Your phone rings in the dark hours of the morning. “SUP, dude?” the text reads. All caps? Why? Your mind reels. Why is your friend texting you so early, just to ask you what’s up? Before you throw your phone onto your nightstand and plunge back into sleep, be aware that your friend may not be texting you a casual greeting, but an invite to go stand-up paddleboarding, commonly abbreviated SUP.
Like surfing, stand-up paddleboarding involves gliding along bodies of water while standing atop a board. It’s an increasingly popular activity, and despite the similarities to surfing, there are some key differences. As the name would suggest, paddleboarders propel themselves along via a paddle rather than riding waves. It is also a more versatile hobby, allowing you to glide along placid rivers and lakes anywhere in the world.
If you want to embark on a paddleboarding journey of your own and intend to get serious about it, you may want to buy a board of your own, rather than renting. There are a lot of factors to consider before dropping money on one, so check out our guide to the basics of what to look for in a board, as well as recommendations for specific models.
Things to consider
Boards can be expensive, particularly if you buy one new, so consider some important factors as you browse. First, and perhaps most importantly, what do you plan to use the board for? Paddleboarding is the most obvious choice, though there are a number of things one can do with a paddleboard besides that. Some people race, some go fishing on their paddleboards, others even do yoga. The boards come in various shapes and sizes, each tailored to a different activity, so pick one that suits your lifestyle.
Displacement hulls vs. planing hulls
Likewise, take into account the types of water you expect to be boarding on. Will you mostly be sailing on a still lake at your local park, or will you brave the open waters of the ocean? For calmer waters, a board with a displacement hull — which tapers to a fine point at the nose — is probably the right choice; they plow through water, which lets you hit high speeds via your own paddling, although they don’t maneuver easily.
A planing hull, which has a rounder nose and a flatter bottom, rides along the surface of the water. Like a surfboard, a planing paddleboard is best suited to riding waves, where it achieves maximum speed and maneuverability. If you want to surf or do yoga on your paddleboard, the wide, flat shape of a planing hull is ideal.
Size and materials
In addition to the shape of the hull, the size and construction matter. Longer boards are better for hitting high speeds while moving in a straight line, while shorter boards will be easier to maneuver. The same principle applies to width; wider boards will be slower but more stable, while narrower boards provide better speed.
Additionally, you’ll have to decide whether you want an inflatable SUP or one with a solid body. The classic SUP is the solid body, which consists of a foam core wrapped by layers of fiberglass. Being rigid, these boards tend to be more stable but they require more space for storage and transport.
An inflatable board, as you might have guessed, is flaccid by default; users pump air into the board when they want to use it. Inflatable boards tend to flex a bit more than solid boards, although many companies use “drop stitch” weaves, where fibers lock together as the board inflates, making it more rigid. Because you can deflate an inflatable board, they are easier to transport. If you don’t have a suitable vehicle to carry a solid board around, an inflatable one may be the most convenient option for you.
Our board picks
Red Paddle Co. Ride MSL SUP
Red Paddle Co. is beloved for the quality of its inflatable boards, and the Ride MSL 10-foot 6-inch model is Exhibit A. The board features a drop stitch design, so it will be firmer than most inflatables and it has fins on the bottom to provide excellent control. It’s a curvy, well-rounded board, perfect for beginners who want an easy ride. Red Paddle’s Titan pumps are also convenient, inflating boards quickly and effortlessly.
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If you want to slice through water in paddleboard races, the Stealth14 may be the perfect board for you. Measuring 14 feet long and a mere 26 inches wide, the Stealth 14 is a svelte speedster, slicing through water like a bullet. A textured pad on the top helps you maintain your footing at high speeds and a fiberglass fin on the bottom allows you to control the direction easily. The Stealth14 is pricey but if you feel the need for speed, the cost is worth it.
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Boga Yoga Blue
If doing yoga on solid ground seems too tame for you, why not test your skills on water? Paddleboard yoga is an increasingly popular activity and, although this writer’s inflexible flesh cannot attest, it is supposedly an intense workout. If you want to greet the sun from the middle of a lake, Boga’s Yoga Blue is a popular board. For board yoga, stability is the highest priority and the Yoga Blue’s sturdy bamboo frame provides it. On a superficial level, it’s also a beautiful board, with a mix of wood and light blue coloration that should put your spirit at ease.
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California Board 10 Six
For beginners, there are few boards that provide both quality and affordability like the California Board Company’s 10 Six does. The board has a fiberglass shell with an EPS core, so it’s sturdy, and a polyethylene glaze on the bottom allows the board to glide easily on water. The board is stable, so new riders won’t fall off easily but it also won’t hit very high speeds. Daredevils may find it too slow but newcomers should appreciate the solid construction and low price.
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If you want to dip your toes into paddleboard surfing, the Isle Versa is a great starter board. A brushed deck pad is gentle on your feet and knees, an absolute must-have when adjusting your stance to the movement of the waves. The board measures ten feet, five inches long, and 32 inches wide, offering excellent stability and it is relatively lightweight for easy transportation.
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