Stand up paddle boarding (SUP) is an on-the-water activity that’s grown quickly because at its core, it’s simply lots of fun regardless of how you choose to paddle. With so many activities to choose from, there’s a great option at every skill level. Plus, stand up paddle boarding is easy to learn, so almost anyone can enjoy being out on the water on a paddle board.
In recent years the materials used and construction of inflatable paddle boards has improve significantly. From upgraded carbon rails to state of the art woven drop-stitching, they’ve come a long way. These days they’re a great alternative to a hard board for a variety of reasons and still come in all of the same shapes and sizes. Experienced paddlers and new riders alike have recognized the benefits of using iSUPs compared to a solid board. They’re not just beginner boards anymore. Nonetheless an inflatable board, because of its convenience, makes a great beginner paddle board.
5 Pro Tips for Choosing a Stand Up Paddle Board
Your interests and how you plan to use the paddleboard should guide which type of board and board shapes you choose. Think through the types of activities you plan to do on the water (fishing, yoga, surfing, etc). What do you imagine yourself doing? Are you going to hit the waves for a surf? Or would you prefer to simply cruise some calm water? Are you looking to join any races? Or are you thinking you want to take your yoga out of the studio and on to the water?
You may not be able to answer exactly what you plan to do with your SUP so take a moment to daydream about your time out on the water. Once you get some ideas about how you plan to use your SUP you can look into what paddle board is best for you. And don’t worry if you can’t make up your mind; there are versatile boards that work for a variety of activities as well.
1. Understand the Different Types of Stand Up Paddle Boards
If you’re just getting started, choosing the right paddle board for your paddle boarding style is important. The best remedy is to understand the types so your choice is easy and informed. It’s not enough to choose a SUP board simply on looks. There’s a lot of clever design work behind SUPs that you can take advantage of if you learn about what’s out there before you start paddling. There is some crossover in types, but here are the most common:
An all-around paddle board is the best choice for 99% of beginner paddlers as they are versatile and well-suited for any type of paddling activity. You can hit the waves for a surf, head somewhere to fish, and even bring a furry friend along if you have a pet. They’re the most common SUPs you see on the water and a great place to start if you’re not sure what activities or bodies of water you’ll paddle most often. Overall, it’s their versatility that makes them popular paddle boards for beginners.
Touring paddleboards are designed for longer distances and speed. They are typically longer and narrower than all-around boards for extra glide and paddling efficiency. The most noticeable difference is their pointy nose. A pointed nose allows them to cut through the water and track effectively when paddling. You may also notice their shape tapers at the front and back to ensure they are agile and streamlined. While a touring paddleboard can hold plenty of gear front and rear for longer expeditions, their narrow and tapered shape means the paddler’s range of movement is limited to the center of the board where it is widest. It’s not that they are a shorter board, just that they are a slightly narrower board. One thing to consider is that their speedy shape means they are somewhat less stable than an all-around paddleboard.
These are a great paddleboard for people who need the extra deck space. Unlike touring boards, they are extremely wide. Some will use them for fishing, to carry extra gear, or paddle tandem with other passengers or pets. The Max multi-purpose SUP is based on an all-around shape and has a similar rounded nose. It’s extra-wide and longer than most boards so it’s extremely stable and fun for the whole family. However, with that increased width and length, it has more drag in the water when paddling solo. Wider boards tend to be less manueverable, but that only matters if you’re trying to keep your turns tight in a SUP race.
Yoga paddle boards are designed for yoga and other fitness activities. They’re designed to be very stable so they’re wider than all-around SUPs and still a larger board, but not as big as multi-purpose SUPs. Yoga is certainly more of a challenge on the open water, but they’re still stable enough for all ability levels. The better ones will include a deck pad equal in comfort to what you’d expect from a yoga mat.
2. Choose the Right Size SUP (for You)
The right size paddle board is dependent on several factors. Beginners first thought is to maximize stability and look for a wide, stable board. That’s great! Just remember that you’ll still need to work on your balance and basic paddling fundamentals at first. Don’t let the thought of falling in intimidate you, it’s all part of the fun!
Maneuverability is important too. Opting for an oversized board to be sure you’ll never fall comes at the cost of speed and ability to turn with ease. Be aware that there are tradeoffs when it comes to the size and shape of your SUP. It’s not that one board size is better than the other. Rather, it depends more on what your looking for in you paddling experience. For instance, a touring board is much better for long-distance paddling whereas a yoga SUP is obviously much better for yoga.
Generally speaking, the bigger a SUP is relative to your size, the more stable it is. However, what you gain with added stability you lose in speed and maneuverability. Of course, if your board is small and narrow it’ll be more nimble in choppy waters and easier to turn in the surf, but it will also be less stable than something wider. These tradeoffs aren’t ‘good’ and ‘bad’, or ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. Every SUP shape performs differently in different conditions. Choose one that fits your type of paddling.
3. Decide Between an Inflatable Paddle Boards or Epoxy SUP
The next factor a beginner needs to look at when buying a paddle board is whether to choose an inflatable or epoxy. Inflatables (sometimes called iSUPs) are great for a variety of reasons. First, they’re easier to transport. Since inflatables can be packed down, you don’t need a roof rack and can easily carry them in a board backpack. This is something you certainly can’t do with a solid EPS foam core SUP. You might even be able to fly with them as checked baggage. And because they can be packed up, they’re easier to store because they don’t require as much space at home.
There was a time when the performance of inflatables might not have lived up to the expectations of hard board (epoxy) riders, but those days are long gone. They’re not just beginner paddle boards anymore. These days inflatable stand up paddle boards can be easily hand pumped into a comparable stiffness and rigidity. And they do just as well in all water conditions; choppy, flat water, etc. Unless you’re surfing aggressively on larger waves or competing in SUP races, an inflatable is likely the best choice for your ride.
4. Find Your Paddle Board Storage Space
Even an inflatable SUP takes up a fair amount of space so it’s important to have a good place to store it in mind. You’ll want somewhere that can keep it safe from the elements and any accidental bumps or collisions. That being said, you don’t have to worry too much about your SUP getting damaged. Inflatables are especially durable, but the better you look after your SUP the longer it will last. This is why an inflatable that can roll up and be stored in a bag is extremely convenient. There’s no need to build any racks or find a space that can accommodate the full length of your SUP.
5. Be Smart About What You Spend on Your Beginner Paddle Board Gear
When choosing a SUP, beginners do not need to buy the most expensive board on the market. Look for a balance between affordability, quality, and durability, with all the accessories you need to get started paddling right away.
Figuring out how to choose a stand up paddle board as a beginner is pretty straightforward. Just take the time to think through what you plan to do and the rest will fall into place as you search. The type, size, storage, and cost of SUPs are all important factors to consider for first-time buyers. Think through which type of board is the ideal board for you. Follow the five pro tips provided to help make your first stand up paddle board purchase. Look forward to seeing you on the water!