Choosing the Right Stand-Up Paddleboard (SUP)

With the surge in paddleboard popularity in recent years and now a plethora of options gracing the walls of outdoor retailers, there’s a lot more choosing the right stand up paddleboard (SUP) picking the correct size. Are you planning on paddling on still lakes or whitewater? Do you plan on paddling single day trips or multi-day tours with camping cargo aboard? Let’s take a look at some of the important considerations when choosing the right SUP.

Words by Vince Shuley

Inflatable vs Solid

Inflatable SUPs (sometimes called iSUPS) have come a long way since they first hit the paddleboarding market. Now stiffer and more versatile than ever before, iSUPs are the go-to first purchase for aspiring paddlers. Here’s a couple of reasons:

  • Convenience. You don’t need a garage or a shed to store your rolled up inflatable paddleboard, nor do you need a truck or roof racks to transport it. You can even hike to remote locations before inflating your iSUP then deflate it for the hike back to the car at the end of the day.
  • Durability. Inflatable boards are less prone to damage from collisions with sharp things like rocks.

Solid boards do have their own advantages. They don’t need to be inflated or deflated, meaning more time paddling and less time pumping. Solid boards also have unrivalled stiffness, making them more stable. The rails can also be shaped to allow less drag and more manoeuvrability for applications such as racing or surfing.

The 10’6 Ride (planing hull) and 11’0 Sport (displacement hull) from Red Paddle Co.

SUP Hull Type

There are two types of SUP hulls to choose from, which perform quite differently in the water. Planing hulls are flat and wide and designed to ride on top of the water. They are also favoured by SUP beginners as they are more stable and perfect for recreational paddling.
Displacement hulls have a pointed nose similar to traditional watercraft such as kayaks and canoes. The tapered shape allows the SUP to slice through the water, pushing the water at the nose towards the sides of the board. This allows faster and more efficient paddling, but at the cost of stability. Displacement hulls are the favoured shape of advanced paddlers for racing and touring applications.
Shorter inflatable SUPs such as the Red Paddle Co. Whip are surprisingly effective in surf


SUP Length and Volume


Unlike skis and snowboards, SUP length is not necessarily a function of your height and ability but  of the intended application. Here’s a quick breakdown:
  • Short boards (9 feet or less) are more maneuverable and suitable for surfing or as a kids board
  • Medium boards (9 to 12 feet) are great for all-round use on calm waters and can be used in the surf
  • Long boards (12 to 14 feet) are faster more common for racing and/or touring. They also track better in the water, a desirable feature when paddling longer distances.
SUP volume is determined by the length, width and thickness of the board. This figure is important as the board needs to support the weight of the rider and any cargo. Too little volume will cause the SUP to ride low in the water making paddling difficult. Click here for a rough calculation of your ideal SUP volume.
Lake cruising on Red Paddle Co. Ride boards. A great all-rounder. Photo by Abby Dells Photography


Other Considerations When Choosing the Right Stand Up Paddleboard

The fin configuration is also something you should look at when choosing the right stand up paddleboard. Removable single fins come in a range of size and shapes for various applications and personal preferences. The fixed three fin system (termed “thrusters”) is a tried and tested configuration from surfing, also adding to the board’s ability to track in a straight line.
Remember that choosing the right paddle is also important for your SUP experience, be sure to buy the right length and style. Stay tuned for more on this subject soon.
Escape Route recommends all SUP users paddle with a personal flotation device (PFD) as per Transport Canada regulations and also use a leash for the safest paddle experience possible.
Looking to try before you buy? Escape Route has a select number of SUPs available in our rental fleet at our Whistler and Squamish stores. Contact us for more information.