May is half over, and soon our long-awaited Summer will be here. About this time, we get lots of people coming to us for advice about which board is best to purchase. There is an almost dizzying array of choices in stand up paddle products on the market now, and it’s easy to become overwhelmed when choosing. You’ll need to choose between an inflatable vs. rigid SUP, recreational vs. performance shapes, displacement hull vs. planing hull type, short vs. longer length, flat deck vs. recessed or “dugout” deck, and composite material vs. standard epoxy construction. The following set of questions is how I usually go about helping direct a person in his/her new purchase:
What environment will the board be used in?
First off, knowing the environment that you will be paddling in will help you choose between an inflatable vs. hard board. A lake or ocean bay that has a rocky shoreline and bottom will be harder on your board than a bay or beach entry that is sandy. As hard as we try, it is difficult to avoid dings when paddling near rocky beaches. With an inflatable board, that concern is pretty much wiped away.
What conditions will the board be used in? What type of paddling will you be doing?
Will you be paddling mostly on protected flat water, where waves and chop aren’t as much an issue? Or do you plan to use the new board mainly in the open ocean? Answering this question will help determine the amount of stability the board needs to have. On flat, calm water, you will have far greater stability so you can choose a narrower outline. On open ocean, the board must provide a minimum amount of stability so you aren’t falling off frequently. If you plan to do some surfing on the new board, you’ll need a board that is appropriately shaped with some “rocker” and have the option of side fins in addition to the center tail fin.
Do you have a vehicle equipped with a roof rack that is strong enough to carry hard boards?
There are many choices in roof racks. The important thing to know is the roof rack needs to have cross members, not just the side luggage bars. The board must be strapped at the front and rear rack bars. If you do not have a roof rack, and don’t plan to get one for your car, then an inflatable SUP might be the choice for you!
What type of paddling do you see yourself doing most of one year from now?
This is an important question, as it can prevent you from getting a board that you will grow out of or be bored with soon after purchase. If you dream of racing stand up paddleboards within the year, then you probably don’t want to start with a wide cruiser, or a surf shape. It might make more sense to get an entry level race shape, or at least a touring board that has a displacement hull shape.
Will you be launching the board close to where you park your vehicle? How far will you need to carry the board to launch?
Not many of us have the luxury of always having a helping hand when handling our paddleboards. lifting on and off the roof rack, and carrying the board to the beach for launching can be challenging for smaller, not-so-strong paddlers. If you know you will be alone more often than not, and you will have a distance to carry the board, then choosing a lightweight board will have great importance. Carbon fiber is more costly than other construction types, but it can cut the weight of a board in half! If you are looking at a longer race board, a carbon fiber constructed board will be much easier to handle.
Are you physically capable of lifting and carrying the board to the launch spot without help?
If you will not be able to lift and/or carry your SUP, an inflatable board makes sense. Most inflatables come with a roller bag nowadays, which can be pulled or pushed to your launch place.
Will you be the only user? Will you be carrying gear, children, or pets?
If you intend to carry your 90 lb. labrador and you yourself weigh 200 lb., then you will be shopping for a board with a volume of about 300 liters. It is important to not overload your board’s carrying capacity; the more you push your board down into the water, the less stabile it becomes. This means that you should look at boards in the 12-foot range, or 11-ft with a width of about 34 inches. You will also want to choose a board that has been constructed with a laminate layer of strong, stiff material such as bamboo or carbon in the standing area to prevent crushing the foam, creating pressure dents.
Are you looking for a faster board that can be used for fitness, or one used mostly for lazy cruising?
Typically, a board that works best for fast paddling, racing or race training is one having a narrowed, displacement hull design, rather than a planing hull such as a surf shape. The displacement board shapes have a nose that is sharply pulled in like the front hull of a sailboat, or a canoe. This parts the water, and cuts through the chop if breezy. If you want to cruise at a snail’s pace, simply enjoy the scenery, and stop to do some yoga, then a wider, planing hull shape will be more stabile and comfortable.
Do you prefer the look and feel of a painted epoxy finish over an EVA foam covered “soft top” type?
Soft top boards, as they are called, are comfortable and soft on feet and body if you are laying on it. These boards have the same foam core as hard boards, but usually have less laminate layers. They often lack the rigid stringer down the center of the board which provides stiffness lengthwise. They can be lighter in weight than a hard board. However, they are far less durable than a hard board in most cases. The foam wrap can cut and tear easily, and foam damage is hard to repair. If used mainly in sandy areas free of rocks, the concern about damage is reduced. A traditional painted hard board has an aesthetic appeal that is preferred by many paddlers. Consider the potential for paddle-caused dings and chips in the rail of the board with sloppy paddling technique, or if children will be using the board. With kids, a soft top SUP is a great choice. An inflatable SUP may be even better for kids, as the worry about damage during use is pretty much eliminated.
I hope this helps some in narrowing down the choices for your next stand up paddleboard! While you’re here, take a look at this cool new guide to great places in California (and elsewhere) for stand up paddling! https://www.inflatableboarder.com/california-paddle-boarding-guide/ Also, if you still have questions about choosing equipment, don’t hesitate to stop in our shop! We love talking about boards, paddles, and all the accessories. Happy paddling! Here’s a little guide to help decide of an inflatable SUP is right for you: