Ultimate Guide to Buying the Best Paddle Board

Introduction to Paddle Boards

Paddleboarding has been around for centuries but is rapidly gained popularity with people around the world.  And why wouldn’t it?  It is a fantastic way to get out on the water, get some exercise (without even realizing it!) and have fun.  It is relatively easy to learn the basics and you can be up and zooming around the water in no time.  Getting out on a paddle board is also great for the whole family, almost anyone can participate, my son has been riding on the paddle board with me since he was 2!

So what is a paddle board or SUP (Stand Up Paddleboard)?  It is a really big surfboard that you can sit, kneel or stand up on and paddle through the water.  People ride paddle boards on rivers, lakes, oceans, flat water or waves.  They are used for racing, surfing, fishing, yoga, touring or any other adventure you come up.  With just a board, paddle and swimsuit you can be out on the water in minutes, no super expensive gear or rigging or extensive training involved.  You can go out solo or you can go with friends or a group or even take a yoga class or group tour.

Why Paddle Board

Paddle boarding is a low impact sport which makes it fantastic for people recovering from injuries, people looking to get into shape with little risk of injury and anyone that wants some out of the gym exercise!  It’s great for people that love the water, the beach, rivers and lakes but don’t necessarily want to be IN the water, like up north where the temperatures can be somewhat nippy or areas with thriving shark populations.  Even the most unathletic of people can hop on a super wide board and join in the fun.

Paddling family

Paddling family

Paddle Board Buying Guide

Thanks to the massive increase in popularity of paddle boarding in the last decade there are now a lot of choices in SUP boards to chose from, and it can be hard to pick what is the best paddleboard for you.   I have personally owned and ridden over 100 paddle boards over the years and know what to look for in choosing the right board for the right person.  Whether you are looking for an inflatable paddle board,  a beginner paddle board or a fishing paddle board we will give you the information you need to choose your best board.  Below you will find reviews of the best SUP boards, cheap paddle boards and everything in between.

There are a lot of options in paddle boards out there so how do you choose which is right for you?  Your first step is to figure out what you want to use the board for; surfing big waves, paddling around with friends, going to Yoga class in the bay, touring the coastline or fishing the river.  Each activity comes with unique requirements.  Surfers are going to want a board that is more maneuverable.  A yoga enthusiast is going to want a cushier surface; a fisherman will want lots of accessories to load gear.   People that don’t have room to store a large board or travel may need an inflatable option.

After reading this guide, you will be on your way to understanding the wonderful world of paddle boarding.  Don’t have time for all that?  Check out our top ten list below and then continue reading to find out more.

My daughter paddling in Morro Bay, CA

Top Ten Paddle Boards

The top ten list below is not a true top ten list.  That is an impossible task.  The list is a selection of highly rated and searched for beginner and all around boards.  These boards are easy to buy, easy to use and may or may not be easy on the wallet.  This is a good starter list.   More in-depth paddle board reviews and SUP comparison charts will follow for more advanced or specialty riders.  Make sure you continue on reading to find out the information you need in order to find a good paddle board for sale near you!

NameImageTypeWeight CapacityBuy Now
Atoll 11"0" foot inflatable stand up paddle boardiSUP300 lbs
BIC Sport ACE-TEC Cross Fit Stand Up Paddle BoardSolid Core220 lbs
Bote Drift 11'6" Inflatable Paddleboard with Free Vamo Tie Downs and Vamo Roof Rack Pad (Bug Slinger)iSUP350 lbs
CRAZZIE Stand Up Paddle Board (10.6') Real Bamboo Wood with Black Rails - Buyback Guarantee ProgramSolid Core265 lbs
Gold Coast Surfboards - 10'4 Anima SUP - Soft Top StandUp Paddleboard -Multi-Purpose, Entry Level Stand Up Paddle Board Designed for StabilitySolid Core275 lbs
Naish Quest Stand Up Paddle Board - 9' 8"Solid Core250 lbsBuy Now on REI
PathFinder Inflatable SUP Stand Up Paddleboard Set 9' 9" (5" Thick)iSUP240 lbs
Pau Hana Oahu Stand UP Paddle Board - 10'Solid Core263 lbsBuy Now on REI
PEAK Inflatable Stand Up Paddle Board with Adjustable Paddle, Travel Backpack and Coil Leash, 128 x 31 x 6-Inches, AquaiSUP300 lbs
Tower Paddle Boards Adventurer Inflatable 9'10" SUP PackageiSUP350 lbs

Types of Paddle Boards

A beginner board is primarily for recreation.  It is generally heavier and has a more durable construction and are over 30″ wide.  An Intermediate board is used for recreation and touring.  They will be a little lighter with a 28″-30″ width.  Specialty or advanced boards are designed for specific uses to help achieve top performance in that activity.   Advanced boards are lighter and narrower, but specialty boards can run the gamut.   Some companies make a womens paddle board or one for kids that will have features designed for those riders.

When choosing a board the paddle board weight limit is a critical component.  Every SUP has a weight capacity rating to assist in selecting an appropriate size.  Many brands will come with the same shape and style but in different sizes to match your weight.   Some boards have a very high weight rating so your kids, dogs or extra fishing or camping gear can join in on the ride.

Paddle Board Composition – Solid or Inflatable

Construction of paddle boards is done in six different ways; Solid Construction, EPS Foam Core with fiberglass and epoxy,  EPS and plastic, plastic, wood and inflatable.  Each type of construction comes with pros and cons.  I will go into more detail on the five different types of non-inflatable construction in a later post.  For now, we will just consider the two methods – solid core and inflatable.

Inflatable Paddle Boards

Inflatable paddle boards have come a long way in the last few years!

An inflatable stand up paddle board has a PVC exterior with a drop stitch construction interior.  Drop stitch construction has been around since 1950 when it was used by to create inflatable planes.  Drop stitch is two pieces of woven support fabric with thousands of polyester threads linking the two sheets.  This allows manufacturers to develop a light SUP that can be inflated rock hard and provide the rigidity needed not to feel like you are riding a banana.   These blow up paddle boards generally come with a pump and storage bag and are rigid when appropriately inflated.  If you want to know more about inflatable read the post here.

Why choose an Inflatable SUP:
  • Good things come in small packages:  Let’s face it, SUP’s are huge!  Not everyone has the

    Paddling with my son

    storage space in their home for the impressive sizes of some of these boards.  And depending on your car the board might be longer than the entire vehicle. An inflatable SUP allows you to deflate it and pack it up into a nice small package that fits in your trunk and your closet at home.  You can own several for family and friends or different specialty boards without having to build an extra room to the house.  You can even stock up your beachside Airbnb with a few cheap ones for guests.

  • Nomads:  Whether you are taking a road trip or jetting off to exotic destinations nothing beats being able to pack your gear into a check-able sized, pump up and hit the water within an hour of arrival.
  • Namaste:  Yoga on the water can be hard enough, give your body a bit of a break by using an inflatable board which provides just a bit more cushion for your Sun Salutations.
  • Mountain Man (or woman):  If you are hiking up to a lake or up a river for some whitewater adventure paddle boarding then inflatable is the way to go.  A packed up inflatable SUP isn’t light as a feather but it’s the only way to get the board up to where you want to be.  It’s also better for handling the inevitable bumps and bruises from rocks and other underwater obstacles.

Solid Core paddle board

The majority of solid boards are built with an EPS foam core wrapped in fiberglass and epoxy.  This construction is lightweight, durable and affordable.  Some boards will also incorporate wood or bamboo for appearances.  The more affordable end of the spectrum will include plastic.  The plastic boards will not perform as well, though they do serve their purpose as starter or loaner boards.

Paddleboarder

Why choose a solid SUP:
  • Good things come in big packages too:  If you have the space to store it and a vehicle that will get it to where you want then go for it!
  • The Big Kahuna:  If performance is what you need then a solid construction board is necessary.  These boards will go faster and ride smoother and are available in more shapes for your unique needs.
  • Surf’s up Dude!:  Yes, you can do SUP surfing in some small waves with an inflatable but for any real paddle board surfing you will need a solid core board.
  • Drunken Sailor:  If you need a little extra stability than a solid core will be better.  They are rigid, so you don’t have to adjust to both the water and the board moving beneath your feet.  Solid core boards will often ride a little lower in the water which can create some stability.
  • Board Guru’s:  It is a lot easier to create different shapes and sizes with a piece of foam than fabric so solid boards will come in a lot more shapes and sizes than an inflatable.

Paddle Board Hull Shape

Paddle boards come with two basic hull shapes, a planing hull or a displacement hull.  A few designers have also created a Franken-hull taking parts of each type into an awesome hybrid.  The hull shape is the overriding factor in how the board will perform and your use of the board will determine what kind of hull you choose.

Displacement Hull

A displacement hull has a pointed front end or nose.  This hull style means the board is propelled by pushing the water to the side but never planing on top of it.  These SUP’s will cut smooth and straight through the water with minimal effort.  Displacement hulls are good for efficiency and speed and are well suited for racing, touring, fishing and fitness.

Planing Hull

A planing hull has a flat, broad, round nose.  This hull style allows the board to ride on top of the water once you gain enough speed.  This makes it much more maneuverable and agile.  The broad nose also allows more flotation for those that need it.   Planing hulls are good for surfing, leisure paddles, yoga and rivers.

Paddle Board Length, Width and Volume

 

A paddle board has to have just the right length, width and volume to work for you and your needs, but what is just right for you?  You need to take into account the size and weight of the rider, or riders, skill level and boarding activities.

 

 

Length

The length of a SUP has a considerable role in how the board handles and what you use it for.  Generally, longer boards are more stable, faster and track straighter than their smaller friends.  Shorter boards are less stable but more maneuverable.  They are also easier to carry transport and store and are suitable for kids.

  • Bear Cub Size (Small): The shorties in paddle boarding are under 10 feet long, usually have a planing hull and are very maneuverable.  They are great for kids, surfers or kite surfers.
  • Mama Bear Size (Medium):  In paddle board sizes medium runs 10′ to 12′.  They are generally planing hulls but you can find some displacements as well.  This board size will have most of your basic, all around and beginner boards but there are high-performance options as well that you can use for all the specialties including surfing.
  • Papa Bear Size (Large):  These boards are 12′ to 14′ and are generally displacement hulls.  These guys are faster and track straighter.  If racing or touring is what you want then these are the ones for you.  These boards will take fewer strokes to cover the distance.

Width

Paddle boards generally come in widths of 25″ to 36″ widths.  Wide boards will be more stable, yet slower, and are suitable for beginners or activities that require stability.  They are also useful for activities that require gear storage or space for yoga.  Narrow boards are better for more experienced riders and people that want speed and agility.   The body of the rider should determine the width of the board as well.  Larger people may need more width to stay stable.  Smaller people might need a narrower board to reach the water and paddle well.

Inflatables have a smaller window of widths.  You never want to go below 29″ or the board will be prone to bending.

Volume

The volume of a paddle board is expressed in liters and determines the paddle board weight limit.  More volume will allow for a heavy rider, multiple riders or extra gear.   If there is not enough volume for your weight, the board will sink or be hard to paddle.  If there is too much volume, the board won’t sink enough and still be hard to paddle.  Every board manufacturer should provide paddle board weight limit specifications.  When considering these include the extra weight of any gear or accessories you will be adding.

Fins

Fins are such a small part of the paddle board but will make a huge difference in your board performance.  Most fins are removable and can be swapped out with different shapes and styles depending on your needs.  Swap out the fins and your flat water board is good to go for some wave action!  SUP manufacturers generally do an excellent job of matching the fins to the board.  If you are buying a beginner board or all-around board, you can usually stay with the provided fins.   Once you get into more advanced riding, you can start playing around with fin setup.   A good rule of thumb is a lower combined fin surface area will give your paddleboard a looser feel and allow you to slide in turns.  A high surface area will provide you with speed and keep you going straight.   I will cover fins in depth in another article

Inflatable SUP fins are usually flexible or rubbery,  permanently attached or detachable.  If you know you will want to change the fins up make sure you check out the options before you buy

Basic Fin Configurations

  • Single Fin:  The center fin is what keeps your SUP going straight.  A single fin system will have a larger fin than any of the multi-fin options.  This is because it needs to provide the same amount of surface area as the multi-fin options.  A single fin offers the least amount of drag and is good on flat water.
  • 2 +1 fin:  This set up will have one large center fin and two small fins on each side of it.  This will be a typical setup on surf SUP’s.
  • 3-fin:  This set up will have three fins of about the same size, also called a thruster setup.  This is a typical setup for surfing but works great for flat water too.
  • 4-fin:  Quads can be either four equal sized fins or two larger fins in front and two smaller in the rear.  Advanced riders and pro-surfers may favor this setup.

Fin Boxes

All fins need to connect to the board with a fin box.  There are a few industry standards out there so if you will be buying multiple boards and changing fins it is a good idea to stick with a single system.  For beginners or those that won’t be monkeying around with fins, this isn’t an issue.  I will cover all the fin box options in another post.

SUP Paddles

You can’t have a paddle board without a paddle!  There are almost as many options in paddles as boards out there.  There are four types of paddles: aluminum, fiberglass, carbon fiber and a composite.  Aluminum paddles will be the cheapest option out there, and for a reason.  Salt quickly builds up and will corrode aluminum.  Economy is the purpose of these paddles, not performance.   Pure carbon fiber paddles are great if they are thick enough.  Unfortunately, carbon fiber is on the pricey side so to make a reasonably priced handle the walls tend to be thin and breakable.  Your best bet is fiberglass or a composite material.

The rider’s height dictates paddle length.  Stand straight and raise your arm above your year.  The top of the paddle should come up to your wrist.  If it is just you using the paddle, spend the time to find a correctly fitted fixed length oar.  If you will be sharing your equipment regularly then an adjustable length paddle is best.

Stand Up Paddle Board Accessories

There is a wide selection of accessories for your board depending on what you want to do with it.  There are also bags, racks for the house and car and clothing options.

  • Deck Pad:  This is the most basic accessory you will need for your SUP.  Some boards will come with one and some won’t.  Cheaply made boards will have a deck pad covering almost the entire surface.  There no need for this and it just adds extra weight.  Shady manufacturers will use this to cover up defects so be wary.  Boards designed for yoga may have a full pad or extra cushy pad, so that isn’t a hard rule.
  • Pump for Inflatables:  An inflatable board will almost always come with a pump.  Sometimes that’s great, sometimes not so much.  Properly inflating your board is critical.  A good pump will make all the difference.
  • Tie down’s:  Some boards will come with straps or tie down’s to secure your gear.  This is great if you need it but don’t buy the wrong board just because it has the right straps.  You can always add the exact accessories you want later.
  • Mounts:  Specialty boards may come with attachment points or mounts for things like fishing gear, seats and even small motors.  You can find out more about fishing boards here:  Best fishing paddle boards
  • Carrying handle:  No matter how you use it the board will need a carrying handle.  Womens paddle boards or kid-sized ones will come with a smaller more manageable handle.
  • Leash:  A leash will keep your SUP nearby if you fall off.  They come in different lengths depending on the type of water you are riding.
  • Car Rack:  Unless the board is inflatable you will need someway to strap it down to your ride.
  • PFD:  You only drown once in your life!  Per US Coast Guard regulations a SUP is a PFD (Personal Flotation Device) requiring vessel.  If you head out of regular swimming or surfing areas you will need to wear one.
  • Proper clothes:  Depending on the water temperature and weather conditions a swimsuit might not cut it.  You may need quick dry clothes, a wetsuit or even a dry suit for you Arctic explorers.

Go paddling!

That’s about it for paddle board basics.  Some of these topics will be covered in more depth when you are ready to learn more, like how to find a paddle board for sale and the three best iSUPs.  The best way to really understand this is to get out and try some boards.  Hit up your local board shop and see if they have rentals or demos.  Join a paddle boarding meet up or class.  Try it on your next vacation, just get out there and fall in love with the sport!

My daughter on the Russian River, CA