SUP Beginner Tips,  Tips

How to Choose a Paddleboard (SUP)

Choosing a paddleboard can be overwhelming as there are a lot of options but don’t stress, I’m here to help you how to choose a paddleboard (SUP)!

Must do first!

Get these questions answered:

  1. What type of paddling will you use the board for? Keep in mind there isn’t a magical board that does all types of paddling perfectly. Kinda like shoes; you can wear running shoes to play football but cleats would help you perform better! Figuring out what the main use of the board will be is the number one question you need to answer!  There are boards for each specific type of paddling (Touring, Yoga, Surfing, Whitewater, Racing) and hybrid boards that combine elements; hybrids are often best for a new paddler who just wants to get out on the water for a fun leisure paddle. 
  2. What is your lifestyle and where are you going paddling? Hardboard or Inflatable board (iSUP). Think of transportation to the location and to the launch point (do you have to hike from where you parked? Keep in mind wind makes it difficult to carry boards. iSups typically come in amazing backpacks, see below photo of my board’s bag, or wheelable bags which is awesome if you want to travel with the board. Do you have a truck or car with roof racks? Are you able to load and unload a board onto the roof of your car solo?) and where will you store it in between adventures and in the off-season.
  3. What is your ability? If you are newer to paddleboarding you’ll likely want a hybrid all-around board that is wider and more stable. If you have some experience you may want a challenge with a slimmer longer board. Make sure you answer question 1 first!
  4. What is your budget? Boards can range from $600 to $6,000+ Consider your usual buying philosophies and habits. Don’t forget the paddle, leash, whistle, PFD and anything else required depending on the type of paddling. Not all companies include some of these things when buying a board. Check your local water safety laws for what you need to have on the water with you.
  5. Who will be using the board? Every board has a recommended weight capacity that is important to know when considering who/what will be using the board.  Think of who else will use the board such as family or friends. You might also want to take your dog or kid(s) on the board with you or bring equipment for a backcountry camping trip. If you use a board beyond its capacity it will sink too low in the water and will be a struggle to use.
Marybeth holding the Red Paddle Co Compact 9'6 in Penticton BC
Marybeth standing on a beach at a still lake holding a paddleboard and paddle.
two paddle boarders. One on a taiga board and one on a red board laughling

Looking for paddle boarding accessories or gift ideas? Check out the video and blog on Top 10 Gift Ideas for Paddle Boarders

Important to keep in mind:

  • Warranty and Customer Service. With the sport exploding there are A LOT more companies selling boards. There are pop-up companies that slap their logo on a cargo shipment of cheap inflatables and create a bomb-ass marketing campaign to look awesome and legit.
  • Company values. I honestly didn’t think to give this much thought but it is important since the brand name is likely very visible on the board and guess what will be in every cool photo you take? Plus there are companies who are conscious of the environment, provide fair living wages, stand by equality, give back and make the outdoor world more accessible and inclusive. Or maybe you want to support local! See below for some suggestions.
  • What does the board come with? Most board packages come with a paddle & leash. Since this isn’t always the case it’s important to check. The benefit of this is investing a specific type of paddle that is higher quality and suited to your needs (less wasteful)
  • Storage. Where are you keeping the board in the off-season or between paddles?

Getting technical:

  • Fin type and placement Fins play a role in the board’s use and versatility. How many fins are there? Where are they placed? Do they remove? It’s nice to have removable fin(s) for travel and storage as well as the adaptability to change the type of fin. See my post on Paddleboard Fins
  • Width and thickness. Wider boards will be more stable and thicker boards have higher volume and weight capacity. On the flip side, skinner boards will be faster. Always consider paddling type, paddler and ability. I’d recommend a 32-inch wide board for beginners.
  • Length. Short (<10 feet): best used for kids and surfing. Medium (10-12 feet): great for all-around and SUP yoga. Long (>12 feet): ideal for racing and touring. The length not only plays into the intended use of the board but also how it handles. Generally, longer boards are faster but shorter boards are more maneuverable. Longer boards increase the volume and capacity (think who is using it – total weight with equipment).  The length will also impact how you transport and store it. 
  • Hull shape. Planing hull (flat & wide – good for leisure paddling, yoga, surfing & whitewater) or displacement hull (pointed nose – good for touring and racing) or hybrid design. Usually, this determines how you are going to use your board. Typically you can get more technical with the hull shape on hard boards and for that reason, I honestly didn’t look too much into this (I choose an iSup to match my lifestyle. See next section) other than wanting more of a pointed nose to cut through some chop on the Great Lakes.

Why I chose my first board:

Red Paddle Co. Sport 11’3

  • Use. I mostly wanted a touring board that could handle some chop but could also play around and do yoga and small wave surfing.
  • My lifestyle. I wanted a board to travel with and I didn’t want to fork over more money to get roof racks on my 4 door sedan.
  • Ability. Something I could grow into; despite it being my first board I wasn’t a beginner. Being 5’2 and 137lbs I didn’t need a big board. I liked the idea of continuing to learn and not get bored. See post How it All Began
  • Type and Brand. Once I landed on getting an inflatable board I found Red Paddle Co who is a leader in inflatable boards and has been around since 2008.
  • Warranty and Customer Service. Red Paddle Co has great reviews and customer service. I spoke with a Red Paddle rep. online a few times and they were always very helpful. Their boards have a 5-year warranty and just look at this video! 
  • Budget. They are not cheap but I already knew I would love a paddleboard and wanted to invest in something that was quality and would last me years to come! 

What do I do next? 

  1. Answer the top 5 questions at the start of the blog. 
  2. Find out what is a priority for you and write it down. 
  3. Reach out to companies with questions. You’ll be able to tell the good ones from the shitty ones quickly! See below for some well-known brands. 
  4. Test some boards. Find a local rental company, ask some friends/join an online SUP group to borrow theirs or ask for advice. Shops & companies often do demo/test days where you can go out on their boards to trial them for free
  5. Consider buying used. Here is a good article from Paddle Magazine on Buying a Used Board 
  6. Learn more! Look at reviews of boards that fit your needs. Use the top 5 questions for guidance. REI and MEC have a good in-depth post on choosing a paddleboard.

Don’t get overwhelmed. With so many awesome companies you can’t go wrong! 

Let me know in the comments below if you have any questions!

Paddleboard companies:

*most distribute internationally


United Kingdom:

Other well-known brands:

Already have a board? Help others by sharing what your first board was and why you choose it!

Share in the comments below!

 Are you still lost and struggling? Leave a comment!

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