How to Choose a Stand Up Paddleboard

Looking to buy your first Stand Up Paddleboard (SUP), but not sure how to choose? I remember when I was in that position, excited about getting started in the sport but confused by all the options.

For my first stand up paddleboard, I purchased a high-volume inflatable stand up paddleboard with a planing hull. Why?

I chose an inflatable board since I rent a room in a house and have limited storage space. I was unable to try out any boards with displacement hulls before I purchased so I played it safe with a planing hull. Additionally, I opted for a higher volume board because I am on the heavier side for a female (at just under 200 pounds) and have had an unfortunate experience or two on flimsy, low-volume inflatable paddleboards. I am able to carry gear on my board for overnight adventures without having to worry about the additional weight.

This combination is specific to me and my preferences. In order to select the type of board that will work best for you, you need to answer 3 main questions:

  • · Rigid or Inflatable?
  • · Planing or displacement hull?
  • · Do you need a specialty board?

Rigid or Inflatable?

Close your eyes and imagine a stand up paddleboard. Did you imagine an inflatable board or a rigid board? Most likely, you imagined the latter. Because of this immediate association, many first time paddleboard shoppers think they should purchase a rigid board. Instead, consider factors such as what your storage options are, how far away you are from paddling locations, and how often and/or where you intend to use your board.

Inflatable is the best option for people who have limited storage space, want to access backcountry lakes, or plan to paddle rivers. Personally, I enjoy being able to keep my inflatable setup in the back of my car on long road trips, without having to worry about my board on top of the car. Otherwise, consider a rigid fiberglass or epoxy board as they tend to be more efficient and smoother on flatwater.

Personally, I enjoy being able to keep my inflatable board in the back of my car on long road trips, without having to worry about a board on top of the car. Meanwhile, my mom stores her rigid board in her garage and enjoys being able to start paddling within mere minutes of arriving at a lake without having to pump anything up.

A rigid paddleboard
A rigid paddleboard

Planing hull or displacement hull?

This question impacts your speed and balance, which tend to have an inverse relationship. The hull is the shape of the front of your board- the more traditional rounded shape is a planing hull while a displacement hull has a pointier nose. If you’re a beginner and are worried about balancing, opt for the planing hull. The stability provided by this shape also makes it a decent choice for yoga, fishing and overnight touring.

An inflatable paddleboard with a planing hull
An inflatable paddleboard with a planing hull

If speed is important to you, or you need to regularly break through rougher water, choose a displacement hull. Don’t be surprised or overly concerned if it takes you a few outings to become accustomed to the board and to find your balance.

Do you need a specialty board?

Although my board is not specifically designed for yoga or fishing, its long, wide shape makes it suitable for both activities when I want to switch it up from general touring. However, if either of these activities were the main focus of my outings, I would look into a yoga or fishing specific set up.

I would love owning one board that performs well under all conditions and for all activities. However, just as most cyclists own different bikes for different circumstances (mountain bike, road bike, around town bike, etc.) many SUP enthusiasts end up with a quiver of different paddleboards. Any board you choose will get you out on the water!

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