Paddleboard demos usually consist of a fairly short ride to feel differences between boards and pick the balance of comfort and potential that is right for you. But even when you think you’ve found the paddleboard that you want, it may not be the paddleboard that will serve you the best in the long run. That’s why it’s best to know what the board is designed for and how it will perform in different conditions.
When demoing, you may benefit from going with, an experienced shop person (if that’s an option) who can explain to you why certain boards are better for specific purposes than others. And the learning curve in paddleboarding is small, so if you are willing to be uncomfortable on something for a short time, it may have many long-term benefits.
Larger, flat, planing hull paddleboards are great for beginners who are just getting started because they tend to be very stable. Stability gives you the confidence to work on new things like stroke technique and moving around on the board. That’s why they make great lesson and rental boards.
Planing hull paddleboards can also be great for intermediate to expert level paddleboarders who want a board that does it all- surf, flatwater, and cruiser. But it’s not usually the same board the beginner is riding. This prevents having to own several very different paddleboards that excel at different types of paddling.
There are also benefits to displacement hulled and hybrid paddleboards that might seem a little less stable at first. Some of these boards are not as wide as their planing hull counterparts, particularly race boards. And coupled with the fact that you are higher off of the water may leave you feeling like they are “tippy”.
But there are many displacement hull touring boards that are plenty wide and provide a good amount of stability. But in general, the narrower (and longer) a paddleboard is, the faster it will go. It will also have better glide (efficiency) so you can paddle longer without getting as tired as you would on a wider board that creates more drag.
There are also hybrid paddleboards that excel incredibly well in open water and downwind conditions. Ocean water can move very fast and often from several different directions at once. So a board that has lots of volume up front with a more rounded profile along the sides can roll with the chop and bumps and not dump you off. They also can be a little narrower for speed and glide that you will greatly benefit from out there.
Again, they may feel a little awkward at first but as you find the sweet spot on where to stand and how to move with the board then you will begin to see why it built the way it is. In contrast, a comfortable, wide paddleboard that is paddled on a lake will quickly become a very uncomfortable board in open water conditions. The extra drag, narrower rails and increased surface area of the board makes it react to all the little disturbances in the water making it very hard to paddle.
It’s often tempting to base our choices on what feels immediately comfortable and safe. And a lot of times that’s the best way to go. But if you foresee yourself paddleboarding for a long time and trying out new skills and challenging places to paddle, then it can be worth buying a board that will accommodate those aspirations. That board will be designed for those challenges but may not be immediately comfortable to ride when you first get on. But if you give it some time you may get a feel for it and realize it’s full potential the more you use it.