Boards fitting into each of these categories will vary in terms of their weight capacity, volume, length, width, thickness and construction. In fact, while shopping for a paddleboard, you will not be able to escape these terms!
So before we review the five main SUP shapes, it’s important that we first get an understanding of what each of these terms mean where SUP is concerned.
Every paddle board will specify the maximum paddler weight it has the capacity to carry. This is generally expressed in pounds (lbs). Understanding a boards weight capacity is important because if you’re too big for a board, it will sit much lower in the water, making it difficult to paddle. Similarly, if you have a small frame, a board that is too big will also be much more challenging to paddle. Getting the right board for your weight will make SUP much more enjoyable.
The volume of a board refers to its ability to float whilst carrying weight. A boards volume will determine both its stability and maneuverability in the water. Simply put, the more volume a board has the more stable it will be. A longer, wider and thicker board has greater volume than a short, narrow and thin board. Having said that, a short board that is thick and wide can have a high volume. Similarly, a long board that is narrow and thin can have comparably low volume.
Bigger boards lack the agility of smaller boards, and will not turn as quickly on the water. However, a higher volume board is the best option if you are a beginner. Once you become more confident on the water, you can progress to a smaller board.
On the other hand, a lower volume board may work well for children and small framed adults. It is important to adjust as circumstances change. For instance, as a person’s weight increases, a higher volume board (or more skill) would be required.
When choosing a board, it is important to match a boards volume to your size and skill level. The following formula can be used to identify the minimum board volume for you.
Step one: convert your weight to kilograms by dividing it by 2.2
Step two: multiply that figure by 2.
So if you weigh 160 pounds:
160 / 2.2 = 73kg, 73kg x 2 = 146L
If you are a 160 pound beginner, your ideal board should have a minimum volume of 146 liters. We actually recommend that you go a bit higher than that as greater volume means more stability. Once you are confident and ready for more challenge, you can gradually downsize to a board with lower volume.
the length of a board is measured in feet and inches, from the very tip of the nose to the end of the tail. A paddle board’s length will essentially determine its speed or “glide” through the water. Generally, a longer board will have greater speed, whereas a shorter board is much easier to maneuver. A paddler’s height and weight will also impact on which board is more or less suitable. For instance, a tall/ heavier paddler may need a longer board to support their frame, whereas a smaller, lighter paddler may find a shorter board easier to carry and use. Short boards will move quickly through the surf but can be challenging and tiresome on flatwater, and over long distances. A medium length board will work well in all conditions. For travelling long distances, a longer board will have more glide per stroke meaning it will be more efficient and require less effort to travel the same distance.
The width of a paddleboard determines how stable it is on the water. Generally speaking, the wider the board, the more stability it has. The narrower the board, the more ‘tippy’ it will be and the harder it is to maintain balance. The width of a board is measured in inches, at its widest point, where the handle is typically found. Most beginner boards are wider so that users are able to quickly get on their feet. A board that is around 30-32 inches wide is an ideal starting place for beginners and intermediate paddlers. A board that is a few inches wider may, however, work better for paddlers who are tall/ heavy, while smaller paddlers may find a slightly narrower board easier to paddle and carry. A board that is too narrow can be very challenging to master, and is better left to those with more experience.
The stability of a board is also determined by its thickness. Measured also in inches, the thickness of a board is taken at its side. A board featuring a thicker structure will float higher in the water, which will, in turn give it greater stability. This is particularly useful for paddlers who are less experienced, or who have taller/ heavier frames.
Another important consideration when you are selecting a SUP is in terms of its construction. Broadly speaking, there are two main options: an inflatable standup paddleboard (iSUP) or a traditional epoxy hardboard. iSUP technology is the most popular choice globally. iSUPs are typically made from stitched PVC or rubber, and while having the same rigidity as many hardboards, can deflate down to backpack size making them highly portable. While a durable, stable and and practical board for beginners, advanced users and competitive paddlers may prefer the speed and agility of a hardboard.
Hardboards are typically constructed out of foam wrapped in plastics or composites, although there are many variations that are also accompanied by varying price tags. (read the detailed discussion on Paddleboard Construction below). Hardboards are great where racing and competitive SUP are key priorities of the user. They are however, heavy, difficult to store and transport and more likely to get damaged than iSUPs.
In short, paddleboards vary in terms of volume, length, width, thickness and construction. In the table below, we briefly summarise what each of these factors means for a paddleboard.