A Guide to Choosing a Paddle Board for Beginners
So you have fallen in love with stand up paddle boarding and are ready to buy your own paddle board. Here is everything you need to know of the size, shape and construction of the various paddle boards out there before you by.
So you you just got back from renting a stand up paddle board (SUP) at your local lake and you have decided that you were born to command a SUP paddle. You are ready to take your paddle boarding to the next level and want to understand how to choose a SUP board of your very own. In this article we are going to pass along all of the expert advice we can muster to help beginner paddlers choose their first paddle board and give them a path to progress when in comes to buying their next paddle boards.
Hard vs Inflatable Boards
When paddle boarding first gained popularity in the early 2000's, rigid SUP boards were the only option out there. Now when you choose a stand up paddle board, inflatable paddle boards are worthy of your consideration.
A rigid paddle board has an EPS foam core that is encased in fiberglass that is held to the foam with a resin epoxy. Many of these epoxy boards that don't add a layer of polymer to protect them tend to ding easily.
The biggest challenge in owning a rigid shape paddle board is the room that it takes up in your home since they are typically 10-12 feet long and roughly 3 feet wide. The other issue with these boards is that you need a vehicle that can transport them to your local waterway. So if a car is your only option, you will need to make sure that you can either install a hard roof rack or at least fit a soft roof rack.
Quality inflatable paddle boards that are manufactured with woven drop stitch construction and have multiple layers of PVC fused together are roughly 90 percent as rigid as a hard SUP. Inflatable paddle boards can we deflated to the size of a suitcase so they can be easily stored in an apartment and transported in the trunk of a small car.
What is the right board shape for you?
Beginner paddlers tend to prefer a wider board while more experienced paddlers generally prefer a narrower board like a touring board with a pointed nose. Wider boards aren't ideal for covering long distances but they will give beginner paddlers a more stable platform to gain confidence.
Most touring boards are designed to cover long distances on flat water whereas if you are interested in riding waves, you will want to look at a short board. You will want to become a more experienced paddler before you try your hand at wave riding however.
The board thickness on a board designed for flatwater paddling tends to be 4 to 6 inches whereas a surf SUP usually is in the 2-3 inch thickness range. The pointed nose on the touring SUP board is great for cutting through chop that might develop from wind on flat water but it is far less than optimal for ocean surfing. That being said, if large wind waves develop at your local lake, longer boards with a pointed nose will perform just fine.
Planing hull vs Displacement hull on a SUP board
The pointed nose on a touring board can be either a planing hull or a displacement hull. Many boards will even have semi planing hulls. A stand up paddle board with a displacement hull will move through the water by pushing the water aside and is designed to cut through the water with very little paddle propulsion.
Paddle boards with planing hulls are designed to rise up and glide on top of the water when the paddler supplies enough power. The planing hull will operate more like a displacement hulls when they are paddled at slower speeds but will climb toward the surface of the water as they gain more speed.
Both the planing hull and displacement hull are both found on high end boards that the intermediate and expert paddlers tend to seek out. They offer a smooth ride but are definitely not beginner boards.
Race SUP boards are even narrower boards with a planing hull. These boards are often made with carbon fiber and have race fins in the center fin box to help keep them in a straight line. A race paddle board is definitely designed for advanced paddlers.
All around stand up paddle boards
When it comes time to choose a stand up paddle board that works well for beginners, most end up with an all around SUP board. Part of the reason for this is the versatility of this type of paddle board. An all around paddle board can be used for flat water paddling, ocean SUP surfing, whitewater paddle boarding and SUP yoga.
If you do use your board on a river, it is suggested that you switch out the detachable semi rigid fins that come with the boards for flexible rubber fins that can handle hitting rocks. Some specific whitewater paddle boards come with a detachable center fin and then have two flexible rubber fins attached on the sides of the board with the center fin forward of them. You will typically find three fins on a surf or river SUP board.
How to choose a paddle board size
The size board you choose will depend on your body weight, how much you can carry and how you plan on using your board. Board sizes for all around SUP boards tend to be between 10 and 12 feet long.
The right board for surfing will be a shorter board than you would choose if you just plan to use it for flatwater paddling. Short boards are more maneuverable whereas long boards are more stable and faster.
You will want to check the weight capacity of the board to make sure that it will properly float you and any gear that you might want to transport. If you plan on taking paddle board camping trips, make sure that the board length will accommodate tying down a sleeping bag, tent and cooler. Consider a longer board if you plan on paddling with a lot of gear, your dog or your kids.
The board's weight should be a consideration as well. Keep in mind that you will need to be able to lift your paddle board over your head to get in onto the roof of your vehicle. Then when you reach the waterway, you will need to be able to lift it off your vehicle and carry it to the lake, river or ocean that you will be paddling on. Paddlers often underestimate how far they will need to carry their board. If you are concerned about being able to carry your SUP, consider an inflatable board which are usually about 5 pounds lighter than a hard board.
A word about deck pads
The deck pad is often overlooked as an important feature on your board. If you have ever paddled a board that has an uncomfortable deck pad, you won't soon forget the experience! That pain on the bottom of your feet can be excruciating!
Looks for boards that utilize full length deck pads that are soft to the touch and don't have bumps or ridges on them that will irritate your feet. Boards that have deck pads that cover their full length are nice for transporting other riders as they can sit comfortably on the front of longer boards. Experienced paddlers like a pad that extends to the tail of their board so they can stomp on it if they need to turn their board quickly.
Choosing the perfect paddle board for your needs can be a challenge. Everyone wants a board that they will be able to get years of use out of. The key is to figure out what SUP disciplines that you will be using your paddle board for as well as your paddling ability. Make sure that you also have enough room to store your board and the means to transport it properly.