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How to Choose a Stand Up Paddle Board

Updated: Apr 5, 2023

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With so many paddle boards available on the market, it can make your head spin! We’ve researched the different options to help you decide which one is right for you. We will explore different types of paddle boards, what they are made of and which SUP boards are used for different types of paddling activities. By the end of this article, you will have a better understanding of paddle boards and be able to choose the board that is right for you.

What are Stand Up Paddle Boards made of?

Solid paddle boards are made of fiberglass with epoxy resin over foam cores. Inflatable paddle boards are made of laminated PVC with strong fibres on the inside holding them together. Higher-end race boards are made with carbon fibre over a foam core.

What are the different types of SUP boards?

There are three main types of paddle boards: solid, soft top and inflatable. For more in-depth information on this topic check out our Ultimate Guide to Inflatable vs Hardboards post here to help you decide which style is right for you.

Are you curious why paddle boards have different shapes? Check out our post about paddleboard planing vs. displacement hulls so you can visualize the design differences.

Which Paddle Boards are best for different types of activities?

Now that you understand a little better the 3 main styles and what each paddle board is made of, let’s take a look at the different shapes of the paddle boards to determine what will work best for you! Main sporting activities on Stand Up Paddle Boards are Touring, Racing, Surf, Yoga and Casual SUP which can include night floats or paddling with friends around a lake.

Yoga Boards

For SUP yoga, the ideal board will be a minimum of 34” wide to give you more stability and you will also need an anchor so you don’t get blown around. As the popularity rises, there is a new category of board by Cascadia Board Co. that is specifically designed for SUP yoga. This board has an under mounted bungee cord system for anchoring on this board and it’s rectangular shape helps with stability. If your fitness goals this year include strength and balance building yoga, this may be the board for you. However, these rectangular shaped boards will not be good for traveling very far out on the water.

Tandem Boards

These boards are most often used by two people, they tend to be quite a bit longer, can hold more weight and sometimes come with kayak seats and a versatile paddle which can be switched from kayak to SUP board paddles. These boards are 12 - 14 feet and tend to have a pointed nose and tail.

All-round boards & Cross-over boards

Are you looking for a board that can do it all? All round boards are great for all levels of paddleboarder as they are stable and user friendly. These boards are typically 9-12ft. long, between 32” – 35” wide and 4”-6” thick with the nose and tail of the board will usually be quite wide and more rounded to help with stability. The boards are designed to be good for all different activities and to get you out on the water with ease.

Cross over boards are often the same as round boards with a few extra features that make them usable in other situations. Some all-round boards will taper in towards the nose to give a pointier, more streamlined shape that will work better for going longer distances. Likewise, some of the smaller all-round boards will work for surfing. Newer models often come with ‘D’ hooks that allow you to add kayak seat or a slot for your windsurf rig so you can enjoy your Sup powered by the wind.

Touring boards

Are you planning to enjoy a coastal trip? A touring board is optimized for flatwater and open ocean paddling. They are typically between 12 - 14ft. long, between 28” to 34” wide and often have a nose that is pointed and tilted towards the sky to help the board slice through the waves and water smoothly. The longer and narrower a board is the more efficient it will be slicing through the water but at the sacrifice of stability. Touring boards often have more bungee cords or tie down anchors to carry more weight and more gear.

Race boards

Are designed for speed as they are similar in shape to a touring board but where they differ is their width - typically 27”-28” wide and 12’6 or 14’ long as these are race standards. The sleek design of these boards helps the paddlers slice through the water, however, these boards are not meant for beginners as they are not very stable and are often more expensive than other board types.

Surf SUP boards

Surfing has been a pastime of coastal life for centuries and now we are adding a new board type into the mix. SUP surfboards tend to be 9ft long, have a narrower nose and tail and more rocker (curve/flexibility) to the board. These boards are specifically designed to hit the waves, tend to be slower and don’t track in a straight line on flat water. SUP surfboards may also have the option of a 4-fin configuration, but not all SUP boards come with fin options (see ‘does the fin matter on my SUP board’ below).

Does my height and weight matter when buying a SUP board?

Boards are not typically measured based on a person’s height, however, different boards will have different weight ratings. The length of the board determines how fast it is and how responsive it is to turning, longer boards are generally more buoyant and can handle the extra weight and/or cargo.

Your paddle length does depend on your height and it should be approximately 10-20 cm taller than you depending upon the type of paddling you will be doing and the depth of the board you are paddling. Some paddles have built-in adjustments for different heights, a convenient option when switching between boards or activities.

Which paddle board is best for lake or flatwater SUP boarding?

Most boards can be used for lake or flatwater SUP. If you are planning a touring trip with your SUP where you are portaging and backcountry camping, opt for a longer board with tie downs which can support more weight and disperse the weight across the board more easily.

Which paddle board is best for river SUP boarding?

Choosing a board for river paddling will depend on the conditions of the river you’re planning to explore. A touring shape will be fine for relatively flat water. If you plan to encounter more technical sections or rapids, a shorter board with its rounded nose will be more stable and easier to maneuver. Because you’re riding with the flow of the river, stability is key. So even a wider board (around 34” or more) could help you maintain your balance while navigating the currents and obstacles found there.

Which paddle board is best for ocean SUP boarding?

Ocean conditions vary significantly. However, if you are looking to SUP surf, you will want to aim for a shorter board that allows for more maneuverability which typically means a shorter board. If you’ll be tracking the coast or paddling out into rougher waters over longer distances, it’s best to opt for a touring board.

Touring paddle boards have a pointed nose and are narrower and longer than all-around SUPs, giving them more glide. That means you’ll paddle less to go further. In addition, their distinct shape and layout improves paddling efficiency, tracking and overall performance when paddling through choppy waters and waves.

Does the fin matter on my SUP board?

Fins help your board track (go in a straight line) and add stability. Some boards have the ability to have a removable fin, other boards come with fins pre-attached. Typically boards with removable fins are more expensive and aimed at surfers or racers. A fin can also add speed when you’re catching and riding waves. Sliding a fin forward makes the board easier to turn. Sliding it back makes it track straighter.

A 3-fin cluster gives you options to change the way your board tracks and turns. You can remove the centre fin, or both the side fins, or swap them out for different heights and shapes to tune the way your board responds when you’re racing in rougher waters or cutting across the face of a steep wave.

A quad is a 4-fin set-up usually used for surfing, and creates a looser feeling when you’re turning on a wave compared to a 3-fin (“thruster”) configuration.

Further Resources

To Conclude

We hope this helped to clear some things up and work out which is the best option for you. If you are still a little confused, don’t be afraid to send Pam a message and check out our blogs ​​with the Ultimate Guide to Inflatable vs Hardboards post here and Paddleboard Planing vs. Displacement Hulls so you can visualize the design differences.

Let's talk about what you are looking for!

I’d love to know which you think is the right choice for you and your needs so drop a comment below.

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