Choosing which paddle board to buy can be a bit confusing when you don’t know what to look for. Paddle boards come in different shapes, lengths, and materials, covering a broad range of different price points. It’s usually a little bit overwhelming for beginners.
The truth is – there’s no one single board that can be definitively declared as the best stand up paddle board for beginners. In reality, the best SUP for a beginner is going to be dependent on a number of variables, including your personal paddling preferences and goals. Do you plan to paddle in the ocean or surf waves? Or, do you want to travel long stretches of flat water, or lakes? All of these factors will change what kind of board you’ll want to buy.
So, I’ve decided to boil it down to help you find the best paddle board for you, that’s going to fulfill you unique preferences and paddling plans. And… if you’re not sure what your preference and plans are, this article should help you figure that out a bit too.
Choosing the Best Paddle Board for You
When choosing your first paddle board, it’s best to start with what you know. You don’t know much about paddle boards at this point, so you need to start with what you know about yourself, and what you want to get from paddle boarding. So, below are a few important variables to consider before you purchase your first board.
- Your Comfort Level on the Water
- How much time have you spent on the water? Are you familiar with kayaking or other water sports? If so, you’ll likely be more comfortable, and might be able to pick a board with slightly less stability, in favor of speed or performance.
- Paddling Conditions and Activities
- Where do you want to paddle? Will you be paddling on flat water, windy conditions, or surfing? All of these will influence which board you should choose. Think about where you’ll be paddling the most.
- Your Height and Weight
- The taller or heavier you are the larger board you’ll need. This will give you more buoyancy to help you float and comfortably glide across the water. If you’re light though, too large of a board can slow you down.
- Your Goals for the Future
- No, this isn’t a self-help article, but seriously – where do you want to be in 5 years, or 5 months? How often do you plan to paddle? If you plan to progress quickly, you might consider purchasing a slightly more aggressive board style that you won’t outgrow too quickly. But if you’re only paddling once a week, or less, an easier board will likely last you longer. Think about your goals and skill progression.
The 3 Most Common Types of Stand Up Paddle Boards for Beginners
There’s typically three different types of paddle board that I’ve included below. I’ve excluded Yoga SUP boards because I don’t consider those to be beginner paddle boards. Balancing on water can be tricky enough when you’re on two feet – let alone in a head stand.
1) Racing Paddle Boards
Racing paddle boards are the longest boards you’ll find. They typically range from 12 – 14 ft in length, and they haul butt. This is the kind of board you’ll want if you plan to cover some distance… or race someday. The trade off for speed is stability. Typically racing boards are more narrow to optimize for speed, which causes them to be a bit more wobbly. If you’re comfortable on the water, you might have no problem… but if you’ve been a lifetime land lover, you might want something more stable.
2) Surfing Paddle Boards
Surf inspired SUPs usually have pinched noses, and pinched in tails. They also tend to be narrower boards. This combo makes them easier to surf, and quickly maneuver when making turns. Narrower boards also have more “rail to rail responsiveness” – so when you do a catch a wave and do a bottom turn on one rail you can quickly transition over to the other rail… we’ll touch on this later.
One of the defining features of surf SUPs is their low volume (usually about 90 Liters or so).
3) Recreational Paddle Boards
This is by far the most preferred paddle board for beginners who are completely new to the water.
Recreational paddle boards tend to have a fuller nose and overall shape than racing and surfing SUPs. They lack the pointy nose, and tails, and tend to be wider. The wider and thicker nature of these boards give them far more stability which make them easier to learn on. In most cases, recreational paddle boards are the best paddle boards for beginners because they allow the easiest entry into the sport. You might not be breaking speed records, or carving up the waves, but you’ll be able to quickly master the basic and establish your sea legs.
How do Height and Weight Effect What Paddle Board to Buy?
The taller or heavier you are, the more volume you’ll need in your paddle board, because the volume causes your board to be more buoyant. The shorter and lighter you are, the less volume you’ll need as you won’t require as much buoyancy to keep you afloat.
Men and women also have differences in their body build. Guys have broader shoulders, and women typically have larger hips. Both of these factors can affect your center of gravity. Since men have a higher center of gravity, and also tend to be taller and heavier, they’ll need a larger board with more volume to it. Women have a lower center of gravity, and also tend to to be lighter than men, which allows them to use smaller boards with less volume.
Understanding Paddle Board Dimensions
The dimensions of most boards are usually written on the side of the board, and look something like “9’4 x 33 x 4 140 L”. This corresponds in order to the length, width, thickness, and volume.
Length – Longer boards make it easier to cover long distances. Shorter boards are more maneuverable, and better for surfing. As a general rule, boards that are 9 ft or smaller are best for surfing. Paddle boards that are 9 – 11 ft tend to be recreational length boards. Race boards tend to be 12 ft or longer. Longer boards equal speed. Shorter boards equal improved maneuverability, because having less board beyond your foot makes it easier to maneuver.
Width – Most SUPs are about 28 in – 36 in. Boards on the higher end of the spectrum will be highly stable. Boards that are 30 inches or less have less stability but more maneuverability. Wider boards have more surface area, so they create more drag, although they have more stability. Shorter, narrower boards have less surface area decreasing their drag thus improving their maneuverability and overall performance.
Thickness – This is probably the least important of the dimensions because it’s often misleading. Thickness is measured from the widest point on the board, which is problematic because the whole board is not the same thickness. The tail or different sections are often thinner than the center. So, if you’re trying to assess how buoyant, or stable a board will be, thickness can be misleading, because the rail design and shape will also affect how buoyant a board is.
Volume – This is one of the most important dimensions to consider. The volume of paddle boards is measured in liters, and it represents the volume displacement of a board. That essentially tells us how buoyant a board is. A higher volume board in the 200 Liters or more range will float someone pretty tall or heavy.
How Does Paddle Board Shape Effect Performance?
Lastly, when your looking for a paddle board, you need to take into consideration the shape of the board. There’s four different areas of the board where the shape will affect your performance.
There are generally two types of noses; pointed, and full. Pointed noses will give you more maneuverability. Full noses have more surface area, so they make more contact with the water and lend more stability. But, they will inhibit your ability to quickly turn left or right.
Tail designs include rounded pin, squash tails (flat surface) and swallow tails. The more surface area the tail has, the more the tail will plane across the water. Pin tails sit deeper in the water creating a little bit of drag, and pinning them into waves, and improving their maneuverability.
The tail design helps determine how the board is gliding or how much control you’ll have when surfing. The more surface area you have the more the tail will plain across the surface of the water when you’re recreational paddling. In the surf, a fuller tail with more surface area loosens up the tail and allows it to plane across the surface more. Thumb tails or rounded pin tails typically provide more bite when surfing on the face of a wave. The tail will submerge a little bit into the water and generate a little more hold. A squash or swallow tail will plane across the surface of the water more, like you’re power sliding.
For flatwater paddling, rounded pin tails have decreased surface area, so they sit a little deeper in the water. This creates more drag than a squash or swallow tail but it’s negligible for most beginners doing recreational paddling. The rounded pin tails are also ideal for giving you a bit more control in the surf.
The rails of the board and how they’re designed/shaped is very important for how the board will perform. Two boards can have very similar widths, but will perform very differently depending on their shape. The rail shape will impact the performance of the board.
You’ll typically see big boxy thicker rails – these provide a ton of stability because they have more volume. As you decrease the volume of the rail, you’ll decrease the stability. But the advantage to this is better surf maneuverability. The bigger, thicker and boxier the rail is, the more stability you’ll have. As the rail becomes more tapered, the better it will surf.
Boxy thick rails provide lots of stability and volume. Thinner rails have less volume and more maneuverability and less stability.
Rocker – gives the “banana shape” to a board… the bend. High performance surf SUPs tend to have a more curved banana shape to them with more rocker in the nose. The nose flares up more. Larger recreational cruise boards and flat water boards tend to have a shallower rocker line, with less flair at the nose. High entry rocker allows you to get into a wave later.
High performance SUPs, ideal for surfing, will usually have a more aggresive nose rocker at the front. That means you’ll see more bend at the front of the board, with more flaring. On larger recreational, cruiser style SUPs you’ll have less rocker… or a softer nose rocker for flat water paddling.
The way to think about rocker – it’s all about the glide of the board.
In flatter calm conditions, less rocker is advantageous. It can’t be completely flat or it’s inhibit the boards ability to plane across the water. This will help you get more glide on the water.
For surf SUPs, especially for larger waves, a higher entry rocker is ideal. Enbles you to get into the wave later, while still allowing for the nose to plane so you don’t pearl.
Flatter rocker lines are more conducive to enabling glide on flat water when recreationally paddling. More entry rocker inhibits the glide for flater water paddling, but increases surf ability.