Choosing a SUP can be a confusing road to go down. Hard or inflatable? Which length? Best for balance? Use this guide to help you make the best decision.

3 Key Tips in Choosing a SUP

Decide which type of paddling you want to do. Rivers, surf, casual flat water, racing, long distance, overnights, expeditions requiring airline travel, or all of the above?

Rent / try as many boards as possible to find the one that best works for you. You can also demo boards at races, surfing contests, and public SUP events.

If you’ve never paddled before, get a wide stable (29″-34″) board that is easy to stand up on. A tippy board will be frustrating to learn on.

Basics of board profiles –

All around paddling – the most basic sup to start out on for all genres of paddling is a stable and long board up to 12′. If you’re tall like me, 12′ is appropriate, if not so tall, try 10′-11′ boards. Demo before buying to make sure you find the best one. Widths should be 29-34″ wide.

Inflatable vs Hard – Both are great and can be used for all types of paddling. Friends have done 70 mile races on 14′ inflatables, so like anything it’s about finding best product for the job.  Go with major brands.

Race or fitness boards – these tend to be narrow, 21-27″ wide, tippy, and long. Not for beginners unless you specifically want to race. But it may still be easier to learn on a wider board, then move to a narrow race board once you get your balance. There’s several great race boards out now such as Bark, Starboard, SIC, NSP, Nelo.

Surfing – All boards can surf even to 18′. For performance surfing, especially if you’re an experienced surfer, use short boards 6-10′ long. Beginners should start out on a wide (to 34″) and longer board (to 12′).

Rivers – Inflatable or rotomolded (plastic) are best to prevent dings or breaking of the board. Shorter boards are best to work in between rocks and slide into eddies with short turns, etc. See my posting on rivers prior to going out.

Expeditions / Overnight boards – for overnight trips, consider a longer board from 14-18′ to carry your gear without effecting your efficiency. Stability is important when standing for long periods of time to protect your feet/legs. 28′ wide should be minimum.  Lighter is better for speed and carrying, but lighter boards in carbon or hollow are also most expensive.

There’s a folks out there that have done extensive trips all-a-rounder boards to 12′ but it’ll take longer and you’ll carry less gear.

Attach NSI Spectra Loops or EZ Plugs on your board with bungee or rope to attach gear bags. Consider a 2-3pc break-down kayak paddle for upwind paddles and a backup.

International Travel / Remote Trips – Inflatable boards are great for travels requiring airline connections or 3rd world and remote locations. Inflatables will require less maintenance (no dings) and can roll up for easy stowage.

Don’t Have Good Balance?

Get a wide board 34-36″ wide. Start there and paddling will improve your balance. Also check out my guides for staying stable on a SUP – bad balance isn’t a barrier to standing.

Where to Buy

  • Online Facebook groups in your area are great resources for reliable used gear.
  • Buy local – I’m a big fan of supporting local small business. If you have a paddle shop nearby, check in with them for gear.
  • Costco – They do have cheap inflatable boards but not ideal for bigger folks or those needing more stability.

Take a Good Class

Many struggle to start out by themselves. Taking a class with a reputable instructor will get you there quicker and less frustration. Look for ACA, ASI and PSUPA certified instructors.  Read reviews of instructors to find the best fit for you. 

Big People

I struggled to stand on a SUP back in 2007 because I was 240lbs 6′-5″ tall and the kid at the resort in Hawaii put me on a short unstable board. It doesn’t have to be that way! If you’re super tall and/or over 250lbs, look at 34-38″ wide boards up to 11-12′ long.

Follow my guides for stability to help you stand with success. Check out my SUP guide for getting back on a board big folks.

Other things to consider when starting out

  • PFD (lifejacket). Check your local regs. Many areas require PFDs for non surf zone paddling. I always wear a vest PFD with good visibility colors and pockets for extra stuff.
  • Always wear a leash. You’ll be surprised how far you’re board will go when you fall off, especially in wind. *
  • Always hydrate either with a bladder in a fanny or backpack, or with water bottles stashed on you or the board.*
  • Check for local info on where you’re paddling. Are there books, online, or a surf or paddling shop with info on tides, weather, and any tips or precautions?
  • Take a class on stand up paddling to get the basic strokes, or ask an experienced paddler to give you a lesson.*
  • Visit a kayaking or SUP symposium to try boards, take paddling clinics, and network with other paddlers. *
  • Dress for the conditions you’re paddling in. SUPs have the reputation for keeping paddlers dry, so many avoid wearing wetsuits in colder temps. If the water is below 70 degrees F, wear a wet or drysuit until your skill are solid enough to choose otherwise.
Any questions give me a holler – rob@
if in Seattle take one of my classes for beginners through advanced paddlers.
Check out my Online SUP Classes to get you started now!

Salmon Bay Paddle SUP Tips

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