How to choose a paddleboard

Choosing a paddleboard is seemingly simple and takes many unexpected turns, leaving the unprepared stranded with questions and fleeting answers. There is no simple answer to choosing a paddleboard because there are several types for use in different places by different people with varying skill levels. But all hope is not lost; in fact, all you will find in this post are hope and answers that would enable you to choose a perfect paddleboard. 

Let’s dig in!

Beginner, Intermediate, or Expert

Before I answer your ‘how to choose a paddleboard’ question, let me ask you my question. 

Who are you?

I am not asking your name; instead, who you are in the paddleboarding world. Are you a newbie? Are you still wondering how paddleboarding compares with kayaking? Have you only seen a few YouTube videos, or are you an expert looking to soak up more knowledge? 

Your answer above greatly determines the type of board that would be perfect for you. Below we examine how to choose a paddleboard for beginners, intermediate and expert paddlers alike. 

Beginners paddleboards and why

The priority for kayaking beginners is getting familiar with the basics, building confidence on the water, exploring their strengths, and overcoming their weaknesses. This might be a little challenging if they are trying more than they should to keep the board straight or if they are carrying excessive speeds or navigating relatively turbulent waters. 

The secret to paddleboarding for beginners is accepting and understanding the extent of their skill and opting for calmer waters with waves no more than 30cm high. 

Inflatable paddleboards are the go-to for beginner paddlers. It works in tandem with the slow-moving waters to give the paddler more stability. The board should also be wide and should feature a curved nose in its design.

Intermediate paddleboards and why

Beginner paddleboards are like bicycles with training wheels. Intermediate paddleboards are where you ease off the training wheels but not yank them off completely. Here the boards become sleeker, have less volume and require more input from the paddlers. These boards offer more performance. They are faster and more agile than their beginner counterparts. 

These intermediate boards are jacks of all trades. They have features that make them suitable for use across several different conditions. The boards would not be anywhere near flawless as the lack of specialization comes to the fore from time to time, but this minor upgrade allows paddlers perfect skills like the reverse paddle turn and pivoting, among others. 

Expert paddleboards and why

Expert boards do one thing, and they do it well. There are no surprises with this board because the paddlers themselves have had hours of practice and can predict how the board would react on different bodies of water. These boards are tuned to be more agile and offer maneuverability and unparalleled speed, all depending on the use by the paddler. 

At this point, the paddleboard and other accessories have become an extension of the paddler. They can be comfortably used recreationally beyond just skills on the water. Common examples are the use of paddleboards for yoga and fishing. 

Let’s find out how these boards can be specialized, the effects of this specialization and how you can get the best out of the different types of SUPs below. 

Types of SUP

There are not just many types of SUP boards; there are also many ways to categorize them. Let’s look at a couple below.

Categorized by Function

All Round Paddleboards

The name already speaks to its versatile nature. It can be used by all and sundry, making it an ideal option for newbie kayakers. These boards have designs focused more on stability and enable the paddler better control the board. It is arguably the widest board type making it family-friendly and allowing people to enjoy the water with their dogs on board. Although an all-round board, you can get the most out of it on flat water like ponds and lakes. 

Touring Paddleboards

These boards are an improvement on all-round paddleboards, although minor improvements. It catches the fancy of intermediate to expert paddlers, allowing them more control over the board but is more likely to punish mistakes. Touring boards are tuned for paddlers looking to carry more speed, go long distances and enjoy their time on the ocean, bays and larger lakes. The displacement hull design is where the magic is at. It allows paddlers to glide almost effortlessly with the right amount of skill.

Racing Paddleboards

For paddlers needing speed, anything other than a racing paddleboard would be the wrong choice. Every inch of this board is designed for one thing, speed. From the tapered nose to the overall slimmer design, the board is an aerodynamic marvel intended to reduce drag as much as possible while slicing through the water. 

Surfing Paddleboards

If you want some action without going too fast on the water, you should try surfing. Surfing boards are ideal for intermediate to expert paddlers. The design of this board allows the paddlers to turn quickly and show off exciting skills while riding the wave with unparalleled grace. The board tries to give the paddlers as much versatility as possible, but this means reduced stability compared to the other board types. These boards with the shorter frame, thinner body and rounded pintail reduce the weight significantly, which results in them being children-friendly. 

Yoga Paddleboards

The one thing you need in a yoga paddleboard is stability. You want to stay on the water for extended periods without being bumped off the board. This is made possible due to the large deck on this board type, larger than what you will find on most boards. The board also features a friendly surface for your skin and would not leave marks as you kneel or move around on the board. 

Fishing Paddleboards

One thing you do not want when fishing is a board swaddling about, scaring all the fish away. You want a board that can stay almost motionless while you lie in wait to catch fish. For fishing paddleboards, stability is a priority and also must be able to handle a lot more weight than most boards. What is the point of catching fish if your board does not allow you to haul your loot to shore?

Categorized by Construction

The following are the different board types based on their construction. They are:

Solid Paddleboards

Most boards are made using a solid composite. It usually takes more person-hours to create solid boards, making them more expensive than their inflatable counterparts. Solid boards are generally more preferred because they allow for more finetuning. The size can be exact and provides for more customizability. The consequence of getting a board that is just your taste is that it is more expensive than inflatable boards and how much more is determined by the material used to construct the board. 

Below are some of the most commonly used materials in solid board construction: 

Foam and soft top paddleboards: 

Composite paddleboards: 

There are two types of composite boards, fiberglass and carbon-fiber boards. These are top-shelf, state-of-the-art boards designed to offer the most performance, durability, strength and excellent tracking on the water. Carbon fiber boards are usually lighter than fiberglass boards, much easier to maneuver and very fast on the water. One thing they both have in common is putting a dent in your wallet. 

Wooden paddleboards:

Wooden paddleboards give you a chunk of the performance you will get from composite paddleboards while cutting back on the price. What makes them a favorite is how stunning they look on the water. They offer about the same in terms of customizability. The only significant drawback is how much easier they can be damaged and the cost of repair. 

Plastic paddleboards: 

You can also use plastic to make inflatable paddleboards. What sets solid and inflatable plastic boards aside is the process used in the construction. Solid plastic boards are made through a process known as Rotomolding. Rotational molding (or Rotomolding) is a cost-saving method that produces plastic paddleboards by adding resins in a mold as it is vertically and horizontally rotated to maintain even thickness across the board

These boards (rotomolded plastic boards) are very common because they can be mass-produced and are inexpensive. This makes them perfect for families and newbie paddleboarders. If they suffer some damage, you can quickly repair them like any other plastic material. 

Inflatable Paddleboards

Polycarbonates and PVCs are the usual suspects when making inflatable paddleboards. As odd as it might sound, especially if you are entirely new to paddleboarding and already have a mental picture of the solid paddleboards, inflatable paddleboards are very common and useful.

They are not fragile balloons waiting to pop, but they are not as durable as their colid board counterparts. Inflatable boards offer a lot of value as they are easy to store, easy to transport and great for newbie paddleboarders. 

Where you want to paddle

Suppose you have recently moved to a new place and are considering picking up paddleboarding because it is close to a waterbody. Then you would need to know what type of water body it is, as that would determine what type of paddleboard you need. The following are some examples of places you can expect to go paddleboarding and the type of paddleboard you need in your arsenal. 


These include the oceans, large lakes and bays. It allows the paddler to cover large distances and explore the open waters. Touring requires somewhere between intermediate and expert experience from the paddler. It requires a board that features a slight displacement hull. 


Flatwater is pretty much ground zero. It is where you start if you have a budding interest in the water sport. It includes marshes, ponds, and lakes with still moving water, enabling beginners to hone their craft without too much distraction. The all-round paddleboards are perfect for flatwater paddling because the features are focused on stability.

SUP surfing

If you want to ride the waves, you need boards designed to cut through the waves like a knife through butter. Stability is not a priority with boards like this, but rather maneuverability and ease of control. You get both features on surfing boards due to the planing hull that enables paddlers to take turns easily.

Any location

You can use these boards as surfing paddleboards. You can use them for touring mighty lakes and exploring flatwater. Most ideal for this all-round use is inflatable paddleboards. They are inexpensive and would about get the job done. The performance would be nothing like you would get from boards designed to function specifically in the above-listed places but not that much. 

SUP Board Features

I briefly mentioned two hull types above and how they influence your paddleboarding experience. Below is more information about SUP board features and how they are crucial when choosing a paddleboard.

SUP Hull

The hull determines the board’s shape, which ultimately affects the aerodynamics and purpose of the board. There are two types of SUP hulls, they are: 

Displacement Hull

The displacement hull is similar to the design you find on a canoe or kayak. It features a pointy nose that divides and sends the water to the sides of the board, keeping it pointed forward and carrying speed. This design means less effort paddling the board, allowing paddlers to accelerate faster and move through the water. This design is perfect for paddlers looking to go racing or touring.

Planing Hull

Unlike the displacement hull, the planing hull is wide and flat, like you would get with a surfboard. It is designed to be more stable and maneuverable while compromising speed, making it the go-to choice for paddling and surfing. 

SUP Fins

Fins add maneuverability, tracking, and stability to stand-up paddleboards. Their deployment significantly affects the aerodynamics of the boards in water. 

Some boards have a fixed fin system for people who do not like to fiddle and a configurable fin system that allows paddlers to decide what fin setup they want to use depending on the occasion and location. While the configurable fin system gives you more customizability, there is a risk of the fins coming loose in the water and losing them. 

The following are some fin setups and conditions under which they can be deployed. 

  • Single fin: This is the most common fin set up on a paddleboard. Because it is just one fin, it has the least drag of the different fin setups and is perfect for flat water. The fin has a groove to slide forward and backward in the water as a nut and screw bolt it. 
  • Inflatable SUP fins: The fins on an inflatable paddleboard can be of any setup. The difference is that they can be made from detachable semi-rigid fins or flexible rubber fins. 
  • 2+1 setup: This is a surfing setup, and it features a large fin flanked by two small fins. The smaller fins enable the board to track better as the paddler turns the board while surfing a wave. 
  • 3 Fin setup: All three fins in this setup are about the same size, and it encourages better tracking of the board. It enables the paddler to control the board easily. 
  • Quad fins: Four fins arranged along the rail allow the board to track on hollow waves. Boards with quad fins have significantly lower drag as there is no large fin in the middle of the board.

SUP Width and Length

Two factors you want at the back of your mind when shopping for a paddleboard are the board’s length and width. 

The length determines to a large extent how the board handles itself in the water, with longer boards being faster and shorter boards being more maneuverable. 

Short boards, no more than ten inches, are great for kids or paddlers looking to get some surfing done. These boards usually have a planing hull that makes the board effortless to weave around. 

Medium boards, between ten and twelve inches, are what you will expect when shopping for an all-round paddleboard. This intermediate-length offers a blend of the qualities you will get from shorter and longer paddleboards. Most of the boards in this category are feature planing hulls, and a few have displacement hulls. 

Long boards, these boards are longer than 12 inches. They are all you need when you want to paddle some place far and get there fast. These boards are designed to track well and always feature a displacement hull. 

The width is another factor that determines what type of board you should choose. Boards are usually between 25 and 36 inches wide, with the wider boards being much slower than thinner boards. Although you can not always go for thinner boards, bigger people or people looking to carry some cargo, perhaps for fishing, would need a larger-sized paddleboard. 

SUP Weight and Volume

For the board to work for you, you need to check how much weight it can carry and how much more would cause the board to become ineffective. Both the weight capacity and volume of the board are determined by the thickness and length of the board. 

The weight capacity of the board, measured in pounds, discusses how much weight the board can handle. Any more weight would render the board near inoperable. The volume, however, measured in liters, examines how much water the board can displace to stay afloat in the water. 

Paddle Board Extras and Accessories

The paddleboard needs other add-ons to function optimally. They include but are not limited to the following: 

Bungee straps

These straps are located in the front or behind the board, and they are used to secure clothing and other supplies.

Attachment mounts

These mounts surround the board and are used for other accessories like cameras, fishing rods, and seats. 


Of course, you can not go paddleboarding without your paddle. There are several types of paddles, each with its advantages over the other. 

Car rack

Unless you have an inflatable paddleboard, you need one of these on your vehicle. It makes transporting your solid board from place to place very easy. 


Even experts fall from their boards, so you would need a leash to keep you tethered to the board when you fall overboard. A quality leash is sure to come in handy when it gets tough on the water. 

Personal floatation device

Consider a personal floatation device the equivalent of a seatbelt on the water. The US coast guard requires you to have one on your person when outside surfing or swimming areas. 


Choosing a paddleboard has never been easier as the above article breaks down all you need to know when shopping. The first step is understanding the purpose of the board, followed by where you will be using the board, and you are on your way to having fun paddleboarding. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Can a SUP be too big?

Having your paddleboard be too big would not make it impossible to paddle but would be with its own difficulties. It definitely makes the learning curve that much hard for beginners. 

Can you surf on a paddleboard?

Yes, you can surf on a paddleboard. Any paddleboard would almost do the trick when it comes to surfing waves. Still, for a more immersive and enjoyable experience, you should lean towards boards with features more suited for surfing.