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Getting a bit confused as to which SUP board will suit your needs the best? There’s a lot of different theories out there but let’s put a practical perspective on things. And as always - we’re always happy to match the right board to your needs, weight and paddling style. So feel free to either give us a call or visit our SUP store near Edinburgh in Scotland for a coffee and a friendly advice.
It's my first SUP, so I need something tatty, right?
Just to clear things up from the get-go. When you're a beginner your needs are pretty much similar to the more advanced paddlers - your board needs to be stiff under your feet - boards that bend in the middle or twist because of cheap materials used generally don't work. If you're starting out your SUP journey with a badly made lilo you'll end up not really enjoying the experience. Or actually learning anything. So getting this right is the key. This is not an exhaustive list but it will give you a good idea what to look out for and what to avoid.
Let's start with the shapes:
All-Round - the round-nosed boards. These are the most popular SUP’s you’ll see on the water. This outline derives from the world of surfing and it’s a more or less classic longboard shape. In surfing and SUP surfing these shapes catch waves with ease, allow for some longboard moves (like nose riding) and are generally the easiest way to get into the world of surfing. Cheap inflatables don’t surf as they bend - so if you’re thinking of getting into wave riding you have to either invest into a premium inflatable construction or simply go for a rigid SUP board. These shapes are the most stable - purely because the very generous width that is similar throughout the whole board and plenty of volume. This makes the board wobble less from side to side and from the nose to the tail. The downside of this outline is the flat nose pushing a lot of water when you’re paddling making your paddle strokes less efficient. This means that you need to put more effort to paddle faster or to travel longer distances.
Touring and Race. You’ve probably noticed the "pointy" boards? These are either tourers or race SUP’s designed to go longer distances and generally go faster in a straight line. They don’t surf that well (although they can catch waves if you know how!) but the trade off is that you can cover more ground with less effort. It’s also fun to outrun your round-nosed friends on the water! The downside is that these boards are typically a bit more wobbly and longer than the all-round shapes. Having said that, there are a lot of tourers out there with a decent width to them so if you want that extra speed without sacrificing too much of stability there are boards out there for you.
Length and Width both of these affect stability and correlate to your weight and height, at least in simplified terms. General rule is that the wider the board the more stable it will be. The longer and more narrow the board is the more speed you’ll get from each stroke but it’ll be less balanced. You get the idea. As a rough guide, looking at the Fanatic range of the all-round shapes for example:
Quality of the board - there’s a lot of really, really poorly made boards out there. Either cheap as chips or with a price tag that’s nowhere near matching their low quality. It’s pretty hard to navigate through them, especially if you’re just starting out. That’s why buying boards from a proper surf store is so important. Stores usually carry a selection of brands and are typically very picky when it comes to quality. None of us wants to sell cheap rubbish that will not only make your paddling dangerous but also not much fun. There’s a lot of "brands" being run from someone's bedroom - typically these are inexpensive boards imported from China with a random branding slabbed on. Avoid these like plague as they’ll quickly end up in the landfill as soon as you’ll try something made by a company that did their homework.
Cheap boards flex a lot, they twist in the middle and make keeping balance on them near impossible. I’m sure you’ve seen a lot of folk standing in the middle of the board with water around their ankles and the nose and the tail of the board out of the water? Here's an example below. You don’t want to be that bottom guy.
A decently made SUP board won’t flex much under your feet and premium constructions will generally feel the closest to a rigid board. The person at the top of the photo is one our friends - even under 120kg a decently made SUP doesn't flex. It all makes a massive difference on the water. No matter if you’re a beginner taking first steps or an intermediate SUP’er. Learning on a badly made board makes it really hard to progress and we’ve seen a lot of beginners giving up after few weeks of falling in. It’s not your balance - it’s the wrong board.
As important as the length and the width when it comes to rider’s weight but it’s more prevalent in hardboards as most inflatables increase the volume with the size of the board. So a typical 10’4” or 10’6” board will have upwards of 260 litres of volume and a 10’8” will have over 290 litres of volume. In SUP terms - that’s plenty. With hardboards a typical 10’6” will have anything between 120 and 180 litres of volume - we’ll discuss hardboards in a separate post. Simplifying things, 1 litres = 1 kg so 80 litre board would just about carry a 70kg person - assuming the board itself weights around 10kg. So at almost 300 litres in inflatables it’s not as relevant.
Where to go from here?
Definitely to grab a decent SUP board and to hit the water as soon as possible! Now you know what to avoid it's time to pick the first board. Avoid online sellers offering just one brand - go to a local surf or SUP store for an advice. Most of store owners tried plenty of brands so they're in the best position to advise you based on their extensive experience. Most of us got into this because of our passion of watersports and decades of testing equipment across all disciplines. Also, feel free to get in touch with us - either over the phone, email or even better - drop in for a cup of coffee (or tea!) to our SUP store in Dalkeith near Edinburgh and we'll help you to choose the right board. Happy SUP'ing!