You might be surprised to learn that paddle boarding has existed in some form since 1000 BC.
Though the stand-up paddle board (or SUP) has exploded in popularity over the past couple decades, standing up to navigate through water isn’t a brand-new activity. (1)
Knowing that the SUP isn’t a recent invention, it makes sense that every paddle board sizing chart is so detailed and exact. But if your head starts to spin when you try to make sense of it all, you aren’t alone.
Every type of activity and body of water is best suited to a specific kind of SUP. We’ve rounded up everything you need to size yourself, from general paddle board sizing to sizes by activity, height, and weight.
In just a few short minutes, you’ll be ready to find the perfect SUP for your next adventure.
General Paddle Board Sizing
You’ll be happy to know that a general paddle board sizing chart covers all basic activities and most bodies of water. It’s only when you start looking into more extreme events—like racing or whitewater paddling—that the guidelines change.
But you should know that SUPs come in a wide range of materials. Plastic, foam, fiberglass, carbon fiber, and even inflatable paddle boards are all valid options. But don’t stress—the materials don’t have a huge effect on your paddling experience, especially if you’re just starting out.
Your choice of SUP material mostly comes down to how you’ll store and transport it. People who live on the water might choose a heavier fiberglass board because they don’t have to cart it around.
If you have to drive and carry your board to the water, though, you’ll want something lightweight. Inflatable stand-up paddleboards are one of the newer materials on the market, but they’re quickly becoming the most popular. In the UK, 92% of SUP sales are inflatable boards. (2)
It’s the length and width of your SUP that really matters. The goal of any good stand-up paddleboard is making it easy for you to paddle and stay afloat.
The longer and wider your board is, the more buoyant it’ll be. More buoyancy means you don’t have to work as hard while paddling around and staying balanced.
Now that you know the basics of how sizes work, here’s our paddle board sizing chart for general and recreational purposes:
• Paddle weight under 125 pounds: SUP width of 31-32”, length of 9.5-10.5’
• Paddler weight 125-150 pounds: SUP width of 31-32”, length of 9.5-10.75’
• Paddler weight 150-175 pounds: SUP width of 31-33”, length of 10-12.5’
• Paddler weight 175-200 pounds: SUP width of 32-34”, length of 10-12.5’
• Paddler weight 200-225 pounds: SUP width of 32-34”, length of 10.5-12.5’
• Paddler weight 225 pounds or more: SUP width of 33-34”, length of 11-12.5’
If you’re planning to have a friend, child, or pet on your SUP, be sure to add in their weight before choosing your paddle board.
SUP Weight Capacity: Why It Matters
When you look at a paddle board sizing chart, you won’t typically see height factored in. Your weight compared to your SUP’s weight capacity is the most important factor.
It’s not really possible to be underweight for a stand-up paddle board. The whole point is to pick a board that will float and stay buoyant while you’re on it, so don’t worry about being underweight, but if your board’s weight capacity is too low, you’ll struggle to stay balanced and maintain momentum.
You can often feel the drag if you’re too heavy for your paddle board—it’s immediately hard to maneuver. And when you SUP, you’re using muscles that aren’t used for much of your daily routine. When you combine this with a board that can’t hold your weight, you’re in for an exhausting and unsatisfying experience.
As you look at the breakdowns below, remember to include the weight for any pets or children riding with you.
If you have an inflatable stand-up paddleboard, here’s the volume recommendation for each weight range:
• Total weight less than 200 pounds: Any standard SUP is great
• Total weight 200 to 235 pounds: Volume of 175L or more
• Total weight 235 to 300 pounds: Volume of 242L or more
• Total weight greater than 300 pounds: Volume of 272L or more
And here are volume recommendations for a hard SUP made of foam, wood, fiberglass, etc.:
• Total weight less than 200 pounds: Any standard SUP should float your boat
• Total weight 200 to 235 pounds: Volume of 175L or more
• Total weight 235 to 300 pounds: Volume of 181L or more
• Total weight greater than 300 pounds: Volume of 230L or more
What if the Manufacturer Doesn’t Give a Maximum Weight Capacity?
If the manufacturer of your SUP doesn’t give a maximum weight capacity, you can find it yourself with some quick math.
The first number you’ll need is the indicated volume of your stand-up paddleboard. Then, think about your experience level and what you’ll use the SUP for.
Bodyweight (lbs) x 1.4 = volume
If you’re a beginner, multiply your body weight in pounds by 1.4. If you weigh 150 pounds, that’d work out to 210L. The volume of your SUP should fall somewhere around 150L to 210L.
Bodyweight (lbs) x .8 = volume
For novices or intermediate paddlers—especially if you’re paddling in rough conditions— multiply your body weight in pounds by .8. Using the 150 pounds example again, that’d be 120L. Your SUP’s volume should be in the range of 120L to 150L.
Bodyweight (lbs) x .6 x .8 = volume
For pros and surfers, you’ll do two equations. First multiply your body weight by .6, and then by .8. If you’re 150 pounds, your SUP’s volume range should be between 90L and 120L.
Finally, always remember to add the weight of children, pets, or any friends who’ll be on the board with you before you do this math.
The Right Paddle Board Width: Stability Vs. Speed
The width of your paddle board mainly impacts how well you glide and your risk of tipping or falling.
As you might expect, a wider SUP is more stable on the water. This is because your weight can spread across a larger area.
Ultimately, all movements while paddling will cause you to wobble less on a wider board. That’s why beginners should look for a SUP at least 31” wide. Any narrower, and you’re likely to fall in quite often.
There are, however, two sides to this coin: a wider board doesn’t glide through the water as quickly. Racers and surfers will pick a narrower SUP because they can cut through the water much faster.
Racing and surfing are best approached by intermediate or expert paddlers. As a beginner, trying to speed through the water on a narrow board is extremely difficult. We suggest getting completely comfortable on a wide recreational SUP before pursuing other activities.
Looking for a budget board to start off with? Here’s our top choice for beginners:
The Right Paddle Board Length: Turning Ability Vs. Straight Line
The length of your paddle board affects how easy it is to turn or travel in a straight line.
A longer board will sail forward in a straight line without much effort from you, and because physics does so much of the work for you, paddling is much easier. You don’t have to swap sides nearly as often on a longer SUP.
For surfing and most races, you aren’t going in a straight line very often. Shorter boards are better for this because turning and maneuvering can be challenging on long paddle boards.
For a single beginner, 10’6″ tends to be the most popular board length to provide a mix of ease of navigation and balance.
Recreational SUPs—also called all-around SUPs—are usually a good balance of length. They aren’t specifically geared towards turning or traveling straight, so both are easy even for a beginner.
The biggest thing to know here is that for first timers struggling between two board lengths, a longer paddle board is the way to go. It’s very common to feel like you might tip over at any second during the first few minutes—standing on water isn’t something most people do in their daily lives, after all.
You should work your up to shorter SUPs the same way you do with a narrower one. Once you’re totally familiar with navigating on a longer paddle board, slowly try out shorter ones for different activities.
SUP Sizing by Activity Type
Anytime you paddle outside, take your water and activity type into consideration. The typical general-use paddle board sizing chart assumes you’ll be paddling on calm, flat water; but this isn’t always the case.
From a leisurely tour to navigating waves and whitewater rapids, you can choose from a wide range of paddle boarding activities.
Each activity requires slightly different muscle groups and paddle board sizes. (4) The wrong board can make any excursion exhausting and frustrating.
Let’s look at the different types of stand-up paddleboards, and how to size yourself for each kind:
Types of Stand-Up Paddleboards
There are 4 basic categories of stand-up paddleboards:
• Recreational, or “all-around boards,” which are great for beginners to use in a variety of settings
• Touring stand-up paddle boards, designed for long-distance excursions
• Surf SUPs, made for surfing and gliding on top of waves like a surfboard
• Racing paddle boards, which are notoriously hard for beginners to master but perfect for achieving high speeds during a race
Each category has brands and models with different features, but they tend to be geared towards personal preference.
You can typically choose almost any material for each board type. Inflatable touring paddle boards, foam or soft-top recreational paddle boards, and bamboo surfing paddle boards are all real products available for purchase.
No matter what kind of SUP you’re shopping for, your weight is the biggest determining factor. Remember to add in the weight of your kiddo or dog if they’ll be on the board with you. Your height really doesn’t impact the board—you’ll only factor this in to find the right size paddle.
Touring SUPs have a lot in common with their recreational counterparts. The biggest difference overall is the length. Long-distance adventures can be up to 50 miles long for professional paddlers. (5) A longer paddle board is more buoyant, which makes it easier for you to paddle all day.
For surfing and racing, your SUP needs to be shorter. A shorter board is less buoyant and therefore harder to paddle. The upside is that turning and making quick maneuvers are both much easier with shorter boards.
With that in mind, here’s our stand-up paddle board recommendations for each activity and board type:
Recreational Paddle Boards
For activities like yoga or just casual paddling, look at SUPs between 10 feet to 11 and a half feet long.
For width, 21” to 35” is ideal. This size will keep you afloat and make it easier to stay balanced.
Remember a longer board is ideal. We suggest looking in the range of 11 feet to 12 and a half feet long.
For width, look for between 30” and 33”. This width will make your journey much smoother.
SUP Surfing or Racing
Short and narrow is the name of the game. Make sure the weight capacity works for you before anything else.
Beyond that, you’ll want a SUP 10 feet long or shorter and just 29” to 32” wide.
We’ve covered quite a few scenarios and examples, and now you know how to use any paddle board sizing chart. But if you’re anything like us, you still have a few specific questions about more specific details of paddle boarding.
From paddle sizing to the benefits of longer or shorter paddle boards, we’ve got answers. Let’s dive in!
How Do You Size a Paddle Board Paddle?
In most cases, the best way to size a paddle board paddle is simply adding 10 inches to your own height. If you’re 5’ 6” tall, that’s 66 inches. Add 10 to that, and your paddle should be 76 inches long.
There are a couple cases where you might want a shorter paddle, such as SUP racing. But for a beginner or recreational paddler, the rule of adding 10 inches is perfect.
What Happens When You Use Too Long of a Paddle?
When you use too long of a paddle on your SUP, you’re much more likely to get injured or at least feel extremely sore the next day. Your joints and overall energy levels are quickly exhausted because your arms are too high.
But keep in mind that you want a slightly different paddle length for each activity. In racing, for example, you’ll often want a slightly shorter paddle. A shorter paddle in this scenario forces you to bend lower with each motion. This places your center of gravity lower than usual, which helps you move faster and win the race.
You should also know that these issues can be particularly painful for beginners. Studies have found that first-time and beginner paddlers use more of their shoulders to power their stroke, while intermediate and expert paddlers use their core. (6)
Basically, using too long of a paddle—especially when you’re still learning the ropes—will have you sore and aching for days. Always use the right size of paddle for whatever activity you’re doing.
We also suggest purchasing an adjustable paddle if you plan on bouncing between activity and board types.
What Size Paddle Board Should a Woman Use?
A woman should use the size of paddle board best suited to her weight and the board’s primary use. This will most often be a SUP that’s 10 to 12 feet long and 31 to 34 inches wide.
Basically, women can follow the same guidelines as men. When it comes to reading a paddle board sizing chart, the information is relevant to all genders. A person weighing 150 pounds will need the same size paddle board whether they’re male or female.
Is a 9-foot Paddle Board Too Short?
Yes, a 9-foot paddle board is too short for the most common activities and water types. On average, recreational SUPs range between 10 and 12 feet long.
This length is suitable for a wide weight range—it’s really only surfers, racers, and kiddos that benefit from a board shorter than 10 feet.
The shorter your SUP is, the harder it is to travel in a straight line. Things like turning and catching waves get easier as the board gets shorter. But for most people, the extra energy needed to stay upright on a 9-foot board isn’t worth turns being a bit simpler.
Is a Longer Paddle Board Better?
Unless you’re racing or surfing, a longer paddle board is almost always better. The longer your SUP is, the straighter it’ll move in the water. Traveling in a straight line without listing to one side is one of the first things you’ll master on a paddle board.
So, it just makes sense to start with a longer board. Your board’s length is also the biggest factor in your board’s weight capacity. In a nutshell, the length relative to your weight decides your buoyancy. The more buoyant you are, the easier it is to maneuver.
For example, a 10-foot board will drag more while carrying a 250-pound person versus a 150-pound person. A heavier person naturally pushes the board deeper into the water, and a lighter person will glide more. You want a shorter board for surfing and racing because you’re constantly turning.
Is a Thinner Paddle Board Better?
In most cases, no, a thinner paddle board isn’t better. As you’ve learned while reading, a paddle board’s main purpose is keeping you afloat. The bigger an object is, the more buoyant it is. The opposite is also true.
In general, a thinner paddle board will be more difficult to work with. Inflatable boards should be at least 5-6” inches thick to support your weight. Paddle boards made of most other materials are closer to 4” thick.
As you shop for a SUP, you’re likely to find quite a few 4” thick inflatable options. We suggest steering clear of these. This thickness typically won’t give you problems the first time you use it, but you’ll find yourself sinking lower every time after. They just aren’t thick enough to last.
The only exception here is extremely high-end paddle boards. Innovative materials like carbon fiber are extremely buoyant, even at thicknesses under 4”. But for most paddlers, a thinner paddle board should be avoided.
Your Next Steps for Choosing a Stand-Up Paddle Board
You’ve absorbed a lot of new information! From each type of paddle board sizing chart to finding the perfect paddle size, you have everything you need to find the perfect SUP.
But what should you do with all this info? We suggest you start shopping for a stand-up paddleboard.
Think about the main use for your new SUP. If you’re a beginner or first-timer, start with a recreational board. These are great for several different water types, so you can try it out in lots of places.
Once you’ve got some experience under your belt, consider what you like best about paddle boarding. If you want to try touring, surfing, or racing, just come back to this guide for recommendations on the best size for each. Have a blast out on the water and don’t forget your sunscreen!
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1. The Inertia, Tracing the Colorful History of Stand-up Paddling
2. Forbes, Paddle Boarding Tech: How The Sport Is Evolving Thanks To Inflatable Board Innovations
3. Harvard, Power Your Paddle Sports with Three Great Exercises
4. CNN, SUP? It’s a Fresh Way to Ride the Rapids
5. CNN, A Solo Adventurer Rode a Stand-up Paddleboard from California to Hawaii
6. National Library of Medicine, A Biomechanical Analysis of the Stand-up Paddle Board Stroke: A Comparative Study