While it’s pretty simple to get started, there are a few things to get right before you hit the water, like finding a paddleboard that’s the perfect size for you.
No two paddle boarders are the same and neither are their paddle boards.
That’s why “What size paddle board do I need?” frequently tops of the list of questions for many beginning paddle boarders. In this easy-to-follow guide, we’ll tell you what you need to know about finding the right size paddle board, whether that’s an inflatable paddle board or a hard paddle board, and across different kinds of water, from whitewater to flatwater paddling, and all different styles of paddleboarding.
We’ll also tell you how to find the right-size paddle for your body type and even how to find the right size paddle, because the importance of fit in paddleboarding doesn’t stop with the board. Don’t let all the paddleboard options deter you from trying this highly accessible watersport. Finding the right size paddle board (and paddle) is easier than you think. Find out how, next.
Any guide to finding the right size paddle board should begin by answering why size and board length is so important when it comes to paddleboarding.
This article has been fact-checked by experienced paddle-boarder and blogger MeaghanSimpson from the site SUPChick.com.
Correctly Sizing Your Stand Up Paddle Board
The right size paddle board will help you have a better experience once you’re in the water. Correctly matching a paddle board with your for body type accomplishes the following:
- The board will carry the rider’s weight more efficiently.
- The rider will feel more stability in the water with increased maneuverability.
Size is vital because while paddleboarding may look leisurely, and can be, the board is doing a lot of the hard work for you — like a duck swimming in the water. The kind of paddleboarding you plan on doing also plays a big part in finding the right size paddleboard. We’ll tell you more about that a little bit later.
But what exactly do we mean when we talk about the size of a paddleboard?
Paddle board size means a lot more than small, medium, and large. To understand the importance of paddle board size, familiarize yourself first with the dimensions of a paddleboard.
The volume of the paddleboard measures the board’s buoyancy in liters.
The length of a paddleboard should be measured from tip to tail.
The measurement of the board from side to side.
Thickness measures the board from bottom to top.
Let’s now talk a bit about what makes each of these measurements so important, and how experience level plays a part in choosing the right board.
What’s the Best Size Paddle Board for a Beginner?
Beginners need extra stability. Here’s the volume beginners should look for in their first paddle board — both hard and inflatable.
- Hard paddle boards
Beginners with a hard paddle board should look for at least 170-190L in volume.
- Inflatable paddle boards
Inflatable paddle boards for beginners should have a volume of around 220L – 280L.
If you’re experienced with stand up paddle boarding and you’re making the switch from inflatable to a touring, fishing, yoga, or surfing SUP, just check the maximum weight capacity chart provided on the website of many paddle board brands.
Note: don’t forget to calculate the weight of any passengers you plan to have on board with you.
The Experience Factor
Experience level is an important factor when choosing the volume of your new SUP, but so is your own bodyweight.
Board volume, as well as the weight and experience level of the ride are closely linked, acting as an equation of sorts to determine the board volume that’s best for you. Now that you’ve established the right volume for your experience level, let’s talk bodyweight.
(Don’t worry you’re not really going to have to do any math, so keep reading)
Here’s how to solve the equation, based on your weight.
- Less than 200lbs
Riders weighing less than 200lbs are in luck. You’ll be able to use most any board at any volume.
To avoid drag, move swiftly and stay stable, paddle boarders weighing between 200–235lbs should use a board with 175L of volume.
If you’re between 275lbs, your board should have at least 242L of volume.
And for those weighing over 300lbs, choose a board with 272L of volume at a minimum.
Using a SUP that’s not right for your weight will result in a slow ride, creating extra drag in the water while feeling unstable. Again, if you plan on SUPing with your dog, kids, significant other or just your favorite water buddy, don’t forget to add that extra weight into your calculation.
Now that we’ve addressed experience level plus bodyweight and how that affects the volume of your board, let’s move on to length.
Paddle Board Length
Determining the appropriate length of your SUP has to do somewhat with how tall you are, but more importantly, how you plan on paddle boarding as well as your experience level. Longer paddle boards are fast, while shorter boards are more agile and responsive. Here’s a quick reference to paddleboard length.
- Boards under 10 feet
If SUP surfing is on your agenda, choose a shorter board that’s under 10 feet. These boards are agile enough for quick turns, and they usually have a planing hull. As opposed to the hull of a ship, a planing hull is more like a surfboard — wide and flat.
Boards under 10 feet are also a good pick for riders under age 13.
Boards under 11 feet
This is the most popular SUP width, suitable for SUP yoga and fishing and a good choice for beginners, but all skill-levels like these boards. Something notable is that while these boards usually come with planing hulls, some have displacement hulls.
- Boards over 12 feet
Moving into advanced rider territory, SUPs over 12 feet are used in SUP touring, racing, and traveling longer distances. They most often have a displacement hull. They track well (stay straight) and are very fast.
As far as how your own height plays a factor, SUP experts say to add about 10 inches to your own height. and you’ll be in the right ballpark.
Moving from length to width, determing the right width of your board is perhaps the most simple of all the ways to measure the size of a SUP.
Beginners should say between 32 and 34 inches, while experienced SUP riders can choose a board between 30-32 inches. See, we told it was easy!
Let’s now talk a bit about the thickness of your board.
Appropriate thickness has almost everything to do with the experience level of the paddle boarder. The thickness of your paddle board has a direct correlation to how stable the board is in the water.
Inflatable SUPs (better for beginners) are usually about 6 inches thick. Some linflatable SUP brands are less thick than that but we say stay away from those boards as they tend to be lower quality.
That’s while hard SUPs are about four inches thick, contributing to hard boards being less stable than inflatable SUPs. Also, the thickness of Hard SUPs tends to taper nose to tail to reduce weight, while inflatable board thickness stays consistent throughout, which contributes to them feeling more stable than hard paddle boards.
Hard paddle boards also have a rocker shape (curved bottom) for optimal performance. This also means you’ll stand higher in the water on a hard SUP, part of the reason why beginning SUP riders feel more stable on inflatable boards.
What About the Size of the Paddle?
The right size paddle will be strong enough to handle the water conditions, but also a comfortable size for the rider. Too long, and you’ll wear out your arms. Too short, and you’ll put extra strain on your back.
There are four common strategies to sizing a paddle: Laird Hamilton’s Method, the Hands Up Method, the Shaka Method, and the Stare it Straight in the Eyes Method.
- Laird Hamilton’s Method
Perhaps the easiest approach is the Laird Hamilton’s Method. With Laird Hamilton, the paddle should be about 3–4 inches above your own head — it’s as simple as that.
- The Hands Up Method
The hands up method is a two-part process. First, extend one arm straight in the air while your other hand holds the paddle parallel to your body. If the palm of your extended hand fits comfortably over the end of the paddle board, it’s a good fit.
- The Shaka Method
To execute the Shake method, form a “Shaka” with your hand. A “Shaka” is that gesture used by some to mean “hang loose.” Then, place your thumb on top of your head so that your pinky extends straight upward. The right size paddle should be as long as your extended pinky.
- Stare it Straight in the Eyes Method
The Stare it Straight in the eyes method is also a very easy trick to correctly sizing your paddle. To try it, put the grip on the ground, pointing the blade of the paddle toward the sky. It’s a good fit if the point where the paddle meets the grip is at eye level.
If you’re choosing a paddle for the whole family, consider an adjustable paddle with a shaft that can lock at different lengths. Adjustable paddles are a bit heavier than standard paddles however.
What the paddle is made from is also an important consideration when choosing a SUP paddle
Paddle board paddles are commonly made from the following materials: fiberglass, wood, carbon fiber, aluminum, and plastic. Here are the characteristics of each:
With fiberglass in both the shaft anf blade, fiberglass paddles are stiff, light, and provide the best balance between performance and price.
Sometimes used in just the blade but often the entire paddle, wood paddles are reasonably lightweight and remain warm to the touch in cold water conditions. Most of all, woods is a renewable material and makes for a pretty-to-look at paddle.
- Carbon fiber
Carbon fiber paddles are light and strong and consequently the easiest to use, causing less arm fatigue on long trips. They tend to be a bit pricier than other kinds of paddles, but given their ease of use, it could be worth it.
Aluminum paddles are the cheapest option, but unfortunately the benefits pretty much end there because they’re also heavier than other kinds of paddles and cold to the touch.
Like aluminum, plastic paddles are cheap but heavy. Use a plastic paddle and risk extra arm fatigue, especially on long SUP trips.
Last, let’s talk a bit about the size of the paddle blade
Size extends beyond the length of the paddle to the size of the blade. What’s important here is the kind of paddle boarding you plan on doing.
Paddles are divided into two main categories relating to the size of the blade: surfing paddles, and paddles for cruising or touring. Let’s take a closer look at each.
- Surf paddle blades
Surfing paddle blades, also good for white water SUP and SUP racing, are good for bracing, with a larger surface area creating extra leverage against the water.
- Cruising SUP paddle blades
Cruising SUP paddle blades have a smaller surface area, putting less stress on the arms paddling while paddling for long distances.
Because while SUP boarding is an easy watersport to get into, the right size paddle board makes a huge difference between a fun day in the water and backbreaking trip you won’t want to repeat.
This is particularly true for beginning paddlers. Paddle board size includes the volume, length, width and thickness of the board. Finding the right size board has to do with both the height and weight of the rider, but also experience level and the kind of paddle boarding that rider intends to try.
In this article, we covered how to match weight with board volume, as well as height with the length of the board. We also covered the width and thickness of the board and how that relates not only to the style of paddle boarding, but also the experience level of the rider.
We also told you why the length of the paddle and the size of the blade are also important considerations.
Now that you’re matched with the right size paddle board, the water and adventure await.