Many people think that paddle boarding is just like surfing, but it’s actually much different and can serve as a great segue for a beginner interested in surfing.
No matter what, paddle boarding can be great fun during the summer months, but to make sure it’s actually fun all the way, you have to know how to choose a SUP Paddle Board aka Stand-up paddleboard.
This is what we’re going to talk about in today’s article!
As its name suggests, paddle boarding 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. This guide for beginners will cover all the basics and more advanced things you need to keep in mind.
Choosing a Stand Up Paddle Board for Beginners (SUP)
You can’t just go to the store and pick up the first paddle board you see.
They’re built for different purposes and types of paddle boarding, so it’s important to be aware of the differences to make sure that you get the right one for your particular situation:
1. 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 although you can still achieve it.
This is the category where all beginners should fit in, in my opinion. It’s also the most popular so most likely this is the type of paddle board you need.
In case you just want to check my recommendations and you’re not interested in the all the basics, make sure to read my previous article on the best SUP paddle boards for beginners.
2. 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 below to help you make the best choice.
Various Hull Types of the Paddle Board
This is what the body of the paddle board is called, and is constructed differently for various purposes.
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 with more weight on top of it. The larger the number, the more weight the board is capable of supporting.
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. So always pay attention to this number!
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!
Paddle boards come in three sizes, each with its own Pros and Cons. Here’s the summary for each size:
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.
Therefore, for beginners, the best combo is a wider paddle board of medium or even short length.
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.
For more tips and tricks on how to make your own canoe paddle, see our earlier article to learn more.
Paddle Board Materials: They Matter Too!
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. Here are the usual options you have:
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.
Understanding 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.
They’re designed to add tracking as well as stability to the board, and come in several variations:
1. 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 by yourself.
2. 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.
3. 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 with more ease.
4. 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. So if you are a beginner, I definitely recommend adding a fin for the extra stability and safety.
Shapes and Other Features of Paddling Boards
There are various other construction features you should take into account when choosing your board.
Getting the wrong kind may hinder your overall experience, so it’s important to pay attention to the following aspects too.
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.
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 planning 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.
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.
Safety Precautions to Have in Mind when Paddle Boarding
Once you’ve purchased your board, there are some other accessories you should invest in to increase your fun as well as promote 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 it in order to enjoy the experience. So there’s no need to start by making mistakes, right?
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. Check out our earlier piece on how to choose the best canoe paddle size for more insight.