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Beginners: Choosing a Paddleboard That Will Help You Fall in Love

Tue, August 01, 2023 10:18 AM | Harrison Withers (Administrator)

It was the best of times and the worst of times…More people than ever are trying stand up paddleboarding and there are thousands of board brands at unbelievably low prices being sold everywhere from warehouse stores to the grocery store. Generally speaking, a $200 board does the same thing as a $2000 board, in that it arguably floats. However, that doesn’t mean it functions the same. That’s not to say that you have to buy a top-of-the-line board to enjoy the sport, but you do have to align your expectations to what you want to use the board for, what your goals are, and how you may think you will use the board. When this alignment happens, you have a chance of falling in love with the sport of paddleboarding, if not, it’s just another piece of sporting goods sitting in the corner of your garage and eventually a landfill.

Hardboard vs. Inflatable

Thinking about a SUP there are two areas of consideration, what happens on the water and what happens off the water. On the water we consider things like safety, stability, speed, agility, tracking, etc… of the water we need to think about transport and storage.

On the water, a hardboard is superior in every category or measure save one: impact resistance. This makes inflatables a better choice for environments where rocks are present, or where it’s going to be treated as a beach toy for those who will be less careful. But safety, stability, speed, agility, tracking are all better on a hard board for a few reasons including but not limited to: Secondary floatation (floats even when punctured. Stiffness of a hard board makes it handle waves better. Sharper rails help it turn and track better. A lower profile makes it easier to remount when you fall.

But off the water, a hard board which is typically at least 10 feet long can be a bit harder to deal with. You have to be able to store the board and get it to the water. For many people this makes hardboards impractical. It’s ok, better to be on the water than not, and there are some very good inflatables on the market, and they continue to make improvements. However, they are NOT all created equal. Almost all inflatables are made out of the same materials, Dropstich PVC with a PVC skin, but the grades of those materials can be vastly different. How can you tell the difference? Higher quality materials can be inflated to a higher PSI and result in a stiffer board that will perform better.

In general, inflatables fall into two categories boards that run 12-15psi, and boards that are 15+ psi. The 12- 15 psi board is going to float, and you might have a perfectly good time on it. But you are going to tire more quickly, as the board flexes, your body is going to constantly make micro-adjustments, you are going to have to do more work, to stay up in small waves and boat wakes. Maybe if fitness is your goal, this is a good thing. Or if you only want to paddle for 20-30 minutes between swims (Casual Dating), it won’t matter to you, that’s ok. If your goals are to go further, faster, or both, you’ll probably want to look at the 15+psi category of boards, but with that bump in PSI also comes with a bump in cost, usually in the $800+ range. (Relationship Material)

A note on inflatables and safety, If a seam splits or you develop an air leak, the board will get softer and softer until eventually it will sink. Inflatables do not have secondary floatation. Perhaps that is no big deal if you are on a small body of water, but can be catastrophic on the ocean, or if you are in an unpopulated area, miles from your launch. Always WEAR a PFD on an inflatable, it’s not enough to have it strapped to the deck. Leashes are also highly recommended since it’s easy for inflatables to get blown away from you. Quick release leashes are even better especially if you are in moving water where getting hung up on something under water is a possibility.

Board Size

Nowhere is SUP’s connection to Surfing more prevalent than when it comes to board size. The overwhelming majority of SUPs made are in the 10-foot range. This somewhat resembles what surfing would consider a “longboard”.  Conventional surfing logic has most people starting or learning on a longboard, so voila, the SUP industry makes a bunch of boards in the 10’ range. But there are several factors you need to consider when choosing a size for your SUP that are arguably just as important as length. You first need to consider the intended environment, the type of activity, your weight, and to a lesser degree your height. For the purposes of this article, let’s consider our activity types to be Surfing, Whitewater, Cruising, Touring, Racing. If you are into Surfing or Whitewater, or Racing those are pretty specialized and chances are you already know what works for those environments. So that leaves us with Cruising, and Touring. The first number we need to look at is volume, which is the measure of the ability to float the weight of the rider. General rule of thumb is 1.2-1.4x the weight of the rider. I.E. a 200 pound individual needs at least 286L of volume to handle the weight. If you are going to paddle with dogs or kids, you need to add weight as well. With hard boards, you can only get so much volume in a 10” board, and in most cases you’ll be looking at a minimum of a 11’ foot board just from a volume perspective. No inflatable boards easily reach 300L of volume in a 10’ size, but the thing you have to consider is that just because it can float the weight that doesn’t mean it will perform well. Ever try to hold an inflatable ball under water? It’s not very stable, it wants move and squirt out the sides and get away from you.

So then we have to look at how the volume is distributed other than length, i.e. width and thickness. Longer and narrower is faster. Wider width is more stable but slower. Added length can be more stable while moving by distributing volume fore and aft of the rider.  Anything much wider than 32” is going to be tough to paddle in a straight line, Narrower is going to require more athleticism to keep from falling.  The thicker the board, the higher your center of gravity is going to be and the less stable it will feel.

Bottom line is that if you are one of the fortunate people who are less than 150 pounds and don’t want to paddle with kids or dogs, a 10’6”x32” is a great size for you. All others may want to choose something a bit longer if want to fall in love. Just get out on the water and have some fun? Anything that can literally float your proverbial boat, but it may be more of a challenge to stay on the thing.


I love Amazon, they are at my doorstep 3-5 times a week. However, it’s pretty tough to buy a paddleboard on the internet, especially in the higher price range. Of course a retailer that will let you try boards should be your first stop, but those are unfortunatly becoming more rare with internet competition. If you’ve got a shop close by that should be your first choice, even if you have to drive an hour or two. Renting is an option, but it may not surprise you to hear that rental boards aren’t always the best performing boards, emphasis is placed on durability over performance. Your best bet is to hang out where paddleboarders hang out and see if you can try different things.

Paddleboard events (races) are a great place to meet other paddleboarders regardless of whether or not racing is your thing. You’ll find that the community warm and welcoming, just be able to recognize with boards are beyond your abilities. There may also be board manufacturers in attendance with demo equipment. Taking a lesson goes a long way towards getting someone to trust you with their prized possession.

Falling in Love

You can’t fall in love if you aren’t out there, and literally falling is part of it. Being able to stand up and paddle for more than a few minutes at a time is the difference between something you occasionally go out with and something that has the potential to be something more. Your equipment isn’t everything, but having a partner that is capable of the things that you want is a prerequisite to a lasting relationship.

At the risk of stretching the metaphor too far, It’s ok if you’re not ready for a long-term relationship with paddleboarding. If so, go ahead and buy that $300 cheapie special, just be safe. Just know you may go through a couple of bad experiences before finding “the one”. However, if you’re serious about finding your forever, you may have to spend a bit more than you were hoping for.

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