When you first begin looking into stand up paddle boarding (also called SUP) it can be intimidating with how much information is lacking.
Choosing your SUP doesn’t have to be a difficult decision. You can get started with relatively little decision-making on just about any budget.
In this article from Paddle Outside, you’ll learn all the basics about what to look for in a SUP, determining what you need to start, and assessing quality differences in each brand.
Why Is It Called a SUP?
Paddle boards are called a SUP because it stands for “stand up paddleboard.” It makes an easy alliteration when saying it out loud – though not many people do. Still, you can see this acronym across the internet, and manufacturers use it to save space on packaging and online listings.
If you want to be specific about the type of paddle board you are referring to, you can even say iSUP – a different acronym for “Inflatable Stand Up Paddleboard” – which typically has a lowercase i to prevent confusion between the I and L in most fonts.
Stand up paddle boarding came from surfing traditions that have been around for thousands of years, but only recently has it become a recreational sport that helps get people out on the water. It can be difficult to transition from saying “surfboard” to something that is three or four times as long.
The distinction must be made, however, and along came the term “SUP” for paddle boarding activities. If you ask anyone who enjoys the activity, you’ll find that they know the term but tend to say ‘paddle board’ out loud.
Choosing Your SUP
Let’s talk about choosing your paddle board. There are some must-haves with a paddle board, such as it being able to support the total rider weight, but otherwise, the process is rather straight-forward. Scroll down to learn more about different considerations to make when looking for your first paddle board.
At Paddle Outside, we are dedicated to helping you find the right paddle board for your needs. No matter what you’re looking for in the SUP community, we can help.
Everyone has a different learning curve, so you may find that you pick up paddle boarding quickly and want to graduate to a better or more efficient board. You may also find that it is going to take a little bit of work to even stand up on the board at first, so remember to take your time.
Determine Your Budget
If you already know that you like paddle boarding, it is easier to stretch your budget for a better paddle board, rather than shelling up cash for a hobby that you aren’t all that invested in yet.
There’s a delicate balance between budget-friendly and functional. If you’re just starting out, you will need something that will give you a true paddle boarding experience but doesn’t break the bank.
If you already know you like paddle boarding, you will have a little more flexibility to get a SUP that will last longer and give you a better experience out on the water.
The better the SUP materials and more efficient the design, the higher the cost. There are several brands out there that produce excellent quality boards for a reasonable price, providing you with a long-lasting board that has gone through several rounds of quality control before being shipped to you.
Inexpensive paddle boards will have cheaper quality stitching and fabric, and lower efficiency on the water. These boards won’t last as long and have more lenient quality control, but they’re easy to replace because of the low cost.
Where Will You Use Your SUP?
Most people choose lakes or ponds to paddle. These are the safest bodies of water to learn how to paddle board in. Until you are confident in your ability to stand up on the board and paddle without falling in, we recommend sticking to these two water types.
A lot of experienced paddle boarders also try to paddle in rivers or the ocean. While it is always important for you to be self-sufficient in your swimming and stay safe on the water, these bodies of water are more dangerous. If you swim in the ocean or on a river, be prepared to need a much stronger swimming ability and pay greater attention to posted safety regulations.
Purchase For Your Weight Range
By weight range, we mean the total weight that will be on the board, not just your current weight.
If you plan to have multiple people on a board – or even paddle with your pups – be prepared to do some math. We’ve made that easy for you as well: check out Paddle Outside’s resources page for a size chart.
A lot of people use paddle boarding as an excuse to lose weight. It’s important not to purchase for the weight that you want to be, but the weight that you are now. If you purchase a board that can’t withstand your current weight, you won’t be able to use it as you trim your waistline. The board will just sink in the water, rather than staying stabilized in the water and keeping your feet dry.
Consider Optimal Board Sizing
The width and length of the board makes a big difference in how it will function on the water, especially when considering the height and weight of the rider(s). The wider the board, the more stable it will be, and the more volume the board has, the higher up in the water it will be.
The length and shape of the board also impacts how efficiently it moves in the water and changes the center of balance.
How to Assess a SUP Dealer
Assessing a SUP dealer or manufacturer doesn’t have to be difficult. In fact, it’s easy to do your research on a good brand once you know what kind of paddle board you are looking for.
A cheap or inexpensive SUP brand won’t have as good customer service or quality control to ensure the boards are consistent and undamaged before shipment. For a beginner just testing the waters with a paddle board, this might not be a concern, which is why we encourage you to choose a board that suits your budget (or rent a board) until you know you like the activity.
Cheaper paddle boards will be made from lower-quality materials, less durable stitching, and the mass-produced materials are less likely to be environmentally friendly as corners are cut and profitability is tight for the company.
While it can be difficult to determine what makes a good brand, especially if you’re shopping from your computer, there are still some signs that you can look for.
Higher quality brands that care about their products are more likely to have extensive information on their website and come out with new paddle board series’ periodically; an outward sign of them investing in research and development for new materials.
Solid VS Inflatable SUP Boards
Inflatable paddle boards are easy to store in your garage or trunk, deflating and folding down to the size of a large backpack. The invention of an inflatable SUP caused a boom in popularity, and now paddle boarding is becoming a well-known summer activity for many people.
Overall, we believe that inflatable paddle boards offer a wider range of versatility for leisure paddling. If you’re a little more experienced and want to pursue a specific activity like paddle surfing, racing, or touring, then you may want to assess whether you have the space and ability to transport a hardboard.
Hard boards have advantages based on their shape and size, allow you to compete in many of these specialized activities. They are, however, more expensive, difficult to store, and difficult to transport.
If you are just starting out, or just want to paddle for leisure, we recommend getting an inflatable paddle board to take advantage of the portability and versatility it offers. If you are hoping to participate in specialized paddle boarding sports, then a hard board is the better option for you.
Many people start with an inflatable board, and some eventually graduate to a hard board as they move into other activities, but most stay loyal to the iSUP.
Extra Gear and Accessories
The paddle boarding community is wild, crafting different ideas to make paddle boarding more exciting or luxurious. Chances are, if you can think of a way to make your time on the water more iconic, you can find an accessory for it.
Choose from different types of gear, like a fishing rod holder or sail mount to turn your paddle board into a specialized fishing or windsurfing machine.
Collect different accessories to enjoy the time on the water to its fullest, with drink coolers, camping tents, kayak seat attachments, or even ambient lighting for night time paddle boarding.
For the beginner, however, none of these accessories are necessary. If you want to make life a little easier right out of the gate, we typically recommend a good floating phone case and dry bag to keep your valuables safe even if you tip over. You should already have an ankle leash and paddle that comes with your paddle board.
Remember, Don’t Get Overwhelmed
It can be easy to get overwhelmed with all the paddle board options and accessories out there today. If you start to feel overwhelmed, it’s important to fight back against that feeling and remember: you don’t need everything. You don’t need the best of the best. All it takes is something that suits your needs, nothing more.
Paddle Outside has several guides that can help the beginner paddle boarder get out on the water as soon as possible. If you’re ever feeling stuck, check out these resources for easy tables and information, visual guides, and recommendations from the paddle boarding community.
“Good Enough” Is Good for a Beginner
A lot of people go into a new hobby thinking they must buy the best of the best. While it certainly helps to have quality gear, it skips past all the difficult parts of getting to know a new activity. Not only do you not appreciate the hobby for its difficulties, but it can rob you of the joy of finally getting that great quality of life upgrade.
Some people prefer it that way, and that’s fine. For the people who prefer to keep things on a budget and want to dip their toes in first to determine if the hobby is enjoyable before going all-in for it, it’s good news.
Ultimately, if you’re a beginner, you need four things and nothing more: a paddle board that can handle your size and weight, a paddle, an ankle leash, and a life jacket.
That’s good enough to get started, and perfect for the beginner. There will always be something better on the market, so don’t sweat it too much. Upgrade once you’ve been on the water for a little bit.
When in Doubt, Read Paddle Board Reviews
It can be overwhelming to purchase your first SUP. Every new hobby today seems to have a million choices associated with it before you can even begin. Fortunately, reviews help relieve this choice paralysis, helping ease the burden of picking up a new hobby.
Before you start reading reviews on Paddle Outside, however, it’s important to know what you’re looking for. The questions discussed above will help you pin down what kind of paddle boarding experience you are looking for and which types of boards best suit your needs.
Decided on a SUP (or type of SUP, at least?) let us know in the comments below!
Paddle Outside: Helping You Choose the Right SUP For You
Paddle Outside is the internet’s guide to safe stand up paddle boarding, helping you find the right resources and information necessary to have a great time on the water.
Whether you are looking for a new SUP, getting started as a beginner, or trying to learn more about SUP techniques for specific waterways, we have it all.
With safe and courteous paddle boarding, every one of us can enjoy a relaxing or thrill-seeking ride on the water. However you paddle, we’ve got something for you. Subscribe today to learn more about everything SUP and get new articles and reviews sent directly to your email.