Stand up paddle boards (SUPs) are a popular means of entertainment for outdoor adventurers. It can be great family entertainment, with paddle boards for all ages – or it could be something that serious water sports enthusiasts indulge in.
While experts typically know what they are looking for, the beginner or intermediate paddle boarder is often faced with what seems like a bewildering array of options when they try to decide what type of board to use.
As it turns out, though, there are some simple rules which can guide most sports enthusiasts.
TYPES OF PADDLE BOARDS
There are primarily two types of paddle boards that you can look to buy – (epoxy coated) paddle boards and inflatable ones. The one you choose depends on several factors, including Performance, Cost, Durability, Storability and Portability.
The choices should be clear based on your preferences.
HARD PADDLE BOARDS
Made from wood, plastic, foam, fiberglass or Kevlar, hard paddle boards are usually coated with epoxy resin. They are built for performance in terms of speed, agility and maneuverability.
Hard paddle boards are suited for serious adventurers who care about performance. The ingredients are all there – buoyancy preserved by the foam core, durability and rigidity courtesy of the veneer (typically Kevlar, fiberglass or bamboo), and the overall epoxy finish ensuring that it is watertight.
Hard paddle boards range in prices from $700 to $2,000.
INFLATABLE PADDLE BOARDS
Inflatable paddle boards will not deliver equivalent performance, but they check off other boxes. They are portable, easy to store, less prone to damage (that is, more durable) and usually cheaper than hard paddle boards (especially the custom-made ones) – typically costing between $180-$1,300.
Overall, they are more versatile and are favored by those who like to travel to different locations with a board they are familiar with but lack the ability to carry a large rigid shape.
WHICH DO YOU CHOOSE?
The bottom line is that you can take an inflatable paddle board anywhere with you, including on transcontinental journeys, and they can be used in a variety of conditions. If, however, you are a serious paddleboarder or surfer, and you know precisely what you need to optimize performance on your board, you may choose a hard, epoxy coated board.
WHAT ARE THE CRITICAL CONSIDERATIONS?
There are multiple sets of criteria to be considered when choosing a paddle board:
- Your own weight, height etc.
- If you are a beginner or an expert
- Where you are using the paddle board
- Knowing how different types of paddle boards (longer, wider, more voluminous) perform in different conditions with different types of riders
Not all of these criteria apply simultaneously. For example, beginners would normally look for stability, ease of use and safety, whereas experts can fine tune and correlate their physical characteristics and the kind of waters they brave with the type of paddle board that is best suited for them and the specific use.
The choices get slightly more complex with adults who are more experienced, but not experts. A taller person would typically want a longer and wider paddle board to accommodate their higher point of gravity. However, this must be weighed against the consideration that a tall person would likely weigh more than someone of average height.
Let’s start with the general characteristics of a paddle board based on its own dimensions – namely length, width and volume.
SO WHAT TYPE OF STAND UP PADDLE BOARD SHOULD I GET?
Paddle board dimensions and volume are important determinants on how they ride/operate. Let’s look at a few rules of thumb before we begin to customize based on the skills, needs and propensities of the user.
Longer Paddle Boards Glide Faster and Travel Longer
Paddle boards are often broken down into the following lengths, representing standard sizes available in the market:
- Short: 7’ to 9’
- Medium: 9’6” to 12’
- Long: 12’6” to 14’
Short SUPs are suitable for children. The length is easier for people of limited strength to muster and control. Children are likely not going to travel fast till they grow stronger and learn the ropes. While its not unusual to find 7 footers for adults, these are meant for skilled surfers – these boards have little volume and operate well when the surf’s up, but not as well in placid water.
Medium sized boards (typical length 10’6” to 11’) are suitable for beginners. As the skill level increases, the length may shrink if used for surfing, or go up for longer distance use.
Medium sized SUPs may also be used for those who are interested in holding a pose while on the board – for example, yoga enthusiasts – or for experienced paddlers who prefer a multipurpose SUP (for use in both choppy and plain water).
Longboards (typically 12’6” and up) will glide faster and easier, and also ride for a longer period of time. If you are looking to race, maybe tour for distances of 2+ miles or going on SUP camping trips – choose a longboard if you are confident you can handle it.
Wider Paddle Boards Are More Stable but Slower
Widths of paddle boards are often differentiated between narrow and wide, as outlined below:
- Narrow: Up to 30”
- In between: 32”-34”
- Wide: More than 34”
The in between widths are not used often, except by experienced paddlers who would like to hold yoga poses on them. The reason is simple – narrower paddle boards move faster and glide easier (basic aerodynamics) while wider ones are slower but more stable, and you tend to choose one or the other based on your individual preferences.
Racing SUPs can be as narrow as 24”, and shorter, more experienced paddlers may prefer to stay around the 30” mark to combine a mix of speed and stability if they know what they are doing – paddlers wanting to go fast, but over long distances, may prefer the wider size.
On the other hand, beginners or people who want the paddle board to hold steady (for example, fishers) and are not necessarily looking for speed will prefer SUPs that are wider than 34”.
The Volume of a Paddle Board Indicates the Weight It is Able to Bear
The volume of a paddle board is a function of its dimensions (length X width X thickness). Given the different materials that the paddle board can be made out of, and the fact that the board itself has concave and convex areas, it may be difficult to find a uniform measure that captures the volume of an SUP.
There is a different way to think about the volume. Specifically, the volume is measured by the displacement of water (in liters) when the paddle board is dropped into the water – this in turn indicates how much weight (from the rider) the SUP can support.
Lightweight boards bob up and support less weight, whereas boards with more “float” will carry greater weight placed on top of it. Boards with more float do not ride low – that is to say, they do not get partially submerged in the water due to the excess weight riding on top of them – therefore they have less drag and can move faster.
As a general rule of thumb, if your paddle board has to carry more weight, it needs to occupy more volume. Logically, smaller (in terms of length and width) boards may be easier to carry and transport, but they will have less volume. Similarly, inflatable boards will have less volume than a similar sized hard SUP.
Look for the Maximum Weight Capacity of any paddle board you are reviewing. However, there could be some challenges, which are discussed under the “Additional Tips” section below.
PADDLE BOARD SIZE GUIDE
There are a lot of variables that were introduced above in terms of the “right” size and volume paddle board that you should choose.
In order to understand what makes sense for you, we have to distinguish between various categories of paddle boarders, in terms of their physical characteristics, skill levels and how they use the paddle board (e.g., whether they surf or paddle board in calm water and/or whether they go short or long distances).
Some general guidelines follow depending on your physical characteristics and skill level:
In general, children will stick to the 7’-9’ long, and moderately wide (31’’-33”) paddle board unless they happen to be unusually skilled and/or experienced in SUP use.
2. AVERAGE SIZED ADULTS – BEGINNERS
Beginners who are not unusually tall or heavy should begin with an all-around SUP and avoid rough waters, racing or long trips. However, their boards should be bigger than a child size – probably between 9’6” to 11’ in length and 32” to 34” in width.
3. AVERAGE SIZED ADULTS – INTERMEDIATE
Adults who are not absolute beginners but far from advanced need to pay more attention to the type of SUP they get. Some weight related guidance is provided under the “Additional Tips” section below.
In terms of length and width, there are competing considerations:
- Decide on the use (stability vs. speed/distance) and the type of water (rough or smooth).
- Decide on whether you are trying to improve your skills (e.g., you have the ambition of becoming an expert) – in which case you may choose longer and narrower boards or trying to enjoy yourself on a more stable SUP.
In general, intermediate paddle boarders will prefer longer (10’ and above) and narrower (32” and below) but this can be adjusted depending on the factors above.
4. ADVANCED AND EXPERTS
Advanced and expert paddle boarders will likely know enough to not need this level of explanation. Depending on use (e.g., surfing vs. touring long distances) and their height/weight, they are likely to choose narrower and longer SUPs with pointy noses and tails.
PADDLE BOARD WEIGHT GUIDE
Besides the dimensions (length and width) tied to experience, there are guidelines from industry experts on how much weight different lengths of SUPs will support, as expressed below:
|Weight||(Potentially) Suitable Paddle Board Lengths|
|50-125 lbs.||9’-10’6; 10’6”-11.6”|
|150-175 lbs.||10’6”-11.6”; 11’6”-12.6”|
|200-225 lbs.||1’6”-12.6”; > 12’6”|
|225-275 lbs.||> 12’6”|
These dimensions will need to be tweaked based on where the boards are being used.
ADDITIONAL TIPS ON CHOOSING THE RIGHT PADDLE BOARD
While the guidelines above serve the general purpose, some challenges may arise. For example:
1. Gauging Which SUP Can Support Your Weight Depends on Multiple Factors
Length and width dimensions are fine indicators, but you may or may not find Maximum Weight Capacities. You will however be able to find the volume indicated on the board and deduce the appropriate SUP. For example, industry publications like the Stand Up Paddle Boards Review provides a weight guided SUP Volume Chart:
|Experience||Use (Regardless of Experience)||Calculation|
|Beginners or Those who find it hard to balance||Touring or Racing||Approx. Vol (L) = Body Wt. (lbs) X (1.0 – 1.4)|
|Novice to Intermediate||In Rough Waters||Approx. Vol (L) = Body Wt. (lbs) X (0.6 – 1.0)|
|Advanced||Surfing||Approx. Vol (L) = Body Wt. (lbs) X (0.6 – 0.8)|
|Expert/ Professional||Surfing||Approx. Vol (L) = Body Wt. (lbs) X (0.5 – 0.6)|
As an example of how to use the table above, an intermediate paddle boarder who weighs 200 lbs. should get a paddle board with a volume between 120 L and 200 L; while a beginner of the same weight should get an SUP with a volume between 200-280L.
2. Adjust the Dimensions Based on Your Height, Arms and Excess Weight
Taller people have a higher center of gravity and typically will carry more weight. Similarly, there are people who are much heavier than the normal levels for their height. Finally, there may be situations where multiple people (e.g., parent and child) are paddle boarding.
In each of these situations, balance and the ability to bear more weight is likely to be more important for everyone below an Advanced or Expert level paddle boarder.
Adjust the suggested dimensions and weight tables in these cases, possibly choosing either (a) the top end of the ranges suggested; or (b) moving up to the next biggest dimension/volume.
Another consideration is that a smaller person with short arms may think that they need a wider board for stability – but that will not be practical for them. They will not be able to comfortably paddle with a wide SUP.
3. Where and How You Use the SUP Has a Significant Effect
Dhe dimensions and volume considerations should be adjusted from normal based on your proficiency level and the principal use of the SUP. The table below provides a general guide.
|Type of Use||Type of SUP||Other Features of SUP|
|Surfing||Short (< 10’) and Narrow||Narrow Nose and Tail|
|Yoga or Fishing||Medium (10-12’) and Wider (30-36”)||Rounder Nose and Tail|
|Touring (2 miles +)||Long (12-14’) and Narrow||Narrower Nose and Tail|
The guidelines above are not as important if you are a beginner, unusually tall or heavy or buying a SUP for a child – among other things, you either have a good idea of what suits you or you simply won’t pursue some of the activities listed above.
4. Other Factors that Weigh In
As alluded to above, you should consider the following factors when making your choice:
- Portability – do you travel with your SUP? Do you backpack?
- Storage – Do you have limited storage space?
- Do you intend to surf seriously?
Ultimately, these considerations may tend to dovetail. For example, a person living in a city may both have limited storage space and – given his location – need to carry his SUP regularly over long distances. So an inflatable board for all-purpose use may be the best choice for them.
DIFFERENT TYPES OF PADDLE BOARDS TO CHOOSE FROM
Once you have decided what your constraints are and how you would like to use your SUP, rank order your choices with an eye on the following:
- Your height and weight
- Proficiency (Skill Level)
- Other constraints, including storage and portability
- Your budget
Luckily for you, SUPs have become big business, and there are many suggestions as to what you could buy. For example, consider visiting one of these paddle board reviews that we have done from real in person experience.
We have so many real reviews and feedback on some great SUP boards that we recommend and also some incredible paddle board accessories that feel are must haves.
THE FINAL VERDICT
Stand up paddle boarding is the fastest growing adventure sport around, given the versatility of a SUP and the fact that all ages and skill levels can enjoy the sport. While the options may seem bewildering, read through this article to decide what type of SUP best fits your skills, uses and circumstances. Then go through the sites listed above or visit your local stores and speak to a professional.
There will be a SUP that fits your needs and budget – we can almost guarantee it!