Standup paddle boarding (SUPing) has taken off, but there is a lot more to know than most people think. Here is a quick guide to some of the basics you’ll need to get into the sport.
Standup Paddle Board Styles
Standard boards provide a balance or stability and speed. They are perfect for beginners and casual paddle boarders and have the versatility to ride on flat water or catch waves. You won’t be racing on one of these, but if you are looking for a good all-around ride, this is a great place to start.
Yoga boards focus on stability. They are large and flat with thick rails to help you remain steady with less effort. However, this does not mean they will provide complete stability. You must still engage your core muscles to keep yourself upright while practicing your poses. What you gain in stability, you lose in speed. These boards are not intended to cover long distances with ease. They are more for paddling your way onto the water and engaging in yoga practice near shore.
Touring boards are longer and more sleek than your traditional SUP. They are pointed on both ends and have more of a keel in order to help with tracking. However, touring boards are also much less wide than other paddle boards. They sacrifice stability for speed, allowing you to cover more area quicker and with less effort, as long as you have good balance.
Just as there are with surfboards, there are a wide variety of options when it comes to paddle boards you can use for surfing. If you plan on catching waves while standing erect, you get to decide whether you want a more stable board or a shorter performance board, a board with a pointed tip and/or tail for better maneuverability.
Foam boards can be the cheapest and often don’t need a grip pad, as the foam can be molded to have more traction. They take up as much space as a solid board but don’t track as well, and you won’t be able to find these in the touring or racing style. You will also look like a bit of a kook out on the water if you buy one of the cheapest versions.
Another option is an inflatable board, which provides a more solid footing than you would expect. Inflatable boards can be very compact when deflated, and considering the lofty size of most paddle boards, this can overcome many obstacles involved in storage and transportation, but you will require extra equipment to inflate your board, and this adds prep time to your ride. They are also often cheaper than solid boards.
Solid boards are fiberglass/resin coated and are more like your standard surfboard, with an inner foam blank, and may include wood components. They will also have a traction pad on top so you don’t slide off. Solid boards are ready to go as soon as you are, with no prep time needed—and they provide better tracking and control, particularly in windy or choppy conditions. With a solid board, you will get overall better performance, but they are the most expensive type you can buy.
Also essential to SUPing is the paddle. There is not too much variation in paddles, as they all have a handle, shaft, and blade. There are several different materials to choose from, from aluminum and fiber glass to carbon and Kevlar, if you really want to spend the big bucks. The size of the blade can also vary, with larger blades providing more thrust, but also more resistance. You will want to use a shorter paddle for choppier conditions and a longer paddle for speed.
Whether you are in a lake or in the ocean, personal floatation devices (PFDs) are highly recommended, and they may even be required depending on where you are paddling. These can range from your cheap standard foam life vests to more discreet, but expensive, self-inflating vests.
Less essential is the leash, which you will really only need if you are paddle boarding in the surf, so your board doesn’t get away from you. If you are river paddling, do keep in mind that a leash can present more of a danger than a help, as it can result in your getting snagged and stuck underwater. Whether paddling in a river or ocean, never use a leash in moving water if there are rocks, logs, or reef in the water.