How to Choose a SUP Board

When it comes time to choose a SUP board (stand-up paddle board) there are a few questions you’ll want to answer.

 bare feet on a paddleboard with dry bag and paddle

(Photo courtesy of Emily Hendricks)

Where and How Will You Use Your Paddle Board?

Paddlers have taken SUP boards to practically every water environment there is. Flatwater (lakes), rivers, whitewater, ocean surf—depending on your skill level, they’re all options.

So where do you see yourself paddling the most? Whatever it is, you can find a paddle board designed for that water environment:

  • Is your plan to keep the board at the family cabin to be used by folks of all ages and abilities? Or do you want an affordable SUP for pleasure paddles? Then you’ll want a recreational board that’s long, wide and stable. Those are the easiest for beginners to use successfully.
  • Is your goal to surf the ocean breakers or whitewater? Then you’ll want a shorter and more maneuverable board than one that’s designed for flatwater touring.
  • Do you dream of racing? You’ll want a board that’s long and narrow, that’s built for speed.
  • Maybe you want to use one for SUP yoga? These are boards designed for that purpose—they’re wide and stable.
  • What about multi-day SUP camping trips? You’ll want a board that can handle the weight of you plus your gear.

Do You Want a Solid or Inflatable SUP Board?

Next, think about whether a solid or inflatable SUP board will best meet your needs. Each has its distinct advantages and disadvantages. You’ll need to decide which type is best for your situation and lifestyle.

We go into more details in SUP: Inflatable vs. Solid Paddleboards. But here’s the nutshell version:

  • Inflatable SUP boards transport and store very easily. If you have limited storage and/or vehicle space, an inflatable model packs down to fit in a closet, backseat or trunk. They also tend to be lighter than solid boards.
    (Quality) inflatables are extremely durable, but offer a soft landing if you happen to fall on it.
  • They’re ideal for activities that require a wider, more stable surface like yoga and fishing.
  • They tend to be more affordable, especially in the mid and high-quality range.
  • Inflatables take 11-15 minutes to inflate, and it’s hard work if you’re doing it with a manual pump. Many opt to spend an additional $100+ for an electric pump (which still takes 11-15 minutes).
  • Solid SUPs are faster and more maneuverable than inflatables. They respond better in waves and choppy water.
  • Solid boards are launch-and-go. They’re ready as soon as you’re at the water.

man paddleboarding 

(Photo courtesy of Scottie Peterson)

How Much Do You Want to Spend?

As a rule of thumb for solid SUP boards, the lighter the board and easier it is to haul, the higher the price point.

Boards can be made from a variety of materials including epoxy resin, polyurethane, fiberglass and carbon fiber. The lighter the material gets, the more expensive it is and so the more the board will cost.

There are a TON of SUP manufacturers on the market, so you’ll find a wide range of prices for both solid and inflatable boards. To help your decision, also think about what accessories are important to you.

Some have more bungees for strapping gear items down, others have no bungees. Some come with paddle leashes, pumps and a paddle—others don’t. Maybe you’d like a hybrid model that includes a kayak seat. Do you want the paddle bag with wheels or doesn’t that matter to you?

All of these are considerations to keep in mind during your search.

Don’t Forget a PFD and Paddle

When you set your budget, don’t forget to include room for a PFD (Personal Flotation Device, or life jacket) and paddle. Neither of these should be an afterthought.

Lots of paddle board companies include a paddle with the purchase of a board. But these are very often heavy, clunky paddles you won’t enjoy using. We always recommend you buy the lightest paddle you can afford. That’ll give you your best experience on the water.

Remember, your paddle is your motor and will constantly be in your hands. You want it to be comfortable, light and easy to use.

Shop our SUP paddles here.

As for the PFD, many paddle boarders like the low-profile inflatable models. Whether you choose one of these or a more traditional vest model, be sure it gives your arms and shoulders plenty of freedom, and that it fits you comfortably.

You can find paddling-specific PFDs everywhere. Many include zip pockets, D rings and other handy accessories for you to stash items like sunglasses and lip balm.

Try Before You Buy

If possible, it’s always a good idea to try several types of boards before you make your purchase. If there’s a paddle shop in your area, they may have a Demo Day a couple times a year.

Use our Dealer Locator Tool to find a shop near you.

Another option is to rent at a local lake or river. Or take a lesson from an outfitter or guide service. Try both solid and inflatable boards so you can experience the differences in how they handle.

 woman paddleboarding

(Photo courtesy of Emily Hendricks)

No matter which type of board you choose, when you buy from a reputable brand you can have confidence the board will serve you well for many years!

Do you have paddle questions our friendly Customer Service Team can help you with today? Contact them: 715-755-3405 • [email protected]

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