stand up paddleboard

How to choose a stand up paddleboard

A stand up paddleboard (SUP) combines paddling with surfing. It gives you a fresh perspective, lets you look right down into the water, and feels like you’re walking on the surface. The upright position provides a full body workout, while the width of the board makes it is easy to balance.

Types of SUPs

Each SUP has its own shape and intended purpose. Select a shape that matches the conditions you want to paddle in.

Flat water

These all-around boards are the best way to start exploring the sport. They suit on-water yoga and paddling on calm lakes and the still water of inlets or bays. These boards are designed to feel stable. They are relatively long and wide, so you have a good-sized platform to plant your feet, and most have a rounded nose. They have high volume, which makes them quite stable and allows you to bring your dog or attach some extra gear to the deck. Although these boards are nice and stable, you’ll still get an excellent leg and core workout as you paddle.

Best for:

  • Beginners
  • Calm lakes
  • Protected inlets

Surf

Surfing on a SUP is easier to learn than a regular surf board because you’re already standing and balanced when the wave gets to you. These boards are a bit shorter and are tapered so they are nimble and responsive in the waves. They often have an upward curve, or rocker, in the nose and tail to make them easier to pivot and turn. You’ll feel the difference if you take a surf SUP out for a longer paddle. It will be less efficient when you want to go straight line, and you’ll have to work hard to cover any distance.

Best for:

  • Advanced SUPers
  • Surfers

Inflatable paddleboards

If you’re travelling, don’t have a lot of room to store a board, or want to transport your board by bike, public bus or airplane, an inflatable is the right way to go. They fit inside a carrying case that’s the size of a large backpack. With a hand pump, you can inflate it in 5 to 10 minutes or even faster if you use an electric or battery powered pump.

Because these boards have internal stabilizers and you can inflate them to a relatively high pressure, cruising on one feels similar to a hard-body board, but they are not quite as rigid, so they offer a slightly less stable platform. The upside is durability. The construction and materials makes them very tough, so they are not likely to get dented or damaged when you paddle through rocks or among obstacles.

Best for:

  • Beginner to advanced riders
  • Travellers
  • People with limited storage space
  • People who want to paddle a more remote lake or river

Hull shapes

Planing hulls have a similar shape to a surfboard: flat and wide with a blunt or rounded nose. This shape rides on top of the water and works well in both flat-water and in more choppy conditions. They feel stable and are a good choice for beginner paddlers.

Displacement hulls have a pointed nose designed to slice through water efficiently when touring or racing. They tend to be longer and narrower than planning hulls, and although they are fast, they are less stable and more prone to tipping, so are best for advanced riders.

Board length

The length of the board determines how fast it is and how responsive it is to turning and carving. Adding length to a board also increases its surface area, so longer boards are generally more buoyant and can handle some extra weight and cargo.

  • Short boards are great for surfing (under 9 feet)
  • Medium boards are great all-around boards (9 to 12 feet)
  • Long boards are great for racing or touring (12 to 14 feet)

Fins

Fins help your board track (go in a straight line) and they add stability. A fin can also add speed when you’re catching and riding waves. Single fins are designed to keep you stable. Sliding a fin forward makes the board easier to turn. Sliding it back makes it track straighter.

A 3-fin cluster gives you options to change the way your board tracks and turns. You can remove the centre fin, or both the side fins, or swap them out for different heights and shapes to tune the way your board responds when you’re racing in rougher waters or cutting across the face of a steep wave.

Care and maintenance

Extreme heat and cold can cause the board to expand and contract, possibly weakening it. Store it in a cool, shaded place when you’re not using it. If you’re leaving it out on the beach during a break, store it with the traction surface (the part you stand on) facing the ground. That way it won’t be frying hot when you step on it.

Do I need a PFD?

Yes. Unlike surfboards, SUPs are considered nautical vessels like kayaks or canoes. So, when you ride one in Canada, the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) requires that you have a PFD with you. You don’t have to actually wear it, but it is to your benefit and safety if you do. In inflatable PFD worn on a belt around your waist is a common choice for casual SUP paddlers. It won’t interfere with your stroke and feels much less bulky than a vest-style flotation device.

What type of paddle?

Your paddle should be taller than you are by about 10-20cm, so you can stand up tall and straight when using it. In general, a long, tapered blade suits cruising in flat water, and a shorter, wider blade will work better in choppier conditions, where you may want to put in quick, short strokes.