What is the best Stand up Paddle board for Beginners?
Stand Up Paddleboarding is quickly becoming the most popular watersport, because it is a great way for everyone to experience the beauty of the water in a way that expresses their own interests best! When you are just getting started, it can seem overwhelming because there are a lot of boards on the market and choosing the right board for you as a beginner can seem daunting. Don’t worry, with a little advice about what to consider, the choice will become clear.
There are a lot of different types of water and different ways to play on it. Active people can use a Stand Up Paddle board to SUP Surf on waves. Adventurous people can use a Touring Stand Up Paddleboard to explore remote areas, hidden shorelines and access nearby islands in rivers, lakes or oceans. People looking for a calm, connected, Zen experience can enjoy the stability of a Yoga iSUP to practice their Yoga on the water in the fresh morning air or during a breathtaking sunset. Hikers can enjoy an inflatable board that they can pack up to a mountain lake and experience the best views. People who want to do a bit of everything and are mostly just fun at heart can play on an all-around board, either an all around hard board (aka, composite board) or an all-around inflatable stand up paddle board (aka, iSUP).
I recommend starting with a good quality board, if inflatable get one at least 15 PSI, if not 20 PSI, and 6 inches thick, because you will appreciate the stability and rigidity of a quality board. If you have storage and chose a hard/composite board get a nice bamboo composite- bamboo is lighter than fiberglass and it has a higher tensile strength that steel, so not only is it more beautiful and eco-friendly, it is a stronger, lighter product. A higher quality board will also stand up to the dings and scrapes that will come along with learning- that drag along the shore, scrape on the roof rack or hitting the back end on a tree or fence when carrying the 10’ long board to the water. Until you have had a lot of practice with handling your SUP you can expect to knock it around a bit by accident. The last thing you want is to ruin your stoke for the sport by buying a cheap floppy/heavy board that will get a hole and waste your time and money. It is better to invest in a quality board that will stand up to some newbie abuse- plus if it performs well it will make you a better rider faster and you will enjoy it more and use it more.
Quality Stand Up Paddleboards hold their value well in the used market, which makes it worth investing in a good one and if you change your mind, release it back to be enjoyed by another rider.
The accessories are another consideration that beginners often don’t know to think about and unwittingly buy a board with the most basic or missing accessories. A SUP leash is essential. It is your lifeline, it connects you to your board and not only keeps you safe but prevents your board from hurting other people should it escape you. If a board comes without a SUP leash, steer clear because you can bet they are skimping in other areas too.
The pump is another item with a lot of quality variance. A cheap, lower quality pump can make it tiresome to pump up your inflatable board or impossible to get to a higher PSI. Look for a quality pump with your iSUP. A Hardboard should come with a protective carry bag. Fins should be included, and with so many options available, look for tool-less fins like a slide in fin with a pin on your iSUP or a pop-in fin (FCS Connect) included when your board has a universal fin box. The last thing you want to do when you are getting ready to SUP is look around for a missing screwdriver. A quality board will make it easy to just get out on the water and enjoy!
It can be the little details that make or break the deal. Think, how are you going to move this board from your home to the water? The handle is very important! If you are a little larger and need a larger board, are you able to carry it easily? On a larger board look for handles at the nose and tail so you can portage with a partner, or use the handle to drag it up onto shore without picking up a soaking we board while standing in thigh deep water. With a smaller all around board, it is lighter and smaller and not a problem to have only one handle, but a larger board should come with more, and it is a real bonus to have a shoulder carry strap if you have a YOGA board with no center handle (because who wants to have a handle in the middle of their yoga mat?)
Another thing to look for are tie downs on the board- as a beginner you might not realize that you will want to have your flip/flops, water bottle, camera etc… securely tied down in case you fall over and your board flips. The last thing you want when getting back on the board is to also have a garage sale of all your things floating around to go and be recovered. Look for a board with 4-6 D-rings with an elastic bungee cord so you can secure your belongings to your top deck.
The paddle is key to Stand Up Paddle Boarding- don’t skimp on it. If you think you will fall off your board, and believe me, you will probably fall if you are trying to learn new tricks or you get caught off-guard as a beginner, you do not want to lose your paddle. Most boards come with an aluminum paddle with a nylon (aka plastic) blade. These paddles are not only heavy, but they do not float. Think about lifting that over and over and over with every stroke- a heavy paddle can take some of the fun out of the Paddle Boarding, so the best stand up paddle board for a beginner will come with a quality paddle too, like a 2 or 3 piece adjustable carbon fiber paddle that is light weight and floats.
Never sacrifice style. The other thing to consider, unless you wear the same blue jeans and black shirt and new balance sneakers every day, is flair! Most Stand up Paddleboards are very boring to look at, a 12’ long blank canvas- some have a stripe or two/three tone colour. There are great boards out there with Amazing Artwork! If you are going to buy your first Stand Up Paddleboard, you should be excited about it and look for something that helps express you and that you will love to look at and take beautiful pictures with. Don’t settle for the Blue board with an orange stripe when you could have something that looks seriously interesting. A head turning board is a real conversation starter and will help you meet other people in the SUP community- essential to getting tips on the best places to go and partners to paddle with.
The best way to decide which Stand Up Paddle board is best for you as a beginner is to define where are you beginning from and what is your goal? That is, if you are beginning from an active lifestyle of snowboarding, running and cycling, chances are you will quickly take up the sport with your strong core muscles, good balance and ability to get into a good stance to turn and play. Unless you want to specifically do Yoga or Touring, a board 30-32 inches wide with a narrowed tail will be best for turning performance and speed if you want to play around. There are a few different ways to decide length- if you want speed then a longer board is better, but if you are not touring or racing then I recommend not getting much more length than you need.
Size your Board for your Body.
For a smaller rider under 170 lb a 10’ or 10’6 board is best because the challenge is often in handling it out of the water. As a 5’4” 135 lb woman, my favorite bamboo composite board is 32”x 10’ and my favorite iSUP is 30” x 10’6”. This size performs well, is easy for me to turn and paddle on the water and on land the size is best for me to carry and load. If you buy too large of an iSUP it can be just extra work to pump, and if you hike your board up to a mountain lake you will be pumping by hand, so the smaller board is perfect!
A larger rider in the 170-250 lb and taller around 6 feet with a higher center of gravity should look for a board at least 32” wide for a beginner, and can easily carry the 11-12’ long boards. At 6 feet and 220 lb, Ryan’s favorite boards are a 32”x 12’ iSUP and a 32” x 11’6” bamboo composite.
A heavy rider over 250 lb should look for a wider, longer board just for the extra buoyancy the size will provide. A 32” x 11’6” bamboo composite or a 33-34” x 11’6” -12’ iSUP with 20 PSI will provide the best buoyancy for a heavy rider. A smaller hardboard will most likely ride low in the water, and a lower PSI iSUP will feel floppy and sag in the middle under the weight, so steer clear of anything less than 20PSI and 6” thick.
Although I love my smaller 30” x 10’6” all-around iSUP for taking my 3 year old daughter out on with me (we both stand and she does great!), another great family board for more than one person or something to bring the dog on is a wide tailed YOGA iSUP with lots of extra handles to hold on to in the water or help with carrying. The wider tail and overall wider 33-34” will make add stability to the board and make it less likely to tip over, which is very desirable when doing a headstand, or when someone climbs up or jumps off!
If you are beginning from a lifestyle without much athletic background, just looking to get out on the water for the first time, you could look for a board with a lot of stability like a wider tailed Yoga Board, but keep in mind you trade the maneuverability for stability. If you just want to get out on the water and have a nice view and stay dry, then a Yoga iSUP is the board for you. If you want to play around, turn easily around a dock or explore around rocks or keep up with your faster friends, I would recommend an all-around board and starting in a more stable stance like on your knees, until you get the hang of it and are ready to stand. The All-around board is super popular because it really is the best for most riders! You really will not be a beginner for long, the learning curve is very easy- after a few times out you will be hooked and your skills will improve so fast!
In short, the best board for a beginner is a quality all-around board that is a good fit for your height and weight. Use this guide to decide if you want a hardboard or iSUP. If you are thinking to purchase a $300-$400 board from the local hardware store to start out, skip the purchase and just rent a better quality board. While it may be fun to paddle any kind of Stand Up Paddleboard, I guarantee it is a LOT more fun to paddle a GOOD Quality board!
As a beginner, the most important thing is to not waste time being overwhelmed- just Pick a board, take a lesson, get out, enjoy the water, and ride safe- always wear your SUP leash and PFD. #Find your sanctuary.