Ultimate Guide To Stand Up Paddle Boarding (SUP)
Whether you want to propel yourself across a smooth lake or surf along the waves of the ocean, a stand up paddle board will fit your mood. Paddle boarding is a spin of surfing, where It is a great recreational activity, whether you are trying to relax (like when using a paddle board for paddleboard yoga) or get your heart racing with a fast-paced activity (like boarding along the rapids of a river). Whether relaxing or chasing adrenaline, however, your experience depends on the paddleboard that you choose for your excursion. Just like choosing the best kayak, there are many different types of SUP boards you can buy. Before you make your purchase, check out this guide on how to buy the best paddleboard for your activities.
To see more of my top paddleboarding products why not check out our Best SUP Paddles Reviewed
Step 1: Decide How to Use Your Paddleboard
A huge factor in the effectiveness of your paddleboard is the hull that you choose to do it. The hull is the body of your board and its shape determines how it works. Usually, the hull is categorized as a planing or displacement hull, but there are also some hybrid varieties.
Planing Hull– Planing hulls ride on water, which makes them easy to maneuver. They have a flat, wide construction. They are ideal for:
- Whitewater boarding
- Paddleboard yoga
- Leisure paddling
Displacement Hull– Boarders using displacement hulls often choose them for increased speed and paddling efficiency. A displacement hull has a pointed bow (front end), shaped similar to a canoe or kayak. This is best for fast or long-distance riding. Ideal sports include:
- Stand up paddleboard tours
- Fitness paddling
Hybrid Hull– A hybrid hull combines all the best features of planing and displacement hulls. It is wide like a planing board, so you can sit down and ride it, but it has the front end of a displacement board for speed and paddling efficiency. They are good for:
- All-around use
- Even fishing.
Step 2: Deciding on Length, Width, and Thickness
Something else that factors into how well a paddle board functions during a certain activity is its length, width, and thickness. Here are the considerations when buying a paddleboard in each of these categories.
The length of the board effects maneuverability and what activities the board is most suited for.
- Short– These paddleboards are less than 10-feet. Most have a planing hull, making them very easy to maneuver. They are ideal for surfing, as well as use by kids. Typically, the kid-friendly models are 8-feet in length.
- Medium– The medium boards are 10- to 12-feet in length. Most have a planing hull, making them ideal for surfing. They are also a great choice for stand up paddleboard yoga.
- Long– Long boards categorize any that are longer than 12’6”. They travel straighter than the shorter varieties and usually have a displacement hull. This makes them faster, too. Longboards are a great choice for long-distance touring and speed paddling.
Paddleboards are usually between 25 and 36 inches wide. You should make three separate considerations when choosing the width of your paddleboard.
- Your body type– A large person is going to have trouble balancing on a smaller board. A board that is too wide is also detrimental, because it requires a smaller person to reach far for placing their paddle. Choose according to how small or large you are and then adapt the needed size based on what you are doing.
- The activity you are doing– Wider boards are great for carrying a cooler (like you need for long tours) or fishing gear. They are also necessary for activities like yoga, because stability is necessary to do poses in the water. If you plan on racing or surfing, a narrow board is a better choice because it is faster and easier to maneuver.
- Your skill level– If you are just starting out, it may be better to choose a wider paddle board. The wide setting maintains balance better, which can increase security and stability while you are learning.
The thickness describes how large the board is from the bottom side to the top side. Imagine that you were a smaller person, interested in using your paddleboard for yoga. You would need a wide board because of the activity, but you also must account for how small you are. To accommodate the activity and your weight, you would choose a thin board. A thinner board has less volume than a thick board. Likewise, if you are a larger person that needs a narrower board, then you would choose a thicker board to increase the volume.
Volume and Weight Capacity
The weight capacity of your board is determined by the volume. The good news is that most manufacturer’s list a weight capacity in the specifications for the product. Just make sure that you are under the maximum capacity.
The volume is also affected by the hull type. Planing boards hold weight better because of their wider shape near the tip. They are more forgiving in that sense. You will need to be more careful about choosing a displacement board, because they are more likely to tip if the overall volume does not align with your body type.
Step 3: Choose Between Inflatable vs. Solid SUPs
As their names suggest, an inflatable paddleboard is one that can be inflated or deflated, depending on if it is in use, while a solid board maintains its solid form through its entire life.
The major advantage that inflatable boards have is their compactness. If you are hiking to your paddleboarding location, then you may not want to maneuver an awkward board through the trees. They are also useful when you have limited storage space or when you are traveling. Finally, inflatable paddleboards are ideal for yoga and whitewater boarding. They are good for yoga because they are soft, making them comfortable, and for whitewater boarding because they handle bumps better than solid boards.
If you are going to choose an inflatable board, you want to choose one with an air pump and a storage bag, for easy inflating and carrying. You should also look for a board that can hold 12-15 pounds per square inch when inflated.
Solid paddleboards are great if you value performance on the water. Generally, they require less effort but offer a smoother, faster ride. They are also a little stabler, which makes them a great choice if you plan to carry equipment with you, or when you are racing or riding the waves.
Best Material for a Solid Paddle Board
Solid boards are usually constructed in one of four ways.
- Foam Core with Fiberglass and Epoxy– This option is the middle ground and the most common construction. They are durable, lightweight, and affordable.
- Plastic– The most affordable stand-up paddle boards are made of plastic. They do not perform as well, however, and they can be on the heavy side.
- Carbon Fiber– Carbon fiber is a high-end board, costing the most money. It is incredibly lightweight and also slightly stiffer than fiberglass and epoxy models.
- Wood– Wooden paddleboards are a beautiful option. Typically, a lightweight type of wood is chosen so the board still performs well and it is not too heavy.
Step 4: Other Considerations to Make Before Buying a Paddleboard
By now, you should have a solid idea of what factors you should consider before buying a paddle board, regarding the shape, weight, size, and construction of the board. Now, let’s talk about what other considerations you should make.
The fins are located on the bottom of the paddleboard. They add stability and help with maneuverability. If you value stability and straight tracking while you are riding, then larger fins are ideal. Smaller fins are ideal if you value maneuverability. Some people also choose to use their board without fins, which is okay because most are removable. This makes your board easier to transport, but it also gives you the opportunity to customize your board if you would like.
Here are the different types of fin setups that are common to paddleboards:
- Single Fin– This type of set up has a finbox, where the fin is secured using a screw and nut. Inside the finbox is a channel, which allows the fin to move back and forth while you are riding. This type of set up is ideal for flatwater paddling, since the single pin has minimal drag and provides great tracking.
- 2 + 1 Setup– This setup is ideal for surfing, for better maneuverability and tractions. A large fin is positioned in the center of the board and a smaller fin is positioned on either side of it.
- 3-Fin Setup– This offers great control for surfing and promotes straight tracking for flatwater boarding. It is ideal when you use your paddleboard for different activities. Called a ‘thruster’ setup, this features three fins that are around the same size.
- Considerations for Fins on Inflatable Paddleboards– Most inflatable boards do use one of the setups listed above. However, the difference is whether the fins are constructed of flexible rubber affixed to the board or semi-rigid fins that are able to be detached.
It is not uncommon for the traction pads to be sold separately from the board, because people usually customize these depending on the activity. For example, surfers may want to stand in one place on the board so they will choose a smaller pad. Some people even do away with the pad altogether, choosing to wax the board instead. Another option is larger pads, both lengthwise and widthwise. These are ideal for activities like yoga or for people who want to move around a lot.
Miscellaneous Built-In Considerations
There are other additional features or items that you will need for the best paddleboarding experience. Decide what is most important to you and make your purchase based on which boards have the features you want, while staying in your ideal price range.
- Tie Down Straps– Sometimes, bungee straps are secured to the front or rear of the board. These are designed for tying down things you may take paddle boarding, like coolers, clothing, or other things you want to keep dry.
- Attachment Mounts– These key points are specific to things like seats, cameras, fishing rod holders, and more. The accessories are usually separate, but look for these attachments if you have something specific you want to mount to the board.
Step 5: Buy the Additional Equipment You Need for Paddle Boarding
While buying your board is a great start, you will not be able to have a safe, enjoyable experience without some of the following items.
- Paddle– Paddle boarding would not be paddleboarding without a paddle. These often look like a long canoe paddle, but with a blade that is angled and in the shape of a teardrop. As you choose this paddle, be sure to choose one that will be high enough to reach your wrist while you are stretching to paddle in the water.
- Leash– Like a dog leash keeps your dog attached to you, your paddle board leash will keep the paddle board attached to you. Since the board floats, attaching it to yourself could save you should you fall off. It also keeps your board from riding off in the waves.
- Life Jacket– Any time that you are adventuring on the water, you should be wearing a life jacket. Shop around for something that is lightweight and comfortable, so that you are more likely to wear it on your outing. Even if you can swim, a personal flotation device can be necessary in certain situations.
- Warm Clothing– Even in the summer, you should be wearing a swimsuit or shorts that dry quickly. This is important for preventing hypothermia. If you are boarding in cooler weather, wear a dry suit or wet suit on your outing. Or at least some Aqua Socks.
- Roof Rack- If you do not have an inflatable paddle board you are going to need some sort of carrier or roof rack to transport it.
After you have checked steps 1-5 off your list, you should be ready to for your water excursion. As you decide what paddle board to buy, remember to consider the overall shape, in addition to the length, width, and volume. Finally, decide which features (like the construction, fins, and extras) are most important to you and look for something that fits your budget range. Grab a friend or go it alone- just be sure that fun and safety are a priority on your paddle boarding experience!
Now, it gets me thinking. It shouldn’t be as popular as it is now, with, of course, a stable number of enthusiasts, without health benefits, right? Let’s identify what we get out of it besides a sun-kissed skin.