How to Purchase a Stand-Up Paddleboard

Getting the stand-up paddleboard that’s “right” for you can mean the difference between falling in love with the sport and having another expensive piece of equipment gathering dust in the garage. Since SUPs come in a variety of lengths, widths, and shapes, we’ve created this simple guide to demystify the board buying process. Read on for some helpful tips to find the one that’s ideal for you.

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What are your goals?

Before shopping for an SUP, consider how you intend to use it. Whether you’re using the board for touring, surfing, yoga, whitewater, or just family fun, knowing its intended use simplifies the process, as boards feature designs unique to each activity.

Not sure about your intended use? Consider an all-around board. They’re the perfect choice for someone who wants to do it all. Better yet, if you later decide that you want an activity-specific board, all-arounders are great to have in your quiver, as you can lend one to a paddling partner.

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Size and Shape Matter

Walk through the paddle shop at any EMS, and you’ll notice that some SUPs look very different from others. Some are long with ample deck space, while others are short and have an increased rocker. Here are some basic ways to understand the differences.

First, the longer a board is, the faster it will glide through the water, and the easier it will be to paddle in a straight line. Because of this, touring and racing SUPs tend to be longer. But, these are also less nimble, and for an activity like surfing, you’d want a shorter board.

Second, the wider a board gets, the more stable it becomes. Wider options are therefore popular with new paddlers, who are still building confidence balancing on the board, and with tall paddlers, due to their high center of gravity. Just be forewarned: The wider a board gets, the slower it moves through water.

Third, the larger the volume, the more weight an SUP supports and the more buoyant it is. Almost every manufacturer posts a weight limit for their boards, and it’s important to note. Just be sure to factor in not only paddler weight, but also everything you’ll carry on board. For example, will a child or dog be riding with you? What about gear? If you fail to account for these factors, you could find your SUP sinking below the water.

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Hull Shape

SUPs also have two different types of hulls: planing and displacement. Those with planing hulls, similar to the Surftech Universal CoreTech, look like a traditional surfboard and ride on top of the water. Planing-hull boards represent the majority stocked at EMS, and handle everything from surfing to all-around use.

Boards featuring displacement hulls, like the BIC Ace-Tec Wing, take their cues from kayaks. Particularly, they’re shaped to push through the water, rather than ride on top of it. Popular with those who want to tour or race, these SUPs are more efficient at moving through the water. Thus, you’ll get a faster speed and cover greater distances. As the main drawback, they are less maneuverable and playful than SUPs with planing hulls.

Some companies blend the two types—for example, the BIC Cross. These hybrids suit recreational paddlers, as they offer the speed and tracking of a displacement hull with the stability and playfulness of a planing board.

Material Matters

Stand-up paddleboards are constructed in three different ways—solid, soft top, and inflatable. Each method has its unique characteristics.

Borrowing from traditional surfboard construction, solid boards feature a foam core wrapped in fiberglass and epoxy resin. As the most common type of SUP, these deliver a fast and smooth ride when compared to other compositions. Because of their popularity, solid boards typically have the widest variety of available shapes and sizes. They even offer more material variations. In fact, it’s not uncommon to see wood and carbon fiber replace fiberglass in higher-end models.

Soft-top paddleboards, like the Perception Jetty, are a popular option for many first-time and recreational paddlers. Much like solid boards, these feature a foam core; however, it’s wrapped in soft fiberglass. Usually less expensive and more durable than solid boards, they provide a more comfortable platform. If you happen to fall, they also give you a better landing.

Inflatables, like the NRS Thrive , are a common alternative to solid boards. Inflatable stand-up paddleboards feel almost as rigid but are far less susceptible to dings and dents. Additionally, the design solves a few other issues posed by traditional boards, including portability and storage. Particularly, you can deflate and stash one in the trunk of your car for transporting, or tuck it into a closet when it’s not in use.

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Almost Fin-nished

Fin size and alignment also influence a board’s paddling characteristics. Today, a single fin is the most common configuration, and for fin adjustments in relation to performance, two simple rules apply. The first is, longer fins provide more straight-line stability, thus making them popular with newer paddlers. As such, shorter fins generally deliver more speed and better maneuverability. Secondly, the farther back you place the fin on your board, the more stability it will provide. Conversely, the closer the fin is positioned to the nose, the faster the SUP will be.

Many SUPs today are further manufactured with slots for side fins, also called thrusters. Although some paddlers will opt to use side fins for flat-water paddling, they increase your board’s resistance, thus making it slower, and are best left off.

Deck It Out

If the paddleboarding bug bites hard, you could find yourself spending a lot of time standing on your board. Although it’s not essential, a high-quality deck pad can go a long way toward your comfort. Especially for yoga, a full-length deck pad should be considered. In all cases, a deck pad also increases traction on your board, making it easier to stand on.

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What Else Do I Need?

You’ll need a few additional items before you head out.

Of primary importance, a paddle is essential if you want your SUP to move. In fact, having a good paddle is one of the best ways to increase your board’s performance. A quality adjustable paddle can move with you from board to board, and can be used as a loaner when you decide it’s time to upgrade.

Wearing a PFD isn’t just a good idea—it’s also the law. High-end personal flotation devices are designed to stay out of the way when you paddle, making them infinitely more comfortable than the life jackets of yore. Also gaining in popularity for paddleboarders are inflatable PFDs. These clever devices look like waist packs, deliver a barely-there feel, and can be inflated in the event of an emergency.

Lastly, get yourself a leash, so that you’ll stay connected to your board when you fall off. Nothing screams newbie more than swimming after a rogue paddleboard, and it would be a shame to see your new board float away.

 

Still not sure about what you want? Keep your eyes out for a demo in your area to try a few different boards. Better yet, schedule a lesson with the Eastern Mountain Sports Kayak School to get some paddling pointers as you pick the brain of someone who makes a living on the water.