Over the past few years, stand-up paddleboarding –or SUP as it is commonly known– has become one of the most popular and fastest growing sports in the outdoor industry. What was once seen as a niche activity has evolved into a major market segment attracting thousands of individuals, many of which aren’t necessarily traditional outdoor athletes. Part of the appeal comes from the versatility of the sport, which can be done purely for fun, but is also a great way to get fit too. SUP competitions have popped up all over the world as well, and those looking for a true challenge can even choose to paddleboarding whitewater.
Like surfing, stand-up paddleboarding involves gliding along bodies of water while standing atop a board. The sport can trace its origins back to the Hawaiian islands and the South Pacific, where surfers used a paddle to help maintain stability and steer themselves in a specific direction. But the use of a paddle allows paddleboarders to propel themselves along without having to ride waves, allowing them to SUP on rivers and lakes, in addition to the ocean.
If you’re new to SUP, you’re best bet is to rent the equipment a time or two before spending your hard-earned cash. Once you get serious however, you’ll likely want to own your own board. When it comes time to buy there are a number of factors you should consider before choosing the board this is best for you. Check out our guide to the basics of what to look for in a paddleboard, 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 best suits your lifestyle and needs.
Displacement hulls vs. planing hulls
It is also important to take into account the type 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 slice through water efficiently, allowing you to hit high speeds via your own paddling. The downside is that they don’t tend to be as maneuverable as some other boards.
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 a traditional model that more closely resembles a surf board. 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 faster and more stable but they require extra space for storage and are more difficult to transport too.
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, providing more rigidity. 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 but with enough versatility to grow with the paddler. Red Paddle’s Titan pumps are also convenient, inflating boards quickly and effortlessly, ensuring you’re on the water as quickly as possible. ($1299)
Lakeshore Wet Woody
Lakeshore’s classic Wet Woody model has been a favorite amongst paddleboarders for some time, and for good reason. For starters, the board is beautiful to look at and backs up its great styling with impressive performance on the water. Fast, nimble, and fun to paddle, the Wet Woody is 12-foot, 6-inches in length, and 29 inches in width. It also has a unique hull shape that allows it to effortlessly cut through the water while maintaining good stability at all times ($1549)
Boga Yoga Blue
If doing yoga on solid ground seems too tame for you, why not test your skills on the water instead? Paddleboard yoga is an increasingly popular activity brings an intense workout designed to improve balance and strengthen the core. If you want to greet the sun from the middle of a lake, Boga’s Yoga Blue is a popular option. For board yoga, stability is the highest priority and the Yoga Blue’s sturdy bamboo frame provides it in spades. 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. ($1095)
Body Glove Performer 11 Blue Ocean Edition
In terms of versatility it’s tough to beat the Body Glove Performer Blue Ocean Edition 11-foot inflatable SUP board. At 34 inches in width, this board provides a surprising amount of stability, making it a good choice for beginners. The board handles well on both lakes and rivers, and can even be used for SUP yoga. Three integrated fins deliver solid tracking and the board inflates in less than five minutes. It even comes with a pump, paddle, and travel bag. ($949)
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 transport. ($795)
Red Paddle Co. Voyager Tandem MSL
Like a lot of things in life, many people find stand-up paddleboarding much for fun to do with another person. Because of this, we’ve seen a rise in tandem boards in recent years, with the Voyager Tandem MSL from Red Paddle Co. standing out as one of the best. This inflatable model is 15 feet in length, making it the perfect option for two paddlers and perhaps even a small passenger. The Voyager includes room for plenty of cargo, and has built-in tie downs to keep everything secure. It even ships with two pumps so paddlers can inflate the board together, making it truly a team effort. ($1999)