So you have tried standup paddleboarding and you are hooked. We are not surprised. It’s an amazing sport with limitless possibilities. You can go to all sorts of new places and see all sorts of new things from a paddleboard. And even things you have seen a million times before now suddenly look different, and better, from your new perspective.
It often doesn’t take long to realize that the best way to enjoy SUP is by getting a board of your own. But how do you choose what to get?
If possible, demo. There is no substitute for trying before you buy. When you are buying your first board, it is very likely that your experience with paddling and paddling different boards is pretty limited. Your first step should be to visit your local sup shop. If you have a good shop in the area, they should ask you a ton of questions to determine what boards will suit your needs the best. And many good shops have demo boards available for you to try out. Demo programs vary from scheduled days to try out boards, to appointment only, to paid demos (fees are often applied toward your purchase of a board).
There is rarely only one answer to the question of which board will be a great fit for you. There might only be one good option at any given shop, but often there will be a couple of possibilities. Once you narrow your choices down to 1-3 boards, demoing can be tremendously helpful. The learning curve in paddleboarding is small, so what you are comfortable on today will not necessarily be reflective of what you can handle tomorrow. Your comfort on the board will increase quickly, and in a short time you will be able to paddle boards that at first might have seemed impossible.
The challenge with picking out your first board is finding that balance of what is good for you today with what will be good for you next month. Stability is usually one of the biggest factors in choosing your first board. Many people gravitate toward larger boards that feel as stable as docks. Consider what type of paddling you want to do…where you want to paddle…how much time you anticipate paddling…and who is going to be paddling the board 90% of the time before you do anything.
The danger with buying a big, stable board that you immediately feel comfortable on is that once you start doing all of those fun things you want to do on the board, it may or may not be the best choice for you. For instance, a board built for yoga will be wide, stable, and comfortable under foot. If your paddle goals are to do yoga once a week and spend 4 days per week distance paddling in open water, you are going to have some decisions to make. The two disciplines lend themselves to very different board styles.
There are many boards that will do a variety of things well without being the best at anything. Their strength is their versatility. There are tradeoffs with everything so learn what those tradeoffs are in your particular situation and make an informed decision based on them.
The best board for you will be the one that you use and that you have fun on. If you are uncomfortable on the board, feel like it’s too challenging for you to be able to handle, or if it’s too heavy, you will be less likely to use it.
Demoing will also give you the opportunity to handle to board. If you need to transport it, then naturally, you will need to be able to transport it. So if you see a bargain at the local discount store but the board weighs 55 lbs, is that really a bargain? If you can’t use your $600 board without having someone load and unload it for you, you probably aren’t really saving $600 over the cost of a quality board and paddle, you are wasting $600 on something that you will rarely, if ever, use because it’s too cumbersome. If it’s not easy to use, you will likely not use it.
There are times when you will step on a board and it will just feel like an old pair of slippers, like home. If you are new to the game, you might not really be able to discern a whole lot of differences between boards. But if you get to try the boards out for yourself, the choice will be yours rather than what someone else tells you you should get. It is a big investment. Look for something that you feel comfortable on and that will help you accomplish your paddling goals over time. Most importantly, choose something that you will use and have fun on. Because in the end, isn’t that what it’s all about?