Buying a stand up paddleboard is a big purchase. We here at PADDLE HIGHER want to give you an idea as to some of the options before you head to the store or pluck down your credit card for an online purchase. Manufacturers are constantly coming out with new designs, so we have tried to sift through the selection to broadly categorize what is out there. Of course, not every board will fit into one of our categories and some boards will fit into more than one, but you will get the idea. As every board is different, we highly recommend that you rent or demo the actual board before you commit to buying it.
There are a few manufacturers making soft-top stand up paddleboards. As a surfboard, soft-tops provide plenty of benefits – for example, if you were to hit anybody (including yourself) or anything with the board, the padding would provide a slightly softer blow. They are more durable (less susceptible to dings), so the board will possibly spend less time in the shop. They are also slightly cheaper than regular boards. Soft-tops make perfect sense for a rental vendor because they are less likely to ding and consequently, last longer.
Honestly, for a typical beginning stand up paddler, however, we don’t recommend buying a soft-top board. The exceptions being if you are a novice surfer and are forced to surf in a crowded spot (which we definitely DO NOT recommend) and possibly for use by children. If you plan to just cruise around, you will most likely not ding your board or hit anybody or anything with your board (at least not while you are out on the water). You will also not typically be (and should NOT be) at crowded surf spots. With that said, the only remaining benefit is price. If price is your main constraint, a better bet would be to find a good deal on used or a lightly-used demo board. Most people will grow out of a soft-top SUP board after a couple of months of use.
Now this is the kind of board most people probably start off buying. A majority of the SUP boards out there are cruiser boards. Basically, a cruiser board is an all-around board that performs decently at every discipline, but not excellent at any. They are typically 10’0” to 12’6” and from 29-32 inches wide. A Cruiser is by no means only for beginners, but they make great beginner boards.
A beginner might want to start off with a bigger, more stable version – 11’ or over and 30” wide or more. Of course, the paddler’s weight will have a great deal of importance. A stable board for an 110lb woman will not be as stable for a 250lb man!
Leisure paddling and surfing are great on these size boards. It won’t be the fastest board, nor the most maneuverable, but it will do the job. Also, nose riding and cross-stepping on these boards are a cinch. Once you get in slightly bigger surf (more than 3 foot face), you will want a board with harder rails and less nose-diving tendencies. Boards 10’6” and under and designed to surf will do the job.
|Kainoa McGee pushing the envelope of SUP surfing|
Surf SUP Boards
High Performance SUP surfboards are starting to take off as more and more surfers begin to stand up paddle and more stand up paddlers push the limits of their boards in the surf. The boards in this category range from about 8’ to 9’6”, thicknesses under 4.5” and widths less than 29”. Due to their small size, these boards are relatively unstable and tricky in choppy water. Once on a wave, however, they perform more like a surfboard. Due to its smaller size, these boards are also lighter and travel more easily. We don’t recommend a high-performance SUP surfboard for beginners. These boards can be frustratingly unstable for a novice and a little sluggish for a fitness paddle.
Big Wave Guns
In addition to the shorter SUP surfboards, SUP-style Guns can be found on the market. Guns are intended for bigger waves, but also can make a decent race board for lighter people (read: women and children). They range in size from 11’ to 13’ and are on the narrower side (about 27-28 inches wide). Since SUPers that ride 12 foot or bigger waves will most likely not be reading this section, I’ll focus on the race aspect of the board.
For people less than 140 pounds, a gun can make the perfect hard core fitness board or stock class race board. With this type of rider, these boards glide well on flat water, handle waves nicely and ride wind swells respectably. While not quite as fast as an engineered race board, these boards can sometimes be easier to control than a similarly sized race board. For the gal that wants a good all-rounder and may eventually try racing, this is a great board to buy!
Stand up paddling has expanded tremendously quickly in the racing arena. Every manufacturer now has their version of a race board. Race categories are only now becoming more standardized with the typical categories as 12’6” and under, 14’ and under, and Unlimited. This means that race boards will typically come in sizes of 12'6", 14', or longer (many of these with steering systems). Of course, price increases with size, but so does top speed (in theory at least).
Without getting too technical, there are two basic types of race board shapes – a displacement hull and a planing hull. A displacement hull is designed to efficiently travel THROUGH the water (think kayak) and a planing hull is designed to glide ON TOP of the water (think surfboard). You can do the research to decide which you think is faster or better for you and the conditions that you typically ride in. To make matters more complicated, some of the most popular boards are actually a combination of the two. In addition to hull design, manufacturers are working with different materials and constructions to create the fastest board possible. These boards can cost a pretty penny, can be quite fragile, and are not recommended unless you plan to race or paddle long distances.
Whitewater SUP Boards
A few manufacturers are making whitewater specific boards. That’s right – boards meant to be paddled down a whitewater river! C4 Waterman’s C-Mac ATB Board is one such board and the annual Whitewater Stand Up Paddle Championship is the place to see it done.
Inflatable SUP Boards
The latest thing in the SUP world is inflatable SUP boards. Inflatable SUP boards offer the convenience of a reduced size for storage and transport, but add the hassle of having to bring along a pump and to inflate the board before hitting the water. The technology has come a long way and some of the latest models seem to be stiff enough when inflated to be serviceable while cruising or in the surf, however, beware of some of the cheaper versions. I've seen inflatable boards that look like noodles and are unable to be pumped up rigid enough to actually support a stand up paddler at all much less allow him/her to cruise around with. I think the jury is still out on this category of boards but the technology is getting close. ULI seems to makes decent inflatable boards and even has one designed by Gerry Lopez. If these perform almost like a traditional SUP board and hold up over time, these would make excellent travel boards!
When choosing a paddle, you will no doubt be confused as to which one to buy. There are wood, bamboo, fiberglass, carbon, plastic and aluminium paddles - each one with its own price point and set of features. Other than material and price, the handle or T-top and shape of the blade are important factors in choosing a paddle. Most paddles can be shortened to your size once you purchase them.
|Carbon/Carbon, Carbon/Fiberglass, Fiberglass, Wood, ABS Plastic -- SUP paddles come in many different types|
Carbon is generally stiffer, lighter and stronger but more expensive. Some people complain that a carbon shaft hurts their shoulders because it is so stiff. Fiberglass shafts are also light (though heavier than carbon) and provide more “give” than carbon paddles. It basically comes down to personal preference and price as to which material will work for you.
Not quite as versatile and light, the wood and bamboo options are beautiful and usually in the medium - high price range, but can also double as beautiful works of art. Plastic and aluminum paddles are heavy and cumbersome, but more affordable. Rental companies will often offer only aluminum or plastic paddles because of their durability.
The shape and angle of the blade are also important when choosing a paddle. Do you want a larger blade to grab more water or a smaller one to get through the water faster? What kind of angle do you want the blade to have? Dihedral or no dihedral? The only way for you to know which blade is best for you is to try as many out as possible.
The last factor is the handle. Put your hand around the top of the paddle shaft and squeeze to see how it fits in your hand. The discomfort of a cramping hand or forearm while paddling is the worst!
When it comes to paddle length, the rule of thumb is to have a paddle that is 6 to 8 inches above your head. For surfing, go shorter and for long distance paddling or racing, go longer.