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Stand Up Paddle Board Buying Guide
No matter who you are, stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) has something to offer you. Maybe you’re just looking for another cabin activity, or maybe you want to get a workout or yoga session in while enjoying an incredible view, regardless, SUP boarding is for you.
Much like any equipment, knowing which paddleboard is right for you is going to depend on how you plan on using it in the water, which corresponds to the shape of the board, its length, width and thickness, and its volume and capacity. Here is a little insight into the different types of SUP boards out there so you can find the perfect board for you!
SUP Hull Types
The body of the board, known as the hull, is the primary factor in determining how the board will handle in the water. The majority of SUP boards will have either a planing hull or displacement hull, either shape can accommodate beginner paddlers but lend themselves to specific types of paddling and water conditions, therefore which hull shape is right for you is dependant on what kind of paddling you’re planning on doing, and where you’re planning on doing it.
Designed to ride on top of the water and offer more maneuverability, and stability, planing hulls are flat and wide like a surfboard and lend themselves to leisure paddling, SUP yoga, and whitewater paddling.
SUPs with displacement hulls have a more pointed nose similar to what you would see on a kayak or canoe. This style hull is designed to slice through the water with ease creating a fast smooth ride. Displacement hulls also take a bit of stress off the paddler and are easier to paddle than planing hulls, however, are slightly less maneuverable. Paddlers choose displacement hulls for a variety of reasons, but always with an eye toward paddling efficiency and speed. Some common uses include fitness paddling, SUP touring/camping, and racing.
Types of SUPS
If you’re looking to have a relaxing day on the lake, an all-around paddleboard may be what you’re actually looking for. These boards are great for beginners and those looking to get out for that relaxed outing or fitness session.
Cruise or Touring Paddleboards
Looking to take that trip to the Boundary Waters? Touring boards, much longer than a typical paddleboard also offer much more room for cargo, so you can come prepared for your next adventure!
Also boasting more space than a typical board, fishing boards are wider offering more space for that tackle box, and overall stability.
Long, light, and narrow, racing boards are built to increase speed in any water condition.
Solid Vs Inflatable SUPs
Planing hull and displacement hull SUPs are available in two different general construction styles: solid or inflatable.
Consisting of an EPS foam core wrapped with fiberglass and epoxy, solid SUPs offer a lightweight but durable and affordable option for paddlers. Variations on this classic construction include carbon fiberboards, a lighter, stiffer, and slightly more expensive option, and the plastic SUP, heavier than either fiberglass or carbon fiber, what the plastic construction lacks in performance it makes up for in affordability. Some SUPs like the GreyDuck Coast Wood 10’8 also incorporate lightweight wood for a beautiful appearance.
Why get a solid SUP?
Performance is your priority
If you’re looking for a board that travels faster, smoother, farther a solid SUP is for you. These boards perform all-around better in the water and require less effort from the paddler than their inflatable counterpart.
For a perfect fit
Solid SUPs are available in a wider range of sizes and shapes than inflatable SUPs so you can find a board fine-tuned to fit you as a paddler.
Stability is important
As you might expect, a more solid surface makes for more stability. Being a bit more rigid than inflatables and riding a bit lower, a solid board can provide a more stable feel when the water gets rocky so you can be confident in your paddling.
Inflatable SUPs feature PVC exteriors with drop-stitch construction that creates an air core. They come with a pump for inflating the board and a storage bag for when it’s not in use. A quality inflatable SUP is designed to be inflated to 12–15 pounds per square inch and should feel very rigid when fully inflated.
Why get an inflatable SUP
You have limited storage space
If space is an issue, inflatable SUPs are a great option. Being deflatable and compact if you live in an apartment, condo, or just don’t have any more space for a large solid board, these boards can easily be stored in smaller spaces.
If you’re on the go, inflatable SUPs are great for grab-n-go adventures. Packed away in its storage bag, an inflatable can be checked on an airplane or stowed in a train, bus or car, and most storage bags have backpack straps for easy carrying during hikes.
You’re paddling whitewater
An inflatable SUP will absorb bumps against rocks and logs much better making it better suited for whitewater paddling than a solid board.
You like SUP yoga
While an inflatable board is not necessary for SUP yoga, they do tend to be a bit softer making them more conducive to comfort during your yoga session.
SUP Volume and Weight Capacity
Inflatable or solid, you want a SUP that will fit you perfectly, volume and weight capacity are the main two factors that will determine how stable you feel on your board and how well it will travel in the water.
Volume and weight capacity are determined by the length, width, and thickness of the board. These dimensions differ from board to board to achieve various desired performance characteristics.
Typically measured in liters, a board's volume will be an indication of how it floats when weight is placed on it. The more volume a board has the more weight it can support and vice-versa.
When evaluating weight capacity it is important to account for both your weight and the weight of any extra cargo you plan on bringing on your paddle. This is because if the weight capacity is exceeded the board will ride lower in the water and become inefficient to paddle.
The length of a board is dependent on how you intend to use it, as shown in the diagram above, short boards lend themselves to maneuverability, long boards to speed, and medium length boards are your solid ‘all-arounder’. Here’s a quick rundown on lengths and their corresponding benefits and styles:
- Short boards (under 10’): Short boards are all boards under 10’ long, and almost always have a planing hull. These boards are more maneuverable than their larger counterparts making them great for kids, beginner paddlers, and surfers.
- Medium boards (10’ to 12’): Much like short boards most medium boards have planing hulls, however, it is possible to find displacement-hull SUPs in the medium length. These are all-around boards, meaning they travel various types of water well, they also provide a bit of extra stability if you’re looking to do some SUP yoga.
- Long boards (12’6'' and above): These boards are aimed at those looking to do some fast and far paddling. Long boards typically have displacement-hulls to allow them to glide through the water faster than shorter boards and to allow them to track straighter, however, at the expense of the maneuverability of a shorter board. But, If you’re interested in paddling fast or touring long distances, you’ll want a long board.
Aside from length, width is also an important determining factor when shopping for a SUP board. The wider the board the more stability it may offer, however, if you get a board that's too wide it may impede on your ability to paddle. SUPs typically range in width between 25 and 36 inches to accommodate a variety of paddling needs.
When considering how wide your SUP should be it is important to take into account the type of paddling you’re doing, your body type, and your paddling ability.
Type of paddling:
Touring, SUP Yoga, and recreational paddling: For these types of paddling you may want a SUP that is a bit wider (around 31 in.) to provide extra cargo space for your gear, or just more stability.
SUP Racing and surfing: If you’ve got the need for speed, or are looking for something maneuverable enough to catch that next big wave, you might consider a narrower board.
Try to match the width of the SUP to your body type. Generally speaking, a smaller person should go with a smaller board, and a larger person should go with a wider board, this way the board accommodates your center of gravity, and paddle stroke, in such a way as to make you feel more stable and confident when paddling.
If you’ve paddled a lot, you may be comfortable on a narrower, faster SUP. However, someone brand new to SUP, might prefer a little extra width to help them feel more secure.
One last factor to consider when choosing the SUP board that’s right for you: board thickness.
When comparing two boards that are identical in all dimensions save for thickness, the thicker board will boast a higher weight capacity than its otherwise dimensional twin. This is the main reason we consider thickness as a factor in choosing your next SUP, properly weighting a board will result in the most efficient performance which again ties back into the determining factors of paddling style and body type.
SUP Extras and Accessories
SUP paddles slightly resemble a stretched-out canoe paddle, with tear-drop blades angled forward for maximum efficiency in the water. A properly fitted paddle A SUP paddle will reach your wrist when your arm is raised over your head.
PFD (Personal Flotation Device)
The most important accessory to have! Personal flotation devices/lifejackets are required while paddling as the U.S. Coast Guard classifies stand up paddle boards as vessels (when used outside the narrow limits of swimming or surfing areas). Safety first!
As we know here in Duluth, water temperatures can be unforgiving. For cold water conditions where exposure puts you at risk of hypothermia, wet and dry suits are available to keep you from direct exposure. In warmer or more mild conditions, shorts and a tee-shirt, swimsuit or something that can get wet and dry quickly are more fitting apparel.
Typically sold separately, a leash keeps you tethered to your SUP to you, disallowing it from floating away should you fall off, it can also be important for your safety as SUPs are essentially large flotation devices. Leashes are designed specifically for different types of paddling such as flatwater, river, and surfing so it is important to match your leash to your style of paddling.
We hope to see you on the water!