Stand Up Paddle Boards (SUP) have become a popular new way to get exercise on the water. They have a unique blend of aerobic engagement and casual activity that helps provide a balanced sense of accomplishment and achievement. Without knowing much about them however, finding the best stand up paddle board can seem like a daunting task. You don’t want to buy one of the cheap paddle boards that will wear out quickly—but you don’t want to over-pay either!
Paddle Board Crash Course
Learning a few of the features, accessories, and different ways to use paddle boards can help you better understand how to decide on the right design for you. After you’ve learned the basics of what to look for, a quick overview of some paddle board reviews will help give you a point of reference for some of the best brands. Overall, paddle boarding is a tremendously fun and exciting way to get exercise and see the world! This article will walk you through some of the basic considerations to make when looking for a new paddle board.
The hull design of a paddle board determines how that particular board will maneuver. Some hulls are designed for speed, others for stability, and many for a balance of both. There are two distinct types of hulls; planing hulls and displacement hulls. Planing hulls are meant to allow the paddle board to gently glide across the surface of the water and are great for support and maneuverability. These boards are great for doing yoga, fishing, or any other casual use. Displacement hulls are more similar to boats in that they are shaped to displace water in front of them. This unique design allows these paddle boards to move quickly and cover a lot of ground. These designs are ideal for racing, touring, long-distance paddling, and fishing as well. Generally speaking, displacement hull designs are seen on longer and more narrow paddle boards.
Paddle boards, much like surf boards, come in a variety of materials. There are wood designs, fiber glass, foam, inflatable, and everything in between. For the sake of simplicity, we’re going to divide this consideration into two unique sets of paddle board material types—solid design and inflatable. Solid material paddle boards are superior in terms of durability and support. They offer displacement hulls that can enable you to pierce through the water at blazing speeds, all while supporting you and your gear. The vast majority of solid design stand up paddle boards are made of foam cores wrapped in fiberglass and coated with epoxy. Wooden designs are available (and beautiful) but very expensive. Inflatable paddle boards have become very popular recently—for good reason! They are less durable and supportive than solid designs, but they are infinitely more convenient. These types of stand up paddle boards can be deflated and carried in a backpack, making them ideal to take on hikes. One of the most difficult decisions related to paddle boards are how to store and transport them. With inflatable designs, the process is simple and convenient.
Board Size & Weight Capacity
SUP Boards are designed for many different types of users. There are paddle boards for kids, average-sized adults, and larger-than-average adults. A good rule of thumb is that the overall board volume, that is the amount of space it takes up, indicates how much weight it will support. Boards with larger volumes support more weight, and are typically either longer or wider than kids boards. A very short paddle board may still support the same amount of weight as a longer one if it’s considerably wider. Always pay close attention to the listed maximum weight capacity when comparing designs to ensure your body weight will be well-supported.
There are 3 generally tiers of board lengths on the market, separating short from average and long. Short paddle boards are generally regarded as any design less than 9 feet in length. Normal SUP board lengths fall between 9 foot and 12 foot in length, and long boards are anything over 12 foot. Short boards are generally regarded as the best option for beginners and those looking for high maneuverability. Normal boards the best utilitarian design—suitable for a wide range of use. Long boards are the best for touring, racing, or extended trips where extra storage space may be required. In most circumstances a stand up paddle board between 9 and 12 foot is recommended, as it will serve you well-enough in almost any circumstance.
Fins & Stability
Fins aren’t found on all Stand up paddle boards but are sometimes offered as fixed or removable additions. SUP fins will provide you with increase maneuverability and tracking, allowing you to more easily stay on course. Fins come in a wide range of shapes and sizes and can often be customized for different uses. That’s to say; you can have several different sets of fins for the same SUP board and interchange based on your purpose. There are 3 fin designs, 1 large fin + 2 small fin designs, 3 large race fin designs, and even the single fin design. Any of these may be found in fixed or removable form. Generally speaking, removable fins are the best option since they allow greater customization and options. Inflatable SUP boards are also privy to these supportive designs—which are almost always seen as attachable designs.
SUP Board Accessories
Stand up paddle boards are well-suited for a wide range of uses. To further extend their abilities however, there are many different accessories and peripheral gear to consider. One of the most-obvious decisions is which type of paddle you want to use. SUP paddles feature different lengths, blade sizes, materials, and different shaft shapes. The only true way to learn which paddle is most-comfortable for you is to try a few out in the wild. For a quality paddle, you’re looking at a price range of $75-$200—depending on what quality you are looking for. If you’re into kayak fishing, you’re well aware of the need for rod-holders. If you plan on fishing from your stand up paddle board, you’ll want to ensure there are attachment points which can accommodate such use. Another important feature to look for is a tether which is a leash that attaches you to your SUP board. This keeps your board close if you should fall off! If you’re not buying an inflatable SUP board, realize that you’ll have to make accommodation for transportation. This may be a roof mount kit or other car-rack system. Plan carefully here, as this is often an unforeseen expense that adds considerable cost to the overall purchase amount of paddle boards.
Paddle boards are like anything else in that you generally get what you pay for. Always be on the lookout for sales and discounts, and never shy away from buying last year’s models on close out. Realize that the total cost of your paddle board will be seen as the cost of your SUP board, your paddle, your tether and related accessories, and whatever transportation system you decide upon. Costs other than the paddle board itself can oftentimes be just as much as the actual board after everything’s said and done. As a general rule of thumb, quality paddle boards start in the $500-700 range. From there, you’ll see a noticeable increase in quality and features in the $800-$1000 range. Anything over $1200 is considered a premium SUP board—and you likely already know what you’re looking for. The best ‘hack’ to getting a cheap stand up paddle board is to go the inflatable route. This saves on materials and on the cost of transportation gear. If your main goal is to just get on the water and enjoy yourself—strongly consider an inflatable SUP board.
The Best Stand Up Paddle Boards
Considering the features and options mentioned above, you should be able to get a handle on what you’re looking at. When you start comparing quality SUP boards, the main differences are in available features and overall size. Material cost is the most insurmountable cost for manufacturers, so you’ll typically find that less expensive boards tend to be smaller than the more expensive ones. This isn’t a bad thing, but realize if you want a 12 foot displacement hull SUP board with fins—you’re going to have to pay for it! Below you’ll find a brief overview and links for purchasing options of each of these picks.
California Board Company Classic Foam
This is the flagship design from Keeper Sports, makers of the California Board Company Brand. This 10 foot 6 inch board is made from a waterproof EPS foam core and is encased by an HDPE foam deck. For convenience, the CBC Classic Foam SUP board has a built-in carry handle located near board-center making its like 27 pound weight even more convenient! This design is sold as a package deal with fins, tether, paddle and carry case. This board is 10’6″ long x 30.7″ wide x 5.25″ thick and has a maximum capacity of 300 pounds.
Sun Dolphin SeaQuest
The SeaQuest SUP Board from Sun Dolphin is another great board for beginners. It comes with six built-in carry handles, non-slip foot pads, storage compartments, and a free paddle. This SUP board is better suited for longer exploration trips such as fishing or exploring coves. This board is 10″ long x 33″ wide x 10″ thick, weighs 50 pounds, and has a maximum capacity of 230 pounds. All in all, this board is a very affordable option for beginners that are looking to do some serious exploring with the capability of carrying some gear.
Hobie Mirage Eclipse
Hobie is one of the most-respected brands in the watersports market today. They specialize in a wide range of products from fishing kayaks to stand up paddle boards. The Hobie Mirage Eclipse isn’t your typical SUP board—technically it’s a stand up pedal board—and comes equip with some serious features. For starters, the Hobie Eclipse comes with a unique fin system that actually provides propulsion when foot pedals are pressed down. This allows a sort of aerobic motion to sustain a forward momentum. Additionally, the Eclipse comes with an upright support rod making use of its foot pedals more user-friendly. This is considered a high-end SUP board and there are no other like on the market!
ISLE Classic Soft Top Stand Up Paddle Board
The ISLE Classic Soft Top Paddle Board is another excellent choice for those new to the art of stand up paddle boarding. It comes in two sizes, has a single removable fin, and includes a single paddle. This is one of the best stand up paddle boards on the market and has received tons of rave reviews. It’s priced affordably and has a very no-nonsense design. Among its many useful features; the ISLE Classic has a center carry handle and non-slip deck for superior ease of use. This board is well-suited for those looking for extra support for Yoga or other everyday use. This board is 10′ 8″ long x 31″ wide x 5″ thick and has a weight capacity of 275 pounds.
BIC Sport ACE-TEC Wing
The BIC Sport Wing SUP Board needs little introduction for those avid SUP’ers out there. This design won Outdoor Magazine’s gear of the year award for its lightweight, yet durable and high performance, design meant to support speed and distance. This stand up paddle board is contender for best board on the market, though not recommended for beginners. It comes with a removable fin, adjustable paddle, padded deck, and 9 adjustable attachment points for easy gear carrying. This SUP board is 12’6″ long x 30″ wide x ~5″ thick, and has a weight capacity of 260 pounds. If you’re looking for a serious stand up paddle board for touring and distance adventures—you need look no further.
Boardworks Great Bear
Boardworks isn’t a brand for newbies, their products are designed from the ground up to offer the highest performance available in SUP boards. The Great Bear SUP Board from Boardworks is a great example of their attention to quality. This 14 SUP board has a hull designed for superior performance, stability, and glide. It has a well-refined nose shape meant to make downwind paddling and chop easy business. This board also has a self-regulating vent plug to accommodate environmental changes, comes with a single touring fin, has many attachment points for gear storage, and has a striking bamboo veneer. This board doesn’t come cheap, but is regarded by many as one of the best performing stand up paddle boards on the market today.
Stand Up Paddle Boards are incredibly fun, offer unique exercise opportunity, and come in very affordable price ranges. Paying close attention to the attributes and features of the boards you’re comparing can help you find the best fit for you. Don’t forget to consider related purchases as well when you’re considering price. Extra fins, paddles, life vests, tether cables, and especially transportation gear can add up quickly. Most of the SUP boards here come as package deals which include everything you’d need to get started. Some of the higher quality boards assume you’ve likely got most of this gear already, so be aware of that. These represent the best stand up paddle boards on the market, and would be great choices for anyone interested in getting started—or even further exploring—their own passion for SUP boarding!