SUP provides you with tons of options. You can either go paddling leisurely on the calm waters of the lake or opt for yoga on the board or may have a fast paced paddle workout on your mind and SUP will not disappoint you, however, you will need to choose the right board to match your requirements. The key decision points will always have to be the shape of the board, getting the correct volume and capacity, as well as the proper length, width and thickness. Whether you choose a solid or inflatable board will largely depend on how you will transport it and how much storage space you have. From there, you’ll consider a board’s fins and any extras o. r accessories that work for you.
The hull, or body, of a paddle board plays a major role in determining how the board performs in the water. Most SUPs have either a planing hull or a displacement hull. There are a handful with a hybrid design that combine the best attributes of each design.
Both can be used by beginners, but there are differences that make them better for some activities than others.
- Planning Hull: flat and wide, similar to a surfboard. It is designed to ride on top of the water and be very maneuverable. Boards with planning hulls are a good choice for leisure paddling, surfing, SUP yoga and whitewater.
- Displacement Hull: SUPs with displacement hulls have a pointed nose or bow (front end) similar to that of a kayak or canoe. The hull slices through water, pushing the water around the nose to the sides of the SUP to improve efficiency and create a fast, smooth ride. The efficiency of a displacement hull requires less effort than a planing hull to paddle, allowing you to go longer distances at faster speeds. They also track nice and straight but are generally a bit less maneuverable than planning hulls. Paddlers choose displacement hulls for a variety of applications, but always with an eye toward paddling efficiency and speed. Some applications include fitness paddling, SUP touring/camping and racing.
Solid Paddle Board vs Inflatable Paddle Board
- Solid SUP: Most solid boards have an EPS foam core that’s wrapped with fiberglass and epoxy. This is a fairly lightweight, durable and affordable construction. Carbon fiber is a lighter and stiffer option, but it’s also more expensive. Plastic SUPs are more affordable, but they are very heavy and lack the performance of other materials. Some SUPs incorporate lightweight wood for a beautiful appearance.
Performance is priority: They travel faster, smoother and with less effort than an inflatable. If paddling fast and far are your priorities, a solid SUP is for you.
For the perfect fit: As solid SUPs are available in a larger variety of sizes and finely tuned shapes than inflatable SUPs, so you’re more likely to find one that fits you just right.
Stability is important: A solid board is a tad more rigid than an inflatable board, which can provide a more stable feel, especially when riding waves. Solid boards also tend to ride lower in the water, which can also create a more stable feel.
You have a place to store it: Solid SUPs can take up a lot of space. If you have ample room in your garage and a vehicle that can transport it, then a solid SUP is a fine choice
- Inflatable SUP: Inflatable SUPs feature PVC exteriors with drop-stitch construction that create an air core. They come with a pump for inflating the board and a storage bag for when it’s not in use. A quality inflatable SUP is designed to be inflated to 12–15 pounds per square inch and should feel very rigid when fully inflated.
You have limited storage space: Inflatable SUPs are compact when deflated and can easily be stowed in small spaces, like a closet or the trunk of a car.
You’re traveling: Packed away in its storage bag, an inflatable can be checked on an airplane or stowed in a train, bus or car. Most storage bags have backpack straps for easy carrying.
You’re paddling whitewater: Like a raft or inflatable kayak, an inflatable SUP is better suited to handle bumps up against rocks and logs than a solid board.
You like SUP yoga: You don’t have to get an inflatable for SUP yoga, but they tend to be a bit softer than solid boards, making them more comfortable for yoga poses.
SUP Volume and Weight Capacity
Volume: A paddle board's volume, expressed in liters, gives an indication of the board’s ability to float with weight on it. The higher the volume, the more weight the board can support. You can find volume for a SUP listed in the specs on REI.com.
Weight capacity: Each paddle board has a rider weight capacity, which is listed in pounds in the specs on REI.com. Knowing weight capacity is important because if you’re too heavy for a board, it will ride lower in the water and be inefficient to paddle. When thinking about weight capacity, consider the total amount of weight you will put on the board, including your body weight and the weight of any gear, food and drinking water that you’ll be taking with you.
Volume and weight capacity as it relates to hull type: Most planing-hull boards are very forgiving, so as long as you’re below the weight capacity, the board will perform well for you. However, with displacement-hull SUPs, volume and weight capacity are more significant. SUP makers spend a lot of time determining the most efficient position for displacement boards to be in the water. If you overweight a displacement board and cause it to sink too low, it will drag and feel slow. If you’re too light for a board, you won’t sink it enough and the board will feel heavy and difficult to control.
Paddle Board Length
The length of a board plays a major role in determining how the board handles. In general, longer boards are faster than shorter boards, but shorter boards are more maneuverable. Keep in mind your intended use when deciding what length SUP to buy:
Short boards (under 10’) are great for surfing and/or kids. These boards almost always have a planing hull. Short boards are more maneuverable than long boards, making them great for surfing waves. Boards designed specifically for kids are typically around 8’ long.
Medium boards (10’ to 12’) are ideal for all-around use and for SUP yoga. Most of these boards have planing hulls, but sometime you’ll find a displacement-hull SUP at this length.
Long boards (12’6” and above) are great for fast paddling and long-distance touring. The majority of boards in this size range are displacement-hull SUPs. They’re faster than short and medium boards and they tend to track straighter. If you’re interested in paddling fast or touring long distances, you’ll want a long board.
When choosing a length, it’s helpful to understand how it relates to volume and weight capacity. A longer board can increase the volume and capacity, which can make it feel more stable and allow you to carry more on the board (width and thickness are also factors in volume and capacity; see the SUP Width and SUP Thickness sections of this article).
Paddle Board Width
When choosing how wide your SUP should be, think about the type of paddling you do, your body type and ability level:
Type of paddling: If you’re going on long tours that require you to carry extra gear, like a cooler of food and a tent, choose a wider board in order to have more storage space. The same is true if you’re doing SUP yoga; a board that is 31 inches wide or more will give you space and stability for doing poses. Narrower boards, on the other hand, are faster and more maneuverable, making them the choice among racers and surfers.
Body type: Try to match the width of the SUP to your body type. In general, if you’re a small person, go with a narrower board and if you’re a big person, go with a wider board. This is because a smaller person can generally find their balance on a narrow board, whereas a bigger person may struggle to do so. Also, if you put a smaller person on a board that is too big for them, they have to awkwardly reach out to the side to get their paddle in the water, resulting in an inefficient stroke.
Ability level: If you’ve paddled a lot, you may be comfortable on a narrower, faster SUP. However, someone brand new to SUP, might prefer a little extra width to help them feel more secure.
Paddle Board Thickness
The main reason to consider the thickness of a stand up paddle board is because of how it affects the overall volume and weight capacity. If you’re looking at two boards of the same length and width but different thicknesses, the thicker board has more volume than the thinner one and the higher the volume, the more weight it can support.
In general, larger fins with wider bases and longer front edges will track straighter and provide more stability than smaller fins. On the other hand, a smaller fin provides better maneuverability. Most fins are removable, so you can swap out fins and take them off for storage.
There are many different options for how fins are configured on the bottom of your SUP. Some popular SUP fin configurations include:
Single fin: Many SUPs include a single fin placed in a fin box and secured with a nut and screw. The fin box has a channel for the fin to slide back and forth in. The single fin provides good tracking and minimal drag, making it a good choice for flat water paddling.
3-fin setup: Also called a thruster, this setup promotes straight tracking on flat water and offers good control in surf. All three fins are usually about the same size.
2+1 setup: This configuration includes a larger center fin with a smaller fin on each side of it. This is a common setup on SUPs designed for surfing.
Fins for inflatable SUPs: Inflatable SUPs can have any of the fin configurations already listed. What sets them apart is that they feature either flexible rubber fins attached to the board or detachable semi-rigid fins.
SUP Extras and Accessories
Bungee straps/tie-down: Sometimes located on the front and/or rear of the board, these stretchy straps or tie-down spots are great for securing dry bags, clothing and coolers.
Attachment points/mounts: Some boards have specific attachment points for fishing-rod holders, seats, cameras and more. These accessories are typically sold separately.
Paddle: A SUP paddle looks a bit like a stretched-out canoe paddle with a tear-drop-shaped blade that angles forward for maximum paddling efficiency. The correct length paddle will reach up to your wrist when you stand the paddle up in front of you and raise your arm above your head.
PFD (Personal Flotation Device): The U.S. Coast Guard classifies stand up paddle boards as vessels (when used outside the narrow limits of swimming or surfing areas), so it is required that you wear a PFD.Note that the regulations also require you to always carry a safety whistle and have a light available if you are paddling after sunset.
Proper clothing: For cool conditions where hypothermia is a concern, wear a wetsuit or dry suit. In milder conditions, wear shorts and a T-shirt or bathing suit—something that moves with you and can get wet and dries quickly.
Leash: Typically sold separately, a leash tethers your SUP to you, keeping it close by if you fall off. Your SUP is a large flotation device, so being attached to it can be important for your safety. There are leashes designed specifically for surf, flat water and rivers; be sure to purchase the correct one for your intended use.
Car rack: Unless you have an inflatable SUP, you need a way to transport your board on your vehicle. There are specific SUP racks designed to go on the crossbars of your roof rack, or you can use padding, such as foam blocks, and utility straps to secure the board to the roof of your vehicle.