A lot of women come to us looking for a particular size board, or a “women specific paddleboard” because they have read that there is some magic size board that women are supposed to get. Just like we all come in different sizes and with different goals, there is not just one right answer to which paddleboard we should get.
Truth– the smaller the rider, the less volume is needed to float the rider. So it is true that a 5’ 100 lb. woman can ride a much smaller board than a 6’ 200 lb. woman (or man) or equal paddling ability.
Myth– just because we might need less board, doesn’t mean that we will actually want less board. Generally speaking, smaller boards are slower. They have a shorter waterline and therefore you do not glide as far with each stroke. In keeping with that idea, longer boards generally have a longer waterline and will glide further per stroke so you will travel more efficiently.
If you are the 5’ woman and you are riding a 9’6 board because it can float you, that’s all fine and good. But when you paddle with someone on an 11’6 board, you are going to be far, far behind, or working considerably harder to keep up. That’s ok if that’s what you want. But I work hard enough to keep up with Mark without handicapping myself with a small board. And when we go on long distance paddles, efficiency is important.
Women specific paddleboards tend to have three things in common
1- they tend to be feminine in design (read pink and purple with flowers because that’s what all women want, right?)
2- they tend to be lighter weight
3- they tend to be smaller
Lighter weight is good in most scenarios- assuming that the manufacturer isn’t skimping on construction to get that lighter weight. But usually being smaller than men, it is easier for us to maneuver a board that weighs less. At 5’2, I can appreciate even a few pounds difference when trying to hoist a large board onto the roof of my car. But if I have to fight a little harder to get a 12’6 board on my car than a 10’6 board, the fight is going to be worth it for me if we are heading out into the bay or trying to racking up some mileage.
Truth– smaller boards are usually more maneuverable than larger boards.
Myth– smaller women won’t be able to handle larger boards. We commonly hear the concern that a larger board will be “too much board” for someone. There are definitely cases where that is true. But as is the case with most things in life, it’s all about balance. It’s about finding the magic tipping point –for you. It is very important to make board choices based on the type of paddling you want to do and your ability level. But if you find a board appropriate for your goals and desired paddling, then you are probably better off working on your paddling technique than settling for a less appropriate board choice because it is challenging for you today.
There is give and take when choosing an SUP. Longer or wider boards can be harder to maneuver. Many shorter boards don’t track particularly well and sacrifice stability.
Stability is a big concern for most people, especially when starting out. Wider boards are generally more stable than narrower boards- all other things being equal. This may be a big consideration in choosing a board. You should be comfortable on any board you choose, but don’t be scared of a little challenge. The learning curve for paddling is pretty small, and comfort comes pretty quickly. As mentioned before, technique is a huge factor.
There’s a whole article on board stability here if you want to learn a little more about it. Wide boards have their pluses and minuses. But the most important thing is that you have a comfortable platform and if you choose a board that is more of a challenge than you are comfortable with then you are less likely to go out and use it, especially if you are a solo paddler, and the whole point is to get you on the water.
As always we recommend that you visit your local sup shop to discuss that options and what might be the best fit for what you want and need. I would encourage you to not get too hung up on a specific size board or getting a women specific board in general and to demo boards when you can to see what is comfortable for you.. There is nothing wrong with women specific boards, there are some fantastic ones on the market that I would love just as much (ok, much more) if they were lime green, orange, or blue instead of pink or purple. But don’t feel like you need to restrict yourself to the limited women specific options available.