How to Choose a Stand Up Paddleboard
Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP) is considered North America’s fastest growing paddlesport with new categories and models constantly evolving. With the dizzying array of choices, selecting a board is often an overwhelming decision for many newcomers.
To help simplify things, the following article will educate you on the different SUP’s available, their primary uses, and things to consider when choosing a board that’s right for you!
Why Do You Paddleboard?
First things first, ask yourself the following:
- Why you want a paddleboard?
- What are your intended uses?
- Where will you paddle most often?
- Is the board for you, the kids, or the whole family?
A SUP designed for recreational fun around the cottage with multiple users will differ from a board catered to an individual interested in efficiency, fitness, and skills refinement. Likewise, some riders are interested in adrenaline-fueled, adventurous paddling such as SUP-surfing on large rolling waves or running whitewater, while others prefer touring on calm water, fishing in a unique way, or the serenity of SUP yoga.
Once you’ve narrowed down your purpose for the paddleboard and who will use it most often, it’s time to choose the type of board that suits you best.
SUP Hull Types
The hull design and overall shape of the board play a major role in determining how it performs on the water; these factors are what define stability, responsiveness, and efficiency. That said, SUP’s are typically constructed with two different hull types: Planing or Displacement (also known as touring).
Planing hulls are flat, wide, and incorporate a rounded, upswept nose to help create lift in order to ride (or plane) on top of the water. Planing hulls tend to offer a high degree of stability, more playfulness, and are arguably more versatile than their counterparts. Accordingly, the wider hull shape of planing SUP’s mean a sacrifice to efficient tracking (paddling in a straight line) and more drag which reduces speed and glide.
With that in mind, planing hulls can be broken down into different categories with ideal uses for each board:
- Recreational SUP’s – Great for beginners as they are stable and versatile for leisurely paddling with multiple users
- Kid’s SUP’s – Similar to recreational SUP’s in a shorter, wider package
- Fishing SUP’s – The stable platform of planing hulls offer anglers the ability to catch fish in a whole new way
- Inflatable SUP’s – Perfect for whitewater enthusiasts and recreational riders alike as alternative for those concerned about durability, storage, and transportation
- SUP Yoga – The stability and user-friendliness of planing hulls provide the perfect platform for this emerging type of paddleboarding
- SUP-Surfing or Wave Riding – Ideal for experienced riders or thrill seekers with responsive designs catering to surf-style paddleboarding
Touring SUP’s, or displacement boards, are designed with a concaved hull in order to displace water while paddling. This displacement of water offers riders better performance from their board in respect to glide and speed, while the more streamlined shape improves tracking and efficiency.
Displacement SUP’s are longer, narrower, and include a pointed nose that is elongated to slice through the water and chop smoothly. As such, displacement hulls make more ‘aggressive’ boards than planing hulls; however, the performance-oriented designs provide less stability and maneuverability.
Displacement hulls are offered in the following categories with different purposes:
- Touring SUP’s – Great for skilled users or beginners who are interested in longer outings, day trips, and explorations where efficiency is needed
- Racing SUP’s – With lengths 14ft and up, these boards are the choice for the ‘speed demon’ paddler who isn’t concerned with stability
- Fishing SUP’s – Despite being less stable than planing hulls, displacement boards offer anglers additional room for gear and a quicker paddle out to their favourite fishing hole
- SUP Yoga – Skilled yogi’s enjoy the additional challenge required to balance on displacement hulls as they make for a more intense yoga session
Note: Inflatable boards are available in longer, narrower shapes, but due to the nature of the construction, creating a concaved hull is not possible. This means while they can look similar to displacement boards with narrow widths and sharp noses, they can only feature a planing-style hull.
Along with narrowing down your uses for the board and what hull style suits you best, there are a few other factors to consider when choosing a SUP. Elements that effect board performance, stability, and their intended purpose are as follows:
Generally speaking, as a SUP’s length increases so does its speed and glide. Longer boards also track (go straight) better than shorter boards. Shorter boards are more maneuverable and turn easier as there is less board to turn.
Short Boards (under 10’): Suitable for SUP-surfing or conditions that demand maneuverability – kid’s SUP’s are also about 8’ to make them easier to handle in and out of the water
Medium Boards (10’ to 12’): The most popular lengths ideally suited for all-round use and a variety of users with different skill levels
Long Boards (12’6” to 14’): Ideal for flat-water touring, paddling in open-water chop, and racing
Board width is a key factor when determining stability. Width also plays a role in defining weight limitations of paddlers for optimum performance. As such, SUP’s are available in a variety of widths to accommodate a variety of body sizes and activities.
Wide boards (about 31” or wider): Wide SUP’s are more stable and easier to stand on than narrow boards. They are typically shorter as well to improve playfulness, but this leads to a sacrifice in speed, glide, tracking, and overall efficiency.
Narrow boards (29” to 30”): Narrow SUP’s have a more performance-oriented design for better efficiency and the ability to handle more adverse conditions. However, they can be less stable and user-friendly than wider boards.
Like kayaks and canoes, a paddleboard must work for your size and weight. If the board has little volume (depth), then it won’t have the needed capacity to support a larger paddler. Over-weighing a board results in lower stability and performance all around, while an underweighted board becomes challenging to control even on the calmest of days.
Volume: Depth, width, and length together will calculate the volume of the board. The volume of a board is an indication of its ability to float with weight on it and how well it will perform in respect to stability and efficiency. The higher the volume the more weight it can support.
Capacity: Total volume of the board reflects directly on its capacity. The different SUP shapes and sizes available will all have a different capacity rating. If you are too heavy for a board, it will ride to low in the water and it will be unstable and difficult to paddle. If you too light on a board, you will have little control due to little contact with the water.
Note: Frontenac Outfitters takes pride in correctly stating optimum paddler weights for boards on our website. These ratings are based on customer feedback, manufacturer specifications, and our personal use with each SUP we stock.
Materials of Construction
Educating yourself regarding board materials is vitally important to obtain the ideal performance, weight, and cost of you. This is why we have dedicated a separate article to aid in the process.
Click Here to learn about the different ways stand up paddleboards are constructed!
We trust this How to Choose a Stand Up Paddleboard article has helped narrow your search for your ideal SUP. We suggest your next step is to try before you buy. As an on-water destination that offers free test paddling, and certified Instruction we make buying a paddleboard a fun and easy process!
Frontenac Outfitters Paddlesports Experts invite you to Come Paddle With Us!
Experience a Vastly Superior Purchasing Process.
Frontenac Outfitters invites YOU to Paddle With Us.
We Stock Hundreds & offer Free Test Paddling Everyday!
Canada’s Paddlesports Experts, since 1984