You’ve been out stand up paddle boarding and you’ve been bitten by the bug. Now it’s time to buy your own board, but you don’t know where to start to find the best paddle board for you.
The beach-blonde-tanned-surfer-dude-with-the-flat-brimmed-cap in the board shop is throwing out lingo that you don’t understand.
Well, you’ve come to the right spot.
CHOOSING THE BEST PADDLE BOARD FOR YOU
We’ll tell you all you need to know about stand up paddle boards (SUPs) to get you on your way and we’ll give you our recommendations for the best paddle board on the market today.
SUP BOARD TYPES
Pick Yer Poison! Whether you’re looking for a board to get out on the lake for some family time, show the world how strong and fit you are as a racer, or catch some waves on the open water, there’s a paddle board that is perfect for you. The best paddle board for you may not be the best paddle board for me as we likely have different goals, situations, and interests. The different types of SUPs are shown in the picture below.
(Types of Paddle Boards – from left to right: 1 All-rounder, 2 Touring, 3 Racing, 4 Surf, 5 Yoga, 6 Whitewater, 7 Inflatable)
The different types of stand up paddle boards are:
All-Around SUP / All-Rounder:
This is the swiss army knife of stand up paddle boards. Flat water paddling on lakes and rivers to catching smaller waves in the ocean water. This is a stable and maneuverable board that can be used for a wide range of paddling activities. Because of its multipurpose uses and overall stability, this is the perfect type of board for beginners. By no means does that mean it’s a beginners only board though. Go ahead and check out our rankings of the top all around boards.
A touring SUP is made primarily for longer distance paddling. If you’re looking for a board that you can take down the lake on your morning workout, or for exploring the coast line, then this is the right board for you. This is a board that is made to be faster and more efficient (which also means less stable and maneuverable) than the All-Rounder, but isn’t solely committed to the racing scene.
A racing SUP is purpose built for one thing and one thing only. SPEED. Using the lightest materials (read: most expensive) available, these boards are designed to be fast and efficient, with excellent glide and tracking. The speed and efficiency that these boards provide comes at the expense of stability and maneuverability so it is recommended that a graduated approach be used to getting on one of these slippery bananas.
A surf SUP is designed to catch and carve breaking waves in the ocean surf. These boards are shorter and that makes them agile yet stable. The surf SUP is a wave catching machine that is also able to catch smaller waves that are too messy for traditional surfboards which makes it a versatile tool for those that want to ride the waves.
A yoga SUP takes yoga on the pier to the next level. A yoga SUP combines a super stable all-rounder board with a flat yoga mat top to create a perfect platform to challenge your downward dog and create a unique and beautiful experience. While a standard all-rounder could be used for stand up paddleboard yoga (SUPY) in a pinch, this purpose-built SUP is the best paddle board to keep your cat pose out of the water.
For you adrenaline junkies out there, this board is made to hit the whitewater river rapids previously dedicated exclusively to kayaks and rafts. A whitewater SUP is made of virtually indestructible construction and is a wider board. When you’re getting bounced through those rollers towards the rocks, you need a stable and maneuverable board and that is exactly what you get with a whitewater SUP.
The inflatable SUP isn’t exactly a type of paddle board, but rather a type of construction. An inflatable paddle board can take the shape and characteristics of any of the boards mentioned previously. We’ll get into the different types of construction later, but the reason that we’ve included it here is that at the end of the day, you can roll this baby up and throw it in the trunk of your car. So an inflatable all-rounder will have the characteristics of the all-rounder paddle board, but it will be easier to transport and store. If space is at a premium in your life, an inflatable SUP is what you’re after. Check out our top recommended inflatable paddle boards.
SUP HULL TYPES
The paddle board hull refers to the shape of the underside of the board and this shape plays a big role in how the board performs (and who’s kidding who – it’s all about how we perform). There are two types of hulls to choose from on SUPs: a planing hull or a displacement hull.
A planing hull is what most people think of when they think about traditional surfboards or windsurf boards. A planing hull is flat and wide and is designed to ride on top of the water. This hull shape leads to increased stability and is a versatile hull that can be used in a variety of environments. This is the primary hull shape on all-rounder, surf, yoga, and whitewater SUPs. Due to the flexibility and stability of this hull, it is a great choice for someone new to paddle boarding.
A displacement hull takes its design inspiration from canoes and kayaks. This hull shape has a pointed nose that cuts through the water and pushes the water down each side of the board, rather than trying to ride on top of it. Since this hull cuts through the water, it offers a smoother ride with better glide and speed than the planing hull. To reduce as much drag as possible, these hulls are typically longer and narrower. The speed and efficiency that are the hallmarks of this hull also cause this type of board to be tippier. You will find these hulls on racing and touring SUPs.
Stand up paddle boards come in a wide range of lengths. The best paddle board length for you is dependent on what type of paddling you expect to be doing (and don’t forget your storage and transportation situation). In general, a long board is faster but hard to turn while a short board is agile but slower.
Short Boards (less than 9’ long):
Short boards are perfect for surfing or for kids. The short length makes these boards super maneuverable with the added bonus that you can usually find some spot to stuff this board when you’re land locked. Most surf and whitewater SUPs fall into this category.
Medium Boards (9-12’ long):
Medium length boards try to bring you the best of both worlds and walk the line between speed and agility. As a result, medium length boards are fairly versatile and you will find most all-rounder and yoga boards in this length.
Long Boards (more than 12’ long):
Long boards are designed for speed and efficiency and are much easier to track straight. This is the perfect length for touring SUPs (anything over 12’) and racing SUPs (typically these will be 12’6” long or 14’ long to match specific race categories). Make sure you have a place to store these guys, or the dining room might start to get a little crowded.
One of the most important factors in determining the stability of a paddle board is the width. The wider the board, the more stable it is. As the board narrows in width, it is easier to move through the water but it also is more tippy.
Don’t be fooled though, you can find a way to flip any width of board and end up in the drink.
Wide Boards (31” and wider):
Boards that are 31” and wider are considered wide boards and when riding these boards, you will find it much easier to stay out of the soup. If you’re just getting started with stand up paddle boarding, we recommended that you look for a wide board.
Narrow Boards (30” and narrower):
Boards that are 30” and narrower fall into the narrow board category and will have less drag than the wide boards. The inexperienced paddler may find themself spending a fair amount of time getting bucked off their board if they try to start with this board width. Given the sleek design of these boards, most touring and racing boards are narrow boards. A narrow board is the best paddle board for slicing through water quickly and efficiently.
The SUP volume is a way to understand the buoyancy of the board and how much weight the board can float. It is measured in litres (thanks Canada) and the higher the volume of the board, the bigger the paddler that the board will support.
In super simplified terms, the volume is based on the board length, width, and thickness. So a short, wide, and thick board can have a higher volume than a long, narrow, thin board. It is important that you select a board with enough volume otherwise the board will ride lower in the water and can even nose under the water as you’re paddling and you’ll find yourself doing a lot of work. And we’re not in this for the work.
All paddle board manufacturers will provide a listed maximum carrying capacity for their SUP models so that you can select the best paddle board for your weight.
The volume relates strictly to how much weight the board can support in the water. The hull shape, length of board, width of board, and overall geometry of the board are what will influence the stability and maneuverability of the board.
For all-rounder boards you can use the following general rules of thumb to help determine the right board volume:
Beginner: Volume (in litres) should be at least 0.9 x rider’s weight (in lb)
so if you are 180 lbs: 180lbs x 0.9 = 162L
Intermediate: Volume (in litres) = 0.77 x rider’s weight (in lb)
Advanced: Volume (in litres) = 0.6 x rider’s weight (in lb)
There are many different types of construction in paddle boards and the type and quality of construction is the single most important factor in the board durability, board weight, and cost of the SUP.
There are four main types of board construction:
Styrene-Based Foam Core SUPs:
The styrene-based foam core board is the most common type of hard board on the market. This type of board starts with a foam core that is wrapped in a protective coating. The type of foam and the make-up of the protective coating are what differentiates each board. Two forms of this type of board are discussed below.
1. Traditional EPS Foam/Epoxy Lay-Up Construction:
This traditional form of construction starts with a shaped foam blank. The foam blank is made of either expanded polystyrene foam (EPS, a light, low density foam – think cheap styrofoam cooler – that can absorb water if there is ever a crack in the outer shell – see image of white foam below) or extruded polystyrene foam (XTR, a slightly heavier and stronger foam that absorbs very little water – see image of pink foam below). Next fiberglass fabric is laid over the board and an epoxy resin is poured over the fabric to create a hard shell. This step is repeated multiple times to add strength to the outer shell. In more expensive SUPs, the fiberglass fabric is replaced with carbon fiber, kevlar, or some combination of. Typically, carbon is incredibly stiff and lightweight, but quite weak on impact while kevlar is much more durable but is difficult to work with.
(image of EPS foam – lower quality board construction material)
(image of XTR foam – higher quality board construction material)
2. PVC Sandwich Construction:
This form of construction also has a foam core, but the construction of the hard, exterior shell is different. Instead of using multiple layers of fiberglass fabric, the PVC sandwich construction uses an inner layer of fiberglass fabric, a middle layer of PVC foam (high-density foam), and an outer layer of fiberglass fabric. This sandwich provides a stronger shell than the sole fiberglass construction. Like the traditional EPS foam / epoxy lay-up construction, the fiberglass can be replaced with carbon fiber, kevlar, and even structural wood veneer.
A plastic paddleboard consists of a molded plastic shell with a hollow core, similar to a plastic kayak. These SUPs are typically heavier, but are extremely durable and can handle a lot of abuse. This type of board construction is perfect for whitewater SUPing and any other paddling where you expect to encounter a lot of rocks (or dents and dings transporting boards).
Hollow Core SUPs:
There are a few other types of hollow core construction out there beyond the plastic SUPs and most use a hollow core to save on weight. In general, this type of board has a hollow core and some type of sandwich construction (honeycomb structure sandwiched between layers of carbon or kevlar) to create an extremely strong and stiff outer shell. Some 14’ race boards use this type of construction.
An inflatable stand up paddle board (iSUP) is made from layers of PVC plastic (same material used to make river rafts) drop stitched together with fibers connecting the top and bottom surfaces (inside) of the board. Since manufacturers started producing these boards with a thickness of 6 inches or greater, they have become much more rigid to the point where it is difficult to tell the difference between an iSUP and a traditional hard board. The drawback to this type of construction is that you need to spend between 5 and 10 minutes inflating your board with a hand or foot pump before heading out on your paddle. The benefits are that they are much easier to transport (by vehicle and by foot), they are incredibly durable, and they are the best paddle board for people with limited storage area.
Fin configurations come in many variations of styles, shapes, and sizes and each provides different tracking and stability to the paddleboard.
The fins are attached in the fin box located near the tail of the board. The fins can be moved forward and backward in the fin box to alter the performance of the board. Positioning the fin near the front of the fin box improves turning. Positioning the fin near the back of the fin box provides better tracking performance.
Fins can be rigid (better tracking, but painful if you ever hit anything below the surface of the water) or flexible (more forgiving if you hit something under the water).
The main setups are:
Single Fin: Most beginner boards come with a single 9 or 10” plastic fin. A single fin helps to maintain a straight line and limit side-to-side instability while paddling. Tracking performance can be improved with a longer fin. Most touring and racing boards use a single fin. All-rounders will also use a single fin, but look for a low-profile fin which will help you to turn quickly in surf conditions.
2, 3, or 4 Fins: A 3 or 4 fin setup is called a thruster: it consists either of a larger center fin with two smaller side fins, or four smaller side fins. You can get a 2 fin setup by removing the large center fin from a 3 fin setup. A thruster setup is used to provide greater control while surfing and also straight tracking on flat water. Most of the time, the thruster set up is found on surf SUPs.
The table below summarizes the SUP characteristics for each type of board. Remember that there are no hard and fast rules though and there is a board for every situation out there. The best paddle board for you may not be the best paddle board for me – everyone has their own unique and specific requirements.
|All-rounder||Planing / displacement||9′ – 12′||30 – 34″||Large single fin||Various|
|Touring||Displacement||11′ – 14′||28 – 32″||Large single fin||Various|
|Racing||Displacement||12’6″, 14′, 14’+||25 – 30″||Large single fin||Carbon fibre, kevlar|
|Surf||Planing||9′ or shorter||28 – 32″||3 fin setup||Various|
|Yoga||Planing||9′ – 12′||31″+||Large single fin||Various|
|Whitewater||Planing||10′ or shorter||30 – 25″||Single fin (flip up skeg)||Plastic / inflatable|