The Ultimate Guide to Stand Up Paddle Boarding

Ultimate Paddle Board Guide
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Stand up paddle boarding is one of the most popular and fun ways to spend an afternoon on the water.

Whether it’s a leisurely afternoon touring a nearby lake or river, or seeking adventure in the ocean or a more far-flung location, stand up paddle boarding is an easy way to take in all the beauty nature has to offer. Or instead, some choose to fish, practice yoga, or race their SUPs. As a water sport, SUP boarding really is versatile, with something for all fitness levels and diverse areas of interest. 

In this article, we’ll cover the different kinds of paddle boarding, from SUP touring to SUP fishing, and even a little bit about paddling with your dog. We’ll also cover the two different kinds of paddle boards: solid SUP boards and inflatable SUP boards, plus the pros and cons of each.

We’ll then give you pointers on choosing your first board, as well as tips on where to go paddle boarding, and even a paddle boarding how-to. Last, we’ll tell you all the extra gear or supplies you might need to make your first paddle boarding trip a success.

So if you’re new to paddle boarding, you’ve come to the right spot. By the end of this article, you’ll have all the information you need to have fun and stay safe, while also experience the kind of incredible adventures paddlers are after — or at least as adventurous as you want the experience to be. 

Welcome to the ultimate paddle board guide.

Types of Paddle Boards

The first thing to cover in this guide to paddle boarding are the different kinds of things people like to do on their SUP board (besides paddling, of course), plus some pros and cons of each. We’ll also cover the finer points of hard boards vs. inflatable SUPs.

We’ll begin there. 

Hard Paddle Boards

Hard board construction usually involves foam, fiberglass, Kevlar, plastic, or wood, most commonly protected by coats of epoxy resin. Hard board design (sometimes called solid or epoxy) offers some improved performance and responsiveness across a broader range of water conditions. 

But some say hard paddle boards are harder for first time paddlers to get the hang of, but for SUP touring, SUP surfing and SUP racing (more information about that later) always choose a hard paddle board. They do require more space for storage, however.

Pros: 

  • Better performance (tracking, stability, speed)
  • No inflation required
  • More precise design and better graphics

Cons:

  • Cracking possible
  • Tend to be long and narrow, tough for beginners
  • Hard if you fall

Inflatable Paddle Boards

And inflatable board or SUP, sometimes shortened to iSUP, are just that: a SUP that needs to be inflated before use. They’re cheaper than hard boards, and sit higher in the water. For this reason, some say they’re less stable for beginner paddlers, but others point to the extra cushioning for falls as well as the more forgiving structure. 

For all-around SUPing (again, more info on what that is a bit later on) as well as SUP yoga or SUP fishing, an inflatable stand up paddle board will do just fine. Since they can be deflated, they also require less space for storage.

Pros:

  • Lightweight and cushiony
  • Easy to store and easy to travel with
  • Tend to wider than hard SUPs

Cons:

  • Requires inflation
  • Slower than hard SUPs
  • Punctures possible

Next, let’s take a close look at all the different kinds of things people like to do on their paddle boards. 

All-Around Paddle Boarding

If you’re just looking to tootle around the lake near your summer house, that’s all-around paddle boarding. Both hard or iSUPs work fine for all-around paddle boarding, but a hard SUP might be overkill, particularly for the price. No matter what you choose, pick a board that’s stable, with a wide deck for extra gear, snacks, or water.

SUP Racing

For SUP racing you’ll want to stick exclusively to a hard board. Race boards are narrow and fast. SUP racing is not really for beginners. Find out more about SUP racing here.

SUP Yoga

These days, people are practicing yoga everywhere, including their SUP. Since soft boards can feel more stable than hard boards for some, many choose an iSUP for yoga. No matter what, you’ll want a board that sits low in the water with a wide deck to perform and maintain your yoga pose.

SUP Touring

SUP touring is really just SUP boarding long distance, sometimes overnight. For SUP touring you’ll most likely want a hard board for speed and improved handling and performance. No matter what, for SUP touring you want to balance a narrow board with as wide of a deck as possible for extra storage (like D-rings for a bungee system, or even the ability to add a kayak seat for breaks).

SUP Surfing

For surfing with your paddle board, you’ll want to choose a SUP with a surf-specific design, but carefully chosen all-around paddle board can also work. For obvious reasons, iSUPs won’t do for surfing. Whatever board you choose, surf SUPs are shorter boards, like surfboards, with low volume. Keep reading to learn more about the importance of board size, as well as width and thickness.

Ok, so far we’ve covered inflatable versus hard SUPs and how to tell which one might be right for you. We’ve also talked a bit about the different kinds of SUP boarding. You’re ready to begin shopping for your first board. But there are a lot of different SUP board brands offering all sorts of different boards. Here’s how to choose a paddle board.

How to Choose a Paddle Board

For a deeper dive (pun intended) into how to choose a paddle board, check out our article What Size Paddle Board Do I Need?. In this section, we’ll talk about different paddle board brands, price points, and whether or not it’s better to rent or buy a board. 

As far as renting a board, there are lots of options and many stores that offer SUP rentals for both hard and inflatable SUPs, many conveniently located near great bodies of water for paddle boarders.

Renting a paddle board is cheaper (plus you don’t have to worry about it bringing it along with you on your trip) but the obvious drawback is you have to hassle with returning the SUP at the end of the day. 

A couple of things to consider before buying a SUP is storage space, as well as how you will transport your SUP. As in, does it fit in your car or truck? Will you need a car rack? 

iSUPs require very little space and are very easy to pack along with you on your trip. But they aren’t suitable for everyone’s paddle boarding needs. Buying a quality hard board will cost you upwards of a thousand dollars, while iSUPs average between $500 and $1000.

That’s while SUP rental can range from between $10 and $20 an hour to as much $60 per hour. That’s a good option if you only plan on paddle boarding every once in a while, but if you’re in it for the long haul it’s worth investing in your own paddle board.

As far as paddle board brands are concerned, you can find many of them featured in our rankings of best paddle boards and best inflatable paddle boards. 

Many brands offer high-quality hard and inflatable SUPs, and make it pretty clear what kind of SUPing the board is best suited for, as well as the dimensions of the board, including weight capacity. You can also found out whether the board has a planing hull, like a surfboard, or a displacement hull,  like a boat. These hulls affect the maneuverability of the board.

Some things to look for in a brand are warranties and customer support, as well as if they sell their boards as part of a package, including SUP paddles, bungee cords, and whether it’s single fin, or has a detachable fin, or fin box. You may also want to check the deck pad for added stability (deck pads are also good for SUPing with Rover).

It’s also important to understand the length, width, thickness and weight capacity of your board before making your choice. Most of this information is easily accessible from the paddle board manufacturer

Here’s what you need to know:

Volume

Measured in liters, volume indicates the buoyancy of your board. High volume is best for beginners.

Length

Measured from tip to tail, long SUP boards are fast but tippy and sometimes not wide enough for paddle board yoga or SUP fishing. 

Width

Width has a lot to do with the board’s stability, but also speed. If you plan on bringing a lot of gear with you, a friend or even your dog, make sure you choose a wider board.

Thickness

Measured from top to bottom, the board’s thickness affects how low the board sits in the water which also affects stability. 6-inches thick is considered a bare minimum.

With your board all picked out, it’s time to find a place to put it in the water. 

Where to Go Paddle Boarding

One of the best things about paddle boarding is you can do it almost anywhere there’s a large enough body of water — there could be many great places to get started near you. RAVE Reviews ranked 10 of the world’s best paddle boarding destinations for a little inspiration. Some of them might be closer than you think!

Again, when picking a spot to paddle board consider the kind of paddle boarding you plan on doing. Will the locale offer flatwater or white water? If you’d like to try surfing, head to the ocean. If you’re up for multi-day SUP touring, will there be campsites? 

In addition, SUP yoga won’t work well on choppy water. Plus, what’s the paddle boarding support infrastructure nearby, including rentals, lessons, or just lodging and accommodations? If you’re new to beginner paddler, you might want to begin at a spot with a lifeguard and work up from there.

We evaluated the spots in our guide to the world’s best places to try paddleboarding on the following: the type and quality of the water, how close it is to lodging and other accommodations, from campsites to hotels depending on your style, SUP shops, tour guides and lessons in the area, the quality of the scenery, and the kind of marine life and wildlife viewing opportunities. 

The last important thing to consider is UP board load-in and load-out points. And if the spot is popular, the best time to go in order to beat the crowds. 

How to Paddle Board

To answer the question, how to paddle board, RAVE Reviews goes into great detail in both our articles  How to Paddle Board and How to Hold a Paddle Board Handle.

The first thing you should know is that paddle boarding really is pretty easy. With a little practice standing, keeping your balance, and paddling, you’ll get the hang of it and be on your way in no time. 

You can make it more complicated from there, but there really isn’t much to getting started. Here are some pointers:

Check Water Depth

First step in paddling boarding is to make sure the water is deep enough for the fin to clear the bottom

Begin By Kneeling

Once kneeling, try a few practice paddles on either side of the board with your hands.

Try Standing

When ready, try to stand. Once standing, keep your back straight, feet parallel to the stringer or center of the board and should width apart, with a slight bend in the knees and your core centered. Experts say to avoid “surfer stance.”

Once you have your balance, it’s time to try paddling either forward or turning with a forward sweep stroke, or the reverse sweep stroke. You can find out more about each one of those kinds of strokes in our article How to Paddle Board guide. For now, here are a few brief pointers:

Try to think of your paddle like a lever while using your top hand to drive the lever, with your bottom hand acting as the pivot point. 

It’s also important to get your paddle board grip correct. Here are some easy-to-follow pointers.

Get the Right Grip

To grip your paddle correctly, put one hand at the top of the paddle, gripping the T-bar. Your other hand will be placed partway down the shaft, about one shoulder’s width away from your other hand.

Hands too close together will decrease the power of your stroke.  

Face the Paddle in the Correct Direction

It’s also important when just getting started to face your paddle in the right direction. Angle the blade away from you once you’re in the water and make sure the scoop-shaped part of the blade is facing away from you. 

Last, a word about paddle length and construction material. Paddles are commonly made from the following: fiberglass, aluminum, wood, carbon fiber, aluminum, and plastic. Each one has pros and cons, with plastic being the cheapest but heaviest, while fiberglass paddles are stiff, light, and high-performing.

There are also a few different methods to choose the best paddle length for your height. Here is the most simple: stand with the paddle parallel to your body, blade down. Take the hand that’s not holding the paddle and put it on top of the end of the shaft. If it fits comfortably, it’s a good sized paddle for you.

You’ve decided on a style of paddle boarding, chosen a paddle paddle, and picked a place to try paddle boarding. We’ve even covered some pointers on how to paddle board. Congratulations! You’re almost there. The only thing left to do is choose the last bit of gear you need to have a successful time out on the water. 

What Else Do You Need to Go Paddle Boarding?

You can find out more about extra paddle boarding gear in our article, How to Transport a Paddle Board, but for now, here’s a packing list for your next SUP trip:

  • SUP Leash – Attaching to your calf or ankle, a SUP leash prevents your board from becoming a DFO, or dangerous floating object in the event of a fall.
  • SUP Board Bags – Keep your new SUP board looking shiny and new with a board bag. Board bags are often included with purchase. 
  • Life Jacket – Like any water sport, safety is important when paddle boarding. So be sure to wear a life vest and comply with the Life Vest Safety Laws in your area. 
  • Roof rack – Especially important when traveling with your hard paddle board is a roof rack. A good selection can be found on Amazon.
  • Wetsuit – Conditions can get chilly paddle boarding certain times of the year or in certain water conditions (yes, paddle boarding isn’t just for summer). To stay warm while paddle boarding, get yourself a wetsuit. 

There you have it. It’s really pretty simple to get started paddle boarding. In this article we’ve covered the different kinds of paddle boards and the different styles of paddle boarding. We also talked a bit about the dimensions of your board, and how to find one that’s right for you. 

Next, we covered how to find a great spot to try it out, and even a bit about how to paddle board and how to hold your paddle. For more information about anything in this article, be sure to check out RAVE Reviews’ complete series of paddle boarding articles. And as always, we’ll see you on the water.