Choose the Right Stand Up Paddleboard for You
With so many manufacturers and options out there, it can be hard to choose the best stand up paddleboard. Before researching specific brands, first make sure to ask yourself some basic questions that will help narrow down your paddling style and hone in on other important considerations.
Once you’re ready to commit, I do firmly believe that you get what you pay for. I have friends who have had a blast on their Costco or other big box-store boards, though almost all of them have upgraded as they got more into the sport. If you’re just starting out, a cheaper board will probably work fine for a couple of seasons (or longer if you paddle infrequently, are easy on your gear, and keep the board out of the sun when you’re not using it).
Hard-hulled stand up paddleboards
For hard boards, I recommend steering clear of hollow plastic boards and soft-top foam boards. Plastic boards are durable, but they’re also rather heavy which means they don’t perform that well. Foam boards are cheap and fairly light, but they lack durability and performance. You’re better off spending a bit more to get an epoxy board. Aside from that, look for a board that has the features you want and fits your budget.
If you go the inflatable SUP route, there are generally three price tiers: super cheap (around $400), less cheap ($500-$1,000), and expensive ($1,000 and up). These are coarse delineations and subjective. Lots of folks probably consider an $800 board expensive, while some manufacturers don’t even sell a board for less than $900.
With cheaper models you will lose out on durability, higher-quality valves, higher-quality pumps and stiffness (which affects performance), and a longer warranty. Those may be fine tradeoffs for you.
Mid-priced boards will have more features like d-rings and nicer deck padding. They’ll likely come with a better paddle and pump, too. They still won’t be as durable as the high-end boards, but they’ll certainly last a few seasons or longer. There are loads of manufacturers in this space, and many are direct-to-consumer brands, which does cut down on price. However, you can’t touch and inspect a board you buy online, so be sure to take some extra time with your research. Most cheaper and mid-priced boards follow similar, and somewhat basic design shapes that are geared to flatwater and recreational paddling. These boards will perform well enough in all conditions but won’t excel at more specific types of paddling like long tours, racing or whitewater. ISLE, Hobie, SIC, Body Glove, High Society, and BOTE are some reputable manufacturers that offer boards in the $500-$1000 range.
More expensive boards will be more durable, stiffer, and more performance-oriented. The PVC will be thicker, sidewalls will be welded (not just glued as with some less-expensive boards), the deck will be more comfortable and more durable, there will be more handles and better fin boxes. They’ll come with top-of-the-line valves and higher quality pumps. The carrying pack will also be of higher quality. Finally, they’ll have specific design elements that make them better suited to specific paddling situations.
Top Stand Up Paddleboard Brands
I’ve been paddling NRS boards for years, and I’m a fan. They have a few different lines of boards that range from just less than $1,000 to closer to $1,500. Hala is another SUP manufacturer that makes great quality SUP boards with very specific designs that are mostly geared towards whitewater paddling. Their “Stomp Box” fin box is super clever. If you hit a rock, the fin retracts into the board and then pops back out after you’ve passed the rock. It’s a great feature, but you’ll have to shell out more than $1,200 to own one. Pau Hana, Badfish, Starboard, Red Paddle Co., and Boardworks have all been around since the start of SUP and all make nice, high-quality boards.
Head swimming yet? Below are some specific stand up paddleboard recommendations for various types of paddlers.
The Best Stand Up Paddleboards for Every Type of Paddler
Best for: Recreational paddlers/families looking to explore lakes and very mellow rivers
- Between 10 and 11 feet long and at least 32 inches wide for average-sized adults; longer and wider for larger adults
- Comfortable deck pad with at least one d-ring or tie-down
ROC inflatable – The most popular inflatable SUP on Amazon, the ROC stand up paddleboard is a good value package with lots of great reviews. It comes with a full kit, including a paddle, backpack, pump, leash, and fins. If you’re SUP-curious and just want to get out on the water a few times per year, it’s a fine option.
NRS STAR Inflatable – Well known for its whitewater boats, NRS makes high quality products. Their STAR stand up paddleboards are durable and suited for all-around paddling.
Badfish Monarch – Great for mellow cruising, the Monarch is plenty wide and stable enough for beginners. It also has handy features like a water bottle holder and tie-downs for gear.
Best for: Flatwater fitness paddlers looking to get a workout or for touring trips of 2-8 miles
- Eleven feet or longer and not more than 32 inches wide for average-sized adults. Longer for larger adults or those more interested in racing
Isle Explorer – Designed for touring performance, the Explorer 11’6″ is great for paddlers who are looking for efficiency in an inflatable SUP.
Stand on Liquid San Juan 12’6” – At just 30-inches wide, the San Juan is not for beginners or rough water. This board will excel on flat open water and nice long paddle trips.
NRS Escape Inflatable – If you’re rough on gear, a solidly-built SUP with a good warranty is a must. NRS doesn’t skimp on quality materials and construction.
Pau Hana 12’0” Endurance Air – With a wide tail and dynamic touring shape, the Endurance Air is based on one of Pau Hana’s popular hard board models. Expect excellent touring performance with this board.
Best for: Downriver paddlers looking to try some Class II-III whitewater
- Wide and short inflatable with a lot of rocker
- Durable drop-stitch construction with thicker PVC coating
- Between 9’ and 10’6” feet long and at least 32 inches wide – more width means more stability but less efficiency. Smaller paddlers should stick closer to 9 feet; larger paddlers can go longer
- Multiple d-rings with bungees for carrying safety gear and essentials for longer days on the water
Aqua Marina Rapid 9’6” – Short and wide, the Rapid is one of the most affordable river-specific boards available. Don’t be fooled by the price. It’s a rugged whitewater machine.
Hala Atcha 9’6″ – Hala is at the forefront of river SUP design. The Atcha is their whitewater-specific design and it’s burly, ultra-rockered shape can handle any rapid you’re willing to ride it through.
Badfish Rivershred 9’6”– More of a classic SUP shape condensed into a river board, the Rivershred is great for catching and surfing river waves.
Ready to get out there? Check out our beginner’s guide to stand up paddleboading.
Request a Free Adventures Catalog
Photos courtesy: Pau Hana – @Kyleqsullivan; Badfish, NRS – Neal Wassmuth & J. Klatt