What is the Best Stand Up Paddle Board to Buy?

SUP 101 BookYou don't have to tell me or anyone who has ever considered buying a stand up paddle board for the first time that the decision is a bit overwhelming. We've all been there!

There are different sizes, different shapes, different construction types; some have one fin, others have three; some have pointed noses, other noses are round. Should you just buy the cheapest board and figure it all out later, after giving your new board a try? The answer to that question is definitely NO!

There are so many different paddleboard types because, well, people are very different. We all have different weights, athletic abilities, experience levels and reasons for wanting a stand up paddleboard. People use their stand up paddle boards differently, too. Hopefully, our guide for how to buy the best stand up paddle board will answer a lot of questions you have. Be sure to scroll to the bottom, where we break everything down into an easy to use chart that is organized in a way that should help you to choose the best SUP for your individual needs. If not, definitely shoot over to our Contact Us page or just give us a call at 1-800-651-7140.

You can see a full list of the many, many terms used to describe surfboards and stand up paddleboards as well as some of the day to day jargon people use by visiting our Surf & SUP Glossary. We have underlined and bolded some of those terms here so that you know you can view them in the glossary.

What Is Your Experience Level?

Really, when it comes to choosing a stand up paddle board, few things are more important than your experience level. Folks who have been paddle boarding for awhile and who have excellent balance and paddling techniques can get away with using a much smaller and more maneuverable board than someone who has never even tried to stand up on a paddleboard.

If you are brand new to paddleboarding, many people recommend getting the longest, widest board possible and one with more fins and less rocker - all of which aid in stability and tracking.  After you get used to standing on a board and become a proficient paddler, you might want to switch to a smaller, more maneuverable board - especially if you are going to be using it in the ocean or white water and really need a surf SUP.

That said, people who are athletic and especially ones who are involved with sports or activities that require excellent balance will be able to start right off with a smaller, more maneuverable board (that is, if being able to zigzag, jump waves and hot dog are concerns at all of yours). The next most important thing, your weight, combined with your athletic ability, will ultimately dictate your minimum board size.

One final word on experience level - you don't necessarily want to get the easiest board possible; you want it to be a bit of a challenge. Eventually, you will probably want a smaller, more maneuverable board so even if you are a novice, you might want to pick a paddle board that is supposed to be for novices slightly lighter than your weight. Don't go crazy; though, picking a board that only experts in your weight class can use will lead to a whole lot of frustration and may cause you to give up too soon on this fantastic and fun water sports activity.

How Much Do You Weigh?

Man on a scaleYeah, I know that is one of the most impolite questions you can ask, but your weight goes hand and hand with your ability level whenever you are deciding what stand up paddle board to buy.

As discussed in the previous section, your paddle boarding level of expertise and/or athletic ability will be a primary determining factor for the size paddleboard you choose to buy. All surfboards and SUPs on our website show a maximum weight for experienced riders and a different maximum weight for novices.

If you are brand new to paddleboarding but you're a particularly athletic person with very good balance, you should set that maximum weight at a number somewhere in between the novice and experienced weights listed for each type of stand up paddleboard. That isn't to say that you shouldn't get a larger board; just know that if you are pretty athletic and balanced, you can probably handle a smaller board.

This is not particularly good news for heavier people. Unfortunately, it's harder for people in 180-plus pound weight class because they simply do not make many stand up paddle boards that are large enough for heavier novices.

What Is The Volume Of The Stand Up Paddleboard?

Figure on paddleboard with megaphoneNow that you understand that your weight and experience/athletic ability play a major role in the size board you choose, it's time to evaluate the volume of the stand up paddle boards you are considering. A paddle board's volume is the key determining factor in how much weight it can support for various different skill levels.

Yeah, we know there are some pretty loud colored boards out there as well as some rude people who are very loud out on the water. We're talking about dimensions here, though. Basically stated, the volume of anything is the length times the width times the height. While that's simple enough to figure out for a square or rectangular block, it's much more difficult to determine for something that is not uniformly shaped like a surfboard or paddleboard. Fortunately, the solution is to completely submerge the board into a rectangular container containing a known quantity of water and measure the water that is displaced (how much the water volume rises).

All things being equal, the more volume a board has, the more weight it can support. There are things that affect that, such as the composition of the stand up paddleboard, which we will discuss in the next section, but for the most part, the volume of a paddleboard will determine the maximum amount of weight it will support.

The more weight that is placed upon a stand up paddle board, the lower in the water it will ride. The lower it rides in the water, the less stable it is. People who are experienced paddle board users have better balance and can deal with a less stable board. Many of them prefer a lower riding board because when a board digs into the water more, they can do sharper maneuvers with it. For a new paddleboarder, just being able to stand on a board and paddle it in a straight line is an accomplishment! And, for those who are using a paddleboard for paddle fitness, the longer, wider and more stable a stand up paddle board is, the better.

How much a board weighs in relation to its volume will have an effect on how much weight it can support, as well. That's what we'll tackle next ...

Basic Stand Up Paddle Board Construction Types

Worker shaping a surfboardNow that we have established that a rider's weight and athletic ability are very important, along with the volume of the board, it's time to throw another nuance into the mix. The composition of a paddleboard (how it is made) also affects how stable it is, as well as the board's durability.

The vast majority of stand up paddleboards have an EPS foam core that is surrounded by some sort of protective layer that seals the foam. The materials used affect a board's durability and sometimes its weight. Rotomolded SUPs weigh more than vinyl or epoxy skinned paddleboards which weigh more than inflatable stand up paddleboards. So, whenever you are calculating the minimum weight for a stand up paddle board, you need to factor in the board's weight in addition to your own weight to determine the minimum volume board you need.

But there's more ... The shape of the hull, the amount of rocker, the depth of the board, its width in relation to its length and the shape and thickness of the rails also play a major part in determining how much weight a SUP can handle. The fact is, it is impossible to set down hard and fast rules for minimum board sizes because the experience level of a rider, where and how they will be using a SUP as well as the construction of the board all affect paddleboard selection. Many websites try to provide methods for calculating board volumes and what you'll discover is that everybody uses a different method. In fact, you'll see some pretty large discrepancies in recommended board sizes for the same rider weights.

We're not going to try to dazzle you with calculators or formulas that are pretty meaningless and far from accurate. Instead, every board on our website lists the recommended maximum weight for beginners and experts. Intermediate paddle boarders or particularly athletic beginners can set their weight somewhere in between the two. We know the board construction, what it was built for and what it can handle; therefore, recommendations are made on a board by board basis.

Why Are There Different Stand Up Paddle Board Shapes?

While some people may believe that the shapes of surfboards and paddleboards are just an artistic design statement, that is not really the case (although some shapes do look cooler than others). The different board shapes have been tested and actually serve different purposes.

The most important thing to consider is the hull type.

Hull Types

SUP Hull TypesPlaning Hulls have the more traditional surfboard shape with a rounded nose and are the type of hull found on most stand up paddle boards. Because there is more board surface contacting the water at the nose and they are typically wider boards, they tend to be more stable and are excellent for most paddle boarding situations (they're especially great for beginners). That extra width in the nose area creates more drag, however, which means they are not quite as fast and it takes a little more effort to paddle than a board with a displacement hull.

Displacement Hulls are the choice for people who want to race or tour (go on long distance paddleboarding trips). They have pointy noses which cut through the water better, making them faster and a little easier to paddle. Touring and racing SUPs also tend to be thinner in width and longer than traditional stand up paddleboards which also adds to their speed. That skinnier nose and overall board width comes with a sacrifice - stability. Because there is less board in contact with the water on the sides of the paddler with racing and touring SUPs, they tip over on their sides easier. Great for going long distances or really fast, racing and touring paddle boards are definitely not the types of boards a beginner or anyone who will be surfing in waves should use. This is not to say that all stand up paddleboards with displacement hulls are racing or touring SUPs. There are definitely general purpose paddle boards that have displacement hulls. I would never use a displacement hull paddleboard to surf waves, though.

Don't forget the Tail!

Like the nose of a board, the tail width also affects stability. The more narrow the tail, the less stable a SUP is. Of course, that narrower tail also makes it easier to turn and also makes the board faster, so like everything in stand up paddle board design, you need to weigh maneuverability and speed vs. stability.

Is Your Board a Rocker?

The amount that a board bows from end to end also affects its stability and maneuverability. People who are going to be surfing in waves want a board with more rocker. Although that makes a board less stable in flat water, it actually helps make it more stable when dealing with waves. If you are racing or going on long trips on flat water, you definitely want a paddleboard that is flatter, with less rocker.

Super experienced paddleboarders will sometimes have custom boards made for them with sharper angles from the rails to the bottom. Competitive surfers, especially, will pay a pretty penny to have a board shaped specifically for them that gives them the exact amount of side to side maneuverability they desire without sacrificing balance.

Why Do Some Paddle Boards Have More Fins Than Others?

You should notice that some paddle boards have three fins, some have two and some have only one (never buy a SUP without any fins). How many fins there are and where those fins are placed on the bottom of a SUP have a great deal of impact on how stable the board is, how well it tracks and how maneuverable it is.

Fins help keep a board going in the direction you want it to go and also aid in stability. Although a board with more fins will be more stable, they also are not quite as fast due to the drag created by the fins. This is why you generally see racing and touring SUPs with a one fin configuration. Surfing SUPs usually contain one center stabilizing fin along with two sidebite fins or no center fin and quad sidebites, both of which make the board more maneuverable.

What Will You Be Using Your SUP For?

Some people want a stand up paddle board to enjoy a relaxing day on the water; some like to fish from them, do yoga or ride and jump waves. A large percentage of people want a stand up paddleboard that works reasonably well for any situation.

If you know that you want to go on long, leisurely trips or will be racing on flat water, you definitely want a SUP that is designed for that. Look for the longest board you can find that has a displacement (pointy) hull.

If you are more of a hot dog and want to jump waves or do tricks, a smaller surfing SUP is what you'll need. Keep in mind that smaller boards do not support much weight - especially if you are not an expert paddleboarder.

Those wanting to do fitness training or stand up paddle board Yoga are going to want the largest volume, widest board they can get. You'll need plenty of board surface and stability in order to do those types of activities!

If you are looking for a board that can handle white water rapids, you'll want either an inflatable SUP or a rotomolded paddle board. They are both extremely durable and can handle bumping into rocks and debris without getting dinged like most other paddleboards will. Rotomolded SUPs are great all rounders too.

What Is the Best Paddle Board For Me?

I hope that by now, you can see that there are many factors that go into deciding what stand up paddle board to buy. Remember, if you are a beginner and are particularly athletic and/or have good balance, you can get away with a standup paddleboard that is somewhere between the expert and novice weights.

And of course, if this is your first SUP, you can always do what many people do and add more than one stand up paddleboard to your quiver sometime down the road - different boards for different purposes and conditions!