The sport of standup paddle boarding can best be described as diverse. Despite consisting of the same main ingredients- board, paddle, PFD and water- the environment and the actions taken on the board can be vastly different.
You may discover your love for the sport in the ocean, feeling the rush of freedom as you glide down the face of a wave, or on the calm serenity of a bay paddling alongside native aquatic creatures, or even on the winding currents of a fast-moving river.
Due this vast array of environments and bodies of water a paddler can enjoy on a SUP, innovators within the sport began to see the need for specialized gear to accommodate them. This came to include paddles, suits, clothing, and of course boards.
Each type of SUP board is crafted for the specific activity and environment paddlers want to explore. Most paddlers start their journeys on a basic 10’6’’ board and as they learn more about the sport’s possibilities as well as increase their skill level, questions tend to arise on what type of board they should purchase next. It can be difficult to understand the difference between the styles of boards, what their construction delineates about their use in a body of water, and what activity they are best suited for.
We hope this brief overview will provide a portion of clarity for paddlers looking to take the next step in SUP.
Participating in a downwind run is an exciting way to spend an afternoon. Following the wind and the currents, paddlers point their boards towards a pickup spot and shoot down either the bay or the ocean, riding tiny waves for the duration of the paddle. Think of it as surfing in a straight line for over an hour as the adrenaline mounts with every small wave pushing you forward through the water.
In the beginning, paddlers would use their race-style boards to participate in a downwind run. The longer shape allowed participants the ability to catch the waves in a much easier fashion. Combine this with the longer glides and it was almost a perfect match for the activity.
But as it became more popular, board shapers were beginning to tinker with the shape and designs of the boards. Instead of the usual flat bottom, they took inspiration from surf-board shapes and put more rocker into the nose. Meaning, they added more curve in the board from the tail to the nose. This resulted in better glides due to the nose no longer being buried in the water when catching a bump.
In addition, downwind boards are usually thicker than the average race board- around 6”+ in order to increase the float and stability of the board. Paddlers found themselves being able to maintain their balance as their boards no longer sank under the weight of the passing water.
Along with an enhanced nose and thicker frame, some manufacturers placed moving keels in the rear instead of a static fin. This allowed paddlers to steer or alter the directions of their boards instead of being at the mercy of the winds and currents. Combine this with the longer lengths- from 14’+ and you have the ultimate gliding machine.
While enjoying a downwind run can be achieved on any type of paddle board, to maximize the experience we highly recommend renting or buying a downwind board due to the design matching this specific activity.
Be sure to check out these Buddy Deal shops for downwinders:
- Stand Up Outfitters, New Bern, North Carolina
- Oregon Paddle Sports, Eugene, Oregon
- Demo Sport, San Rafael, California
Inflatable Paddle Boards
Inflatable boards have become a burgeoning market for manufacturers in SUP. The growing popularity is due to the enhanced construction and the flexibility they provide in storage and travel.
In the beginning stages, inflatable boards were lightly built with cheap materials. This caused consumers to move away from their early iterations because of worries surrounding tears, leaks, and a soft standing platform resulting in slow paddles.
But as time progressed and manufacturers started implementing a woven drop-stich to reduce stretching and hold more tension, a double chamber in the interior, meaning air flows into and fills two chambers in the board giving it a more even weight distribution, extra stringers where the paddler stands for increased stiffness, and over-layered materials for extra durability. This resulted in a close comparison in stiffness and paddling capability between a fiber glass board and inflatable.
If you are short on storage space, find yourself traveling long distances to and from a paddling spot, or want to take your boards overseas, then an inflatable board is the choice to make.
Be sure to check out these Buddy Deal shops for inflatables:
- Wind’s Up, Tisbury, Massachusetts
- Ocean City Paddle Company, Ocean City, New Jersey
- Paddle Works, Manasquan, New Jersey
Jumbo boards are built for fun! Whether you are hosting a kids, adult or office party, or need a team building activity for your co-workers, renting or owning a jumbo board is the tool for you.
Jumbo boards are inflatable boards but built bigger, thicker, and with a heavy-duty frame to allow for more weight to be placed on the surface. Holding around 6-8 people at a time, depending on the size of the paddlers, jumbo boards allow a group of people to experience paddling together as a team in unison to propel the board through the water. Or, as we have seen them used, they are a great platform for kids to jump in the water, climb back aboard, paddle around a bit and then return to swimming.
And for the adventurous, they have even been used as a surfboard. The key here is to deduct a few participants from the board as it can be too overcrowded for 6 people to surf. With the ideal number being around 4, paddlers can make their way past the break and paddle into some mid-range waves. There may be nothing more fun than experiencing the thrill of catching a wave with a group of people together. And besides fun, you are also guaranteed to experience endless smiles as well.
Be sure to check out these Buddy Deal shops if you are interested in a jumbo board!
- East Coast Paddle Sports, South Kingstown, Rhode Island
- Goff Tours, Laguna Beach, California
- Lake Life Paddle, Belle Isle, Florida
SUP foil boards are a relatively new piece of gear in the paddling world. They are also the most specialized.
A foil board, or hydrofoil board, is a SUP with an extension below the board in the water. This extension props the rider of the board into the air as the paddler gains speed, either from being towed behind a boat or on a wave by harnessing the kinetic energy of the underwater swell. By seemingly floating on top of the water, foil boards minimize or effectively eliminate the effects of choppy or rough water conditions.
Usually smaller in size, foil boards can be anywhere between 6’ to 8’ range depending on the type of water you will be paddling in. If you are looking for a board that can be paddled solo into waves it is recommended to go a little bigger as they provide a more glide with each paddle stroke. The smaller the board, the more difficult it is to paddle. As a paddler becomes more familiar with foils and how they feel, it can better be determined the size of the board and the size of the foil that fits them the best.
Before purchasing a foil board, Perfect Paddles recommends to always take a lesson on the board first with proper supervision and protective equipment. This would include an already inflated life-vest as a well as a helmet. The helmet is necessary only in that when the rider inevitably falls off the board, the foil section of the board tends to flip towards the surface and can strike the rider if they are not careful.
These Buddy Deal shops have information about SUP foils:
- 101 Surf Sports, Redwood City, California
- Door County Kayak Tours, Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin
- South End Surf N’ Paddle, Beach Haven, New Jersey
SUP Race Boards
Most SUP race boards are either 12’6’’ or 14’ in size with a narrow base. They are typically built with carbon fiber to keep them light in your hands and on the water.
Shaped with a flat bottom and a low amount of rocker, they are used for going in straight lines for long distances at a time. With the added length comes added glide and speed as a longer board tends to track better in the water allowing the paddler to take fewer strokes per minute yet have a continuous long glide.
Which is why you will see paddlers who participate in distance races such as Chattajack on 14′ boards. The longer glide, combined with the less strokes, makes paddling distance more efficient and less taxing on the body. So, if you’re looking to go fast, then a race board might be the best purchase for you.
If you have any questions about race boards, be sure to check out these Buddy Deal shops:
- East of Six SUP, Toronto, Canada
- Portsmouth Paddle, Portsmouth, New Hampshire
- Bliss Paddle Yoga, Laguna Beach, California
SUP Surf Boards
SUP surfboards often can be the most difficult board to buy. Their sizes and shapes are the most varied when it comes to paddle boards. This mostly depends on the size of the surfer, but it can also be the types of waves typically found in areas near you, the type of surfer the paddler is, and the skill-level they possess.
SUP surfboards are usually shorter than the average 10’6’’ board, though the average board can be a great piece to learn how to surf on. Typically though, they are in the 9’4’’ to anywhere under 8’ range for a specifically SUP surf board. Anywhere under 8’ is typically meant for the advanced to professional paddler, or for anyone who is lighter in body size.
The smaller the board the easier it is to maneuver through the waves and get that whipping action on the top. Longer boards should be treated like a longboard surfboard, in that they are used for easy gliding, nose riding, and for smaller, more forgiving waves.
The length of a SUP surfboard is not the only unit of measure a buyer must be aware of. The width and thickness of the board must also be considered. The narrower the board, the easier it will be to maneuver through waves, but the more difficult it will be stand on it. The width is what creates increased balance for a paddler so the narrower it is, the more difficult it will be to stay erect, especially on a moving ocean.
The thickness of the board will also affect the maneuverability, as the thinner the board, the easier it will be to pick up speed. But again, you must be able to stand on top of the board when paddling and waiting in between sets. Make sure to purchase a board that will effectively float you in the water, otherwise you may not be having much fun.
The best way to get into SUP surfing is to hit your local rental spot and see if they have any to rent. That way you can get an idea for the correct size of the board to match your body type and skill level.
Be sure to check out these Buddy Deal shops:
- Wind’s Up, Tisbury, Massachusetts
- WanderSurf, San Diego, California
- Spirit SUP, Encinitas, California
Similar to a SUP race board, the touring board is crafted with idea of paddling long distances and with increased speed in mind.
Shaped with a displacement hull and averaging 12’6’’ in length, it provides paddlers with a higher efficiency and performance. Like a race board, expect touring boards to be able to track straighter, meaning more paddle strokes on one side before having to switch, and longer glides in the water, meaning fewer strokes per minute.
The main difference between a touring board and a race board can be found in its construction. As already stated, race boards are crafted with carbon fiber, making them lighter in your hands and on the water, but with an increased price tag.
Touring boards are built with the same materials as an average 10’6’’ board. Utilizing fiber glass, paint, and some type of wood, usually bamboo, they are shaped to retain the heaviness of an average board but with the performance of a race board. Added to this, they are typically cheaper in price compared to a race board.
Think of touring boards as the in-between step from the average 10’6’’ to the 12’6’’ or 14’ race board. They are crafted for the paddler who wants to increase their efficiency on long distances but with no desire to race competitively.
Most shops will allow potential buyers to demo a touring board, so be sure to check out these shops offering Buddy Deals or search on Perfect Paddles for your local spot:
- Petaluma Stand Up Paddle, Petaluma, California
- Napa Valley Paddle, Napa, California
- Sea Trek, Sausalito, California
White Water River Boards
As with any river paddling, an inflatable board is a must due to the frequency of bumping into rocks and other debris in a fast-moving river. Typical fiberglass boards would be highly damaged in such an environment. If you or someone you know is looking to go down white water, a regular inflatable board can work. However, think of white-water boards as a specialized inflatable board built specifically for this activity.
A board intended explicitly for white water will be wider than the usual inflatable board- around 35-36’’- and shorter in length, with 9’6’’ being the common size. This is due to the increased challenges offered by this specialized part of the sport.
Balance is key when staring down a turbulent, challenging rapid. The wider board helps to reduce the chances of a paddler falling into the water by creating more surface area to stand on. Combine this with the shortened length which allows paddlers to maneuver easier around rocks and other rubble and you have the perfect board for this activity.
As is always the case, whenever you find yourself wanting to venture further into activities on a SUP outside of the typical flat-water paddle, it is best to either sign up for a lesson or have a guide with you along for the journey.
Check out these Buddy Deal shops for white water paddling:
As a paddler progresses through the sport of SUP, the gear involved with the abundance of activities becomes more specialized. This can be seen in the many shapes, designs and constructions of a SUP board. Most paddlers begin their journeys on a an average 10’6’’ board. These platforms provide beginners with the best piece of equipment to stand up and start paddling. The simple design glides efficiently enough, can hold most body-types, and can be taken into small surf for the novice to learn. But, as skills progress, so do the boards. And it can sometimes be confusing. While we hope with this write-up some questions are answered, we always recommend trying a specific board before purchasing one. The best way to do that is to attend a demo day at your local shop. With the listed guidelines in mind then, be sure to search on Perfect Paddles for the next opportunity to get on the water and try out your next purchase! With a little education, your next buy will guaranteed be the correct one.