SUP Buying Guide
The popularity of stand up paddle boarding exploded in 2005 and has been growing ever since. It’s expansion into the mainstream can be put down to its gentle learning curve and variety of uses to suit any interest from recreational SUP paddling, to SUP surfing, to getting a killer cardio workout! Or that it’s just a lot of fun and a good excuse to get out on the water!
People tend to get stuck when wondering how to choose a stand up paddleboard. Selecting the right paddle board all comes down to the user, your interests and what you want to use the SUP for. When researching standup paddleboards, it is easy to be overwhelmed by all of the information out there, so whether you’re a beginner or an experienced paddleboarder, we hope this guide will help gather all the things you need to know before buying a SUP into one place to help you make an informed decision that you won’t regret!
Once you're all done here, check out our SUP board selector tool to find the perfect SUP for you!
SUP Boards can generally be broken down into 6 broad categories based on activity, and its good to know what differentiates each of them to help you choose what’s right for you. There can be some common characteristics and design but we will do our best to separate the categories.
All Around Paddle Boards
This is the most common style of SUP and could be considered a blend of all types of paddle boards. They are wide enough to provide stability, are longer than surf SUPs to allow for easy gliding and tracking (holding your course) and have a gentle rocker (curve) so they can perform in the surf too. As the name suggests, all around SUPs can work well in all kinds of conditions and make for a great beginner or first-time board. For a more detailed look, check out our more extensive all around paddle board primer, or shop our selection of stand up paddle boards.
SUP Surfing Boards
Surfing SUPs have a similar shape to a traditional surfboard but have added width and thickness to provide extra buoyancy. Surf SUPs are geared more towards intermediate and advanced paddlers as they are less stable than other styles. The reduced length makes them tougher to paddle and keep in a straight line than longer paddle boards. However, the shorter design and increased rocker increases their maneuverability for wave riding. For a more detailed look, check out our more extensive SUP Surfing primer, or shop our all around / SUP surfing boards.
SUP Racing Boards
SUP racing boards are designed specifically for speed and tracking over flatwater or open ocean. They are typically the longest kind of SUP available and have a much narrower outline, making them ideal for experienced riders and racers. The learning curve on this style of board can be steep for absolute beginners due to the reduced width, but once you have a feel for it, these will help you go places, fast! For a more detailed look, check out our more extensive racing paddle boards primer, or see our racing SUP board.
Also designed for flatwater, touring SUPs are similar to race sups in terms of length but offer more width which makes them more accessible to the more inexperienced paddler. If you want a slightly more forgiving board for a long distance paddle workout or a day long paddle with some gear, these would be your best option. SUP touring boards are designed to glide for days and can even take a passenger too! For a more detailed look, check our our more extensive touring paddle boards primer, or see our touring SUP offerings.
SUP fishing boards are designed to provide stability and to keep you high off the water. If fishing is your primary use for your SUP then these can be a great option for you. Although an all around paddle board or a touring SUP can work just as well as many specifically fishing boards and will hold up better in a wider variety of conditions. For a more detailed look, check out our more extensive fishing paddleboards primer.
Paddle board yoga has been exploding in recent years! The newest addition to the SUP family is designed for flat, calm water to provide great stability. Where most other paddle board deck pads finish just beyond the midpoint, yoga SUP deck pads can extend almost the full length of the board to give plenty of room to stretch all the way out! Width is important for stability on these boards, an all-rounder can do the job here also. For a more detailed look, check our our more extensive paddle boards yoga primer, or shop our yoga paddle boards online.
What Size Paddle Board?
There are a lot of variations from one paddle board to the next, and there are many varieties of paddle board uses. Beyond that, there are two competely different construction types that affect all of this, inflatable SUP and hard board (epoxy) SUPs. As such, the shape and size of SUP boards is all over the map. We'll detail some important things to look at below.
SUP Volume & Weight Capacity
SUP volume is measured in liters and indicates how buoyant a board will be and what its weight capacity is - the higher the volume, the more weight the SUP board will be able to support. This is an important detail and shouldn’t be overlooked, particularly when purchasing a surf SUP. If you and your gear weigh over the weight capacity, the board will ride low in the water and will be inefficient to paddle. While volume is important to think about, you should also think about how that volume is spread throughout the SUP board (by length, width or thickness) and your paddling needs.
Stand up paddleboards generally range from around 7’-14’ depending on the style. The length of a SUP plays a large role in determining the maneuverability, speed and tracking ability of the board. Volume added through additional SUP length will help with stability but will mainly contribute to speed and tracking. When considering what length to go for, it is also a good idea to consider how you will transport and where you will store your board!
General Hard Board Size Guide
- Under 10’ are great for surfing, kids and lighter riders.
- Between 10’-12’ are ideal for all-round use, yoga and fishing.
- Over 12’ are designed for speed, gliding and long distance paddling.
Note that if you get an inflatable paddle boards, which are typically 6" thick, the thickness is uniform across the entire length. This is in contrast to hard board SUPs which are thinner on the tail and nose, and only get to about 4-5 inches thick in the center. As a result, a 10' inflatable paddle board could have significantly more volume than a 14' hard board.
SUP board width is another determinant of volume and how a board will handle, so there are 3 factors to consider:
1. What kind of paddling you will be doing:
- Whether you’re going to be doing long distance touring, surfing or yoga, you’ll need to reflect your main activity in your buying decision. Extra width can slow a SUP board down which is not ideal for long distance, but will provide great stability if you’re a SUP yoga fanatic!
2. You should consider your body type.
- Narrower SUP boards suit smaller (and/or shorter) riders and vice versa. It can be easier to find your balance on a wide board if you’re a beginner but if you’re a smaller rider, you may have to reach awkwardly over the rails to complete a paddle stroke if your board is too wide.
3. Ability level:
- More experienced paddlers may be more comfortable on a narrower board than newbies. Extra width can make a beginner feel a lot more secure on the board when starting out and help flatten that learning curve!
Stand Up Paddle Boards range from about 28”-33” in width so if you have chosen a board of a certain length that will suit you, you can then select a board with appropriate width that will provide you with the volume you need.
The final factor in board volume - once you have chosen a board with a length and width that you are happy with, thickness is the final piece of the puzzle. Just remember, the more volume a board has, the more weight it can support so if you are plan on riding tandem or bringing a dog with you you may want to opt for a slightly thicker board to accommodate this.
Inflatable SUP vs. Epoxy Paddle Boards
After you have made your decision on what type of SUP you want (surfing, yoga etc) and the dimensions, the next decision is whether you want an inflatable or solid board. To make your decision a little easier you can base it upon 3 factors.
A hard SUP board (epoxy, carbon or fiberglass) will outperform an inflatable on the water in terms of speed and maneuverability so if you are looking for a high performance board a solid board (fiberglass or carbon) will be your best bet.
For beginners and river SUPers, an inflatable paddle board would be a wiser option as hard boards are easily damaged when knocked off rocks, and for a first board they are usually cheaper to purchase. iSUPs range from 4”-8” thick, we recommend going for a board in the 6”-8” range as thinner boards are not as rigid and can flex a lot in the middle.
Hard board SUPs can be tricky to transport depending on your vehicle and they often they require roof racks and straps. Inflatable paddle boards on the other hand can be deflated, rolled up and put into the trunk of your vehicle and even checked onto a flight.
This can be another point of frustration with hard boards as they take up a lot of space where as an inflatable SUP can be rolled up and stored in a small space. It is not a good idea to store any kind of SUP outdoors and particularly in direct sunlight as it can cause delamination. If you decide to go ahead with a hard board, in the interest of preserving it, keep it in a board bag to prevent scratches and dings!
A major factor in a lot of people’s decision to buy a paddle board is the price, particularly for beginners who aren’t sure if SUPing is for them. It is important to do your research and compare both SUP boards and SUP companies to get what’s right for you. For a first SUP you wont need a crazy expensive board however, you don’t want to go cheap and sacrifice quality. Direct to consumer companies are a good option to get a paddle board for a reasonable price as there is no retail or distributor markup factored into the price! We've put together a comprehensive page all about paddle board price factors and considerations that's definitely worth a read before your buy a SUP.
To ensure you make the right decision, check out board and company customer service reviews. Referrals from past customers are going to have much more authority than a company’s marketing efforts. If a warranty is in the cards then you can set your mind at ease a little more. At Tower we offer a 2 year warranty on all of our inflatables.
Buying a SUP for the first time can be tough because of all of the information out there but if you can narrow down your decision first by activity and then your needs from a board you will be on the right path. At Tower we are a bunch of SUPers, surfers and water lovers and like to help our customers get the right board for what they’re looking for, don’t hesitate to reach out to us and ask any questions you might have. The more research you do, the better equipped you will be to choose the right paddle board for you!