With the popularity of paddle boarding on the rise, it’s tempting to run out and buy the first board you lay eyes on. However, before you get on the water this summer, it’s important to find the right board for your needs.
Before purchasing, consider what type of paddling you’ll be doing. Most beginners and casual weekend paddlers will want a board for fun and fitness. Paddlers in this category will prioritize stability and maneuverability, with speed and efficiency a secondary concern. However, those racing or touring long distances will want the opposite, a board that reaches high speeds and is efficient in the water.
As with all watercraft, the hull shape plays a large part in determining performance in the water. SUPs have either planing or displacement hulls.
Planing hulls are best for someone wanting a jack-of-all-trades board. The hull is flat and wide, making them stable and versatile for recreational paddling and surfing. Because of their stability, this hull type is very popular with beginners. These boards are designed to ride on top of the water and perform well in ocean surf.
Displacement hulls have a pointed front, much like that of a kayak or a canoe. It is made to slice through water, rather than sit on top of it. Boards with displacement hulls also tend to be longer an narrower than those with planing hulls to ensure maximum paddling efficiency. They’re much faster, but also tip much more easily.
VOLUME AND WEIGHT CAPACITY
A board’s volume is shown in liters and indicates how well the board floats with weight on it. The more volume, the higher the board’s weight capacity will be. It is important to stay within the weight capacity, as a board that cannot carry your weight will ride low in the water and will be difficult to paddle and maneuver.
Board length is largely dependent on intended use, storage situation, and method of transportation. Short boards, those under nine feet, are maneuverable and good for kids. Medium boards, those between nine and twelve feet, are good for all-around use. They’re ideal on calm lakes and in surf. Long boards, between twelve and fourteen feet long, are best for racing and touring. They’re faster than shorter boards and tend to track straight. They also provide maximum efficiency, the primary consideration when touring.
Width determines speed and stability. Narrow boards, between 29 and 30 inches, are faster than their wider counterparts, but far less stable. Inversely, boards that are 31 inches or wider are more stable but much slower.
An EPS foam core wrapped with fiberglass and epoxy make up the most common boards. Carbon fiber and plastic are used for the board exteriors. The weight of these boards will vary largely based on construction technique.
A few mid-range boards have hollow cores due to the manufacturing process, while high-end boards may have them to save weight and maximize performance.
Polyurethane foam is heavier than EPS foam, and is used on entry-level boards.
Inflatable boards have PVC exteriors with drop-stitch constructions that create an air core. These boards are light and easy to store, and tend to be on the upper end of the price range.
Fins help the board to tract straight and provide additional stability. Some boards have a large single fin in a finbox. Others have a three fin setup that promotes straight tracking in flat water and superior control in surf. Racing fins are straight and stiff and help long boards track in wind waves. Inflatables have flexible rubber fins attached to the board or more rigid detachable fins.
Every board needs a good paddle. Choose one that’s about six to eight inches taller than you.
As with all watersports, be sure to have (and use!) a USCG-approved personal flotation device, or PFD.
Leashes keep your board close by in case you fall off. There are separate leashes for surf, flatwater, and rivers, and it is very important to purchase one in accordance with your intended use.
One of the most commonly forgotten accessories is a car rack. Unless you’ve got an inflatable board, you need a way to get it to the water. You can get a rack for crossbars, or you can use foam blocks and utility straps to secure the board, even on a naked roof!