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stand up paddle boards

We tested a wide range of the top paddle boards on the market to bring you the best paddle boards of 2024. Photo: Nick Bruckbauer/The Inertia


The Inertia

The origins of stand up paddle boarding dates back to the Polynesians, but recently, modern stand up paddle boarding has exploded in popularity in the past fifteen years. And it’s no surprise why: SUP-ing is easy to learn, can be done on almost any of body of water, and is a great workout.

With so many different options out there, it can be difficult to choose the board that is right for you. We took it upon ourselves to test out inflatable paddle boards (iSUPs), traditional hardboards, and surf SUPs, so there’s something for everyone on our list.

Our team of expert paddlers have been paddling for over a decade and regularly conduct research on the latest and greatest in SUP technology. We personally got our hands on more than ten incredible paddle boards and paddled them on alpine lakes and the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California, surfed along the rugged Oregon coast, and cruised on rivers and the ocean in Hawaii to get a feel for how each of these boards performs in a variety of conditions.

To view these paddle boards side-by-side, take a look at our Comparison Table, and be sure to check out our How We Tested and Buyer’s Guide for more in-depth analysis.

The Best Stand Up Paddle Boards of 2024

Best All-Around Inflatable Paddle Board: Isle Explorer 2.0
Best All-Around Hard Paddle Board:
Surftech Lido 10′ 6″
Best Budget Inflatable Paddle Board: ROC Kahuna 10′ 6″
Best High-Performance Inflatable Paddle Board: Bluefin Cruise Carbon 12
Best All-Around Surf SUP: Quatro Carve Pro
Best for Calm Water Cruising: Surftech Chameleon Tuflite V-Tech 11′ 4″


Best All-Around Inflatable Paddle Board

Isle Explorer 2.0 ($895)

ISLE Explorer 2.0 stand up paddle board

Available Sizes: 11′ 6″
Size Tested: 11′ 6″ x 32″ x 6″
Weight: 24 pounds
Weight Capacity: 300 pounds

Pros: Good all-around design, high-quality construction
Cons: Doesn’t come with any fun extras

Designed to be a do-it-all paddle board, the Isle Explorer 2.0 works well for yoga, fishing, surfing, or just general cruising. It’s the perfect blend of quality construction and on the water performance, for a reasonable price.

An upgraded model of the beloved Explorer, the 2.0 offers all of the same features of the classic model, with a few upgraded aesthetics. Measuring 11′ 6″ x 32″ x 6″, the Explorer 2.0 sports a touring shape for a faster glide, but at 32″, it’s still plenty stable. For a touring board it’s on the slower side, but for an all-around style iSUP, it’s a speedy one.

The Explorer 2.0 package comes complete with a travel bag, nylon center fin, a slim hand pump, three-piece adjustable carbon hybrid paddle, bungee tie-downs on the front and aft of the board, and an eight-foot coil leash. There’s a lot to love about this board, but it doesn’t come with any fun extras like some other boards do (i.e. GoPro mounts, kayak convertible seats/paddles, etc.). If you’re after a board that blends performance with value, the Isle is one of the best boards we tested. If the price is a little steep for you, be sure and regularly scope their website as the board is frequently marked down, and is available for 595 at the time of publishing. Read our full review of the Isle Explorer 2.0 here.

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Isle Explorer 2.0 paddle board

The Explorer 2.0 package comes complete with travel bag, a nylon touring center fin, a slim hand pump, a three-piece adjustable carbon hybrid paddle, bungee tie-downs on the front and aft of the board, and an eight-foot coil leash. Photo: Nick Bruckbauer/The Inertia


Best All-Around Hard Paddle Board

Surftech Lido 10’ 6” ($975)

surftech lido paddle board

Available Sizes: 10′ 6″ |11’6″
Size Tested: 10’6″′ x 32″ x 5″
Weight: 28 pounds
Weight Capacity: 300 pounds

Pros: Manageable size, durable Utility Armor construction
Cons: Cutout grooves/lines on deck pad aren’t super comfortable

If you prefer to skip the hassle of inflating and deflating your board each time you paddle, the Surftech Lido 10’6″ is a great all-around board that comes in a manageable size. At 10’6″, the Lido is easy to load and unload from your vehicle and the versatile shape makes it well suited for paddling on waves, flat water, and everything in between.

Made with Utility Armor construction, the Lido utilizes EPS foam, high-quality fiberglass, epoxy resin, reinforced rails, and a molded Utility Armor shell. The result? A durable board that is sure to withstand the test of time.

The Lido includes an adjustable paddle and a 9″ center fin — paddles can cost a pretty penny, so the fact that it’s included is a huge plus. The BLOOM foam algae deck pads covers the majority of the board, so yoga and/or fancy footwork is a viable option. While we appreciated having something slip-free to stand on, our lead tester didn’t love the cutout grooves/lines in the deck pad.

The hull-shaped nose allows the board to glide well through the water despite its width, but the Lido isn’t as fast as some longer or skinnier options. Stability is the name of the game and the Lido includes extras like deck-tie down straps for stashing gear and a convenient recessed grab handle and a rear padded grab handle that make it easy to transport. Paddlers who want a do it all hardboard for a reasonable price will love the Surftech Lido.

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Surftech Lido paddle board

If you prefer to skip the hassle of inflating and deflating your board each time you paddle, the Surftech Lido 10’6″ is a great all-around board that comes in a manageable size. Photo: Nick Bruckbauer/The Inertia


Best Budget Inflatable Paddle Board

ROC Kahuna 10’ 6” ($400)

ROC stand up paddle board

Available Sizes: 10′  Explorer | 10′ Scout | 10′ 6″ Kahuna 
Size Tested:
10′ 6″ x 33″ x 6″
Weight: 17.6 pounds
Weight Capacity: N/A

Pros: Affordable, stable
Cons: Not super fast, doesn’t perform well in waves or chop

Finding a budget inflatable paddle board is a bit of a double edged sword. Sure, cheaper is preferable, but oftentimes, cheap iSUPs are often less stable and less durable. Of all the boards we tested, the ROC Kahuna was the perfect blend of affordability without sacrificing too much in the performance department.

Measuring in at 10’6″ x 33″ x 6″, the Kahuna is stable enough for beginner paddlers, families, and even paddling with your pup onboard. Lightweight and compact, the Kahuna is easy to store and transport, but it’s not the most hydrodynamic board we tested, nor does it perform well in waves or chop. If you’re looking for speed, you might want to look elsewhere. But, if you’re looking for a reliably stable board for flatwater paddles, the Kahuna is a great option.

While most budget inflatables don’t come with a lot of extras, the Kahuna does have some fun, thoughtful features. The Kahuna sports front and rear grab handles as well as front and rear cargo rigging and includes a waterproof dry bag, a collapsible three-piece paddle, a detachable center fin, a leash, and a dual action pump. You also have the option to purchase a package that includes a kayak seat and kayak compatible paddle, depending on how you plan on using the board. At the time of publishing, the ROC Kahuna can be found for as low as $225.

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paddling the roc kahuna inflatable paddle board on lake tahoe

The Roc Kahuna is our favorite budget option, and provides a great opportunity to get on the water for a great price. Photo: Nick Bruckbauer/The Inertia


Best High-Performance Inflatable Paddle Board

Bluefin Cruise Carbon 12 ($999)

bluefin stand up paddle board

Available Sizes: 10′ 8″ | 12′ | 15′
Size Tested: 12′ x 32″ x 6″
Weight: 31 pounds
Weight Capacity: 385 pounds

Pros: Performs well in wider range of conditions thanks to carbon fiber layers along rails
Cons: Big and heavy for an inflatable

If you’re looking for a solid all-around inflatable that paddles similar to a traditional hardboard, look no further than the Bluefin Cruise Carbon 12. Measuring 12′ x 33″ x 6″, the board is plenty stable and performs well in a wide range of conditions, making it one of our favorite inflatable models for performance-oriented paddlers.

It’s worth noting that Bluefin just released a new version of the Cruise Carbon, which we’ve linked to in this review with the older version being phased out. It appears to mostly be cosmetic changes, and we’ll be testing the new version as soon as we can.

While the dimensions aid in stability, what really sets this board aside from the rest are the unique carbon fiber layers along the rails. These work to increase rail stiffness, allowing the board to easily cut through waves and track well in flat, as well as choppy, water. Additionally, the Cruise Carbon features dual inflation chambers, with a separate chamber strategically positioned below the deck pad — this helps reduce board flex or deformation due to waves or the weight of the paddler.

The Cruise Carbon is well made and includes thoughtful extras like heavy-duty cargo tie-downs in the front and aft, five padded grab handles, a comfortable deck pad, a GoPro mount, and lots of D-rings for attaching gear. While most inflatable SUPs come with a cheap paddle the Cruise Carbon includes a paddle with a carbon fiber shaft — it was much stiffer than the prior model we tested. The Bluefin Cruise Carbon comes with three, high quality removable fins, a removable kayak seat, an extra paddle blade to convert to a kayak style paddle, and a dual-chamber pump for easy inflation. With the new model, It appears the kayak conversion kit is only available on the Bluefin website.

The only drawback of the Cruise Carbon is its size. For an inflatable, it’s on the heavy side and doesn’t pack down as small as the other options we tested. It does, however, include a wheeled bag, so it’s still fairly easy to transport. If you prefer a smaller (and more affordable) option, the regular Bluefin Cruise 12′ is 3.5 pounds lighter and $300 cheaper, it just doesn’t have the carbon fiber rail inserts, dual inflation chambers, or dual-chamber pump.

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Bluefin stand up paddle board

The Bluefin Cruise Carbon includes unique carbon fiber layers along the rails which make for a super rigid inflatable paddle board. Photo: Nick Bruckbauer/The Inertia


Best All-Around Surf SUP 

Quatro Carve Pro ($1,989)

Quatro Carve Pro stand up paddle board

Available In: 7’7″, 7’10”, 8’0″, 8’2″, 8’4″, 8’7″
Size Tested: 8’0″ x 28.5″
Weight: 14 pounds
Weight Capacity:
N/A


Pros:
Well-designed tail, light weight, durable
Cons:
 A little pricey

When it came to SUP surfing, the Quatro Carve Pro was the best board for the job. We put the Carve Pro to the test in glassy conditions, choppy waves, and at a punchy beachbreak to get a feel for how it performed in a wide range of conditions. Quatro is a brand that is well-know for making performance equipment for kiting, foiling, surfing, and SUP and the Carve Pro was no exception.

The Carve Pro features Quatro’s Pro Light Full Double Sandwich Construction, which allows the board to be extremely lightweight (just under 14 pounds). As such, the board is easy to transport and handle on the water. While up and riding on a wave, the board feels and performs similar to a shortboard. In particular, the Carve Pro rides similar to a performance fish and the length coupled with the bottoms contours make it easy to paddle.

The Carve Pro features a high nose lift combined with a narrow nose width that helps with late drop ins, thin rails for tighter turns, a narrow width, a shallow tail, a 3/4 deck pad, and an integrated Stability Deck Pad to add grip without wax or needing to install your own deck pad. The board has a five-fin box and comes with Quatro-brand fins, allowing you to experiment with a Thruster or Quad setup.

Our tester was 6’0″ and found that the 8’0″ length combined with the 28.5″ width was the perfect size for him. The board comes in a bunch of additional sizes, so it’ll be easy to find one that works well for you. It’s not a cheap board, but it’s fun to surf and the quality is exceptional.

Check Price on Quatro

Best SUP for Calm Water Cruising

Surftech Chameleon Tuflite V-Tech 11’ 4” ($1,145)

Surftech Chameleon stand up paddle board

Available In: 10’4″, 11’4″
Size Tested: 11’4″ x 32″ x 4.5″
Weight: 25 pounds
Weight Capacity:
225 pounds

Pros: Nice aesthetic, v-shaped nose cuts easily through the water
Cons: Deck pad wasn’t super comfortable

At first glance, we really love the looks of the Surftech Chameleon Tuflite V-Tech. It has really nice graphics and the entire aesthetic is appealing. But looks don’t mean anything if it doesn’t perform on the water. Luckily, the Chameleon combines good looks with performance, for an all-around solid hardboard.

The “hybrid” shape combines a slight v-shape nose that helps cut through the water, with a planing hull that helps with stability and maneuvering. The result? A smooth glide and speed through the water. At 4.5”, the thickness is thinner than most boards, giving the board a low center of gravity that makes you feel like you’re walking on water. While the board performs well in calm, flat water conditions, it’s not as stable in really rough, choppy water as thicker or wider boards.

Thoughtful features include a single center fin, 3/4 length deck pad, deck tie-down straps on the nose of the board, and a recessed grab handle for easy transport. While it was nice to have reliable traction underfoot, our lead tester wasn’t a fan of the feel of the cutout grooves/lines in the deck pad. Weighing in at 25 pounds, the Chameleon is on the light side for an 11’4″ board, which we greatly appreciated when loading and transporting it.

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stand up paddle board

At 4.5”, the Surftech Chameleon Tuflite V-Tech is thinner than most boards, giving the board a low center of gravity that makes you feel like you’re walking on water. Photo: Nick Bruckbauer/The Inertia


Best of the Rest

Best Performance Surf SUP

Infinity Wide Speed ($2,295)

Infinity Wide Speed stand up paddle board

Available In: 7’7″, 7’11”, 8’2″, 8’6″, 9′, 10′
Size Tested: 7’7″
Weight: N/A
Weight Capacity: N/A

Pros: Durable, lightweight construction, stable,
Cons:
  On the expensive side

If you’ve ever surfed in Dana Point, California, you’ve likely seen an Infinity surfboard or stand up paddle board in the lineup. Infinity Surf is one of the most reputable SUP companies in the world and makes top of the line surfboard, raceboards, SUP surfboards, and foil boards.

Generally, Infinity is geared toward custom boards, but they have some tried and true production boards. The Infinity Wide Speed is the ultimate blend of stability and performance. The board is constructed from Infinity’s unique SUPspensionTech, resulting in a lightweight yet durable board that is extremely fun to ride.

Stability is a double edged sword when it comes to surf SUPs because typically, when you have a wide, stable board, you sacrifice maneuverability. The Wide Speed sports a unique shape with most of the width towards the front of the board and a little just in front of the tail. We took the 7’7″ out on a small, glassy morning and were impressed with the speed and lift that the board delivered and the fact that it was possible to ride the board from nose to tail (no joke).

The Wide Speed features a double concave from nose to trail, chined rails, an all-over rocker, and a five box fin setup. The lightweight materials combined with the contours and fin placement deliver a board that is easy to paddle and fun to shred on. At $2,295, it’s by no means a budget SUP, but it is the best performance SUP we tried and is a board any SUP surfer would be proud to have in his or her quiver.

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Best Inflatable Paddle Board for Touring

Red Paddle Co. Voyager 12’ ($1650)

Red Paddle Co. Voyager stand up paddle board

Available Sizes: 12′ | 12′ 6″ | 13′ 2″
Size Tested: 12′ x 28″ x 4.7″
Weight: 26.9 pounds
Weight Capacity:
240 pounds

Pros: RSS batten system makes board stiff, rigid, and fast
Cons: Expensive, doesn’t pack down super small

Created with distance and speed in mind, the Red Paddle Co. Voyager 12′ was one of the fastest inflatables we tested. Measuring 12′ x 28″ x 4.7″, the narrower width combined with V-hull system, allowed the board to cut through the water quickly and efficiently. Newer paddlers may have trouble with the narrower shape, but we found the board to be pretty stable.

In an effort to make the board more rigid and stable, the Voyager 12′ features Red Paddle Co.’s RSS batten system. The system involves inserting plastic battens along the side rails, allowing the board to have more of the feel of a hard board. The battens can be a little challenging to get in and out but once they’re in, the enhanced performance is incredible. If you prefer to paddle sans battens, the board still performs well and is plenty stable.

The Voyager comes with all the bells and whistles: a padded carrying handle, front and back D-rings with bungee straps, two fins, a twin chamber pump, and a wheeled travel bag. Seeing as the board is 12′ it doesn’t pack down as small as some of the other inflatables we tried, so the wheeled bag was a huge plus and made it easy to transport (you can even travel with it as your checked bag). Although this board is stellar, the price is steep, but it’s well-made and is a great touring option. Read our full review of the Red Paddle Co. Voyager here.

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red paddle co sup

The Voyager comes with all the bells and whistles: a padded carrying handle, front and back D-rings with bungee straps, two fins, a twin chamber pump, and a wheeled travel bag. Photo: Rebecca Parsons/The Inertia


Best Value Surf SUP

Naish Mad Dog ($1,329)

Naish Mad Dog stand up paddle board

Available In: 7’6′, 7’10”, 8’1″, 8’6″, 8’11”
Size Tested: 7’10” x 29″ x 4.25″
Weight:
Weight Capacity: 180 pounds

Pros: Well-designed, shortboard feel, good value
Cons:
  Material is a little heavier

Robby Naish has been in the watersports’ industry for years and he’s learned a thing or two about making boards through his experiences. The Naish Hokua has been a longtime top pick among SUP surfers, but we opted to place the Mad Dog on our list instead due to its speed and responsiveness. It’s also super easy to paddle but feels like you’re riding a shortboard.

We took the Mad Dog out in eight-foot winter swell in Oregon and loved the speed and responsiveness the quad setup delivered. This may not be true for some of the larger models, but we tested out the 7’10” and found it was a great board for bigger surf.

While we loved the Mad Dog in bigger surf, we also had the chance to test it on a small day and appreciated how versatile the board is. The quad set-up with FCS fins allows for a quad, single-fin, or 2 + 1 setup, which further added to the versatility of the board. The Mad Dog features a Sandwich Deck Construction, with bamboo in the stance area and a diamond-grooved EVA deck pad. The rocker is forgiving but it’s built for performance and is best suited for pumping waves. Of all the SUP surfboards we got our hands on, the Mad Dog was the most affordable board without sacrificing performance.

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Best Stand Up Paddle Boards Comparison Table

Board Model Price Dimensions Weight Weight Capacity Fin Configuration Volume
Isle Explorer 2.0 $895 11′ 6″ x 32″ x 6″ 24 lbs. 300 lbs. 2 + 1 336 liters
Surftech Lido 10’ 6” $975 10’6″′ x 32″ x 5″ 28 lbs. 300 lbs. Single 236 liters
ROC Kahuna 10’ 6” $400 10′ 6″ x 33″ x 6″ 17.6 lbs. N/A 2 + 1 N/A
Bluefin Cruise Carbon 12 $700 12′ x 32″ x 6″ 31 lbs. 386 lbs. 2 + 1 N/A
Quatro Carve Pro $1,989 8’0″ x 28.5″ 14 lbs. N/A Thruster or Quad 109 liters
Surftech Chameleon Tuflite V-Tech 11’ 4” $1,145 11’4″ x 32″ x 4.5″ 25 lbs. 225 lbs. Single 213 liters
Infinity Wide Speed $2,295 7’7″ x 28″ N/A N/A Five-box setup 100 liters
Red Paddle Co. Voyager 12’ $1,650 12′ x 28″ x 4.7″ 26.9 lbs. 240 lbs. Twin 285 liters
Naish Mad Dog $1,329 7’10” x 29″ x 4.25″ N/A 180 lbs. Quad setup 101 liters

How We Tested the Best Stand Up Paddle Boards

To get a feel for how these boards performed in a wide range of conditions, our expert team of paddlers hit the water in Oregon, California, and Hawaii, paddled in alpine lakes, the open ocean, on rivers, streams, and canals, and surfed some of the Pacific’s best waves. With each board, we considered its intended use, overall stability, how it tracked through the water, glide, how it felt underfoot, and how difficult or easy the board was to transport. We considered whether the board was sold solo or if was part of a package. If it came as apart of a package, we evaluated everything that was included such as fins, leashes, paddles, pumps, bags, and any and everything else.

stand up paddle board

Our lead tester, Nick Bruckbauer, taking the Surftech Lido out for a spin. Photo: Shannon Bruckbauer/The Inertia

Leading our testing team was Nick Bruckbauer, Rebecca Parsons, and Joe Carberry. Nick first discovered the sport of SUP in 2011 on a trip to Hawaii. Since, he’s been a regular on the water and has owned a number of rigid and inflatable boards and has personally written about 25 different boards for various outdoor publications, as well as testing other paddling gear like SUP paddles and life jackets. Nick currently resides in the Lake Tahoe region and paddles as often as the weather allows.

Rebecca stand up paddled for the first time in 2012, while on a retreat in Lake Tahoe. From there, she became heavily invested in the sport and took up a job writing for SUP the Mag. Since then, she’s competed in numerous races and has SUP-surfed around the world. These days, you’ll find Rebecca training and paddling near her home in Kailua, Hawaii, oftentimes with her pup, Koa, in tow.

Joe Carberry is The Inertia’s managing editor. But he’s a waterman first. He’s been surfing, paddling, and taking serious, often-unintended beatdowns for nearly three decades, and lent his wealth of knowledge to our efforts here, personally testing a wide variety of surf SUPs.


Best Stand Up Paddle Boards Buyer’s Guide

How to Choose a Stand Up Paddle Board

Solid Stand Up Paddle Boards

There are two main types of paddle boards: traditional hardboards and inflatables. Hardboards usually have a foam core that is encircled by fiberglass and epoxy resin. A huge pro of hardboards is that they’re rigid and stiff, allowing them to be more stable and cut through the water easily. They require little to no setup time once you arrive at your destination, but they are often heavy and can be cumbersome to store and transport. The epoxy or fiberglass shells can be prone to dents, scratches, and dings, so you need to handle with care when transporting. Hardboards also tend to be more expensive than their inflatable counterparts. If you’re looking for performance, however, hardboards deliver and they easily maintain speed and momentum while paddling.

Pros Cons
Little to no setup/take down required Heavy
Rigid and stiff Large to store and difficult to transport
Easily maintain speed and momentum Expensive
Optimized paddling performance Fiberglass and epoxy are prone to scratches, dings, and dents

Inflatable Stand Up Paddle Boards

A newer invention, inflatable paddle boards have helped make stand up paddle boarding accessible to all. They inflate to the size of a traditional hardboard, but pack down small enough to fit into a duffel-sized pack, making storage and transportation a non-issue. They can even be taken overseas as your checked luggage without any additional fees. Oftentimes, inflatables are sold as a package and include all the bells and whistles such as the fins, leash, paddle, bag, etc.

While iSUPs are incredibly portable and often affordable, they are typically not as rigid, stable, or as fast as hardboards. Most are made from a PVC material, which doesn’t cut through the water as well as epoxy or fiberglass. A perk of PVC, though, is that it doesn’t ding or dent easily. And, as inflatable paddle boards grow in popularity, so does the technology. Recent improvements to iSUPs such as carbon fiber inlays, dual inflation chambers, high-pressure construction, and rail-stiffening inserts are quickly narrowing the gap between inflatables and hardboards. Another drawback of inflatables is the setup time they require – electric pumps make things easier, but you’re looking at a solid 10-20 minutes before you’re ready to hit the water.

Pros Cons
Lightweight Takes some time to setup/tear down
Packs down small Not super rigid
Affordable Not the fastest board option
Usually sold as a package and include extras Not high performance boards

Stand Up Paddle Board Shapes/Uses

If you’re new to stand up paddling, it can be difficult to know what kind of board to pick. Like surfboards, there are many different shapes and sizes of paddle boards, with different intended uses. Although there are many different options, the three main types of paddle boards are all-around, touring, and surf.

stand up paddle board

Measuring 12′ x 33″ x 6″, the Bluefin Cruise Carbon 12 is plenty stable and performs well in a wide range of conditions, making it a great all-around iSUP. Photo: Nick Bruckbauer/The Inertia

All-Around Paddle Boards

This style of board is well suited for the everyday paddler. If you’re looking to casually paddle on your local waterway, do some yoga, fish, or even paddle with the kids or pups onboard, an all-around shape is your best bet. All-around boards typically have a rounded nose and a wider deck, allowing the board to sit on top of the water and provide a stable platform. All-around boards perform well in most conditions and they strike a happy balance between speed and stability.

stand up paddle board

Touring paddle boards, like the NRS Escape, feature a long, narrow design that allows them to cut through the water quickly and efficiently. Photo: Will Sileo/The Inertia

Touring Paddle Boards

If you’re a more experienced paddler looking for an efficient board to do longer paddles, a touring board is a great option. Touring boards are longer than all-around models (usually upwards of 11′ or 12′) and are narrower. Another distinctive design feature of touring boards is their pointed nose, which allows them cut through the water more efficiently. Due to their shape and width, touring boards aren’t as stable as all-around models. But if you’re looking to go fast or far, a touring board is a great pick.

Surf Paddle Boards

As the name suggests, surf paddle boards are for folks looking to catch some waves atop their SUP. There are both longboard and shortboard style boards, but in general, SUP surfboards tend to be shorter and have less volume than other paddle boards. The lower the volume and the thinner the rails, the more high performance the board will be (but it will also be less stable and trickier to paddle). To learn more about surf paddle boards specifically, check out our guide to the best SUPs for Surfing.

Size, Shape, Materials, and Overall Performance

Generally speaking, longer, narrower boards are faster and wider, while shorter boards move more slowly. Long, narrow boards are more hydrodynamic and they track well through the water, providing a more efficient glide. On the flip slide, narrower boards are less stable and better suited for more experienced paddlers who prioritize speed over stability.

Where long, narrow boards are fast, wide, short boards move more slowly through the water. The added width doesn’t allow them to cut through the water as efficiently and they have a bit more drag. Although they’re not as speedy, wider boards offer a lot more stability and are great for beginners or larger paddlers.

stand up paddle board

Hard stand up paddle boards made from epoxy or fiberglass, like the Surftech Chameleon, track quickly and efficiently through the water. Photo: Nick Bruckbauer/The Inertia

In addition to length and width, volume also plays a role in the board’s stability and weight capacity. If you remember from your school days, overall volume of an object is the length x width x thickness. Boards with less volume tend to be less stable, but can be more maneuverable and are better suited for smaller or more experienced paddlers (surf SUPs typically fall into this category). High volume boards tend to be much more stable and work well for riders of all sizes.

Another factor that affects the performance of the board is the materials that it’s made from. The most common materials used to make hardboards are epoxy or fiberglass. Inflatables are made from PVC. While there are some touring and raceboard-style inflatables, epoxy and fiberglass boards tend to be higher performance as their hard surface allows them to cut through the water quickly and efficiently.

Construction and Features of Stand Up Paddle Boards

When you purchase a paddle board, you usually get more than just the board. Most hardboards don’t come with much, but typically the fin and deck pad are included. Inflatables, on the other hand, often come as a package including fins, a leash, a paddle, a pump, a bag, and other extras.

Fins

If you’ve ever tried paddling without fins, then you probably learned the hard way that they are essential. Fins help the board track in a straight line through the water and also aid in stability. Some boards have removable fins, while others have fins that are permanently affixed to the board. The most common fin configurations are single fin, twin-fin, 2 + 1, quad, and five-fin setups. Some boards only come with one fin box, forcing a single fin setup, but others come with multiple, allowing you to experiment with different configurations.

All-around paddle boards typically have a 2 + 1 fin configuration as it offers good stability. Occasionally, they will have a single fin setup. Touring boards usually have a single fin because they track well and add stability, but will sometimes opt for a twin-fin construction. The fin configuration on surf SUPs truly runs the gamut, and really just comes down to personal preference.

Paddle

Like boards, there are many different types of paddles out there. There are two main categories of paddles: adjustable and fixed length. Adjustable paddles allow you to easily change the length of your paddle, so you can experiment with different lengths or use the same paddle for riders of different heights. Adjustable paddles are popular due to their versatility. Fixed length paddles are not adjustable, so it’s important to make sure you purchase the correct size for your height and the type of paddling you plan on doing. Fixed length paddles also tend to be lighter and more high performance.

The most common materials paddles are made from are plastic, aluminum, fiberglass, carbon fiber, and wood. Plastic paddles are durable and affordable and are what most entry-level paddles are made from. Aluminum shafts are often paired with plastic blades and are a step up in performance from entirely plastic paddles. Fiberglass and carbon fiber paddles are lightweight and stiff and are a high performance paddle option (but they are typically more expensive). Finally, wood paddles are traditional but are heavy and expensive and are best suited for wall art rather than for actually taking on the water.

Deck Pad

The deck pad sits atop the board and provides a cushioned surface for sitting or standing. Some deck pads span the entire length of the board, while others are just under the area where you would stand. If you’re planning to do solo flatwater cruising a deck pad covering the entire board is unnecessary, but if you plan to paddle with extra passengers onboard, do yoga, or walk up and down the board, then it’ll be essential. Some deck pads have a raised stomp pad towards the rear of the board, which is important for surfing or when doing quick pivot turns.

Carry/Grab Handles

Stand up paddle boards aren’t the lightest or easiest thing to transport, so handles are essential. Every basic SUP should come with a center handle for carrying the board, but some include handles on the front and back of the board to aid in transport. Some handles are high-quality and are padded and comfortable to carry, while others are hard and dig into your hands (something to note before purchasing a board).

stand up paddle board

Inflatables often come with extras like paddles, leashes, pumps, bags, and more. Photo: Nick Bruckbauer/The Inertia

Extras

Typically, hardboards and surf SUPs don’t come with a lot of extras – you’re lucky if the paddle is included. But inflatables often come with all the bells and whistles and extras can include a leash, D-rings, cargo webbing, kayak seat, SUP/kayak hybrid paddle, built-in paddle holders, camera mounts, a PFD, and a bag.

Rules/Regulations and Safety

Before setting out to paddle, you should always take safety and local rules and regulations into consideration. If you’re not familiar with the local rules and regulations, take some time to look them up online and ask around before heading out.

Rules vary from region to region but according to USCG regulations, any paddler over the age of 12 must have a “USCG-approved Type I, II, III, or appropriate Type V” life jacket. Children under the age of 12, must wear their PFD while paddling. It’s good practice to always wear a PFD because, as the old adage goes, “better to be safe than sorry.” Same goes with a leash – although it isn’t a legal requirement in most places, it’s always a good idea to wear a leash to prevent getting separated from your board should you fall.

stand up paddle board

It’s always good practice to wear a life jacket. Photo: Will Sileo/The Inertia

SUP surfing works a little differently. You aren’t required to wear a PFD while surfing nor are you required to wear a leash (in most regions), but it’s common courtesy to wear one to help keep everyone around you safe.

Weight, Transport and Convenience

Before purchasing a paddle board, you should ask yourself a few questions to determine what kind of board you need. Do I have somewhere to store the board? Do I have a way to transport it on my vehicle. Will I be able to carry it on my own? Do I want to travel with my board?

stand up paddle boards

Inflatables, like the Isle Explorer 2.0, are easy to carry, transport, and store. Photo: Jack Bober/The Inertia

If you’re short on storage space, an inflatable board may be the most viable option. Same goes for a reliable vehicle. If you don’t have a way to transport a 10-foot plus board on your car (racks and straps), then you shouldn’t get a hardboard. Typically, inflatables and surf SUPs are lighter than traditional hardboards, so if you’re concerned about weight you might want to steer clear of a classic hardboard. Finally, if you want to travel with your board, especially on an airplane, an inflatable is going to be a much easier option as they can easily fit in the trunk of a car or can fly as checked baggage.

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Editor’s Note: For more gear reviews and features on The Inertia, click here.

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