How do you choose the best SUP (standup paddle board) for you? It’s actually not a simple or easy process. Many times having more than one board is ideal; I personally have three boards I use for different events or locations. Many people buy a board based on color or great marketing, but these should be the last things to consider. There are so many choices in size, shape and specific use. Today, we will break down the types of boards commonly available and give you pointers on how to make a SUP decision.
Let’s educate you before we go too far. In general, there are five types of boards.
•All-Around – The most common. this style has a shape like a really big surf board, which is called a planning hull. I personally use these to teach first-timers; they are very stable and forgiving. All-around boards can be used in most situations. they are not specifically designed to perform the best of any of them, but it will work. An all-around is a good first board.
•Inflatable – Filled with air. Don’t let “”inflatable” scare you off; these are very strong. They are great for travel and white water (Yes, I said white water as in rivers and rapids.). I’ve been thinking about adding one to my travel check-in luggage.
•Touring – Long-distance cruiser. A displacement hull cuts through the water. I think most people should be on these. They are great for flat water and long distance. While they can be a little less stable than the all-around, the are usually much faster and have the ability to hold gear.
•Race – Fast! Race boards also have a displacement hull. They can be very narrow, this make them unstable and fast. The longer and narrower the board is, the faster it is. There are a few types of race boards, once you get to this point you’ll have an idea of what you like or need.
•Surf – Surf! The purpose is pretty self-explanatory, but these are usually smaller boards with a planing hull, not great for cruising around a lake or river. They are made to go fast and turn easily while on a wave.
Now that we know the types of boards, you might already have an idea of what is best for you. Let’s discuss how to make your final decision. Paddle boards are expensive; get the right one for you.
Location. Location. location. This is the single most important aspect to think about when buying a board. Where are you going to paddle? Will you be paddling in the ocean? Does your area have waves? If your answer is “yes”, you should probably get an all-around board. If you’re like me and paddle in South Florida, I’d get a touring or race board; we paddle most of the time in flat calm water. Are you going fishing or camping? An all-around or a large touring board might be best. I have had people show up for a three-mile nature paddle on a surf SUP; they managed okay, but you could tell it was a struggle to keep up. Get the right board for your location and use it. Keep in mind that all these boards can be surfed; obviously not as well as a surf board, though it can be done. Some races are even on the beach in decent sized waves. YouTube search “battle of the paddle” for some awesome race and wave beating.
Decide which design features you like best. I have a few things I look for in a board; for example: I like a flat deck to stand on. Some boards are concave, some are domed, and some have a sharp ridge on the top of the rails. They do serve a design purpose, but personally are not what I like. I also like to have a full deck pad because I am on my board for long periods of time. I also look for bungee plugs because I am always bringing extra water, sunscreen, and other gear. Only you will know what features suit your needs.
My best advice is to try them all. If you can’t ride it first don’t buy it, plain and simple. There are some great options for trying out different types of boards. Go rent boards from local shops – all the shops in your town. Join a Meetup group or a SUP Facebook group. Some areas will have demo day events where different vendors and distributors will be present. Don’t rush out and buy the wrong board, go paddle it.
Make sure you get the right board for you. I can’t stress enough that you need to try it before buying it. Don’t let fancy marketing or what your friends ride to be a major factor in your purchase. If you’ve only ridden one board, don’t buy it until you’ve paddled others. I currently have three brands and three types of boards in my rental fleet. We play musical boards all the time. It’s a rare day that everyone likes the same board or brand. We are all different; be different, find out what you like, more importantly what you need, and go paddle!