Paddleboards come in 2 main types: all arounder and racing/touring. The beauty of these boards is that most are suitable for several types of paddling. Several other more-specific styles of boards are noted below.
All Arounders: These offer a traditional surfboard-style “planing” hull and are 10' to 12' long, 29" to 36" wide. They are best for beginners, anyone who paddles on a calm lake and stays close to shore, or those who want to fish from their boards.
Race, Touring and Downwind SUPs: These have a pointed nose or bow (front end) and a rounded, kayak-like “displacement” hull; most are 12'6" or 14' long. The pointed nose or bow is more efficient and requires less effort to paddle longer distances. Race and touring boards tend to have a narrow width, so make sure to get something that is stable for you.
SUP Hybrids: Also called hybrid paddleboards, these can be used as a sit-on-top kayak or you can stand on them. This versatility allows you to take it easy, go fishing or do some light surfing. Some models add a deck hatch for gear storage on longer day trips.
Surfing SUPs: Anyone new to surfing should start with a wide, stable all-arounder board for paddling in waves. Once you’re proficient, you can join the more experienced crowd with narrow surf SUPs, but these take time to master. If you’re already an experienced surfer, you should be able to jump right into using a shorter board that is easier to maneuver.
Kids’ SUPs: Kids can use several types of boards depending on the situation. If paddling solo, a short all-arounder board for kids (about 8’ long) is a lot easier to carry and maneuver than a board made for adults. Kids also enjoy inflatables as they're light, easy to carry and have some cushion to absorb falls on the deck.
Boards for Women: SUP boards tend to be heavy, hard to carry and a challenge to remove from the top of your car. Board makers have responded to this problem by offering ultra-light boards that are easier for smaller adults to carry. Some have a narrow mid-section to help you reach both the deck handle and opposite side of the board.
Shop REI’s selection of stand up paddleboards.
Board width is the most important factor in determining stability. SUP boards are made up to 36" wide to accommodate a variety of body types. Wider sizes are ideal for larger people or anyone with poor flexibility or recent leg or hip injuries. The added width and thickness help displace your weight in the water.
For example, I’m 6'5" tall and 230 lbs. Folks like me should consider a board 31" or wider and 4-3/4" or thicker. Conversely, paddlers up to 5'7" or 180 lbs. should consider a 29" to 30" wide board, which is more maneuverable and lighter to carry than a large board.
As a SUP instructor, I match people who are really concerned with their balance with wider boards until they feel comfortable, then switch them to a narrower board once they've gained their sea legs.
First and foremost, a SUP board must work for your size. If the board does not displace the correct amount of water for your weight, you won’t be supported.
Consider, too, board length in regards to your type of car, home storage situation and length of walk to the beach or shore. Longer boards are more difficult to carry (they can weigh up to 40 lbs.), especially in windy places.
Fins add tracking and stability to a paddleboard. Variations include:
Boards are made from several different materials, with an EPS foam core wrapped with fiberglass, carbon fiber or plastic being the most common. Boards can be hollow or solid. Most rotomolded boards are hollow due to their manufacturing process, while some high-end boards may be hollow in order to save weight and increase performance.
Plastic (rotomolded): durable exterior; affordable; heavy. Some double as sit-on-top kayaks. These boards are great for families whose kids tend to drag or drop the board.
Fiberglass and epoxy over EPS foam: mid-range price; can be used for many types of paddling. This is the most common board type. Construction techniques vary with these boards, so weights vary widely, too. Some boards have a sheet of wood under the fiberglass deck to add durability and stiffness; others use an infused epoxy process that makes the board's exterior extra tough.
Plastic over EPS foam: light and very durable. BIC-brand boards use this construction.
Inflatables: very durable; light to carry; can be used for a variety of paddling, from whitewater to slow speed. Made of PVC with drop-stitch construction, inflatables are easily stored in apartments, the overhead compartments of planes or in the back of your car.
Softtops: a great option for beginners. They are made with a tough exterior with decks fully covered with a rubber traction pad. This allows you to walk to both ends of the board or have your dog with you on the board. Softtops are heavy but priced affordably.
SUPs typically range from around $600 to $2,100. Less-expensive boards are made from durable plastics but can be heavy; top-of-the-line boards are made from ultralight materials such as carbon or have bamboo decks.
Make sure you budget for a paddle, personal flotation device (PFD) and leash. Booties and water shoes are also essential for walking on rough beaches or pavement. Finally, you will probably want a wetsuit or drysuit if you're paddling in cold water.
Tip: To save money, several families can share one board throughout the day and put 1 or 2 kids (with PFDs) on it at a time. In these situations, an adjustable-length paddle is a good idea to suit everyone's height.
Shop REI’s selection of stand up paddleboards.
By Rob Casey
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Last updated: Mon Dec 24 10:51:50 PST 2012
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