When looking for a paddle board it can feel like you are a show pony jumping through endless hurdles.
“This one looks good! Ohh But I’ve never heard of that brand”
“I read this one is the best! Ohhh But it’s over $1400”
It’s statements like these that I hear all too commonly. So in this guide, I’ll show you how to Choose a Paddle Board based YOUR needs. Want a quick scan?
Below is how we break down how to Choose a Stand Up Paddle Board
- Inflatable vs Hard Boards? Which Should You choose?
- How to Choose a Paddle Board Based off YOUR Needs
- SUP Brands and Their Relationship with Construction
- Features and Accessories to Look for
Inflatable Vs Hardboard Which Should You Choose?
Here is what to look for in a paddle board thats solid vs inflatable. For easy reading let’s break this down in Bullet point form.
Choose a hardboard if:
- You are serious about on-Water Performance and want something that glides well
- You want a board that has the capability of some light surfing
- You have property by the lake and want something just to get in and go
- You prefer the feeling of sitting in the water instead of on-top
Choose an Inflatable Paddle Board if:
- You are on a bit more of a budget
- You want something you can travel/ go on road trips with
- You want a softer surface for safety reasons
- You are doing specialist activities like White Water or Yoga SUP
- You have limited space in your house or apartment
- You don’t want a heart attack if you ding into something
Inflatable SUPs have come a long way from even 5 years ago. Their performance is getting close as newer construction techniques are being applied. Still despite this being an inflatable SUP blog there are still performance factors like glide and speed that give solid SUPs the edge.
Something that is not talked about as much is how inflatable vs solid SUPs handle in the water. If you have never been on a paddle board before I highly recommend going to a local rental shop and trying both to see which you prefer. In my experience, Solid SUPs feel more stable than inflatables to a beginner. But they take up more room, are usually more expensive and you have to spend more on repairs.
Use the rest of the criteria below as a guide to finding out what’s important to you. If you want a full breakdown of what to use and when check out our Inflatable Paddle Board vs Solid Board Comparison Guide. As of now the rest of this guide will pertain to inflatable paddle boards.
How to Choose a Paddle Board Based on YOUR Needs
You can review paddle board lists until the cows come home but in an ideal world, you want to find a board that fits your requirements as a paddler. Below are some Criteria to help you with this.
Where are You Paddling and What Do You Need?
A good place to start with this is to look at your location and the bodies of water that surround it. Chances are you are not an Instagram influencer who will be jet-setting the world every weekend. The places you will be paddling most will be located closest to you. So keep that in mind.
Are you by the coast? Surrounded by lakes? Have a nice long river running through your town? What about needs? Are you planning to take a dog with you? Are you wanting to do some SUP yoga? Or are you just wanting something that is stable that will do the job? All of these needs will favor different paddle board dimensions. But we made it easy for you.
We have lists of paddle boards that fit most activities and needs click the pictures below.
The Price You Pay
Your budget will be the next important factor. In my mind, it’s better to spend a few hundred more on a board that has a reputable brand name behind it and a good warranty/ return period. This is a big determining factor to see how passionate the manufacturer is about paddle boarding.
You will read on many sites that Amazon/ Big box paddle boards are the worst thing since malaria. I don’t entirely agree with this as there are a few mainstay brands like Serenelife, ROC, and Drift that make decent paddle boards that are usable. However, these Amazon/ Big box brands are best for paddlers who want something to do in the summertime but aren’t necessarily serious about the sport.
If you can see paddle boarding as something that you can do on a weekly or bi-weekly basis then you will want to spend more money and get something within the $600 and up category. If you really want to be thrifty then I suggest sitting on your hands and waiting for fall model clearance sales.
Thankfully we have a Paddle Board Deals Page you can check out for that.
The Shape of the Paddle Board
The shape you choose will be determined by external factors like where you are paddling and what you need the board for. As a rule of thumb..
- The Rounder the Board is the more stable it will be in the water. The Less Speed it will carry.
- The Narrower the board is the faster it will go. The Less stable the board will be.
If you were to put a beginner paddler on a narrower SUP racing board vs a big rounded yoga board they would feel a night and day difference. This is because they would keep falling into the water with the racing SUP because of its narrower shape meant for intermediate to advanced paddlers.
Some guides like to talk about planning Hulls vs Displacement Hulls but it’s not as cut and dry with inflatable boards these days. There are more and more all-around boards that have more pointed noses that can blur the line. Instead, I want you to look at the contour from the middle of the board to the nose and tail. Are the contours more or less aggressive? That is, does the width from the middle of the board to the nose and tail differ greatly? Typically boards with a more pointed nose and tail will be more built for speed and will be less stable for beginners. While boards with a wider nose and tail will be easier to stand and learn on but will be a bit slower in the water.
Length of the Board
One of the main factors that will determine how well a board glides and how straight of a line it tracks is the length of the paddle board.
- Paddle Boards 10 ft and Under: Ideal for kids, adolescents, and smaller framed adults. These boards are more maneuverable and oftentimes easier to handle for those who are of a smaller frame. These boards can also be easier to surf on. Some examples include the Gili Mako, Atoll Youth SUP.
- Paddle Boards 10’6 – 11’6”: These are typically ideal for most sized paddlers. Bigger paddlers will tend to go higher in height to the 11’ and higher range. These boards are typically All-Around sized paddle boards that can handle a variety of different environments well. Some examples include the iRocker All Around 11 Ultra, Nixy Newport, and Gili Adventure SUPs.
- Paddle Boards 12’ -14’: These are ideal for fitness and touring purposes. These boards track very well in the water but may not be the most stable boards as they usually have a shorter width to decrease drag. Some examples of these Boards are the Nixy Manhattan G4 Plus, Gili Meno 12’6”, Red Paddle Voyager 13’2”, and the more race-specific Starboard 14’ Touring SUP.
Use the above list as a tool and not a rule. There will always be exceptions to this. One of the things that will determine these exceptions is width, which we discuss below.
Width of the Board
The width of the board is usually measured in the middle of the board and will be the main indicator as to how stable the board really is in the water.
- Paddle Boards 26” – 30” Width: Used for specialist purposes such as SUP touring, racing, and surfing. These boards will glide better in the water but will have less stability. Usually, people who get these boards have already had previous experience with paddle boarding.
- Paddle Boards 31”-33” Width: To quote Goldilocks this is the “juuust right” size for many paddlers who are just starting out. These are the most common widths you will find because they can support the vast majority of paddlers well. Boards with these widths try to blend stability with speed to give you the “Jack of All Trades” board size.
- Paddle Boards 34”- 36” Width: These are the most stable boards which would be preferred to taller/ larger paddlers. Boards of these sizes are also favored by fishermen and SUP yogis because of the extra stability they hold. Out of the widths listed above these boards will give you the least amount of glide due to the larger surface area and therefore drag they create when paddled in the water.
When looking at the width of the board also look at the shape as mentioned above. How aggressively contoured does it get from the midpoint to the tail and midpoint to the nose? This will be another telltale sign of how stable the board will be.
A narrower tail and nose = More speed and less stability
Volume and Maximum Capacity
Volume and Maximum Capacity, are shaped by the above shape, length, and width factors. As a whole, the more volume a paddle board can carry the more mass it will be. But how that mass is shaped will directly affect the characteristics of the board. This is why I avoid saying generic statements like “ The More Volume the board has the more stable it will be”.
A good volume formula I found from SUPBoarder goes as follows:
Weight (kg) X 2.5 = Desired SUP Volume
*If you use the imperial system like in Canada and the United States then just plug the maximum capacity in lbs to kgs in Google to use the formula above.
Maximum capacity is another thing that is directly impacted by all of the above factors. In many cases for all-around boards, the more volume the paddle board has the higher the maximum capacity will be. This especially rings true for many inflatable paddle boards.
SUP Brands and Their Relationship with Construction
The materials that are put into your SUP are one of the least talked about, but most important things You can find out about your future SUP. The inflatable SUP industry (specifically Chinese/ Amazon/ Big box Brands) is notorious for labeling a SUP a certain type of material when it’s not. So how do you cut through all the nonsense? I look at 3 things when choosing a trustworthy SUP manufacturer.
- Warranty and Return Policies: In this area, I look for a warranty policy of at least 2 years and a return policy of 30 days. Companies that don’t specify their warranty policies should be avoided like the plague.
- Detailed Articles or Videos on the Manufacturing process: I want to know if “fusion layering” is actually fusion layering and not just a single layer of PVC with the term fusion slapped on it. (More on this below)
- Customer Reviews: Look at customer reviews from 3rd Party sites such as Facebook, Trust Pilot, BBB, Facebook, and Reddit groups to see how well a paddle board actually holds up. The more research you dig through, the more informed a decision you will have.
SUP construction can be categorized as the following:
- Single Layer Construction: A single layer of PVC coating a drop stitch core. These are mass-produced for Amazon/ Big box stores and will last the shortest amount of time.
- Double Layer Construction: A board that has 2 layers of PVC coatings. These boards are heavier but are much more durable than the Single layer construction. This material can be found in the Nautical Series and Thursosurf’s paddle boards.
- Triple Quadruple Layered Construction: Paddle Boards that feature 3-4 layers of PVC over the drop stitch core. These are even heavier than the double-layered construction boards and can be more difficult to fold. iRocker and Blackin’s classic boards use this type of construction
- Fusion Layered Construction: This is fast becoming the standard for inflatable paddle boards as it uses 2 layers of PVC machine pressed together to make it into one layer. These boards are lighter, easier to fold, and just as durable as dual or triple-layered boards. SUPs such as Nixy, Bote, and Atoll use this sort of process.
- Custom Layered Construction: This is custom construction all done in-house. Meaning everything is made, designed, and overseen by the company making the material the most durable and well-made, but also the most expensive. This process is used by Red Paddle Co.
For more information on what paddle boards are made of click here.
Features and Accessories to Look For
When looking at a paddle board it’s best to also check the quality of features it includes or can include. I can personally attest to getting an okay board only to be supremely disappointed by the features it came with. Features are important so look for the following!
It’s All About The Paddle
One thing I’ve learned to avoid is getting a board that comes with a cheap aluminum paddle with a bendy plastic blade. This not only compromises your SUP stroke but also won’t last long.
“When I bought my first SUP it has a stupid twisting adjusting system that would always get jammed. Oftentimes I had to settle for paddling from my knees because the paddle would get stuck to that size. The handle also came off which made things even more interesting.”– Editors Notes
I recommend looking for a paddle board that comes with a fiberglass or carbon hybrid-type paddle. These paddles can float, are lightweight, and well constructed meaning they can last you years of use.
As your skill level improves and you take paddle boarding more seriously, you can upgrade your paddle to a lighter-weight carbon paddle. This will allow you to travel farther distances all the while making it easier to keep pace with your SUP stroke.
The Deck Pad
From the outside it doesn’t seem like deck pads should really make much of a difference to your excursion but they do! After a few hours, you can definitely tell the difference between a board that has a good deck pad and one that has a shoddy one.
The main way you can tell is if your feet hurt after over an hour of paddling! Many bargain brands will have a thinner layer of deck padding compared to more expensive brands.
Deck pads also come in a few different textures such as diamond grooved, striped or flat. In my experience, the diamond grooved is the most grippy. This is something to keep in mind when you want to do more advanced maneuvers that involve moving your feet. Some boards like Red Paddle and Gili feature 2 different types of deck pad textures on their boards, putting the more grippy diamond-grooved deck padding on the back.
You won’t notice the difference that these bring to the table when you are first starting. But as you gain more experience you will be looking for a SUP that can have interchangeable fins. There are 4 different types of fin boxes you need to know about.
- Universal (US/FCS) Fin Boxes: These are my favorite as they are the most versatile. These fins attach to a slot and are held on by a screw. The best part about these fin boxes is that you can use both paddle boarding and surfing fins that have the same US/FCS fin box designation. This really opens the doors to exploring different fins and fine-tuning your handling.
- Proprietary Fin Boxes: These are boards that have their own system to hook onto the board. Often times these are snap leavers that attach. Proprietary fin boxes are quicker to set up but do not allow as much customization as you are only limited to what the manufacturer you bought from has.
- Slide-In Fin Boxes: These are the cheapest of the fin box selections and are usually found on Amazon/ budget boards. They come with a plastic clip that secures the fin to the fin box. Unfortunately, these fin boxes limit you to plastic slide-in fins and often these are the fin boxes that have the highest failure rate.
- Permanently Attached Fin Boxes: These are fins that are permanently attached to the SUP in a 3-fin “Thruster” setup. While this is the quickest set-up it does hamper the SUP’s folding ability and performance as the fin that comes attached is what you get.
I can go on and on about fin set-ups and fin boxes so I made a designated post on SUP Fin Setups here.
These are often not mentioned a lot and are an afterthought but it is an important factor. If you could take one piece of advice out of this heading it would be to avoid bags that have mesh material like the plague. I’ve had some experience with this and the end result is a bag that has holes in it and looks like it will break at any moment. SUP companies do this to save money on the bag and market it as “breathable”.
I like bags that are bigger and baggier because they are less of a struggle to pack up your SUP. So far my favorites are Nixy, iRocker Ultra series, and Red Paddles bags because of how well thought out they are.
A Special Note About SUP Pumps
Most inflatable paddle boards come with manual pumps that have a single chamber. Some come with manual pumps that have a double chamber.
“I say, skip the manual pumps altogether and get an electric pump. In 95% of cases, an electric pump will make your life a heck of a lot easier. You are spending less effort on pumping up the darn thing and instead are using that time to properly set up your board.”– Editors Notes
If you are planning to make paddle boarding a regular thing then you will not sweat spending the extra $100+ for an electric SUP pump. I resisted this for a long time but now I’m very happy I spent the extra money and got one.
Many paddle boards have different things that they have features on the board. Things such as extra bungees, extra D rings, action mounts, or even Scotty Mounts.
Do you need all of these things? I say it depends on what YOU want out of your SUP. I’ll give you some examples.
- If you are looking for a board that will have extra space for a child or dog then the thing I would be looking for is a bigger deck pad with fewer things in the way they can trip over like D rings, Action mounts, etc.
- If you are paddling and want to document your journey then I would look for a SUP that has action mounts to screw your go-pro in.
- If you are looking to do a Multi-Day trip then I would look for a SUP that has extra cargo bungees and extra D rings to add things such as coolers, tents, dry bags etc.
If you are just using the board for the odd recreational use of an hour or so then none of these things will be particularly important to you.
Below are some common questions I get when people ask me what to look for in a new inflatable SUP.
What Size Paddle Board Do I Need for My Height and Weight?
As a general rule of thumb, you should choose a board that is at least 9 inches taller than the rider. But first, you should find out what kind of board you want to use as the heights and weights will vary for each board.
We have a full article that has sizing charts for various types of SUPs.
What Is The Best Paddle Board For A Beginner?
Our best paddle boards for beginners list goes as follows in our Best Beginner Paddle Boards Lists:
1. Atoll 11 – (Editors Pick)
2, iRocker Blackfin XL – (Stability Pick)
3. Nixy Newport G4 – (Premium Accessories Pick)
4. iRocker All Around 11 – (See More Portable Ultra 11) – (Beginner-Intermediate Pick)
5. Red Paddle Co 10’6” Ride – (Premium Pick)
6. Gili Komodo – (Small Passenger Pick)
7. Serenelife Free Flow – (Budget Pick)
8. Bluefin Cruise 12 – (Europe/ UK Pick)
9. Gili Meno 11’6” – (Capacity Pick)
10. Bote Breeze Aero 10’8” – (Travel Pick)
What Are The Best Inflatable Paddle Boards In Your Opinion?
Our favorite paddle boards can be found in our Best Inflatable Paddle Boards List. The Top 5 Goes as follows:
So How Do I Choose a Paddle Board Based on My Needs?
To choose a paddle board that is best for you its best to consider…
- Inflatable or a Hard Board
- Where Are You Paddling and What do You Need?
- The Price You Pay
- Volume and Maximum Capacity
- SUP Construction
- SUP Paddle That is Included
- The Deck Pad
- SUP Bags
- SUP Add- Ons
If this seems like a lot then I would prioritize the top 8 factors first and the rest of them I would keep in the back of your mind. What are some things that you look for? Tell us on our Facebook Page!