleboard isn’t complete without, you guessed it, a paddle. There are two options for paddles, fixed length or adjustable, and some different constructions. More advanced paddlers will get into more specifics such as the blade size, angle of the blade, and more advance shaft shapes. For now beginners should go with a straight shaft, and typically it is best to start with an adjustable paddle that will allow multiple people to use it.
Paddle Type: The first decision is adjustable paddle or fixed length.
- Adjustable – Adjustable paddles are ideal for multiple people and paddling in a variety of conditions. They can be lengthened or shortened as needed. For this reason they offer the most versatility and should be considered by most for a first time paddle.
- Fixed Length – Fixed paddles come in one size with a seperate handle. The shaft is cut to whatever size is desired and then the handle is binded to the shaft with epoxy. These have less flex and can be lighter/stronger than andjustable paddles. Once someone knows the desired length they like to use, these are great options.
Paddle Construction: The construction of paddles also comes into consideration. A good rule of thumb is that stronger/lighter paddles will be more expensive. Whereas heavier paddles will be more affordable.
- Carbon Fiber – Carbon paddles are the most popular choice since they are very lightweight yet still remarkably strong. You can get carbon paddles in either fixed or adjustable designs. The fixed ones being the lightest. A light paddle can really make a difference when you spend a large amount of time on the water.
- Aluminum – The other main construction is aluminum. These are very durable and affordable but with that comes added weight.
Paddle Length: This is the last topic we will cover on paddles. Length is primarily a matter of preference. Different SUPers will use varying lengths for different activities. The best guideline for starting out is to aim for an overall paddle length (from top of handle to bottom of blade) between 6”-10” overhead height. Shorter paddles are more appropriate in the surf and longer are good for flatwater and long distance. Experiment with different lengths in that range and find what works for you.
Leash and PFD
The last two items you need are a good leash and a PFD.
Leash – A leash attaches to the rear of the board and the other end wraps around your ankle or shin to keep the board from getting away from you if you fall. When choosing a leash get one that is about the same length as your board starting out. This will make sure that if you fall off it is less likely to slingshot back and hit you (warning: there is always a chance when you fall of being hit by the board or paddle, make sure to cover your head with your arms to help avoid injury in the event of a fall). I like to use a coiled leash while paddling because it stays out of the water and doesn’t drag behind me. Check out these options.
Personal Flotation Device (PFD) – The USCG considers paddleboards a propelled vessel so anytime you are outside a designated swim/surfing area you will need a PFD with you. The laws vary by location so make sure to check with your local authority before you go out. Popular paddle board options are the fanny pack style inflatables like this.
Let me know in the comments below any questions you may have or suggestions to improve this guide. Mahalo!