How to Choose a Paddleboard


With so many different types of stand up paddle boards on the market, it can be difficult to know which is the best stand up paddleboard for you.  Here are some guidelines that should help.

The first step is to determine what you want to do with the board and in what conditions you want to paddle.  If someone tries to sell you a board without asking you this question, or if you buy a board without thinking this through, beware!   

Different disciplines in SUP:

  1. Paddle in flat water
  2. Paddle Surf
  3. Paddle downwind on a windy day
  4. Toss a board onto your boat and paddle wherever the wind and current take you.
  5. Race
  6. Fitness or Yoga SUP
  7. Downriver or Whitewater SUP


You may want to do all the above with your board - you may want to paddle in flat water on a calm day and you may want to surf on another day.  Ideally your board choice for each day would be different.  So, unless you’re ready to invest in a quiver of boards, be ready to make some trade offs.

Secondly, you’ll want to look at paddle board construction and quality.  How is the board made? How durable is it? Is it impact resistant? Will the board deck soften quickly and delaminate? Is the Construction Eco friendly? How long has the manufacturer been in business and what is their service history? Do they manufacture in the US or are they importing from China?


Third, based on all the above information, determine what you are willing to pay.  I know this seems backward – your first thought may be, “how much can I afford?” But in this industry (and most others for that matter) you get what you pay for. Many buyers purchase their first board based on price first, then usage, and lastly quality.  After only a few months, cheap, imported boards will fall apart and became your “beater board”. In hindsight, most buyers should have invested their money in a better built board and avoid having to buy two boards.  


So, first you need to decide what you will be doing most of time on your board.


If you are paddling in flat water, a longer board with very little rocker helps you glide through the water faster.  Rocker is how much a board curves upward from nose to tail when viewed from the side, so if you’re paddling in flat water you want relatively little rocker so a flat board. Longer, flatter boards don’t turn as easily which makes them easier to paddle in a straight line. Generally, the rougher the water and the less your ability to balance, the wider board you’ll want.

If you are surfing, a shorter board, 10’ and under, will turn more easily so that you can react more quickly and get lined up for the next wave. The shorter boards are also lighter to carry and easier to load onto your car. For surfing, generally you should use the shortest board you can handle, meaning the more experienced you are with wave knowledge, balance, and paddle technique, the shorter the board you can use. If you are just starting to surf, choose a relatively longer board.


If you like to paddle downwind on a windy day, your best choice is a relatively longer board with more nose rocker. A SUP board with lots of rocker will run down big swells, but it may be slow in flat water. Flatter boards, without much rocker, glide well in flat water but may be hard to turn in waves.


If you’d like to load your board onto your sailboat or powerboat and use it to explore different anchorages, you’ll probably want an ultra durable board. Boards with a polymer finish have proven to be the most durable on the market.


If you want to get into SUP racing, getting a good, proven stock race board is a good way to get started. Most races have 12'6 or 14' stock divisions and you can be competitive in the class without getting caught up in the “the one with the biggest board wins" race. The size, weight and price of a stock board are also more reasonable.

There are many factors to consider when choosing the right board. The larger the SUP board, the more stable, but in surf conditions the harder it is to turn. Paddlers with surfing experience will choose smaller SUP boards, while those just starting out and those paddling in flat water would probably prefer longer and wider boards. Weight and height should also play a role – the more a person weighs, the bigger board. The taller a person, the more stable a board is needed because the center of gravity is higher. 


For whitewater or downriver paddle boarding, you will definitely want to stay away from epoxy boards. They will crack and take on water very quickly. Many whitewater paddlers use an inflatable SUP which will get you down river, assuming that you don’t pop a whole in it. Most iSUPs are too bouncy to get the “surfer feel” that most whitewater SUPers are looking for. Plastic SUP’s are virtually indestructible but very heavy and hard to maneuver. Many world class whitewater paddlers are switching to epoxy boards that are coated with a polymer finish and shaped for the nuances of the river.


As mentioned above, one board can’t give you 100% in all situations, so expect tradeoffs.

Also remember, of the boards in stock at a particular retail outlet, your dream board may not be there. Don’t hesitate to ask the staff at your local paddle or surf shop to order the board that is most appropriate for your needs.