Picking out your first paddleboard can be daunting, but it doesn't have to be. The key is understanding the attributes of SUP board design that will help you achieve your goals on the water.
The bells and whistles aren't necessarily going to make you a better paddler. Instead, focus on what's practical. To help you hone in on the best setup for you, here are a few tips to consider when buying your first SUP.
1. Bigger is Better
Learning how to SUP is simple enough, but not if you're taking plunges every time you go for a stroke. A stable board makes it easier to focus on paddling without worrying about falling in, which will allow you to progress faster and have more fun doing it. Size equals stability with SUP design, so you'll want something fairly large for your first board.
For the best beginner experience in flatwater and surf, look for a length between 9'6" and 11' and a width in the range of 28" to 32". Also important to consider is volume, a factor oft overlooked by beginners. For an average-sized paddler starting out, a safe and stable volume will be somewhere in the realm of 220 liters to 260 liters.
2. Durability is Key
There's no getting around it: beginners are hard on standup paddleboards. Don't underestimate the amount of wear and tear you'll acquire just learning to handle your board—it's all too easy to knick the nose or tail on a curb, crack a rail while unloading or worse, plow into a fellow paddler in the surf zone.
Take this into consideration when considering your first SUP purchase and look for something with a thick glass job, reinforced rails and a reputation for ruggedness. It'll save you money on ding repair in the end.
3. Discipline Dictates Design
Where will you be paddling your SUP? On flatwater? In surf? Maybe the river? Different disciplines call for different designs, and what works best in one won't necessarily work well in another. When purchasing your first SUP, make sure you have clear expectations about where you'll be using it and communicate your needs to the seller.
For flatwater, a board with less rocker in the 10' to 12' range is most adequate. In surf, you'll want more rocker in the nose and a length between 9' and 11'. For the river, your best bet is to tack on some added width for increased stability and go with an inflatable SUP, as they're more durable when bumping into rocks and riverbeds. A quick Google search for SUPs in your discipline will help you narrow in on the right design.
4. Price ≠ Performance
For paddlers who haven't achieved intermediate to elite skill level, a top-of-the-line, high-priced paddleboard is not going to magically increase performance. Don't be discouraged by the price of cutting-edge designs, chances are you don't need it yet anyway. Entry-level standup paddleboards are available at most price points, and often times the less expensive options are more than adequate to get you started. Save some sheckles for a good paddle and focus more on the design, size, shape and discipline when picking out your first SUP.