What to Look for in a Stand-Up Paddleboard (SUP)

19 Jul 2021
A man and woman stand up paddleboarding


So you have decided it’s time to get a paddleboard and now down to deciding exactly which one you want. 

How do you go about finding the right SUP just for you? What are the qualities to look for and what should you avoid? There is so much information out there and the best thing you can do is arm yourself with some knowledge so at the very least, you know what questions to ask.

Whether you’re planning on buying a board from Honu or from a different brand, here are the three basic questions every interested SUP buyer should have the answers to.

A woman inflating an inflatable stand up paddleboard

1. Hardboard or Inflatable?

First things first, think about whether you would want a hardboard paddleboard or an inflatable paddleboard. A hardboard is the traditional paddleboard that can be made out of plastic, foam, fiberglass, wood, or even carbon fiber. Hardboards are usually known as “composite boards” or “fiberglass boards.” On the other hand, an inflatable paddleboard is what its name suggests: inflatable.

To make your decision easier, consider these 5 important factors: Transportability, Storage, Durability, Cost, and Performance.

Transportability & Storage:
Hardboards normally require a garage or similar sized space to allow for the 10-feet length. You will also need a vehicle with roof racks. Inflatable boards can be stored in a cupboard, closet, or small storage area, and can be transported in the back of any car.

Hardboards are fairly durable, but when it does end up dinged or scratched, it can be expensive to repair. Inflatable boards can handle a fairly rough beating, like when out in whitewater or river trips, which generally makes it more durable than a hardboard.

Both Hardboards and Inflatable boards have prices that range from cheap to expensive, depending on the materials and quality.

Hardboards generally have greater responsiveness in the water. Inflatable boards have the tendency to be more sluggish in rougher water conditions. However, high-quality inflatable boards can perform just as well as hardboards.

Did you know…
Honu made fiberglass paddleboards for more than 15 years. But just last year, we decided to bid goodbye to our composite boards and proceeded to focus fully on inflatable boards. Both types of paddleboards pros and cons—We saw the opportunity high quality inflatable boards offer and decided to dedicate ourselves to them. You can read more about this in detail here: Inflatable Paddle Boards VS Composite Boards

A woman stand up paddleboarding

2. Shape

Second, think about the shape of the paddleboard. It’s important to note that different shapes and fin setups are designed to perform differently in specific conditions. So consider how you will be using your paddleboard. Will you mostly be surfing, paddling, or racing/competing? Also think about what type of body of water you will be accessing the most. Ocean, lake, or river? There’s a corresponding board shape suited for every lifestyle, activity, and environment.

Here’s a brief overview of the 5 common styles of paddleboards and their different shapes and ideal uses:

1. Surf: Shorter, has a narrower nose and tail, more curve, and generally smaller than the other types of boards. Ideal for those who want to ride the waves and spend most of their time in the surf. It’s quick, efficient, and fun in the surf. This board is suitable for big waves and river rapids, not for flat water (e.g. open oceans, lakes).

2. All-Rounder: Longer, wider, and bigger and has more volume than a Surf board. Ideal for those who want to try a little bit of everything and also for more experienced riders who paddle in various types of environments. Versatile and multi-purpose, this is also the perfect board for paddlers who want to take their pet or kid along.

3. Hybrid Surf/All-Rounder: Just like a Surf board, it has a narrower nose and tail and more curve as well. But just like an All-Rounder, it’s longer. This board offers the best of both worlds. You can think of it as an All-Rounder board, but with the ability to handle bigger surf.

4. Flat Water: Longer than an All-Rounder board, wide enough to be stable, has a pointed nose to help it glide through the water more smoothly as well as track in a straight line more easily, and has rounded sides to help with overall glide and speed. Ideal for those who wish to go on longer paddles or even multi-day tours in flat to choppy water, like in the open ocean or lake. This board is not suitable for the surf (e.g. big waves, river rapids).

5. Race: Long, thin, has a pointy nose and tail to cut through the waves as fast as possible, and much lighter and more performance-focused than the other types of boards. Ideal for racing and competitions. This is the board for quick fun races and endurance trials, and are best suited to experienced paddleboarders.

Side note: If you are unsure about the style of board you need or want at this stage, you should check out our recent post where we help you work that out: How to Choose a Stand-Up Paddleboard

A man and woman smiling while carrying their stand up paddleboards on the beach

3. Quality-Cost-Performance Trade-Off

Third, think about the Quality Vs Cost Vs. Performance. There’s an old saying with paddleboards that goes: “Light, Stiff, Cheap—you can only pick two.” In other words, you can have a light and stiff board, but it won’t be cheap. There is real truth to that. Cheap paddleboards equals cheap materials, which naturally results in poor performance and shorter life.

So ask yourself, “How long do I want my board to last and how well do I want it to perform?” To give you a general idea, let’s talk about the real differences between a $300 SUP board and a $1,000 SUP board…

Entry-level SUPs, which typically sell for $250-400, have lower pressures (this impacts the board’s stiffness and its tracking in the water) and poorer-quality accessories, especially the pump. Without a good quality pump, you’ll struggle to get the boards up to pressure without enormous effort.

Mid-level SUPs, which are usually priced between $600 and $1000, are made of more durable and higher-performing materials, plus have higher-quality pumps.

High-end SUPs, which normally cost $1,000 up, have more advanced materials and construction methods, higher-quality accessories like the pump and bag, and extended warranties.

You can read more about this here: The (real) Differences Between a $300 & $1,000 SUP Board

Now going back to the quality-cost-performance trade-off, at Honu, there is no such thing as a “trade-off.” With our SUP boards, you can get all three qualities: lightness, stiffness, and great value. How do we do it? Providing quality boards at accessible prices is something we can do because we’ve cut out one link in the supply chain—we don’t sell in retail stores. We’re an online-based brand, which saves you from paying a retail mark-up.

A man and woman stand up paddleboarding with other people swimming around

Final Word

Now that you know the three basic questions every SUP buyer needs to understand, think about the qualities you’re looking for.

Composite or inflatable is the first and probably largest question to get sorted out. Where will you store and move your board around is the main points that will determine this for you. What style and size of board is going to be best for where you are planning to paddle, and to some extent your experience. Last but not least, how much do you want to/need to spend to ensure you have a great time out on the water.

If you’ve got any more questions or if you want some personalized advice, feel free to send us an email at hello@honu.com.au. We’re here to help!


A man and woman splashing water on each other with their stand up paddleboard paddles