Stand-up Paddleboard Buyer's Guide
One of the reasons stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) has exploded in popularity the past few years is because there are so many ways to enjoy the sport. Nature lovers can delight in peaceful paddles on pretty ponds. Adrenaline junkies can ride their stand-up paddleboard down whitewater rapids. Zen seekers can take their yoga practice off the mat and onto the board. Competitive athletes can race down rivers surrounded by scenic gorges.
Whatever drives your SUP habit, choosing the right stand-up paddleboard is key to your enjoyment. If you’re buying a paddleboard for the first time, here’s a quick guide to the types of stand-up paddleboards and the best paddleboards for every activity.
What Are the Different Types of Paddleboards?
Although you can use your SUP for multiple uses, it helps to buy a paddleboard that’s built for where you plan on using it most frequently and the type of paddling you expect to do once you’re on it. There are five basic types of paddleboards: all-around, surfing, touring, racing and whitewater.
All-around paddleboards are just that: versatile boards that can work in all conditions but are best for recreational paddling. Perfect for first-time and beginning paddlers, all-around paddle boards are the most common SUP shape. The advantage to the all-around board is price because you can typically find your lowest entry level price in this category.
These boards are typically stable with flatter bottoms which gives the rider confidence whether paddling in a straight line or doing Downward-facing Dog.
Good for: First-timers and beginners, leisure paddling, and SUP Yoga
Surf SUP Paddleboards
Surf SUP paddleboards are essentially specially designed surfboards designed to be propelled with a paddle. These sport specific boards can greatly vary in size and shape depending on the SUP surfer’s level of ability and conditions. Shorter, lower volume boards perform better on the waves while longer high volume boards make it easier to catch the wave. True Surf SUP Paddleboards allow you to not only ride waves in a straight line but also to carve across the face of the wave and execute turns.
Good for: Intermediate to advanced paddlers who want to surf waves.
Touring paddleboards are longer and more efficient than All-Around stand-up paddleboards. With a narrow nose and longer waterline, Touring Paddleboards track better in a straight line and have the potential for higher speeds than All-Around paddleboards. They also tend to have more load carrying capacity.
For paddlers who want to go long distances at faster speeds, a touring paddleboard offers a smooth, straight ride. Most touring paddleboards are wide enough to be stable for beginners.
Good for: Fitness paddling, long-distance paddling, and flatwater paddling.
Racing paddleboards are high performance boards designed for one purpose – going fast.
They are long and narrow, making them faster but at the expense of stability. The narrowness makes race boards challenging for beginning paddlers and are more suited for advanced and elite racers.
Racing Paddleboards are also designed around board class rules (which is generally length restrictions), as well as the conditions of the race. Flatwater race boards tend to be the most narrow and unstable boards, while open water downwind race boards tend to be more stable and are designed to catch the open water swells.
Perfect for the competitive SUP racer, these highly specialized boards are designed for specific purposes and conditions.
Good for: Flatwater racing, downwind racing, closed course racing and open ocean competitions. Also good for fitness paddlers who want the fastest board.
Whitewater Paddleboards are sport specific high-performance boards designed to negotiate river rapids. Inflatables dominate this category. They are built for stability and maneuverability. Less emphasis is placed upon straight ahead paddling speed, as the river flow tends to be the source of propulsion.
Good for: Paddling downriver with whitewater rapids, and river surfing.
What’s the Difference Between a Hard Board and an Inflatable SUP?
When choosing a SUP, you’ll not only have to decide what type of paddleboard to get but also whether you want a Hard Board or an inflatable SUP, which is typically dependent on where/how/what you plan to do with your board and how you’re going to transport and store your SUP.
Hard Stand-up Paddleboards
Most Hard SUPs have an EPS foam core that’s laminated with layers of fiberglass and epoxy for strength and rigidity, although there are also carbon fiber and molded plastic hard boards. Hard boards run the gamut from the most inexpensive entry level boards to high end carbon fiber custom boards. Aside from the entry level molded plastic boards, they perform better than inflatables because they are more rigid and can be shaped into high performance designs.
Hard stand-up paddleboards can be a good place to start if you are looking to spend less money on an entry level board. But it’s also the place to start if you are a fast, long-distance paddler or serious surfer looking for the ultimate in performance.
Inflatable Stand-up Paddleboards
Inflatable stand up paddle boards(iSUPs) are made from layers of PVC plastic and feature a drop-stitch construction that creates a surprisingly rigid board once inflated. iSUPs are typically lighter than hard boards and are great for paddlers who are short on space or who want to fit their board in a backpack or on an airplane. Inflatable paddleboards are also ideal for those who want to explore places that are not easily accessible by car, such as an alpine lake. Whether paddling whitewater and practicing SUP yoga, iSUPs handle bumps and yoga poses a little more comfortably than solid boards.
Board volume and weight capacity as well as length, width and thickness are all also key factors when selecting the best paddleboard. Choosing a board with the volume and weight capacity that’s right for you will ensure stability and paddling performance, and the dimensions of your stand-up paddleboard will determine how it handles on the water. Ultimately, the best paddleboard for you comes down to your lifestyle, your ambitions and your budget.
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