How to choose a stand up paddleboard (SUP)

Once you’ve been bitten by the stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) bug, you’ll soon want to buy your own SUP board. To find the right one for you, consider a board’s weight, volume, capacity and size. Use this article and the specs available on REI.com product pages to get started.

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Watch our video of SUP board basics and read on for more details:

Types of SUP Boards

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.

Types of SUP boards

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.

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Balance and Board Width

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.

Board Length

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.

Other Board Considerations:

  • Beginners or anyone seeking a relaxed outing with no particular destination in mind will likely be happy with a 10' to 12' long board.
  • Long boards are faster than short boards. If you're interested in racing or touring, you'll need a board 12.6' or 14' long to either keep up with the competition or to paddle several miles to your campsite.
  • Experienced surfers require a short board for more maneuverability.

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

Fins add tracking and stability to a paddleboard. Variations include:

SUP single fin
  • Large single fin: This is placed in a finbox and secured with a nut and screw. The finbox has a channel for the fin to slide back and forth. When the fin is pushed toward the tail, the board will track better, which is best for racing, touring or flat water paddling. If you push the fin forward toward the nose, the board will turn easier, which is better for surfing or whitewater.
  • 3-fin setup: Also called a thruster, this setup was originally designed for surfing but also works with tracking on flat water. If you remove the center fin of a 3-fin setup, the 2 side fins, also called “side bites,” will still work for tracking on flat water or in surfing.
  • Race fins: These come in a variety of styles. Some have a rigid shape versus a traditional surfboard flex fin. These straighter, stiffer fins are best for downwind runs because they help longer boards (up to 14’) track easier in large wind waves or rolling swell. Downside: If a rigid fin hits a rock, you will most likely face-plant. Other fins are more flexible and will give when in contact with a rock, log or the beach. While not as performance-oriented, they will bounce off obstructions so you can continue paddling.
  • Inflatable SUP fins: These feature either flexible rubber fins attached to the board or detachable semi-rigid fins that can be removed.

Board Construction

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.

Carrying a Board

SUP carrying sling

As noted earlier, SUP boards can be big and quite heavy, so think about the height of your car and how long of a carry you'll have to the water. If you can't reach all the way across your board, you'll have difficulty picking it up and carrying or car-topping it.

Consider a wheeled and fabric shoulder carrying system to assist in getting your board to the water. Or choose a hollow or inflatable paddleboard if you have difficulty carrying a heavier epoxy board. If you're on a paddle outing with others or in strong wind, ask them to help you do a 2-person carry.

Board Cost

SUPs typically range from around $800 to $2,000. 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, get an adjustable-length paddle to suit everyone's height.

Shop REI’s selection of stand up paddleboards.