If you’re like anyone else that has ever taken up Stand Up Paddleboarding, you may be wondering how to choose the right stand up paddle board that is best for you. The first thing you have to figure out is what you want to do with your board. For all board styles, the needs of the individual will play the biggest role in selecting a new stand up paddleboard. Most people that are just getting into standup paddling go with an All-Around SUP, because it can do a little bit of everything. However, if you know that there is an activity, such as surfing or racing, that you will be enjoying the most, it is advisable to go with that style of board because the all-arounders will not be as good as purpose-designed specialty boards.
Before we discuss the various types of boards, it may be a good idea to cover a couple of quick design characteristics to help inform your SUP buying decision. Then we can get into how to choose the right size stand up paddle board.
SUP Hull Design
Hull design can be a complex science involving sophisticated hydrodynamics that is really beyond the scope of this article. However, it’s important to at least understand that the hull or body of the paddle board comes in two basic designs – planing hulls and displacement hulls. The planing hulls are the wider, flatter shapes that ride on top of the water and are good for stability and have the versatility to include surfing. The displacement hulls resemble more of the pointy, V-shape of a typical boat bottom meant to slice through the water – good for speed but potentially sacrificing stability.
Although there are a number of performance factors to consider when choosing a paddleboard, width will always be a big consideration across all board styles and is one of the most-debated board characteristics. All boards will have enhanced speed and glide by decreasing the width. But a narrower board is also less stable, and paddling is always faster than swimming! Being able to catch waves is also more fun than falling. So if you’re trying to get the most speed or maneuverability out of your SUP, when deciding on a board, no matter what style, you’ll want to choose a width that is comfortably hard at first. It should challenge you, but not be impossible. Your body will adjust and balance with a little time on the water.
If speed and maneuverability are not as important, and stability is the most valuable attribute, then a very wide board is the way to go. Depending on your individual needs, you will pick a board from one of the general categories below. A knowledgeable shop, like Carolina PaddleBoard Co. can help you in your decision. If you still aren’t sure after reading the descriptions below, then feel free to call the shop and talk to an expert at (910) 679-4473
The All-Around SUP
“All-Around” boards have rounded noses and are fairly flat on the bottom. These are the most common “beginner” boards. These boards are considered “all-around” because they have a shape that is suitable to be used in the surf, in flat water, or for fitness such as yoga. Sizes generally range from 9’6” to 11’6” and are heavily dependent on the size/weight of the rider and the volume of the board.
Shorter, lower volume boards will work for children and smaller men and women. As a person’s weight increases, they will need more volume (or more skill) to stay on a board. If you have plans to paddle with children or dogs on board, a higher volume board will provide a stable platform. The volume of an SUP is measured in liters, and you may see the volumes of all-rounders range from as little as 150 liters to as much as 250 liters.
The general shape of all-rounders comes in a few variations. Although they all have a rounded nose, some may have channels along the bottom to help in tracking. Regardless, the overall bottom contour is fairly flat. Tails can come in a square, round, or pintail shape. Square shapes offer the most stability, while pintails offer the most maneuverability and a little bit more speed while sacrificing a little bit of stability.
If you’re more interested in surfing your new all-around board, you’ll want to pick one with more rocker in the nose, a narrower tail, and a v-bottom-contour; all of these help the board maneuver better on a wave. The rails of the board will also play a part. A higher volume board with thick rails won’t surf as well as a lower volume board with rails that can help in steering.
If you plan to use your all-rounder mainly for flat water cruising, you’ll want to go for a slightly longer board with more volume. Length is correlated with glide, or your distance per stroke. Longer, narrower boards get more glide and you expend less effort when trying to get the board to maintain speed.
When it comes to all-around boards, there are also a few creature comforts that you will also want to consider. The construction of the board will determine how heavy/light and how durable it is. Some of the most durable boards are also the heaviest and difficult to move around or to load on your car. Lighter boards also maneuver more easily, but if you drop them you may risk cracking the board. A good quality board should also come with a handle. Some handles have recessed ledges to make carrying your board easier. The deck pad is also something you want to be sure you include in your considerations. Depending on how long you go out paddling, you may want something that feels good underfoot for extended periods of time.
Fitness and Touring Paddleboards
Fitness and touring boards are a cross between the all-around SUP and a race SUP. There are many different variations, but often come in sizes from 10’6” to 12’6” with a few 14’ boards falling into this category. The volume of fitness and touring boards will be a little higher than the flatter, all-around styles making these boards good options for people who plan to paddle with kids or pets on board.
The major benefit of going with a fitness/touring shape is the nose. Nose shape is often a displacement hull similar to a race shape. This aids in tracking straight while paddling and cutting through brisk tides or wind chop. All-around boards do not cut through chop like a displacement style hull. The hull design difference of the touring boards makes them better for distance and endurance training. However, if your fitness goals are mainly centered around yoga, then the touring nose shape sacrifices some stability for gains in speed. We suggest you stay with the all-around shape if yoga is your primary SUP activity.
The Touring SUP tail shape will often be a square tail for enhancing any stability lost from having a more pulled-in nose. The rails are thicker and can come in round or square. Square rails are more stable, while round rails are faster. A combination of both is ideal.
Considerations for the deck pad and handles will be similar to other boards. You want a deck pad that is comfortable underfoot for long distances but grippy if paddling in choppy waters. Handles will come in a variety of shapes, but easy-to-carry handles make transporting the board easier, since these boards can be larger. Construction is often fiberglass, bamboo composite, and sometimes carbon fiber. Fiberglass will be durable but heavier, bamboo composite is lighter and still durable. Carbon fiber is rare in touring/fitness boards because it is more expensive. Carbon fiber does make the board much lighter, but this construction is often reserved for race models.
Stand up paddle boards for racing have a very distinct shape when compared to all-around boards. Most people remark on how “pointy” a racing SUP is noting that they are shaped more like a toothpick. These boards are most commonly 12’6”, 14’, or “unlimited”. Traditionally, women are on 12’6”, men are on 14’, and you see most unlimited boards used in long, open-ocean races and island-to-island crossings.
Regardless of size, the piercing bow and displacement hull is what enables this board to go quicker than a board that pushes more water. These boards are able to cut through choppy water, track straighter, and glide for longer. They are often much narrower than the all-around and fitness/touring models and yield more distance per stroke; but with that comes a sacrifice in stability. Even amongst the displacement hulls there is some variation. Some are more pronounced like the front of a canoe, while others follow a “spoon nose” shape. Differences in this aspect boil down to personal preference and the technique of the rider. Aside from the nose contour, the bottoms can be flat, concave, or convex.
The tail of a race board will influence speed and stability. Wider tails will be more stable while a pulled-in tail contributes to speed. Similar to other boards, a pintail would be less stable but might feel faster. Wider, more stable tails are also beneficial in buoy turns during races. When deciding on what race board to buy, you will always want to take into account that paddling is faster than falling off a lot! The rails will also influence the stability the most. Rounder rails are considered faster but less stable, while sharp, square rails are more stable and can shed water quickly. Many boards have combined the two with rounder rails up front for speed, and more square rails in the back for stability.
Volume of these boards is greatly dependent on the rider. Heavier riders will require boards with more volume to float them high enough in the water to decrease drag and gain speed. Smaller riders will also not want a board that is too large because it will be too difficult to move or gain momentum.
Because race boards are longer and larger, it is a good idea to pick one with a handle that is very comfortable and gives you a lot of control over the board when walking around. Deck pads should also be comfortable for long paddles. The length of the deck pad is also important for race boards because you may be walking the board; when walking back to go over surf or initiate a buoy turn you don’t want to slip off the back and will need traction all the way back over the fin.
Stand Up Paddleboards for Surfing – SUP Surfboards
Surf shape SUPs have a similar shape to the all-around boards, with the exception of some of the smaller boards which come to a point at the nose. Surf shapes all have planing style hulls, and the amount of rocker, or how curved up the tip is, varies. We will briefly talk about SUP surf boards and their characteristics, but it is very difficult to talk about one without it being related to another. The rails, tail, rocker, and even fins all work in concert to create the performance a paddler desires. As always, we have experts at the shop that are happy to talk about these traits in depth to help you find the best board possible.
Stand Up Paddleboards that are good at surfing range in size from about 7’ to 12’ and can surf like short boards or long boards. Boards that are on the smaller end of this range are good for kids, smaller surfers, or advanced riders. The smaller boards are perfect for more aggressive turns, airs, reverses, and very quick maneuvers. At board lengths of about 9-10’, bigger riders can still maneuver the board like a short board, but this is reaching the end of the quick maneuverability range. Depending on the size of the rider, longer, narrower boards from about 9-12’ are ideal for long-board-style riding. Riders can walk the board, adjust trim, and get nose-rides while hanging five or ten on a long-board style SUP.
When you look at the rails of a surf SUP, foiled, thinner rails with a sharp edge are going to carve better and will give a more high performance turn, whereas a fuller, thicker rail will not turn as sharp but will be more forgiving in the face of a wave. A longer rail line will not turn as quickly (longer boards), but will give more glide and will be easier to ride. Larger riders may look for boards with either chined rails or stepped down rails. Both designs place a greater amount of volume at the centerline of the board and reduce the thickness of the rail to enhance turning capabilities.
The tail shape will also have a large impact on how the board handles. Typically a performance board with quick maneuverability will have a squash tail (squared off). Long-board-style SUPs with a single center fin or big wave boards will often have a round or pin tail. In general a pintail has the potential to give more turning maneuverability, but also comes with a slight sacrifice in stability while your standing waiting on the next wave. Swallow tails and fish tails are also options for paddlers looking to stay in small waves where they may need more snap.
A more specific factor to consider once you’re more accustomed to how surf SUP’s handle, is the bottom contours. The bottom can be flat, can have a concave, a slight “v,” or some variation of these options. A concave is good for generating lift and giving control in turns, especially in more powerful waves. A flat bottom is better for reducing friction to create speed in smaller surf. A slight V near the tail is a good way to gain directional stability over a board, especially in larger surf as the V cuts through the water versus planing or lifting up on top. Excessive V has one drawback as it can feel a little less stable at lower speeds as the board may rock more easily side to side in the water.
In the case of a SUP for surfing, you may ask if you need a deck pad or if you can use wax. Because you’re standing all the time, wax can puddle up on the sides of your feet leaving slick parts. If re-waxing often is an option for you, then you may like the wax as opposed to a deck pad. Some deck pads can absorb water and make a high-performance board heavier. Top end boards will often come with a closed-cell foam pad to prevent water uptake and keep the board light and maneuverable. A third option available on some boards is a special kind of deck finish in the paint that grips the feet. For advanced paddlers this can be the perfect compromise between wax and a deck pad, but for beginner paddlers that may be falling off a lot and climbing back onto the board it could be rough on the skin. As for the handle in the center of the board, you will want to be sure it doesn’t interfere with where you’re standing.
That’s the info Y’all!
The information on the characteristics of SUP boards is meant to educate you and help you make an informed decision about what board to purchase. Choosing a Stand Up Paddleboard can be a daunting task, but it doesn’t need to be! The professionals at Carolina PaddleBoard Company are always standing by to help educate you further and link all of this information together to help you make a smart buying decision that you’ll be happy with on the water! Be sure to call, click to shop online or come by the store.