Different Types of Stand Up Paddle Boards


Types of Paddle Boards

Stand up paddle boards are a really fun way to get out on the water and enjoy the sunshine without investing a ton of money in equipment or motorized vessels. But there are many different types of stand up paddle boards on the market, and they’re all designed for different purposes. 

What are the different types of stand up paddle boards? Different types of paddle boards are made from various materials and come in different shapes, sizes, and purposes. The main types of stand up paddle boards are, recreational, touring, surf, and racing. And paddle boards can be made of fiberglass, wood, inflatable polyethylene, and foam.

With so many options, it’s hard to know which one to choose. Here are the key features you should look for. And how to know what’s the best type of stand up paddle board for you.

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What is the Best Type of Stand Up Paddle Board?

The best type of SUP is a paddle board that fits your weight and the type of paddle boarding you want to do. In a nutshell, the taller and heavier a person is, the longer the paddle board they need in order to remain stable on the water.

There are also a couple of special use paddle boards designed for specific activities like yoga, touring, racing, etc., so you need to choose one that is designed for how you intend to use it.

Fiberglass Paddle Boards

Of all the solid boards available on the market, the fiberglass is the most popular. Fiberglass is lightweight for easy maneuverability in and out of the water. But it’s also very sturdy, which allows you to do a lot of different things on this type of board.

Fiberglass paddle boards are made of an EPS foam core with multiple layers of fiberglass around the outside. They are then covered multiple times with an epoxy resin to seal them. These multiple layers are designed to protect the inner core and to prevent dings in the board’s surface.

EPS stands for expanded polystyrene, which is a type of high density foam. It is extremely rigid, but also lightweight, which is the main reason for its use in paddle boards. It features a closed cell construction and can withstand extreme compressive forces, making it ideal for sporting and long-distance paddle boards.

Much like fiberglass boats, these SUP boards have the ability to cut through the waves and tend to offer a smoother and faster ride. They also track better and are easier to control in the water than many other types of boards. Depending on the shape of the hull that you choose, they can cut more quickly or offer a leisurely, smooth paddle on the water.

Soft Top Paddle Boards

Soft top paddle boards feature a front deck that is constructed of a spongy, soft foam. The foam curls up just slightly at the front end to allow the board to glide over the top of the water. It offers quite a bit a stability while still being able to withstand the occasional bump into a rock, tree branch or other obstacle.

The core of a soft top board is still very sturdy, despite the soft foam. It is usually constructed of a high-density EPS foam, just like a fiberglass board. Soft top boards also have a rigid piece of plastic (a stringer), running down the middle of the board from tip to tail. This helps it maintain rigidity against your body weight and the surf.

These boards are great if you like to ride barefoot. Since your toes do the majority of the “driving” when it comes to keeping your balance, the soft foam really allows you to “grip” the board with your feet.

One of the best parts about soft top boards is that they show barely any wear or tear. Unlike a fiberglass board, which can scuff easily, soft top SUPs generally hide their aging very well due to the soft foam coating over the top. They are also great for beginners, so check them out if you’re just getting started.

Foam Paddle Boards

Foam boards are the lightest boards on the market, making them the easiest to pick up and carry around. Although inflatable SUPs are easiest to carry when fully inflated, they can be a beast when deflated. On the flip side, with a foam board, it’s always a breeze to move them around.

Contrary to popular belief, foam paddle boards are extremely durable. This may seem like an oxymoron, but it’s true! Since they are made of all foam, they can take a beating and still remain seaworthy. Seriously. If you ding a fiberglass board, you risk the board taking on a lot of water. But if you ding a foam board, no worries!

These boards are a great option not only for beginners but also for recreational paddle boarders. You can take your dog with you on the board because if the foam gets scratched, it’s no big deal. Although a foam SUP board will be slower than a fiberglass board, you’ll be able to travel faster than an inflatable one, which is a definite “plus” for many people.

Last but not least, foam boards are really affordable. If you really want to enjoy your time on the water and not break the bank, these are a great option for you. You’ll get good performance, high durability and a ton of value due to the lower cost.

Wooden Stand Up Paddle Boards

The most common wood construction for a stand up paddle board is bamboo. It offers the strength and durability of a carbon fiber board without the extravagant price tag. Carbon fiber is definitely the strongest material out there in terms of paddle board construction, but it’s also the most expensive.

Bamboo is a nice middle ground between fiberglass and carbon fiber.

Wooden boards help meet the elusive strength to weight ratio that SUP riders are always looking for. You generally want the strongest board possible that is still extremely light. Bamboo is able to deliver these features and it looks great, too.

Other types of wooden boards include white cedar, beetle kill pine, and paulownia, amongst others. Paulownia has the highest strength-to-weight ratio but is much heavier to carry than some of the lighter woods like bamboo. If you’re environmentally conscious, try to look for a paddle board that is constructed of wood that is native to the area in which it was made.

Any type of wooden board that you choose will likely follow these standards: EPS core, wooden outer shell, cover in epoxy resin. All of these elements are important to the functionality and durability of the board. When combined, they offer a lightweight, highly buoyant, excellent experience on the water.

Inflatable Paddle Boards

Inflatable boards are super convenient if you don’t have a ton of space available for storage or paddle board transport. They’ll deflate all the way down to fit into a duffle bag for easy transport in minimal space. Many inflatable SUPs come with their own backpack so you can throw it on your back and hike to your desired destination before inflating it.

When they’re fully inflated, inflatable paddle boards are more sturdy than you might think.

They are typically constructed of a heavy duty PVC plastic on the outside and a softer plastic core on the inside. They also have a soft foam deck, which makes them great for paddle board yoga in calm conditions.

Most inflatable boards come with their own pump for easy inflation. While some have an electric pump, the vast majority come with a hand pump that is very similar to that used for a bicycle tire. But don’t fret! They only take about 10 minutes to fully inflate by hand and then you’re good to go.

Inflatable boards are extremely convenient but tend to underperform when compared to hard boards.

They are less maneuverable, less stable, and often less durable than epoxy, fiberglass, or wooden boards. Although they are lightweight and inexpensive, they are not always the best choice.

If you do opt for an inflatable paddle board, be sure to look for one with a warranty. Many manufacturers of inflatable paddle boards offer extended warranties to give the paddler peace of mind when buying. This is a good practice regardless of which board you buy!

Recreational Paddle Boards

Stand up paddle boarding is one of the fastest growing water sports available today. It’s really fun and pretty much anyone can participate. It’s also great exercise that you can do alone, with friends, or with your family and kids.

If you’re a recreational paddler, there are a few things you might want to think about before choosing which board to purchase. Different features will offer a different experience for you while out on the water. These features include the length, width, and shape of your board, to name a few.

Recreational boards are typically what we consider to be “all-around” boards, or boards that are good for the beginner to participate in a wide variety of different types of paddle boarding.

Recreational SUPs can also include touring and racing boards, but we’ll get into those a little bit later. For this portion of the article, we will be discussing all-around boards.

The dimensions of a paddle board play a big part in its buoyancy—how much weight it can support. Here are some of the features and benefits to consider when looking at a recreational SUP:

Length

In a nutshell, how long a paddle board is, determines a big part of its buoyancy. For example, an eleven-foot board will be much more buoyant and move faster in the water with a 130-pound person on it than a 230-pound person. This is because the heavier person will naturally push the board down deeper into the water, while the lighter person will ride on top of the water.

Buoyancy is an important consideration when purchasing a paddle board.

The last thing you want to do is purchase one that’s too short or too small and have to work twice as hard to get it to move through the water.

Width

The width of the board is also really important, particularly for recreational purposes. Since you’re not racing with your board or trying to compete against other paddle boarders, you would do well to choose a board that’s a bit wider.

Consider purchasing a board that is 32 inches wide or more at the widest point.

The wider the board, the more stability you will have. While length affects buoyancy, width affects stability. This refers to how much the board teeters side to side in the water. As a recreational rider, to want to have more stability to keep you upright, even when you’re not moving.

Hull

The hull of the board is another feature that will affect how it moves through the water. There are two main types of hulls on paddle boards:

  • Planing Hulls have a fat, rounded nose that is designed to glide over the top of the water. It pushes the water down while turning slightly upward to keep the board on top of the water.
  • Displacement Hulls have a pointed tip that is designed to cut directly through the water, rather than gliding on top of it.

Planing hulls are an excellent choice for beginner paddlers because they contribute to increased stability for the board.

Displacement hulls are better suited for people who want to travel longer distances and/or faster. They can be just as stable as planning hulls, but offer more efficiency and speed when moving through the water.

Touring Paddle Boards

Touring SUP boards are designed specifically for long distance paddling.

They have a variety of features that are specific to long distance adventures. If you intend to go long distances, or long periods of time on your board, get a touring paddle board.

Here are some key features of touring SUPs. (Hint: they aren’t really too much different than the features from recreational boards – just different specifications for the same features).

Length

When it comes to long-distance touring, length is the name of the game. The longer the board, the higher it will sit in the water and the more comfortable it will be for a long distance trip. Remember that the higher the board sits in the water, the more buoyant it is.

Aside from buoyancy, longer boards also track much straighter in the water. Short boards tend to be more agile and they wiggle around in the water, which can be annoying on a long haul. Long boards, on the other hand, track straight and fairly fast, which is really nice.

Width

The width of a touring paddle board affects its speed in the water. While beginner paddlers will do really well on wider boards for short distances, if you want to go longer and faster, you definitely want a thinner board. If the board is too wide and too slow, you’ll be completely exhausted from paddling so hard to get it to keep moving.

Hull

Most touring boards are designed with a displacement hull for the specific purpose of cutting through the water and moving faster than other boards. When you’re paddling a really long distance, most paddlers want to move more efficiently. This type of hull will allow you to do just that.

If you’re paddling through some moderate surf or waves, the displacement hull will help keep the board stable. It has the ability to cut through the surf and also to help the board track straighter than a planing hull. It won’t do you much good in really choppy conditions, though, so be prepared for that!

Construction

The materials paddle boards are made of are also an important consideration for long-distance trips. As discussed in earlier sections, there are tons of different construction materials from which to choose. For the purpose of the touring conversation, we will break them into two categories: hard and inflatable.

Inflatable boards are obviously easier to transport because they deflate. They can offer a nice, stable ride with a variety of features such as carrying bags, additional fins, etc. They are also extremely lightweight because they are full of air!

When you’re headed out on a long trip and you have to hike to the launch spot, inflatables are an amazing option! They are great for beginners who want to start touring.

Hard Boards are those constructed of wood or fiberglass. They’re much heavier to transport than the inflatable SUPs, so they might not be the best choice if you have to hike a long way to get your paddle board into the water. However, hard SUPs offer more stability and speed than inflatable ones.

Hard SUPs also offer overall better tracking and speed. As discussed earlier, the displacement hull allows the board to cut through the surf, track straight and move efficiently. This is definitely an excellent choice for touring.

Surf Paddle Boards

YES! You can surf on a paddle board. It seems crazy, but it’s true.

In this category, hard boards almost always beat inflatable boards in performance and functionality.

The features on Surf SUP boards are a little bit different than those of other stand up paddle boards. Surf SUPs are typically shorter than boards that are designed for other activities, because surfing requires a lot more maneuverability. They are also much thinner than traditional SUP boards.

Most surf paddle boards feature a wide, rounded, planning hull. This keeps the nose from dipping down into the water and flipping you off the board. It also helps the board glide on top of the waves, rather than trying to cut through them.

A single or double-diamond tail is an important feature on surf paddle boards. This type of tail design allows the surfer to turn quickly and sharply to get in or out of the wave as necessary. Traditional style paddle boards do not have this feature.

You’ll find that many surf paddle boards have at least one fin, but more often than not, they will have three.

This helps with directional control and foot stability while riding. Different fin configurations offer different benefits, so be sure to read the specs before making your purchase.

Racing Paddle Boards

Racing SUP boards have the narrowest body of all the boards in paddle boarding. They are typically 25-29 inches at their widest point, which allows them to travel at a much greater speed than wider boards.

Racing SUPs aren’t ideal for beginners as they tend to be less stable and wobble more from side to side, making them difficult to stand on unless you’re paddling quickly.

So what are the features you should look for in a racing board?

You know the drill… let’s talk about the specifications and features of a racing SUP board!

Length

There are generally two lengths of SUP board that people use when racing: 12’4” and 14’. The longer the board, the straighter it tracks in the water. However, the 14’ board is also going to be wider than the 12’4” board simply because it is bigger. That width could cost you in speed!

Width

Since the width of the board is a major factor in speed, most racing boards are thinner than touring or recreational boards. The key to your success is finding a board that is as long as possible without sacrificing the “thinness” of the board. Chances are that you can make a shorter board track straighter, much more easily than you can make a wider board paddle faster.

Just choose the lesser of the two evils.

Hull

As you already know, the displacement hull is the way to go for racing. Whether you’re on a fairly quiet lake or out on the ocean, the displacement hull will help the board cut through the surf and get you moving faster.

At the end of the day, the best thing you can do is try various boards until you find what works for you. If you have a retailer in your area that regularly does demo days out on the water for people to test different boards, go check them out! If not, try to find a racing club or other group in your area where you might be able to test out some boards before making your choice.

The Paddle

Last but not least, let’s consider the types of paddles you should use for your paddle boarding adventures. Just like the boards, there are different paddles that are used for different things. However, we will only divide them into racing and recreational categories.

Recreational Paddles

Paddles for recreational use are fairly simple. They can be a really flimsy construction of cheap plastic, which is perfectly fine for beginners, or they can be carbon fiber, which is the most expensive. For recreational purposes, a hard plastic or fiberglass paddle will be just fine.

Look for a paddle with a good grip on the top that is comfortable and fits in your hand. If you’re touring, be sure to get a really nice grip. Nothing is worse than getting halfway through your trip and ending up with a nasty blister on your hand, because the only way to get home is to keep paddling!

Here’s an article on how long a recreational paddle board paddle should be.

Racing Paddles

The paddle you use for racing a SUP board is often overlooked, but highly important. They can make a huge difference in your performance during the race. They can also help to prevent injuries.

A good paddle will be lightweight and have a smaller blade than that of a touring paddle. This allows the paddle to slide in and out of the water with minimal resistance and maximum maneuverability. You can move faster, more efficiently and more easily this way.

Racing paddles are typically either fiberglass or carbon. Fiberglass is fine for calm lakes and rivers, but carbon will be optimal for ocean waves. Both are fairly inexpensive, lightweight and adjustable based on your height.

To prevent injury, avoid flimsy, cheap paddles or super heavy paddles. The flimsy, cheap ones could break mid-stroke and potentially cause a strain, sprain, fall or worse. The really heavy ones could wear you down in an instant.

Racing with a paddle that is extremely heavy can lead to overuse injuries, pulled muscles and overall fatigue. You definitely get what you pay for, so go ahead and splurge on a nice paddle. You will be thankful that you did, regardless of what type of padding you’re doing.

Conclusion

Congratulations! You are now an expert in all the different types of stand up paddle boards.

Remember that choosing your board and your paddle is largely dependent on what type of paddling you’ll be doing with them. Since there is equipment available that is specifically designed for each of those purposes, you should try them all out until you find what works for you. Shopping online can be really tempting, but it does not give you the ability to test different paddle boards.

Steve W

I'm Steve, the research and technology workhorse behind Paddle Camp. I do tons of research on all our family's paddling gear before I buy or recommend anything. I grew up canoeing with my dad and brother. A few years ago I bought paddle boards for my daughters, myself, and my wife. Ever since then, we plan most of our vacations around kayaking, canoeing, or paddle boarding.

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