sup buying guides
Do you know that you want to purchase a new paddle board but aren’t sure which to choose? Don’t worry! With so many choices out on the market, even the most seasoned paddle boarders may find it hard to know what’s best for them. But for those who may be completely new to the word of paddleboarding, let’s get into some of the reasons why it’s worth the time to start if you haven’t already.
There’s as just as many reasons why to paddleboard as there are people who do it, but here are just a few of the biggies.
- Fitness — This one is huge. Not only is paddleboarding itself a great endurance and cardiovascular exercise, a lot of people use the boards to do other fitness activities (like yoga) since there’s the extra working in balancing the board.
- Safe and Easy – There’s still a little bit of a curve, but compared to a lot of other watersports, you can get up and running in no time at all without too much risk of injury.
- Family Friendly — Sure you can get all extreme and take on some monster waves. But for the most part, SUPing is a great activity for the kids and even pets to be a part of.
- New Perspectives — Most of us see the water from the shore or on a moving boat. When you’re out there standing on your SUP, you get a new understanding from a more intimate experience with the body of water you’re on.
Some people look at standup paddleboarding as a fad, but since it’s been around in the mainstream for well over a decade, it’s safe to say it ain’t going anywhere anytime soon. And that’s not even taking into account that this has historically been a major activity in Hawaii for as long as anyone can remember.
The Only Guide You’ll Need When Purchasing Your First SUP Board
With all the choices out there, we know it’s easy to get stuck in the weeds. That’s why we made this guide — for beginners and veterans alike. If you’re already clear on certain aspects but are still uncertain about others, feel free to jump around to areas where you need the most help.
Where are you going?
Just like you would pick your clothes based on your destination, knowing where you’re going to be paddleboarding is the first thing you need to figure out before getting a SUP board. While most will work on flatwater, touring and racing SUPS can really shine here. Even if you’re in a small lake, conditions can get choppy from time to time and hese types of boards can handle that.
If you know you’re looking to go to open ocean where you’re almost guaranteed to hit some waves, you’ll want a SUP that’s designed more like a surfboard. For instance, one with a thruster fin setup. That means having a large center fin with 2 smaller side fins that will help you increase speed on a wave. Also, a shorter board will help you be able to have more control, especially if you hit a good sized wave.
But what if you’re not sure exactly what you want to do or plan to go out in a variety of conditions? That’s when you’d want to look into a board with hybrid characteristics, such as an all-around board. These boards are designed to be able to handle almost any type of condition you may face. While not as specialized as some other boards, they work in a pinch and may end up being the only SUP board you may ever really need.
All this doesn’t even take into account your skill and experience level. As a rule, all-around boards are one of the most stable, durable and comfortable boards around, so keep that in mind especially if you’re a beginner.
Beyond where you’ll be using the board, 2 other basic features you want to think about are how much you plan on using the board and how much do you feel comfortable spending. Don’t be afraid to be honest with yourself, since there are so many options available, there is something out there to fit everyone’s needs and budgets.
3 Boards That Should Work For Everyone
If stability is an issue for you, then we recommend the iRocker Cruiser[i]. While it doesn’t specialize in any particular area, this board has a reputation for being a solid ride that will get you to where you wherever you want to go while keeping up above the water..
For Going Anywhere:
THURSO Surf is a mid-range board company that gives you a board that will be comfortable enough to take you where you want to go and back. While just about anything they produce will do the job, the Expedition[ii] is best for longer trips..
For the Whole Family:
The SUP boards of the Blackfin line are big and tough, able to take on a large weight capacity relative to their size. Either their Model X[iii] or XL should do the job, depending on how many people you plan to bring with you.
This is a shape that’s designed more for racing, touring and all-around use in boards for flatwater cruising. If you look at it, it looks very similar to the front of a boat. This has the potential to gives you the ability to add more stability to the board, even allowing you to raise the nose out of the water a bit.
This is more of a flat-bottomed design like you would see in a surfboard or windsurfer. While this will make the board not as fast on the water, you have the benefit of being able to be used in a variety of settings. In fact, you can expect to see this sort of design used for all-around boards.
Boards with this shape tend to be shorter and do a lot better in choppy conditions and are the hull of choice if you’re looking to do any surfing.
There’s a reason why one of the first things you learn about a board is its size. The size plays a large role is a number of factors such as how fast or maneuverable it is or how much weight it can take. While every board is unique, know the length, width and volume can tell you a lot about the board without even seeing it.
This is probably the single most important thing to know about a board. Longer paddleboards are considered anything about 12 foot in length. In general, the purpose of board this long is for speed and storage. With a long board, you can go farther with less effort, allowing you to not just go faster but farther. Also, since you have more room on the deck, you can generally hold more equipment to take on longer trips.
Shorter boards (anything less than 12 foot) may not be as fast, but they can manuvere a lot easier than a long board, making them great for smaller bodies of water like rivers. If you’re looking to take on some waves, a shorter board will be a better bet for you.
A lot of purpose-built boards — like those used for fishing, yoga or family use — tend to stay in the middle, ranging about 10-11.5’. At that length, you’re getting a few of the benefits of both long and short boards.
After length, the width of a board can you quite a bit. As a general rule, the wider the board, the more stable. That’s why riders who are less experienced, heavier, looking to take multiple people with them or plan on doing fishing or exercises on the board would want something at least 32” thick.
Thin board, typically 30” or less in width, are best for speed. The thinner the board, the less drag you have. However, the tradeoff is needing to have better balance on the part of the paddler.
Unless you really need to have the competitive edge, we don’t see a reason to go for thinner boards and most users should aim for 32”.
Simply put, the higher the volume of the board, the more weight it can take. If you overload a SUP board, it can make it exceptionally difficult to paddle or it may not stay above water.
As a rule, take your weight in kilograms and compare it with the amount of liters of the board. The volume should be at least twice your weight in kilos to make sure that there are no issues. Most boards will give you their weight limits, but if you don’t happen to have that information handy, that guideline should help.
Deck pads don’t seem that important until you’re actually on the board. Not only do they keep your feet or knees from aching after a while on the water, they also are anti-slip and keep you from falling out of the SUP. For this reason, deck pads are particularly important for new riders.
So, what kinds of differences are there in deck pads of different models? Well, if you’re looking to bring multiple people with you, a full-deck pad is ideal. Otherwise, the center of the board is really the only place you need that pad.
Something to note here is that manufactures usually don’t give the exact size or volume of the pad. For that reason, it’s especially important to look at reviews from people who actually used the SUP to tell you how they felt the pad was in person and after hours on the water.
Since SUP boards are big and usually pretty smooth, having a carry handle is crucial to transport between land and water. Almost every board out there has at the very least a single handle on the center of the board. Most boards also have a handle on the nose of the board to move it in and out of the water.
Try to look for boards with a handle toward the rear. While not necessary, they make dragging the board on the beach easier since you can keep the fins up. Having that feature is a mark of quality on the part of the designer.
In addition to pulling the board, these handles can also be used as an attachment to a dock or for an ankle leash if there are no other options.
Leash and Tie Down Attachments
Depending on where you are and what you’re doing, an leash will be your best friend or your worst enemy. The purpose of a leash is to keep you and your board together in the event you fall off. This serves 2 purposes: (1) you won’t lose your boat and (2) you won’t be on your own in open water, possibly saving your life. Keep in mind that if you’re in fast moving water, the leash can be dangerous since it limits mobility. Always be mindful of what type of water you’re in when deciding whether to use a leash or not.
Having a tie down means that you have a dedicated stainless steel attachment point for your leash. This is the preferred method since it will be easier to make sure you have a solid point on the board. These tie downs can also be used to hold gear, such as coolers or dry bags.
Just like with anything, the type and quality of construction of the board will play a huge role in how it can be used as well as it’s price.
A lot of solid boards are made out of molded plastic. These are typically what you would see in big-box stores and are meant for beginners or for those on a budget. While they can get the job done, one of the biggest drawbacks is with the weight since these tend to be the heaviest boards in relation to their size.
If this is all you can afford at the moment, then there’s no shame in starting out with one of these. Just keep in mind that they won’t be as fast or smooth as the other boards we’re going to mention.
EPS + Plastic
A step up from traditional plastic boards, this is a build made by BIC (the pen company) using their Ace-Tec technology. Instead of being just molded plastic, this using a foam core layered with fiberglass and finished with a styrene polymer. Not the best option on the market but certainly an improvement.
Inflatable SUPS (iSUPS)
This is where we’re seeing a large portion of growth in the SUP board market due to the convenience and portability factors while still remaining rigid. These typically come with a duffle or backpack and can be inflated or deflated in a matter of minutes.
The seams are the most important thing to be on the lookout with these boards. In general, it takes a lot to actually puncture an iSUP but the seams are often what will do them in. Look for boards that can handle a higher PSI (15+), both for a strong board but also because only boards with reinforced seams can handle that internal pressure.
Believe it or not, iSUPs can be tougher than hard boards. The main reason for that is because they can they bounce off objects (or even the ground) when hard boards would absorb that force and get damage. Obviously, this all depends on the quality of the board, though most of what we’re seeing coming out is quite impressive.
There is nothing more classic than a wood board. A solid wood board, though, can be heavy and difficult to maintain. That’s why many modern boards are actually hollow or use an EPS foam core to cut down on the weight. As for the form factor? Well, there’s a reason why many other types of boards use wood grain designs.
Fins play a huge part in the traction and speed of a SUP board. In general, you will typically find board with 1 or 3 fins. There are models that have more, but those are quite rare.
A single fin is best for tracking and stability but creates drag that can slow down both your speed and your turning. You typically see this configuration with beginner or other boards were stability is the priority.
3-fin setups (thrusters) have 1 large center fin with 2 smaller fins on the sides. This configuration not only reduces drag, it actually creates thrust by the water moving between the fins. While you lose a little bit of stability, you increase overall speed and maneuverability.
In most packages, you’ll get a 9 or 10” center fin that is almost always removable both for transportation as well as if you find yourself in particularly shallow water. Side fins are usually fixed to the board. The area where the fin attaches is called the fin box.
Some fin boxes have a simple locking mechanism while others use a nut and bolt. If your board has a standard fin box (Universal or US), you can swap out that fin for others from the same company as the board or third party. Most people don’t see the need but a specialized fin can come in handy when you are looking to improve performance, both in speed or tracking.
This is where we get the name paddleboard! This piece of equipment is really what defines the whole activity. That’s why you don’t want to overlook what usually comes standard with your board.
Most SUPS come with an adjustable paddle and many are able to breakdown into 2 or 3 pieces for easy transport. As a rule, try to make sure that the paddle is 8-10 inches taller than you to make sure you have the leverage you need for efficient strokes in the water. Some specialized paddles are a fixed length and generally seen in racing applications.
Material is an important factor to consider. Aluminum is the material of choice of entry-level paddles and generally seen as a sign of lower quality. The biggest drawback of this type of paddle is that it doesn’t float if it drops in the water, obviously something that can be an issue in a water sport.
Fiberglass paddles are the next step up. While they are offer a lighter paddle than aluminum, however, they tend to be more fragile depending on how they’re built.
If you’re looking for the best of both worlds, carbon fiber is the way to go. Both lightweight and strong, this material is also the most expensive. While some high-end brands will include this with their board, you may find yourself having to go out and purchase one on your own.
If you really want to get advanced, you can opt to change out your blades for different materials and lengths depending on what it is you plan to do with your board.
We don’t meant to seem cliché, but you do get what you pay for and what quality of board you get can play a big role in your overall experience. So, the question to ask is how much should you expect to pay?
If you’re looking for a real cheap board that will get you on the water but may not give the best performance or last that long, there are SUP boards out there for around $200 that can do the trick. However, even when you consider budge brands, we haven’t found any boards that we would recommend for less than $400-500. If you want a board that will last you a while and give you years of service, look to spend between $600-1200. Of course, there are boards over $2000 out there, though those are usually for very specialized uses.
If this might give you a bit of sticker shock, here’s something to consider: the more expensive the board, the more likely there will be a sale at some point. For instance, it’s not uncommon to see a $1200 board on sale for $900 or less while a $500 board is almost never discounted.
However, we also recommend buying the best board you can comfortably afford. Even better, consider saving up and purchasing when you’re ready. That way you can get the perfect board for your without being short for your rent.
Purchasing your first SUP board is (and should be) an investment. Our point in making this guide is to make sure that it’s a good one. Always try to go with the best board that you can afford and that will work best for the type of water and activities you plan to encounter.
As for specifics on individual brands and boards, be sure to check in frequently! As new information and boards become available, we will be there to report on it. If you happen to find a board that is not reviewed on our site, please contact us and we’ll be sure to take it for a spin and let you know all about it!