OUTDOOR BASICS

How to Choose A Paddle Board: Learning to Make Waves

Paddle boards guide
Jerry Mueller
Written by Jerry Mueller

Paddle boarding can be great fun during the summer months. Many people think it’s just like surfing, but it’s actually much different and can serve as a great segue for a beginner interested in surfing.

It involves the use of a paddle to get around on open water, which can be very useful when there aren’t any waves to carry you. But just like surfboards, you need to learn how to choose a paddle board before you can dive headfirst into the sport. So what does it take to find the paddle board of your dreams?

Considerations of Paddle Boarding

You can’t just go to the store and pick up the first paddle board you see.

Paddle Boards for fun

They’re built for different purposes and types of paddle boarding, so it’s important to be aware of the differences so that you don’t have to make a return in the future.

  • Just for fun: if you’re interested in getting into the sport for fun and getting some exercise, then you want to consider a paddle board that is suitable for all-purpose and surfing. Focus on paddle boards that offer a lot of stability as well as maneuverability. Speed should not be your primary focus.
  • Touring/racing: a paddle board for this purpose involves traveling long distances and going at very high speeds. You should focus on efficiency and speed when looking for a paddle board suitable for your needs.

So what determines how these paddle boards are used? This is dependent on the structure and features of your paddle board, including the fins, core materials, volume, length, width, and hull type. These features will be discussed in more detail.

The Various Hull Types

This is what the body of the paddle board is called, and is constructed different for various purposes.

Paddle Board Hull Type

The shape determines how it will perform in the water, and there are two main types of hulls.

  • Planing: this kind of hull is perfect for people who want to do it all. The shape is flat and very wide for added stability, and is very similar to a surfboard. It’s good for riding ocean waves, and are great for beginners.
  • Displacement: these are much more narrow in shape with a pointed nose that is similar to a kayak or a canoe. This is because this type of hull is made with speed in mind, and pushes the water around the nose to obtain more sleek movement and glides through the water faster.

However, because of the narrowed shape of the body, it’s much easier to tip them over.

Volume and Weight of Paddle Boards

People aren’t all meant to be the same size, so there’s no such thing as a standard size of paddle board. You need to find one that is right for you, as it needs to displace the right amount of water in comparison to your weight.

The volume of a paddle board is measured in liters, which is an indication of how well the board will float when there is went on top of it. The larger the number, the more weight the board is capable of supporting.

Volume and Weight of Paddle Boards

The weight, on the other hand, is how much weight a paddle board can carry without sinking below the water’s surface. This is listed on the paddle board in pounds, and if you’re more than the prescribed number, your board will sink and it will become very difficult to paddle effectively.

Importance of Your Paddle Board’s Length and Width

Depending on the activity you’re going to be involved in, you’re going to need a paddle board’s length to match your intended purpose. Riding on the waves and paddles for performance reasons require very different lengths of boards.

You should also keep in mind that you’ll have to transport your board to and from the site, so consider the size of your car and where you’ll be storing your board before you purchase one. A shoe closet just isn’t going to cut it.

  • Short boards that are under nine feet are perfect for surfing. They’re more maneuverable and provide a lot of stability to beginner and experienced paddle boarders alike. If you’re looking for a paddle board for a child, then you’ll want to look for one that’s about eight feet long.
  • Medium boards are about nine to twelve feet long, and are great for all-around use. Whether you’re surfing or interested in doing a race, these boards are capable of handling whatever you put them through. They’re also very useful on calm lakes.
  • Long boards range from about twelve and a half feet to about fourteen feet, and are great for racing and touring. They move much faster through the water and track much straighter.

The width also follows the same principles as the length: wider boards (31 inches or more) provide much more stability, but can’t move as fast; narrow boards (29 to 30 inches) can move much faster through the water, but can tip over much more easily.

Paddling Board

However, speed isn’t the only thing you should keep in mind when determining the width of your board. If a board is wider then your shoulders, then you’ll strain more to work the paddle, and that can lead to an uncomfortable experience. It’s best to try out a few beforehand so that you know which width will feel comfortable.

Various Core Materials

Paddle boards are made from different substances in order to accomplish different tasks. Some are lighter and more durable than others, while some are designed to be heavy to provide more stability. Look to see what the paddle board you’re interested in is made out of so that you’re adequately prepared for how it will perform on the open waters.

  • EPS Foam: this involves a foam core that is wrapped in fiberglass and epoxy. It is the most commonly used material in making paddle boards, as it allows for more versatility in construction. For the exterior, plastic and carbon fiber are the most common materials used.
  • Hollow Core: this is a result of the manufacturing process, and serves the purpose of making boards lighter so that they can travel faster on the water.
  • Polyurethane Foam: this is much heavier than EPS foam, and is used on boards that are built for beginners.
  • Inflatables: these are made from PVC and have an air core. They’re very durable and easy to carry, and letting out the air makes them extremely easy to store just about anywhere. These are perfect for beginners and those who are interested in casual activities.

The Different Kinds of Fins

Just as surfboards have fins on the underside of their bodies to help you make turns, paddle boards have the same thing.

Paddling Boards Fins

They’re designed to add tracking as well as stability to the board, and come in several variations:

  • large fin: large fins are usually attached to the fin box of your board and then affixed with a nut and a screw. Fin boxes are channeled mechanisms that are installed onto boards that allow the fin to be slid back and forth along the back end of your board. You may find some boards already have a fin box installed, while others require them to be added on your own.
  • 3-fin: this is known as a thruster and involves the placement of one larger fin at the very back and two smaller fins closer to the middle in a triangle. This setup allows for straight tracking as well as good control during surfing.
  • race fins: these fins are designed to be very stiff in order to work against strong currents and winds. They’re made for the longer boards that are used in racing and touring so that the user’s course can be maintained.
  • fins for inflatables: for inflatables, fins can be attached to the body in order to promote better tracking. These can be made of flexible rubber or semi-rigid plastic, depending on the user’s needs.

You may even choose not to go with a fin at all, but it may affect your overall performance on the water. It’s not an essential part of the construction, but it will definitely help where you need it the most.

Shapes and Other Features of Paddling Boards

There are various other construction features you should take into account when choosing your board.

Features of Paddling Boards

Getting the wrong kind may hinder your overall experience, so it’s important to pay attention.

  • Shape of the nose: as expected, this is the same as the width of the board, and come in either wide or narrow. A wide nose will help with flotation and will make it much easier for you to catch the waves. A narrower nose cuts through the water much easier and is placed on boards designed for touring and/or racing. This kind of nose is especially good for tracking in choppy conditions.
  • Shape of the tail: once you start catching waves, you’re going to feel the difference depending on what your tail shape is like. The more angular the shape, the easier it will be for you to make sharp turns; a rounder shape allows for smoother turns.
    A round/pin tail will provide more stability when you’re riding large waves, while a square/angular tail will make the handling of your board much looser and snappy. It all depends on how you plan to use your board.
  • Bottom contouring: along with the overall shape of the hull, the contour of the bottom of the board can also make a difference. The majority of boards fall into the planing or displacement categories, but there is a third. A concave bottom can hold water throughout the length of the board, allowing for better lift as you move, as well as a decrease in the drag.
  • Rails: these are the edges of your board, and come in different thickness for different uses. Thick rails are usually used on family or all-around boards in order to add extra stability. Race boards come in a wide variety of other rail shapes, all suited for a different purpose.

If this is the kind of activity you’re interested in, then it would be helpful to speak with an experienced boarder or a knowledgable assistant at your sporting goods store.

Maintaining Safety

Once you’ve purchased your board, there are some other accessories you should invest in to increase your fun as well as promote safety.

Maintaining Safety

The most important one is the paddle, of course. Without a paddle, you’re just standing on a stationary board out on the water, waiting for a wave to come along. It’s recommended that they be at least 6 to 10 inches taller than you. Other accessories include:

  • personal flotation device: you may be the best swimmer in the world, but anything can happen. Because paddle boards are considered to be vessels by the U.S. Coast Guard, you’re required to wear one at all times. If you’re using your board after sunset, then you’re required to have a safety whistle and a light on your person.
  • clothing: this is dependent on the kind of weather you’ll be paddle boarding in. If it’s much cooler throughout the day, then you want to invest in a wet suit or dry suit to keep you warm. It’s very easy for hypothermia to set in when your body is wet. In warmer temperatures, wear anything you’re comfortable in and won’t restrict movement when it gets wet.
  • leash: paddle boards don’t have these as default, and have to be purchased separately. This tethers your board to you so that when you do fall off, your board won’t be whisked away by the tide.
  • car rack: the only way you’re going to be able to carry your board to and from the beach is on the roof of your car, and you need a rack to accomplish that.There are specifically designed racks that attach to the crossbars of your roof rack, but you’ll have to look in the manufacturer’s specifications to see which car models they can be fitted to.
  • traction pads: this is the grippy foam area on the top of your board that helps you to stay on your board. Some boards, especially those used for racing, already have these, but if yours doesn’t, you can always purchase on separately

If all of this is too much information for you, the best way to figure out what will work for you is to try before you buy. The sport doesn’t require a lot of gear, but there’s a lot of money that you have to sink into the sport in order to enjoy the experience.

Look for an area that has boards you can rent so that you can get a feel for them and which ones work best for you. The person in charging of renting may even be able to give you a few tips on what to look for in the store to make your shopping experience that much easier.

Thankfully, it’s not a sport that is very difficult to learn but you can get roped in very quickly at how much fun it can be.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jerry Mueller
Jerry Mueller

Jerry ‘Boy Scout’ Mueller spends 99% of his time camping or teaching others how to live in the wild. He became an Eagle Scout which is the highest rank attainable in the Boy Scouting division when he was 17 and after that he still lives the scout life. Jerry always plans neatly every trip, takes leadership very seriously and if you listen to his tips and stories, you can learn tons of useful things.

  • Kim Bromley

    If price is not an issue, what board would you recommend? I’m looking for a board for a beginner – me! – but I don’t think I want an inflatable one. Happy to be persuaded otherwise though… I’d mainly be using it on a lake rather than at the beach though, I guess, there’s a chance I’ll get out to the beach a few times a year. What’s the deal with bamboo boards? I see you didn’t mention anything about them. Would you not recommend a bamboo SUP?

  • Stefan Sanga

    The key when buying a SUP – as with anything – is to really do your research. I went with the Red Paddle Co 12’6’’ Race. I’ve been paddleboarding for a few years but now I’m looking to get into the race scene. I researched thoroughly and found this to be in my budget and perfect for my needs. It can be inflated to 25psi which is the highest on the market, as far as I’m aware, which seems to help it reach very high speeds. Know what your budget is and what you want from a SUP and go from there!

  • Jerry Mueller

    Inflatables are take the worry out of the board being dented or scratched. It’s more compact, too- you can take it anywhere! For beginners, inflatables are easier to use. If you’re not going for some serious surfing on the waves, inflatables are best. They are also inexpensive.

  • Jerry Mueller

    Some people (usually newbies) think inflatables are like those kids’ playthings. They’re mistaken. These paddleboards are made from excellent materials – they’re not kidstuff, that’s for sure.

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