Tips for Buying Your First Stand Up Paddleboard…

Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP) has been one of the fasting growing and most popular outdoor activities of the last few years. In a 2013 report by “The Outdoor Foundation” stand up paddling attracted 1.2 million people participating in 9.6 million outings, the most participants in an outdoor activity in the U.S. in 2012. This included all ages from 6+ with the most participation being seen in men and women between the ages of 35-44. Wouldn’t you know it, my wife and I are smack in the middle of that demographic so it would make sense that we now own a paddleboard.

Stand Up Paddleboard Tahoe

In the 1940s, surf instructors in Waikiki like the famous Leroy and Bobby AhChoy would take paddles into the surf and stand on their boards to get a better view of the surfers in the water and incoming swells. When Bobby was injured in a car accident that prevented him from swimming or kneeling, he would stand on his board and paddle into the surf zone offering tips and advice to the younger surfers. In the 1980s popular pro surfers like Brian Keaulana, Rick Thomas, Archie Kalepa and Laird Hamilton began using SUP as an alternative way to train while the surf was down and it picked up the nickname “beach boy surfing”.

Even though stand up surfing with a paddle has a long history and has been popular in Hawaii for decades, interest in modern paddleboarding is relatively new outside Hawaii. SUP has grown considerably in the US mainland since it was transplanted from Hawaii to California in 2004 by surfer and Naval Special Forces veteran Rick Thomas. It solidified it’s place in the world of water sports in 2008 when the US Coast Guard officially classified paddleboards as a “vessel” (like a canoe or kayak) requiring use of a personal flotation device (PFD) when paddling outside of surf zones. The attraction is undeniable and the sport has near universal appeal to all demographics. There is something very seductive about the grace, strength and tranquility exhibited by skilled paddleboarders…even if reality for beginners is something very different.

My wife and I had our first SUP experience on the clear, blue waters of Lake Tahoe on her 40th birthday. That short afternoon on the water set the hook and it was only a matter of time before we invested in our own board. Having taken our time to go through the selection and purchasing process, I feel we can offer some sound advice to others looking to buy their first board.

Tips for Buying Your First Stand Up Paddleboard

1. Try Before you Buy


Once you’ve seen those sleek boards cutting smoothly through the water it’s hard not to want one. Before you run out and buy the next board you see, look for a good rental place to test a few boards out. There are multiple styles and sizes of SUPs and your ideal board will vary based on your style of paddling, your size, the type of water you’ll float as well as your skill on the board. Personally, I’m a big guy with a heavy upper body and an aggressive paddle stroke – I need a bigger, more stable board. My wife is half my size, has a Pilates-strong core and a relaxed paddle stroke. If I try to use the SUP my wife is comfortable on, I fall off pretty fast.

We rented several times trying out different board styles to figure out what we were comfortable with. Before we bought ours, my wife tried out a couple of different lengths to make sure she found the right ratio of speed, stability and manageable weight before we settled on the right one. Renting SUPs in most places is pretty affordable compared to other recreational options, so don’t be afraid to rent and rent often.

2. Do your Homework

Classic surf board construction is an art form requiring experience, skill and an instinct for hydrodynamic form. Modern paddleboards are an extension of that tradition and there are a variety of different construction methods used in making them. Just about everything out there will have an EPS foam core with sandwiched layers of fiberglass and epoxy. The number of layers and the quality of the construction materials are generally what will determine the cost of the board. Aside from the typical sandwich construction boards you will find pop-out production boards, made from mold injected polystyrene foam and heat treated epoxy and fiberglass. Pop-out boards are generally lighter and more durable and not a bad choice for the beginner. There are some really amazing custom-shaped, hand-glassed, hand-polished boards that would qualify as artwork and have the price tag to prove it. Since we’re talking about buying your first paddleboard, I would recommend going with something a little more economical that you wouldn’t mind getting a ding or scratch on.

Ultimately, you just want a board that you’re comfortable on and will hold up well as you learn to paddle. However, it is important to understand how construction effects pricing, maintenance and durability when selecting a board to purchase.

3. What Kind of Paddleboarder will you be?

SUP with dog

Stand up boards are used pretty much everywhere these days from quiet paddles on the lake to running whitewater. Different regions offer various SUP opportunities and your activity of choice will have some influence on the type of board you’ll need and how it’s set up. Many of the recreational whitewater SUPs look and ride very different than the sleek, thin boards designed for flat water. Even the paddles for whitewater paddleboarding are different. Having to carry your board into remote areas might lean you toward trying an inflatable version. Planning on boarding with your dog? You’ll want more stability and traction pads so your dog doesn’t slip and slide on the board.

Whatever you end up with should reflect the direction you plan to go with the sport. The activity defines the board type:

  • Surf: shorter boards that turn well and are naturally at home in the waves
  • Family recreation: durable boards with width for stability
  • Cruise: long boards, often with room for cargo; at home on flat water
  • Fitness and race: long, narrow boards built for speed in any water conditions
  • Yoga: wide, stable boards; often made with full deck pads for better grip in various postures

You’ll also need to make sure that your selecting the right sized board based on your experience and size. Longer, wider boards can be more stable and carry more weight, but might be too wide to paddle comfortably or too long to maneuver. Larger paddlers on smaller boards can find them pretty unstable. Think about who will be using the board and where to determine what size will work best. The chart below is a guideline used by many of the SUP dealers to determine proper board size for individuals.

Beginner Advanced
Weight: 120-150 lb.
Length: 10 ft. 6 in.-11 ft.
Width: 28-30 in.
Weight: 120-150 lb.
Length: 9 ft.-10 ft. 6 in
Width: 26-26.5 in.
Weight: 160-190 lb..
Length: 11 ft.
Width: 29-32 in.
Weight: 160-190 lb.
Length: 9 ft. 6 in.-10 ft. 6 in.
Width: 27-28 in.
Weight: 200-230 lb.
Length: 11 ft.-11 ft. 6 in.
Width: 29-32 in.
Weight: 200-230 lb.
Length: 10 ft.-11 ft.
Width: 28-28.5 in.
Weight: 240-270 lb.
Length: 11 ft. 6 in.-12 ft.
Width: 32-33 in.
Weight: 240-270 lb.
Length: 11 ft.-11 ft. 6 in.
Width: 29.5-31.5 in.
Weight: 280+ lb.
Length: 12 ft.
Width: 33 in.
Weight: 280+ lb.
Length: 12 ft.
Width: 32 in.

4. Budgeting for Accessories

As is the case with many sports, getting into SUP requires a small collection of specialized equipment. While the board itself is the most expensive item ($700 and up) it really can’t be used alone, so you’ll need to take into account all the other equipment needed when planning your budget. Many places will sell a board and paddle combo package, the bare minimum to get started, but you can’t assume your board will come with a paddle. A SUP paddle will cost somewhere between $80 and $250 with the average basic paddle somewhere in the $140 range. Other typical accessories you’ll need are a board leash ($30), a decent low-profile PFD ($80-$200) and a board bag ($150-$250) for keeping your investment protected. It’s also a good idea to make sure you have some good personal sun protection with a high UPF long sleeve shirt and a good hat, maybe even a wet suit if you plan to paddle in the winter. It adds up quick, just be prepared for it.

Once you’ve used your board for a while you might start thinking about other, more specialized accessories like a traction pad (if yours doesn’t have one or your dog needs one), gear storage, spare fins or a helmet (for whitewater).

5. Transportation

Stand Up Paddle Board on Roof Rack

Another logistic and cost to consider is how you plan to get around with your new paddleboard. Inflatables offer a nice, easy option as you can toss the rolled up board and pump in the back of your car and off you go. With a rigid board you’ll need to consider a roof rack setup, preferably with foam padding to keep the board from getting beat up. Long cam-straps work best for lashing your board down to the roof rack, look for padded cam-straps ($20 pair) to reduce the chance of scratches or gouges. If security is an issue consider buying cam-straps with an interior steel cable and locking cams ($90 pair). Having a good board bag also helps with transportation, guarding your new baby from scratches and road debris and keeping it out of direct sun.

6. Care and Maintenance

Luckily, care and maintenance on your new paddleboard is pretty easy and straight forward but there are a few key things you need to keep in mind when you’re buying a new board. Most importantly, do not keep your board in direct sunlight for extended periods of time. When you’re not using your board it really should be kept in a shady spot, or covered with a light-reflective material. The extreme heat that builds up inside the layers of your board when in direct sun can cause damage to the EPS foam core and delaminate the board. Many boards have built in valves to help mitigate gas buildup, but direct exposure should still be avoided. Extended exposure to UV rays can also ruin the finish on your board.

It’s important to wash your board after every use, especially when using it in the ocean. Sea water can corrode metal parts and break down plastic seals and o-rings. Be sure to rinse with clean fresh water paying particular attention to any metal or joints in your board and paddle. Even in fresh water it is still important to wash the board down so that you don’t inadvertently carry contaminants to other bodies of water. Lakes like Tahoe have suffered from the introduction of foreign algae from recreational watercraft brought to the lake dirty.

If your board does have a vent plug, it’s important to check it often to make sure it’s working properly. Get in the habit of loosening the vent plug when the board is not in use so the board can breathe. If you store your board in it’s board bag, make sure both are bone dry before storing. Any dampness in the bag can create an environment for mold and mildew which will wreck havoc on your board.

Following these tips should minimize frustration and set you up for maximum enjoyment in your new found sport. Find a good local retailer, get the board of your dreams and get outside!