Most paddle boards fall into three main categories: 1) all-around paddle boards, 2) touring boards and 3) surfing paddle boards. Inflatable paddle boards may fall into the all-around or touring category.
All-Around Paddle Boards
All-around SUPs are generally long, wide and thicker than other boards, which provides the most stability. If you’re just starting out, or you’re looking for a versatile board for general use, an all-around stand-up paddle board is a good choice.
Paddle Surfing Boards
Surf SUPs are shorter than all-rounders, and usually include a rocker shape or upswept nose for increased flotation on large waves and swells. You should already have some experience with either paddle boarding or surfing before you give paddle surfing a try.
Touring Paddle Boards
Touring SUPs are the longest style, and often feature a hull shape similar to a kayak, as well as a tapered, directional shape with a pointed bow. These boards provide enhanced hydrodynamics for fast, long-distance paddling.
Hybrid Paddle Boards
Hybrid SUPs are typically a cross between a sit-on-top kayak and a paddle board. Hybrid boards are versatile and fun on flatwater, slow-moving rivers and moderate ocean conditions.
Inflatable Paddle Boards
Inflatable SUPs are available in a range of shapes, including all-around models and touring models. Rather than being made of foam or plastic, this style is made of PVC, high-grade rubber or another durable, pliable material that must be inflated before hitting the water. The key advantage of inflatable paddle boards is easy transport.
SUP Length and Width
Two key factors to consider when choosing a stand-up paddle board are the width and length, which will essentially determine how buoyant and stable a board is. Most paddle boards range between 8 feet to 14 feet in length. Adult beginners will generally want to choose a board that is in the 9-10 foot range and approx. 30-32” wide, for maximum stability. Just like a pair of skis or a snowboard, heavier individuals may require a wider, longer board, because the thickness and surface area of a board are directly related to the flotation it provides.
Paddle surfing boards tend to be shorter in length than all-around boards, which makes them more maneuverable for surfing large waves. Conversely, touring paddle boards are longer and narrower for long-distance paddling efficiency.
- Reinforced EPS and Fiberglass: The most common material used to make SUP boards is EPS foam (expanded polystyrene foam), which is reinforced with a strong, flexible material, such as wood, fiberglass or carbon fiber. Fiberglass cloth is bonded to the surface of the board using epoxy resin. Some boards also incorporate a full-length wood topsheet for increased stiffness.
- Reinforced PU and Fiberglass: Reinforced polyurethane foam, traditionally used in the manufacturing of surfboards, is occasionally used to make stand-up paddle boards. PU foam is less durable, however, which is why EPS has become more prevalent.
- Plastic (polyethylene): Some hybrid and all-purpose paddle boards are made of rotomolded polyethylene, the same material used to make kayaks. These are much more durable than EPS and PU boards, but are heavier.
- PVC or Rubber: Inflatable SUP boards are typically made of either PVC or high-grade rubber that is resistant to UV rays.
SUP paddles have long shafts with a single blade and a T-shaped pommel. Most paddles are either fiberglass, carbon fiber or some combination of the two. To determine the best length for your SUP paddle, extend your arm up over your head with your elbow bent slightly. Next, bend your wrist until the palm of your hand is parallel to the floor. The pommel of your paddle should be at hand level.
Adjustable vs Fixed-Shaft Paddles
There are two main styles of SUP paddles to choose from: fixed-shaft and adjustable-shaft. Adjustable SUP paddles can be extended or contracted to accommodate paddlers of different heights. Fixed-shaft paddles will need to be trimmed to your individual specifications. In order to trim the shaft, you will need a saw, masking tape, sandpaper and waterproof epoxy. If you do not wish to cut your own, some retailers offer this service for an extra fee. Alternatively, you can always choose an adjustable paddle.
Personal Flotation Devices (Life Vests)
It’s always recommended that you wear a PFD life vest for any water sport, including paddle boarding. Paddlers should generally choose a Type III PFD vest that is designed for water sports. Of course, whether or not you choose to wear a life jacket is up to you. However, children should always be outfitted with an appropriately sized, USCG-approved PFD. Check out our PFD Guide for more information on the various types of USCG PFDs.
Swimsuits and Rash Guards
As with most watersports, what you should wear for paddle boarding depends on the conditions and personal preference. For warm, summer weather, a swimsuit is perfectly suitable. If you’re paddling in cooler weather or need additional protection from the sun, a UV-resistant rash guard can be invaluable. For colder conditions and ocean paddling, you may need a wetsuit. Unlike heavier diving suits, wetsuits designed for surfing are generally the best because they tend to provide a better range of motion. Check out our Wetsuit Guide for more info.
Due to the length and size, transporting your paddle board will usually require the use of a large vehicle, truck bed or roof rack. If you plan on transporting your board on the roof of your car or SUV, be sure to use open cell foam blocks, strap covers or another form of padding to protect your board from damage when you lash it down. EPS and PU boards are particularly prone to damage if they’re compressed against a hard surface or dropped. If you use your board in salt water, be sure to wash it off with fresh water and allow it to dry completely before storing it. Never leave your board out in the sun for extended periods, as this can degrade and weaken it over time. If possible, store your board horizontally in a cool, dry place.