How to Choose a Stand-Up Paddleboard (SUP)11 May 2023
With so many different types of paddleboards out there, it's easy to feel overwhelmed by all the options and opinions presented to you. We understand how confusing it is—especially when you're new to the sport. There is so much to choose from, and everywhere you look, you will find another bold claim. And so that is why we wanted to break down the decisions into easy-to-follow set of questions to ask yourself.
Everything you'll be reading next is aimed at giving you the knowledge and confidence to choose the right board & paddle for you. If you find yourself asking, "Where do I even begin?," congratulations! You're already on the right track. As it's down to a series of questions that will help you better understand your SUP Style. And once you understand your SUP Style, that will tell the type of board to look for.
Most of the advice we provide at Honu comes down to the answers to two key questions.
1. Where will you do most of your paddling?
2. What is your SUP style?
1. WHERE WILL YOU BE PADDLEBOARDING?
What's your paddleboard environment going to be like? Will you mostly be on flat/ still water, like smaller protected lakes? Will you be in more open water with wind chop and runners like in ocean bays, larger rivers, or even the great lakes? Are you planning to ride the waves or jump on river rapids? It's important to ask yourself where you'll be doing most of your paddleboarding because each of these water conditions suites a particular style of board. Yes, some folks want one board to rule them all, and want to have a go at just about anything they can imagine from shallow rapids to surf and touring. But while this, in theory, sounds good, even the most versatile paddler will spend 80% of their time in one particular area. Likely the closest paddleboarding spot to home.
The easiest of them all that allows for just about any choice of board. We have found over the years that the allrounder boards fit this category quite well, with the larger sizes being well suited to folks wanting to take Dogs/kids/ others out with them on the board. You are less likely to fall off in these conditions and so you may find you are okay with a standard sizeed board, even if you are a total beginner. 10'6 x 32 to 33" wide works for most people.
Open water paddling is more serious because you are more likely to be further away from the shoreline. For those looking for the more adventurous open water paddling, you will want to consider touring boards. While they are less stable than you pure all-rounder boards, they move faster in the water, cover more ground and will handle wind chop more confidently. From a safety point of view, if you are not experienced enough to paddle a 30" wide touring board in open waters, you probably shouldn't be there. Spend some more time in flat, calm waters, gaining confidence & experience first before venturing out.
When we think about surf, we are thinking about larger waves where the rider is wanting to make turns. In reality, you can catch waves on any SUP, from the all-rounder style through to touring and even race boards. But if you are transitioning from surfing, or want to spend most of your time in the surf, then you are looking for something much more specfic. So when thinking about "Surf" as you paddleboarding destination, think about whether you are talking about paddling out through your local 1-2 foot spilling waves to paddle around having some fun, versus catching three, four or larger waves and carving it up. Depending on your plan here will determine what board you are looking for. Smaller waves just for a bit of fun are well sutited to all-rounders. Larger waves for the more ambitious SUP serfer will want a surf specific shape and fin setup.
For the SUP surfers out there, you are looking for boards that will be more egg shaped, usually pulled in at the tail with properly designed and placed bite fins. (side fins).
Quick note on side fins... Side fins that are running parrallel to the centre fin are not going to help you turn. These have been put on the board, mostly just because... They don't offer any surfing help.
A key takeaway for SUP surfers is to closely examine the board shape and fin setup.
Whitewater SUP's tend to be shorter, wider and comparatively more rectangular in shape. This makes for a board that will be very stable, easily carried by currents and easy to maneuver in fast-running water. But take this board out onto a calm lake for a cruise and it will feel like a brick.
Having said that, if you do want to dip your toe into some lower grade rapids to see if it's something you like. The way to do this would be to take out any large fins from your board and put in shallow, more flexible options like a 4.5" keel fin. Or if your board does have side fins, try your board with only these in, leaving out any larger centre fins.
2. WHAT'S YOUR SUP STYLE?
Wait, what? SUP Style? What's that supposed to mean? At Honu, we like to think of paddleboarders as falling into four different styles, or personality categories: The Wanderer, The Adventurer, The Thrillseeker, or The Challenger. Each of these personality traits are what we call the "SUP Style." Once you have identified Your SUP Style, you'll better be able to know which paddleboard suits you.
But before that, we would just like to point out that knowing the reason why you will be paddleboarding—what activities you're planning to do while on your board—is key to determining what type of paddleboard to get because each type of board is designed for specific activities and lifestyles.
That's why we encourage you to discover your SUP Style. Since each of the four personalities have unique desires and differing goals when it comes to paddleboarding, knowing your individual SUP Style is actually what will help you pinpoint what activities you'll mostly be doing while on your board—which again, like what we said above, is key to helping you determine what type of board to get. Will you be paddling for leisure purposes like relaxation, to get away from the busyness and daily stresses of everyday life? Or for adventure and exploration, to reconnect with the beauty of nature? Or for that adrenaline rush or exhilarating high while on big ocean waves or strong river rapids? Or are you paddling with the intent to challenge, compete, race, or even win? Let's find out!
ARE YOU READY? HERE ARE THE 4 SUP STYLES:
Are you paddleboarding to find an escape from the day-to-day stresses and pressures of life? To get away from the office and get into the outdoors? To let go of phones, screens, and meetings—even if it were just for a little while? You want to relax and enjoy the fresh air and scenery you get when on the water. Maybe even pack a picnic to find some secluded spot you can call your own.
If this sounds like you, then you're definitely a Wanderer. And you're in great company! You're in the largest cohort of paddleboarders out there.
When you go for a paddle, you want to enjoy the outdoors and savor the experience. Getting a good amount of exercise from paddleboarding is great, but for you, it's so much more than that. For The Wanderer, it's more about the experience of being in the outdoors, breathing in the fresh air, and escaping the businesses of everyday life. It's all about getting out there in nature.
The Wanderer needs a board that is versatile enough to take you wherever your mood leads you—be it a long relaxing paddle, an energetic yoga session, or some fun under the sun with your beloved kid or pet!
For The Wanderer, we recommend an All-rounder SUP. This is a board for everyone. The shape, materials, and rocker are specifically designed to deliver comfort and confidence for the most people in the most number of conditions. If you can only have one paddleboard in your life, an all-rounder is the one to go for. There are a few boards in the category depending on the size and packing style you prefer, but check out some all-rounder paddleboards by selecting the filter at the top of the page.
Do you like to challenge yourself physically while feeling connected to nature? Do you find yourself always trying to go further, faster, harder in everything you do? Hiking, riding, camping even?
Congratulations! You're in the smallest but maybe the coolest cohort of paddleboarders: The Adventurer. Why do we say this? Well, because just like the other paddleboarder cohorts, you love the outdoors, the fresh air, and open waters, but what sets you apart from the other groups is that you desire to go further. You don't just simply want to get away and escape—you want to go far and explore.
Whether that be a long paddleboarding session covering a few miles or a multi-day paddleboarding adventure, you're up for it. Exploring some secret coves or unexplored beaches. Get to spots that can only be accessed via water? Discover hidden gems? When you've got a love for adventure running through your veins, and a paddleboard under your feet, the possibilities are endless.
The Adventurer goes the furthest, sees the most, and arguably gets the best rewards from paddleboarding.
The right board for The Adventurer is going to be longer than your standard board, but wider than a race board. The wider the board, the more stable it is, which will in turn help you balance more easily as you go on those adventures.
For The Adventurer, we recommend a Touring SUP. With this board, you can go far and go fast, even if loaded up with some camping gear. The Honu SORRENTO SUP sits in this category. This board is fast, stiff, and stable, constructed with the most advanced materials available today.
Is surfing something you love? Are you a surfer who wants to try something new—a water sport that's similar to your first love of surfing yet more relaxed and easygoing? Or are you an ex- or aging surfer who's looking to make the switch to a less intensive sport that can still give you that familiar "high" you get from shooting across the wave face? Do you love the rush of being immersed, enveloped, and surrounded by the magnificent power of water, whether on a wave or hurtling down a cat 4 rapid in Colorado?
Hello there, Thrillseeker. Welcome to the club of the paddleboarders who like to get their blood pumping. While a relaxing paddle on the water is OK sometimes, you're mostly in it for the buzz. You crave the thrill of being totally in the zone. You're ultimately in it for the thrill of catching huge waves at your local break or getting into powerful river rapids and coming out unscathed.
The common thread? Action and adventure all the way! High-octane fun is your order of the day. That's just how The Thrillseeker likes to roll.
For The Thrillseeker, we recommend going for very purposefully-designed boards. We say this because any board that seeks to be capable in surf or rapids + be okay for flat water crusing doesn't really exist. It is going to be compromised. A Surfing SUP is going to be narrow and pulled in at the tail so that it turns on its tail quickly and easily. This makes for great handling on a wave but terrible straight-line tracking. Sure, you can paddle a surfing SUP on the flat, but it will be slow and a bit tedious.
We are yet to release a whitewater paddleboard... although it is in our future. But we do have a fantastic Surfing SUP that you can check out.
This particular personality genuinely looks forward to pushing themselves to the limit, and often against others. You have the drive to succeed. Winning is in your blood and you sit at home on the internet looking at far flung places you could compete. You thrive on the training, the racing and all the fun and banter that comes with it.
You are without a doubt the most competitive among the four SUP Styles. And you're not alone. SUP racing, challenges, and all kinds of events have popped up to serve folks like you.
The style of board for The Challenger is relatively straight-forward: narrow and long. Competitions are normally categorized into 12'6 or 14' categories, so most boards will be one of the two lengths. Depending on your skill and experience, the width can vary greatly from as narrow as 22" to as wide as 30" but for most everyday racers 14'x28" is a very common dimension and the one that you will find show up eventually in the Honu lineup of boards.
So now you should have a clear idea of where you sit in terms of your style and where you want to go paddling. These two factors really determine the right board for you. The next question to be answered is: fiber-glass or inflatable? A divisive topic that is beyond the scope of this article, but one we discuss here: Why Choose an Inflatable SUP Over a Composite Board?
At Honu, we want every paddler to feel comfortable and confident out on the water. That's why we came up with the simple SUP Styles as a way to simplify the decision-making process when speaking with customers.
Whichever SUP you decide to go for, we hope you have a blast out on the water and fall in love with the ocean, river, or lake. Because despite our differences, it's the ocean that unites us! Check out the range of SUP boards from Honu.