October 12, 2019 15 min read

How to Choose the Perfect Stand Up Paddle Board (SUP) for You

Looking for the perfect stand up paddleboard (SUP) for you? No matter what type of paddler you are, SUP offers something for you. Read on and we’ll help you choose that perfect SUP.

To find the perfect SUP for you, think about how you’re going to use the board, your experience as a paddler, the size and shape of the board, and its volume and weight capacity. Also, consider how you’ll store and transport your board - inflatable SUPs are much easier to transport, yet hard boards have a slight edge in performance. Finally, don’t forget about the accessories you’ll need to make your paddling experience more enjoyable.

1. Paddle Board Hull Types

The body of a paddle board, called the hull, directly impacts its performance on the water. Most paddle boards are built with a planing hull or displacement hull, but you will find some paddle boards with a hybrid hull design. Designed for versatility, Hybrid SUPs attempt to blend the best features of planing and displacement hulls into one board.

Paddle Board Planing Hull Diagram

Planing Hull

SUPs with a planing hull are flat and wide, and usually a rounded nose. Often, they can look like a longboard. Look for a SUP with a planing hull for Flatwater Paddling, SUP Yoga, SUP Surfing, and All Around Paddling.

Paddle Board Displacement Hull Diagram

Displacement Hull

Paddle boards with displacement hulls feature a pointed nose designed to pierce through waves and small chop. These hulls create a smooth, efficient ride by pushing water to the sides of the nose along the sides of the board. Displacement hulls are ideal for long-distance paddling and for paddlers looking for a faster board.

Boards with displacement hulls are longer in length and track very straight, but they lose a little bit of maneuverability compared to their planing hull brothers. Great for SUP Touring, SUP Racing, and all-day adventuring, choose a board with a displacement hull if you’re looking for a faster board that can handle long distances.

2. Inflatable Paddle Boards vs. Hard Paddle Boards

Both hard paddle boards and inflatable paddle boards come in similar shapes, sizes, and hull types. So which one is right for you?

Inflatable Paddle Boards

Solid Paddle Boars vs. Inflatable SUPs

Inflatable SUPs are constructed using strong PVC layers with a cross-stitch (also known as drop-stitch) construction. When you stand on an iSUP, you may be surprised to find how rigid they feel. They achieve this rigidity due to their unique cross-stitch construction and high-pressure inflation. Generally more affordable than hard SUPs, a good inflatable will come with a high-pressure hand pump, iSUP backpack, and fin.

Get an Inflatable Paddle Board if:

  • Portability is Important and You Have Limited Storage: with an iSUP you don’t need a garage or large space to store your board. You also won’t need roof racks on your car. They are perfect for apartment dwellers, frequent travelers, and road warriors.
  • You’re a Beginner: Inflatable paddle boards are excellent for beginners: they are very durable and resistant to dings and drops. iSUPs are an excellent way to introduce yourself to stand up paddling.
  • You plan to try SUP Yoga: The most comfortable choice for yogis, iSUPs sit higher on the water and are softer than hard boards.
  • River & Whitewater Paddling: If you plan to paddle on rivers or whitewater, an iSUP will handle rocks, logs, and bumps better than a solid board.

Shop Inflatable Paddle Boards

Hard Paddle Boards

Hard paddle boards are constructed in many different ways. Hard paddle boards have an EPS foam core wrapped in a variety of different materials such as fiberglass, epoxy, plastic, carbon fiber or wood. Carbon Fiber boards are very light and rigid, but expensive. A plastic, soft top board is a cheap, entry level option. Epoxy and fiberglass boards are great mid-range boards.

Get a Hard Paddle Board if:

  • Performance is more important than portability: Generally, hard paddle boards are faster and more stable than iSUPs. A hard paddle board will outperform inflatables in the surf and in SUP racing.
  • You have room to store it: Hard SUPs are large and you must store them indoors away from the elements. You'll need to equip your vehicle with a roof rack to securely transport your board.
  • You need more choices: Hard SUPs have been around longer than inflatables. If you need a custom or hard-to-find size, a hard paddle board may be a better fit for you.

3. Where will you paddle board?

When choosing a SUP, one of the most important factors is how you are going to use it and your experience level.

What Type of Paddle Boarder Are You?

Flatwater Paddling

Experience: Beginner to Intermediate Paddlers

Style: All Around SUPs

Where: Calm, still water typically found on Lakes & Ponds

Flat water paddling is a great way to learn how to paddle board, and is also a great way to relax and enjoy the great outdoors on a SUP. All Around Paddle Boards are ideal for flatwater as they are very stable and can handle a variety of water conditions. Beginner paddlers will welcome the extra width for increased stability, while intermediate paddlers will enjoy the versatility of an All Around Paddle Board.

Touring Paddle Boards

Touring Paddle Boards

Experience: Intermediate to Expert

Style: Long Distance Paddling, All Day Excursions, Versatility

Where: Large Bodies of Water, Ocean Paddling

Touring Paddle Boards offer intermediate to expert paddlers extra speed, range, and versatility. Ideal for large lakes, bays, and oceans, touring SUPs are excellent performers suitable for all day adventures. Touring boards feature a small displacement hull, giving them extra speed over All Around SUPs.

Touring SUPs feature a pointed nose designed to cut through the water - offering you a smoother ride and less fatigue. They are an excellent choice for exploring large lakes, bays, and for long distance paddling. For advanced riders, they can also carry extra weight and gear.

Yoga Paddle Boards

Yoga Paddle Boards

Experience: Intermediate

Style: Yoga SUPs, All Around SUPs

Where: Calm, Still Water

Paddle Board Yoga is exploding, and it’s easy to see why! SUP Yoga offers a new, challenging way to experience Yoga surrounded by the wonderful outdoors. You don’t need a SUP made specially for Yoga, but here is what you should look for in a Yoga Paddle Board. Look for an All Around Paddle Board with a width of 31” or larger, and a length of 10’ or longer. Boards with an extra large traction pad provide extra comfort for Yoga Poses. We recommend inflatable SUPs for yoga as they sit higher in the water than hard paddle boards.

Yoga SUPs are not just for yoga - they are also great for flatwater and all around paddling.

Fishing Paddle Boards

Fishing Paddle Boards

Experience: Intermediate to Advanced

Style: Fishing SUPs, Larger All Around SUPs

Where: Small and Large Lakes, Ponds, and Oceans

Anglers have discovered a new way to experience their favorite sport - on a paddle board! Fishing Paddle Boards allow you to fish in hidden coves and banks unreachable by boat.

So what makes a good fishing paddle board? Generally, you want a longer, wider board to carry your rods, reels, tackle box, and ice chest. SUPs with Scotty Mounts allow you to mount all your favorite fishing gear directly to the board. We enjoy fishing from both inflatables and hard boards, but an inflatable will your best choice for SUP Fishing.

Look for a board at least 11’ to 12' in length and at least 31" wide. If you’d like more stability and storage capacity, look for a board that’s 11’5 x 33” or larger. Wider boards allow you to carry more gear, but sacrifice some maneuverability. Grab a board with dual bungee systems and extra D-Rings - you’ll need them!

Inflatable Paddle Boards

Inflatable Paddle BoardsExperience: Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced

Style: All Around, Touring, Fishing, Yoga & More

Where: Anywhere!

If you’re searching for a paddle board, you’ve definitely heard of Inflatable SUPs. Inflatables are gaining popularity among paddlers all over the world - and for good reason! Inflatable Paddle Boards are durable, inflate and deflate quickly, fold up into a backpack, and perform well in a variety of water conditions.

Want to take your SUP anywhere and don’t want the hassle of storing and transporting your board? An inflatable SUP is perfect for you. Completely durable and ultra-portable, iSUPs offer great performance anywhere you go - by plane, train, bus, boat, or on foot.

4. Are you a Beginner, Intermediate, or Experienced Paddler?


You’re new to paddle boarding and looking to try the sport in a fun, exciting way. You’ll want to start on flat, calm water like a lake, pond, or protected bay. An Inflatable, All Around SUP will serve you well for a long time. Look for a SUP with enough volume to support more than your weight.


You’re an intermediate paddler if you’ve paddled many times and feel comfortable navigating calm to mildly choppy waters. You have used a variety of boards and you know your favorite way to experience SUP. An All Around or Touring SUP will last you a long time as an intermediate paddler.


You’ve been paddling boarding for a long time, and you may have even taken classes. You know the proper paddling techniques, and you know your favorite spots to paddle. You may love SUP Yoga, SUP Fishing, or SUP Surfing. You know if you prefer speed over stability or portability over performance.

You feel at home on calm water or in ocean chop, and you can paddle nearly any board, big or small. Touring SUPs, Surfing SUPs, and Racing SUPs are the most popular SUPs for advanced riders

5. What Size Paddle Board is Right for You?

Make sure to choose a stand up paddle board that is the right size and volume based on your skill level and weight. If you're too heavy for your SUP, the board will drag in the water making it difficult to paddle.

Paddle Board Sizing Diagram

Choosing the correct size paddle board for you will make your SUP more enjoyable to ride and last you a long time? But what is the right size paddle board? We’ll discuss how weight capacity, volume, length, and width affect the performance of a SUP, and figure out the best combination of these attributes is best for you.

Paddle Board Weight Capacity & Volume

Weight Capacity: choosing the board that can support your weight (and the weight of your gear) efficiently directly affects how your board handles in the water. Overweighted, your board will sink and create drag - making it much harder to paddle. When calculating weight, don’t forget to include any equipment, fishing gear, your dog, your child, and anything else you’ll bring with you on your SUP. At GILI, we list the weight capacity in the specifications on all of our paddle boards.

Volume: a paddle board’s volume is based on its length, width, and thickness - the more volume a board has the more weight it can support. Volume is listed, in liters, on all of our boards.

The relationship between Volume, Weight Capacity, and Hull Type: SUPs with planing hulls (look for a rounded nose) are more flexible when it comes to weight. As long as you are not above the weight capacity, the board will perform well on the water. You can’t be too light for a planing hull paddle board.

Displacement hull paddle boards are not as forgiving, in terms of weight, as planing hull SUPs. Displacement hulls are carefully designed with volume and rider weight in mind. If you’re too heavy, the board can sink and perform poorly. Too light, the board will sit higher in the water than designed and will feel slow and will be hard to maneuver.

Paddle Board Length

The ideal paddle board length for you depends largely on how you’ll use the board and your weight. Shorter boards perform better in surf and can maneuver better than longer SUPs, however longer boards are more stable and perform better when paddling long distances. The most common length paddle boards are 10’6 to 12’6 in length.

  • Short Paddle Boards (10’ and under) are ideal for surfing and for smaller paddlers. Short SUPs are highly maneuverable, feature planing hulls, and make great surfing SUPs. Boards under 8’ in length are usually designed for kids. Consider buying your child a surfing SUP or a 10’ All Around for a board he or she can grow into.
  • Medium Length Boards (10’ to 12’6) are great all-around boards and are very versatile. For most people a board in the 10’6 to 11’ range will be perfect for a range of SUP activities. Most boards in this length will have planing hulls, but you’ll also find some with displacement hulls.
  • Long Paddle Boards (over 12’6) are quick, efficient SUPs ideal for long-distance paddling and touring. Nearly all SUPs in this size have displacement hulls.

Remember, when choosing a SUP, you need to consider volume, weight capacity, and length they all related to each other. Consider these two scenarios. You’re interested in SUP Fishing and All Around paddling. A medium length, wide board would be your best fit: around 11’6 x 34” or even 12’ x 31” would serve you well. If you’re more interested in touring and long distance paddling, your ideal board would be 31” to 32” in width and at least 12’6 long.

Don’t forget - you’ll need to factor in where you’ll store your board (or if you’re considering a hard paddle board). Longer boards are also more difficult to carry - especially when it’s windy.

Use the chart below to choose the ideal paddle board length for you.

Paddle Board Length Guide

Paddle Board Width

Paddle boards are found in a variety of widths - from around 26 inches to 36 inches. The most important factor when identifying the correct width for you the type of paddling you’ll do. A wider board will be more stable, but will not be as fast as a narrower SUP. If you choose a board that’s too wide for your size, you may find it difficult to paddle. Consider the following when choosing your ideal SUP’s width:

  • Type of paddling: We suggest looking at SUPs at least 31” wide for all around paddling, SUP Yoga, and SUP Fishing. Choose a narrower board if you plan on SUP Surfing or racing.
  • Your weight & body type: keep your weight and body type in mind when choosing a SUP. If you’re a bigger person, choose a larger width - you’ll be able to find your balance easier. If you’re a smaller person, choose a narrower board otherwise you’ll have to make wide, inefficient strokes with your paddle.
  • Ability level: if you’re an intermediate or experienced paddler, you’ll be able to balance almost any SUP - including faster, narrower paddle boards. If you’re a beginner, choose a wider SUP to make balancing easier.

Remember, width also plays into the calculation of volume and weight capacity of your board. Determine the overall length of the SUP you’re looking for, then find the width that gives you the right volume and capacity for your weight, body type, and skill level.

Paddle Board Thickness

Paddle Board Thickness

Finally, consider how the thickness of your paddle board plays a role in its volume and capacity. For inflatable paddle boards, look for boards that are 6” thick. iSUPs less than 6” thick tend to be less stable and perform poorly. All of our iSUPs at GILI are at least 6” thick.

Generally, hard paddle boards have a thickness between 4” and 4 ½”. Consider the type of paddling and your weight when deciding the thickness of your board. If you’re looking for a race board and are relatively lightweight, you should opt for the thinner board.

Check out our Paddle Board Size & Weight Chart to find the perfect size paddle board for you.

6. What SUP Fin Set Up is Right for You?

Once you know your ideal SUP size, you’ll want to consider what fin setup is best for you. Most SUP main fins are 9”, but we also offer 3” and 5” fins to help maneuver in shallow waters and rivers.

First: Snap-In Fin Boxes VS Standard/US Fin Boxes

There are two main types of fin boxes: Snap-in fin boxes and US fin boxes. Snap-in fin boxes are quick and easy-to-use and don’t require tools. US fin boxes are more versatile, as you can use a wider selection of fins, but they often require a tool to use. At GILI, we have boards with both snap-in fin boxes and US fin boxes. In short, snap-in fin boxes are more convenient, but US fin boxes are more versatile.

If you don’t know what type of Fin system you need, either of our Snap-In or US Fin boxes fin system will serve you just fine - and every board we sell comes with at least one main fin.

Snap in Fin box vs Standard US Fin box

How Fins Impact Your Speed And SUP Experience

Fins influence your speed, maneuverability, and your board’s ability to move in a straight line. Fin setup is a personal choice based on you use your SUP. If you want to keep things uncomplicated and easy so you can just get out on the water, choose a snap-in fin box. If you desire maximum versatility and plan using a variety of different fins, look for a board with US fin box.

Without fins, your SUP wouldn’t track straight or be able to turn properly. Nearly all SUP fins are removable, allowing you to try different fins for different applications. Some Inflatables often have small, non-removable side fins also known as side bites.

Here are the most popular paddle board fin configurations.

Single Fin

A paddle board needs at least one, large fin to track straight - otherwise, your board will fishtail back and forth. The center fin will be anywhere from 8” to 10” in length. This works well for casual recreational paddling and helps maintain stability on flatwater. If you’re paddling on shallow water or a river, you can replace your main fin with a shorter 3” to 5” fin.

2 + 1 Fins

The most common fin setup, these boards feature a large center fin with two smaller side fins. The side fins are usually 2” to 4” in height, and are either fixed to the board or removable. The side fins help “bite” into the water and increase the maneuverability of your board.

Paddle Board Fin Setup

Quad Fins

With a quad fin setup, a board will have four back fins - two on each side - with no center fin. Generally, you would use 4 smaller, thruster fins without the long main fin. A quad "thruster" setep helps with the speed and maneuverability needed for surfing. Often, these SUPs can be equipped with eiether 3 fin or 4 in setup. Quad fins are usually only seen in surfing SUPs.

Fin Types: Paddle Boarding

Side Bites

Our GILI 10’6 AIR Paddle Board has side bites, small non-removable side fins, which help you turn and maneuver the board.

Paddle Board Site Bite Fins

You may want choose a board with longer, removable side fins, which increase the board’s performance in turns and tracking. Our 11'/12' Adventure, 10’6 Komodo, and 10’6 Meno, and 11’6 Meno SUPs all have removable side fins. Removable side fins are longer than side bites, offer better maneuverability, and can be removed for shallow water and easier packing.

7. SUP Paddles

How to Choose a Paddle Board Paddle

Don’t forget you’ll need a good paddle to enjoy your new SUP. Our SUP Packages come with different paddles, and you always have the option to upgrade later. Most SUP paddles are aluminum, fiberglass, or carbon fiber and most come equipped with a nylon blade. Carbon blades offer the best performance, but they are also the most expensive. Here’s how to choose the best SUP paddle for you.

  • Aluminum Paddle with Nylon Blade: Aluminum paddles with nylon blades are the most affordable paddles, and are great for what they are. They are also the heaviest, but still perform well.
  • Fiberglass Paddle with Nylon Blade: Fiberglass paddles are lighter than aluminum paddles and are often stiffer. They are slightly more expensive than aluminum paddles, but offer a good compromise between the price of a carbon paddle and the performance of an aluminum paddle.
  • Carbon Fiber Paddle with Nylon Blade: these paddles are stiff and light, and offer great performance. Ideal for long distance paddling, but they can do it all. If money is no object, look for a carbon fiber paddle.
  • Carbon Fiber Paddle with Carbon Blade: the most expensive, but the best performers. These paddles are for hardcore paddlers who paddle long distances or compete in SUP racing. These don’t usually break down, so they are not ideal for travel.

If you’re buying an iSUP, make sure your paddle breaks down into three pieces. All of our iSUP packages come with a travel paddle - whether they are aluminum, fiberglass, or carbon fiber. If you’re unsure which paddle is for, we recommend an aluminum or fiberglass paddle to start. You can always upgrade to a carbon paddle later.

If you're interested in using your SUP as a kayak, look for paddles that can be turned into a kayak paddle. We offer Kayak Blade Kits for all of our paddles at GILI.

Shop Paddle Board Paddles

8. SUP Accessories & Extras

Here are some extras to look for when searching for that perfect paddle board:

Grab Handles: grab handles make it easier to carry your board. Look for boards with at least a center and front carry handle. A rear carry handle can be a great bonus.

EVA/Traction Pad: you can't replace your traction pad, so make sure you find one that suits your paddling style. If you plan on using your board for SUP Yoga or you want to paddle with your dog, look for a board with a full length EVA pad.

Bungee Systems: Bungee systems will store your gear securely when you’re paddling. Look for dual bungee systems if you plan on SUP Fishing or bringing extra gear.

Backpacks and Bags: Make sure your iSUP comes with a backpack, and a day bag or sock is a great protective cover for your hard or inflatable SUP.

Leash: a leash keeps your board attached to you in case you fall off. Our board packages include a coiled SUP Leash.

Paddle: Our paddle board packages come with a variety of paddles. You can always buy an extra, or upgrade your paddle in the future.

Take a look at these extra Accessories after you buy a SUP to make your experience more enjoyable.

Electric Pump: these make inflating your inflatable paddle board super easy. Look for an electric iSUP Pump that can inflate your board anywhere from 12 PSI to 18 PSI.

Kayak Seat and Kayak Kit: our SUPs come with mounting points for a Kayak Seats, and our paddles feature an attachment for a kayak blade. Many paddlers enjoy the versatility of being able to sit down and paddle - just like a kayak!

Dry Bag: Dry bags keep your wallet, keys, and clothing high and dry.

Life Jackets/PFD: Federal regulations require you to wear a personal flotation device (PFD). Don't forget to pick one up.

Cooler Bags: cooler bags attach to your board via its bungee system or suction cups and are great for keeping your beverages icy cold.

Clothing: Make sure you wear the proper clothing while paddle boarding. In cold conditions a wetsuit or drysuit may be necessary. We’ve found swimsuits and rash guards (long and short sleeve) to be comfortable on mild days.

Car Mounting Racks: if you’ve purchased a hard paddle board you’ll need a car rack and/or mounting racks to transport your board.

Action Camera Mounts - use these to attach your action camera to your SUP.

How can we help you find the perfect board for you?

Jay Regan
Jay Regan

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