How to Choose the Right Size Inflatable Paddle Board
Paddle boards come in all sizes, and knowing what size paddle board to buy can be a bit overwhelming. Let's run through the basics of the different sizes of boards and what the pros and cons can be for each size of board. Grab a notepad, and let's dive in!
First off let's divide up the SUP boards into categories that are typically used when shopping for a paddle board. The main ones are: all around, surf, touring/race, yoga/fitness, and whitewater. Every board will have length, width, thickness, and volume as measurements. These categories all have a typical board size associated with them, and once we have the basics down you can walk into any shop and have a good idea of what every board in that shop is used for. And the beautiful thing is this guide will work regardless of whether the paddle boards you are looking at are inflatable SUP boards or hard paddle boards.
Paddle Board Specs
All paddle boards and surfboards are measured using Length x Width X Thickness and the Volume of the board. Let's break down what these paddle board sizes mean to you.
Paddle Board Length
SUP length is measured in feet and inches. Board length will have the greatest impact on speed and maneuverability. The longer the paddle board is, the faster it will be, and the longer the board the less maneuverable it becomes.
Width on a paddle board is measured in inches at the widest part of the board. Paddle board width will affect the stability of the board. A wider board is more stable, but SUP width also will affect the speed of a board. A wider board will be slower than a narrower board. A narrow board will also be less stable for beginning paddle boarders.
Paddle board thickness is also measured in inches and is measured at the thickest part of the board since most hard boards don't have a uniform thickness from nose to tail. Paddle board thickness can get a little complicated as it can vary tremendously on hard boards. For inflatable boards, you will want a board thickness of 6". Thinner boards - when they are an inflatable SUP board - usually means that the board is using a low-quality drop stitch core.
The volume of a paddle board is measured in liters. And it relates to how many liters of water the board displaces. For most paddlers, you will want a board that is 1.0-1.5 times your body weight to find the right volume and therefore the proper weight capacity of your SUP board
All Around Paddle Board
The paddle board designed for all around paddling is the backbone of the SUP industry. These paddle boards can do it all, and because of that they are the most popular pick in paddle boarding. When most people think of a SUP board, they picture the mighty all around paddle board, it is the classic longboard shape that is super-sized to become a paddle board. All-around boards typically have a board length of 10' to 12' and the most popular sized paddle board is 10'6" which is the right board for a wide range of paddlers. It's typically the right size paddle board for the beginning paddle boarder. If you are over 6 feet tall and weigh more than 200 lbs, you will want to go to a 11'6 paddle board.
A general rule of thumb is the longer the board, the faster it is, and the shorter the board the slower and more maneuverable it will be. For width, the wider the paddle board, the more stable it is and the narrower the board the less stability it will have.
Length, width and thickness work together to create paddle board performance. As you might have guessed, an all-around board fits right in the sweet spot for length, width and thickness. We have a lot more articles that dive into how to choose your first paddle board so we don't want to get too deep into it here.
For SUP touring, the stand up paddle boards used are narrower and have extra length than short and medium boards. The board's length is typically 11-12 feet long and has a displacement hull because displacement hulls shed water down the sides of the paddle board and help the longer board paddle in a straight line.
Straight tracking is important with these long boards because they are typically used to travel long distances without a lot of maneuvering. The board size on a touring board will be dependent on the rider weight capacity. An 11 or 12 foot touring paddle board will work for most paddlers below 6 feet tall, 200 lbs. For those over that size should go with 12 foot long size sup board.
Surf and Whitewater Stand Up Paddle Boards
The right paddle board for either of these SUP disciplines will be short boards because maneuverability is key here. Rider weight capacity will determine paddle board size, however, because too short of a board will submerge under too much weight.
Other factors to consider are the skill level of the paddler and their paddling proficiency. Advanced paddlers can make a board that is below their weight capacity work in many cases because they will be better at balancing on an unstable board.
These boards range between 7 and 9 feet long and have a planing hull that allows the nose of the board to skim over the water. A river board will have a width of around 35 inches to make it more stable while surf paddle boards are usually around 33 inches wide which will test most large more advanced paddlers if they get the 7 foot long model.
Fitness and SUP Yoga boards
SUP boards designed for yoga and fitness tend to be wider for stability regardless of whether they are a hard or inflatable SUP board. These paddle boards typically have a full length deck pad because many of the yoga poses and calisthenics require the paddler to get down on the deck of the board.
Because of the SUP thickness of inflatable paddle boards, they are a better option for larger paddlers in this category since there is usually not a choice in board lengths.
When choosing the proper sized hard or inflatable paddle board, you will want to apply the calculus of length, width and thickness of the paddle board. The skill level of the paddle boarder will also come into play if they are into surf or whitewater paddle boarding. Sizing your paddle board correctly will make the sport far more enjoyable for paddlers.