Choosing your first paddleboard: A Beginners Guide
So, you’ve had your first taste of paddleboarding – very quickly you’ve become hooked! The next natural step is to buy your own board.
SUP doesn’t require a lot of equipment but the initial investment can be quite costly, and with a market flooded with board brands of varying designs, choosing your first board can be quite a daunting process.
A great starting place before buying a SUP Board would be to ask yourself some simple questions:
1) What is your budget?
SUP boards can start at a few hundred pounds and run into several thousand. Have a clear idea of how much you can budget on your SUP package before you start looking.
2) Do you have storage space/transportation?
With the average AllRound SUP being approx. 10’6 – 11’, have you got suitable space to store your board at home and have you got a vehicle to transport it to the water. If these are an issue, you may be better focusing on inflatable paddleboards (aka ISUPs).
3) Your height and weight?
When choosing an appropriate SUP, your height and weight needs to be taken into consideration, this is particularly important for beginner paddlers. Generally, taller heavier paddlers will find bigger wider boards offer greater stability. Board volumes are usually displayed within specifications.
4) Where will you be paddling?
Stand up paddleboarding is literally the sport you can do on any body of water. Canals. rivers, lakes, lagoons, estuaries, surf zones, open ocean. Do you want to focus on one particular sup discipline?
5) Will anyone else be using the board?
Are you looking for a sup for yourself or will you be buying a sup board to suit the whole family including dog?!
Types of Boards
Paddleboards come in a variety of lengths, widths, thicknesses, and construction. All SUPs are designed for either flat water or surf, or sometimes a little of both. A few designs are specific to certain disciplines, such as Racing, Downwind, or even SUP Yoga.
Allround Boards – Length averaging 10’6″ to 12’6″, width 29 – 34”.
Durable boards designed for stability. Perfect for beginners, families and leisure paddlers.
These are ideal beginner SUPs. Based on the previous tips and advice, if you are an average sized adult, who wants to have the occasional leisure paddle on a value for money board, on a variety of watercourses, my personal recommendation would be to look at something such as:
A 10’6 or 10’8” AllRound SUP, perhaps along the lines of this NeptuneSUP:
If you are limited on storage space, an Allround 10’6 or 10’8 ISUP, which comes in its own storage bag may suit you better. There are many cheap ISUPs beginning to infiltrate the market – be very careful what you buy! Sroka SUPs are relatively new in the market place and offer a well-designed fantastic quality ISUP.
Cruiser/Tourer Boards – Length averaging 12’6”, width 30”.
These boards have a slightly pointed/tapered nose, glide well and are ideal for travel across open water. It is usually possible to fix storage systems to the board so that you can take additional equipment or even fishing gear on your trip.
Raceboards – 12’ or 14′, width 23” to 29”.
Specialist raceboards are long and narrow, designed to cut through the water with the maximum efficiency. Boards are lightweight, constructed in the main from carbon fibre making them generally the most expensive boards on the market! The reduced width of these sups means stability is sacrificed for speed so not ideally suitable for beginners. SUP racing is one of the fastest growing sup discipline, with sup races organised all over the country.
Surf SUPs – Length averaging 7’10 – 10’, width 28″ to 32″.
Almost always shorter than Allround, racing and touring boards, and with a maximum length of around 10ft (exceptions being those intended for bigger surf). These types of boards are generally built for high performance, so can go much lower than 10ft though but that is dependent on your size and ability. Boards will have much more rocker and the tail and fins will be different. You may be able to choose from shapes like a swallow or pin tails, depending on the selection of boards available. Fin setup of your surfsup is also important, as these give you stability and drive through high-speed turns. The three-fin thruster setup is a popular choice, but there are other combinations available.
Types of Paddle
- Always buy the best paddle you can afford!
- Paddles are made up of three main parts, a blade, a shaft, and a handle. There are other design features of a SUP paddle that the paddler should be aware of. The design of each of these components affects the ergonomics of the paddler as well as the efficiency of the paddle stroke.
- The handle and blade design of a SUP paddle are matters of personal preference. Blade size, shape and contour in particular, vary from brand to brand. To appreciate the differences, it is best to try out as many paddles as possible.
- Paddle shafts can be fixed or adjustable. Adjustable paddles are perfect if several paddlers are likely to be sharing one paddle. They are also great if you tend to switch between disciplines, for example you would usually supsurf with a shorter paddle than you would suprace. Fixed paddles are cut down to the required size and taped, or glued and taped accordingly. Reduce the paddle length slowly until you find a length you are comfortable with. Only glue when you are absolutely certain you are happy! Tape works perfectly well though – gluing not essential!
Materials of a SUP Paddle
- SUP paddles are made from a variety of materials to meet both price and performance concerns.
- Aluminium shafts with plastic blades and handles are usually the cheapest option. These are durable types of SUP paddles but are heavy and lack the flexion of some designs. They also make great spare paddles or second paddle when teaching friends to SUP.
- Paddles constructed using fibreglass and carbon are lighter than plastic and aluminium. Designs begin with 25% carbon composition, ending with the extremely lightweight, but ultimately the most expensive 100% carbon paddles. Composite paddles also offer a much higher degree of performance in the water. The paddle shafts have a varying levels of flexibility, so again, try as many paddles as you can before buying.
- ALWAYS use a leash – cannot emphasise that enough! They save lives…
- Leashes should be ‘quickrelease’ and either attach to the ankle of calf (some to the waist).
- Use a leash specifically designed for a SUP (8mm) not a surfboard!
- General rule is to have a leash of similar length to your SUP (ideally a foot longer).
- Keep your leash on, even if you lose your paddle. Your board is ALWAYS your most important asset. Never unleash to attempt to swim home!
- Leashes are either straight or coiled and are designed to stretch a little in order to absorb some of the energy of the board as it moves away from you.
- Coiled Leashes – great for racing or flatwater paddle, where you want to avoid the leash dragging and potentially snagging on debris in the water. NEVER use a coiled leash in the surf zone – in a wipeout, you can either end up right next to your board if they don’t recoil fully, or in heavier surf, the can extend fully and have an elastic effect, resulting in your SUP flying back at you with the force of a small missile!
- Straight Leashes – Ideal for surf or as an allround leash where drag and hidden debris in the water is not a consideration.
Buying a SUP Board: Remember
- Always ask for advice from other paddlers.
- Read up as much as you can – there are many board and paddle reviews available on the internet.
- Try as much kit as possible before buying. Many board companies and retailers hold demo days, these are ideal to try out a range of SUPs