Choosing the Right Stand-Up Paddle Board

several stacked paddle boards

Stand up paddle boarding (SUP) offers something active for everyone. You can navigate a peaceful flat water lake or capture choppy water and waves in the ocean with touring boards. Or perhaps you want to do SUP flat water yoga or fast-paced paddle surfing to get a workout. Whatever your aspirations, having the best board is crucial to your performance and enjoyment. In this buying guide, we’ll review the bottom lines you need to think of to find a board size.

Uses of Stand-Up Paddle Boards

To discover the ideal stand up paddle board for you, consider how you’ll use it, how it will fit your body and how you desire to manage it in the water. Key decision points will be the shape of the board, the right volume and capability, and the correct length, width and thickness.

Stand-Up Paddle Boarding Extras

Whether you select a solid or inflatable board will depend upon how you will transfer it and how much storage area you want. From there, you’ll consider a board’s fins and find any extras or accessories you need.

SUP Hull Types

The hull, or body, of a paddle board plays a major function in how the board performs in the water. Many SUP hulls are either planing or displacement. There are a handful with a hybrid design that integrates the best attributes of each design.

Either hull shape is enjoyable to beginner paddlers at first, but there are differences that make them better for some activities than others. You’ll want to select the hull type based upon how you plan to use your board.

Planing Hull

A planing hull is flat and large, comparable to a surf board. It is designed to ride on top of the water, easily maneuverable. Boards with planing hulls are a great choice for leisure paddling, surf sports, SUP yoga and whitewater.

Displacement Hull

SUPs with displacement hulls have a pointed nose or bow (front end) comparable to that of a kayak or canoe. The hull cuts through water, pressing the water around the nose to the sides of the SUP to improve performance and produce a quick, smooth ride. The effectiveness of a displacement hull needs less effort than a planing hull to paddle, allowing you to go longer distances at faster speeds. They also track straight, but are usually a bit less maneuverable than planing hulls.

Paddlers pick displacement hulls for a variety of applications with great paddling efficiency and speed in mind. Some applications include physical fitness paddling, SUP touring/camping and racing.

Solid vs. Inflatable SUPs

Planing and displacement hulls are offered in two different construction designs: solid or inflatable.

Solid SUPs

The majority of solid boards have an EPS foam core that’s covered with fiberglass and epoxy. This is a fairly lightweight, durable and inexpensive material. Carbon fiber is a lighter and stiffer alternative, however it’s also more pricey than foam core and epoxy. Plastic SUPs are more budget friendly, however they are very heavy and lack the performance of other products. Some SUPs incorporate lightweight wood for a beautiful appearance.

paddle board and oar height comparison

Why get a solid SUP

Efficiency is your first priority: Solid boards provide the best performance on the water. They travel quicker, smoother and with less effort than an inflatable. If paddling fast and far are your concerns, a solid epoxy SUP is for you.

For a perfect board size fit: Solid epoxy SUPs are usually offered in a larger variety of sizes and finely tuned shapes than inflatable SUPs, so you’re likely to find one that fits you best.

Choosing the right SUP stability is necessary: A solid board is a little bit more rigid than an inflatable board, which can provide a more stable feel, specifically when riding waves. Solid epoxy boards also tend to ride lower in the water, which can also produce a more steady feel.

You have a place to store it: Solid epoxy SUPs can take up space. If you have sufficient space in your garage and an automobile that can transfer it, then a solid SUP is a great choice.

Inflatable SUPs

Inflatable SUPs include PVC surfaces with drop-stitch material that produces an air core. They come with a pump for pumping up the board and a storage bag for when it’s not in use. A quality inflatable SUP is designed to be inflated to 12-15 pounds per square inch and ought to feel very stiff when totally inflated.

Why get an inflatable SUP

You have limited storage space: If you live in a small house, condo, or apartment, you may not have room for a large strong board. Inflatable SUPs are compact when deflated and can quickly be stowed in little spaces, like a closet or the trunk of a vehicle.

You’re touring by stand up paddle boarding: If you’re taking a road trip or getting on an aircraft, you can bring along your SUP and do some paddling when you reach your location. Packed away in its storage bag, an SUP can be checked on an aircraft or stowed in a train, bus or car. A lot of storage bags have backpack straps for easy carrying.

You’re taking a stand up paddle board to a lake: If you’re headed to an alpine lake and wish to paddle, you won’t want a solid board. Deflated boards stowed in storage bags are heavy, but they are your best choice. Touring boards are also good for this kind of flatwater performance.

You’re paddling whitewater: Like a raft or inflatable kayak, an SUP is the right board suited to manage bumps in choppy water, rocks, and logs than a solid paddle board, which would be less stable.

You like flatwater SUP paddle board yoga: You don’t have to get an inflatable for SUP yoga, however they tend to be a bit softer, making them more comfy for yoga poses. You’ll want a larger deck pad for this, as a narrow board will be less stable. Make sure you find the right board with a deck pad wide enough for you to use.

SUP Volume and Weight Capacity

SUP boards need to work for your size. If the board does not displace the appropriate quantity of water for your bodyweight, you won’t be supported well and the board might feel unstable. Board volume and weight capacity are two elements that impact how steady you will feel and how well the board will travel through the water.

Volume and weight capacity are identified by the length, width and thickness of the board. Manufacturers combine these 3 dimensions in various ways to achieve various performance qualities (find the length, width and thickness sections of this short article).


A paddle board’s volume, shown in liters, gives a sign of the board’s capability to float with weight on it. The greater the volume, the more the board can support. You can discover volume for a board size listed in the specifications on

Weight Capacity

Paddle boards have rider weight capacities, which are listed in pounds on Knowing weight capacity is important because if you’re too heavy for a board, it will usually ride lower in the water and be inefficient to paddle. When thinking of weight capacity, consider the total quantity of weight you will place on the board, including your bodyweight and the mass of any equipment, food and drinking water that you’ll take with you.

Volume and weight capacity relative to hull type: Most planing-hull boards are really flexible, so as long as you’re listed below the weight capability, the board will yield great performance. Nevertheless, with displacement-hulls, volume and weight capacity are more significant. SUP makers spend a great deal of time determining the most efficient position for boards to be in the water. If you are too heavy for a displacement board and it sinks too low, it will drag and feel slow. If you’re too light for a board, you will not sink it enough and the board will feel heavy and difficult to control.

SUP Length

The length of SUP boards plays a major role in figuring out how the board handles. In general, longer boards are much faster than shorter boards, however much shorter boards are more maneuverable. Here’s a guide for deciding what SUP to purchase:

Brief boards (under 10′) are great for surfing and/or kids. These boards usually have a planing hull. Brief boards are more maneuverable than long boards, making them fantastic for surfing waves and surf sports. Boards created particularly for kids are usually around 8′ long.

Medium boards (10′ to 12′) are perfect for all-around use and for SUP yoga. The majority of these boards have planing hulls, but at some point you’ll discover a displacement-hull SUP at this length.

Long boards (12′ 6″ and above) are excellent for quick paddling and long-distance touring. The majority of boards in this size variety are displacement-hull SUPs. They’re faster than short and medium boards and they tend to track straighter. If you’re interested in paddling fast or exploring longer distances, you’ll desire a long board.

When selecting a length, it’s useful to know how it relates to volume and weight capacity. Longer SUP boards can increase the capacity, which can make it feel more steady and allow you to carry more on the board (thickness and width are also factors).

Consider, too, your kind of car, home storage situation and distance of the walk to the beach or coast (longer boards are more difficult to carry around, specifically in windy places).

woman standing on red paddle board

SUP Width

Width is another important element that affects how the board performs. Broader paddle boards will constantly be more steady than a skinny SUP board, however keep in mind that broad paddle boards can be slower and, if the board is too large for you, challenging to paddle. SUPs are made in widths varying from about 25 inches as much as 36 inches to accommodate a variety of needs.

When picking how broad your SUP should be, think of the kind of paddling you do, your physique and ability level.

Kind of paddling: If you’re going on long tours that need you to carry additional gear, like a cooler, a camping tent and your dog, choose a larger SUP board in order to have more storage space. The same holds true if you’re doing SUP yoga; wide paddle boards will give you the area and stability for postures. Narrower boards, on the other hand, are quicker and more maneuverable, making them right for racing and surfing.

Physique: Try to match the width of the SUP to your body type. In general, if you’re a little person, opt for narrower paddle boards and if you’re a big person, choose a larger board. This is because a smaller individual can typically discover their balance on a narrow board, whereas a larger person might struggle to do so. Likewise, if you put a smaller sized individual on a board that is too big for them, they need to awkwardly reach out to the side to get their paddle in the water, resulting in an ineffective stroke.

Ability level: If you’ve paddled a lot, you might be comfortable on a narrower, faster SUP. However, somebody brand new to stand up paddle boarding, might prefer additional space to help them feel more secure.

Just like length, width affects the total volume and weight capability, so make sure to pick one with this in mind. For example, if you’ve figured out the length you want based on the type of paddling you want to do, you can pick a width (and/or thickness; see the SUP Thickness section of this article) that gives you the suitable board size.

SUP Thickness

After finding a board with the right length and width for your paddling method, consider a 3rd aspect: board density.

The main factor to consider the density of an inflatable stand up paddle board is because of how it affects the overall volume and weight capacity. If you’re comparing boards of the same length and width but different thicknesses, the thicker board has more mass than the thinner one and the higher the volume, the more it can support.

Here’s how you may use thickness: You’ve determined to find a long, skinny board for cruising fast on flat water. If you’re a small individual, choosing a thin board will keep the overall volume of the board lower so that you’re effectively weighting the SUP for the most efficiency.

woman sitting and paddle boarding

SUP stand up paddle board fins

Fins add tracking and stability to stand-up paddle boards. In general, larger fins with broader bases and longer leading edge will track straighter and provide more stability than smaller sized fins. On the other hand, a smaller fin provides much better maneuverability. Many fins are removable, so you can switch them out and take them off for storage.

There are many different choices for how fins are configured on the bottom of your SUP. Some popular configurations include:

Single fin

Many boards consist of a single fin put in a finbox and secured with a nut and screw. The finbox has a channel for the fin. The single fin provides great tracking and very little drag, making it a good choice for flatwater paddling.

3-fin setup

Also called a trustee, this setup promotes straight tracking on flatwater and uses good control in surf. All 3 are usually about the same size and are a good option if you plan to do surf sports.

2+1 fin setup

This configuration consists of a bigger center fin with a smaller one on each side of it. This is a typical setup on touring boards.

Fins for inflatable SUPs

Inflatable SUPs can have any of the fins and setups currently noted. What sets them apart is that they include either versatile rubber fins attached to the boards or removable semi-rigid ones.

SUP Extras and Accessories

Depending on how you plan to use your SUP, you may wish to choose a stand-up paddle board with additional features.

Bungee straps/tie-down

Sometimes situated on the front and/or rear of the stand-up paddle board, these stretchy straps or tie-down spots are great for securing dry bags, clothes and coolers.

Attachment points/mounts

Some boards have specific attachment points for fishing-rod holders, seats, video cameras and more. These devices are normally offered separately.

After buying a SUP, you require just a few more crucial pieces of equipment to enjoy your first time stand-up paddle boarding.


A SUP paddle looks a bit like a stretched-out canoe paddle with a tear-drop-shaped blade that angles forward for optimum paddling efficiency. The right length paddle will rise to your wrist when you stand the paddle up in front of you and raise your arm above your head. Read more about sizing paddles in our short guide, SUP Paddles: How to Choose.

PFD (Personal Flotation Device)

The U.S. Coast Guard classifies stand up paddle boards as vessels (when used outside the narrow limitations of swimming or browsing locations), and you must use a PFD. Learn how to choose the ideal PFD for you in our guide, PFDs: How to Choose. Keep in mind that the regulations also require you to bring a safety whistle and have a light if you’re paddling the surf after sunset.

Correct clothing

For cool conditions where hypothermia is an issue, wear a wetsuit or dry fit. In milder conditions, use shorts and a T-shirt or bathing suit – something that moves with you and can get wet but dries rapidly.


Typically offered individually, a leash tethers your SUP to you, keeping it nearby if you fall off. Your SUP is a large flotation device, so being attached to it can be essential for your safety. There are leashes designed particularly for surf, flatwater, and rivers. Be sure to purchase the appropriate one for your intended use.

Cars and truck rack

Unless you have an inflatable SUP, you need a way to transport your stand up paddle board on your automobile. There are SUP racks created to go on the crossbars of your roofing system rack, or you can utilize padding such as foam and straps to secure stand up paddle boards to your vehicle.

Now you’re ready for your first trip around the lake or surf with your new stand-up paddle board! Whether you’re pregnant, you work a Mon-Fri job and want SUP boarding as a hobby to relieve stress, or you intend to compete in paddle boarding sports, you can find the perfect SUP board on our site, which offers great customer service and the best brands.

References and Sources:

Cool of the Wild. SUP Camping: A Paddle Board Camping Guide for Beginners

Explore SUP. Best Paddle Board Lights

First 15. God Speaks in Solitude – Experiencing God

Fit Day. 7 Unique Ways to Get a Full Body Workout

Goosehill. Top 6 Lakes in North America You Should Go Paddle Boarding On

Inflatable Boarder. SUP Racing 101 – The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide



ISLE. What is SUP Yoga?

Keeper Sports Products.

NRS. U.S. Coast Guard Regulations for Stand Up Paddlers

REI Co-op. How to Choose a Stand Up Paddleboard

REI Co-op. Stand Up Paddle Boarding for Beginners

Safe Boater. Understanding Weather for Boating

Yale Environment 360. Ecopsychology: How Immersion in Nature Benefits Your Health

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