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June 04, 2021 19 min read

Your First Stand Up Paddle Board

Lake paddle boarding with a GILI SUP

You’ve decided to try paddle boarding? Fantastic! It’s a decision you’ll never regret.

When buying your first stand up paddle board, many factors influence your decision on which paddle board to buy. By knowing general information about paddle boards and combining this information with your paddle boarding goals - you’ll find a perfect match.  

And we’re here to help! After reviewing the basic paddle board options and then determining the paddle board specifics that fit your needs, you’ll be on the water in no time!

Why SUP?

Inflatable SUP yoga exercise

Why would anyone want to SUP (stand up paddle board)? Let me tell you all the reasons why it’s a sport you can enjoy on many levels. 

In simple terms, paddle boarding involves standing on a board and paddling to move yourself through the water. BUT - paddle boarding can be so much more. On a paddle board, you can enjoy yoga, fishing, surfing, touring, and even racing. 

You can SUP on almost any body of water and it is easy to learn. If you need even MORE reasons to paddle board, consider:

  • Paddle boarding is great stress relief - Find zen when you combine nature, sunshine, exercise, and fun with family and friends.
  • Paddle boarding is excellent exercise - Forget your five mile jog, SUP is an excellent whole-body workout. You strengthen your core in order to balance, and you use your arms, legs, and back to paddle your board. And it’s low impact!
  • Anyone can SUP - The sport is not only for physically-fit bleach blonde surfer-types, because anyone can paddle board. Grandmas can float with their grandkids, teenagers can paddle with friends, and you can even tour the shoreline with your dog. It is a sport enjoyed at any age and at any fitness level

How Do I Choose My First Stand Up Paddle Board?

Choosing your first SUP

1. Paddle Boarding Goals

Before you can choose the perfect board, you need to determine how you plan to use your stand up paddle board. There are numerous types of paddle boards and many environments where you can enjoy your paddle board. 

All around paddle boards are the perfect launching point for beginners. When starting your paddle board journey, it’s best to explore flatwater lakes and ponds to find your groove. When you’ve mastered SUP balance and technique, you can use that experience to paddle board in oceans and rivers.   

Different types of SUP

There are many types of paddle boards to choose from. Maybe you want to surf the waves along the ocean’s shore or maybe you simply want to explore a local lake with your dog at your feet. Knowing the different paddle board styles will help you to narrow down the paddle board field and find your perfect fit. 

  • All Around SUP - All around paddle boards are great for beginners because they tend to be wide and stable. Intermediate paddle boarders choose an all around board because of its versatility to adapt to most any activity such as surfing, yoga, or fishing.
  • Surfing - Paddle boards explicitly designed for surfing tend to be smaller and narrower so the board can maneuver in and out of waves. An all around board can also be used to surf small breaks. 
  • Touring - Long expeditions down the shoreline on your SUP can be a fun all-day excursion. Touring paddle boards are long and narrow with a pointed nose to cut through the water. Touring SUP typically have long center fins designed for improved speed and better glide.
  • High Performance/Racing - Yes - you can race your SUP! A racing SUP tends to have a narrow body and narrow pointed nose. This hull design displaces water for increased speed.
  • Fishing - If you’ve never fished from a paddle board, you need to try it! The height advantage when you stand on a SUP means better vantage point to see fish and habitat. A fishing SUP will be wide and long with multiple attachment points, as well as one with enough weight capacity to accommodate the weight of your gear.
  • Yoga - What better way to relax then to yoga on a paddle board while surrounded by sunshine and singing birds. A yoga SUP will be wide and stable. Inflatable paddle boards are a great option to transport your yoga studio anywhere.  
  • Hybrid SUP - A hybrid SUP is one that combines the advantages of an all around’s stability but with a few adaptations. The nose of a hybrid SUP will be rounded with a slight point to increase the overall speed, and it might be slightly wider than an all around SUP. A hybrid SUP will be enjoyed by the whole family.

A Few Quick Boards to Check out

We’ve reviewed the basic paddle board styles and want to highlight a few of our favorite paddle boards before diving into more specifics. 

1. GILI 10’6 Komodo - A stable all around option

The GILI 10’6 Komodo is a stable board perfect for beginners. It is a durable and versatile inflatable paddle board that adapts to use for SUP yoga or fishing. It has a wide deck with an extra-large EVA deck pad to enjoy paddle boarding with your dog or multiple riders.

GILI SUP komodo all around boards

Measurements

Weight

Weight Capacity

Special Feature

Price

10'6 x 33" x 6"

21 lbs

340 lbs

Best All Around

Check Price

The GILI Komodo comes with a complete package that includes travel paddle, inflation pump, detachable center and side fins, ankle leash, and a SUP backpack. 

A paddle holder is built-in to rest your paddle while you swim, fish, or practice yoga. There are multiple accessory attachment points with 18 D-rings and an action mount. 

Every GILI paddle board purchase supports ocean conservation. The Komodo comes with a 2-year warranty because GILI stands by their products. 

2. GILI 12’6 Meno Touring Board- A fast racing option and tour board

A premium paddle board designed with a long, narrow shape and a pointed nose designed for speed. It is specialized to use for long-distance touring or for racing your friends. Because the Meno 12’6 board is crafted for speed by experienced users, it is a less stable option for beginners.

 

GILI SUP meno touring board

 

Measurements

Weight

Weight Capacity

Special Feature

Price

12' x 31" x 6"

24 lbs

300 lbs

Premium Racing and Touring

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The GILI Meno touring board comes with additional fins. It includes a 9” center fin, detachable side fins, as well as a 4.5” speed fin and 3” river fin. The complete package also includes a rolling iSUP bag, dual-chamber pump, ankle leash, and carbon fiber travel paddle. 

The Meno 12’6 touring board can be decked out for long tours with 18 D-rings and 4 action mounts. Pack your cooler and extra clothes in your dry bag for a long journey. 

The addition of a carbon fiber rail increases the board's durability, rigidity, and performance. It comes with the satisfaction that your purchase supports ocean conservation and is backed by a 2 year warranty. 

3. GILI 10’6/11’6 Meno - A great family option

The GILI Meno is a stable all around board perfect for families. The wide deck makes it perfect for multiple riders or to take your dog for a float.

 

GILI SUP Meno board

 

Measurements

Weight

Weight Capacity

Special Feature

Price

10.6' x 35" x 6"

11.6' x 35" x 6"

23 lbs

24 lbs

450 lbs

485 lbs

Best Premium Board and Package

Check Price

The GILI Meno comes in two sizes: 10’6 and 11’6 and crafted with the addition of a carbon fiber rail to improve rigidity and performance. The Meno includes a top-quality package with high-end components. A high-flow dual chamber pump inflates your iSUP quickly, and the included top quality carbon travel paddle can rest in the paddle holder for hands-free fun.

Five fins are included with two detachable side fins, a center 9” race fin, 4.5” speed fin, and a 3” river fin. A whopping 18 D-rings and 5 action mounts allow room to pack anything you’ll need for a day on the water, and it all can be easily transported in a rolling SUP backpack. 

The GILI Meno includes a 2 year warranty and your purchase supports our oceans.   

2. Solid vs. Inflatable SUP

Your next decision is to consider an inflatable paddle board vs. a solid paddle board. There are pros and cons to both SUP options with key differences between the two. Do you want to travel with your paddle board? That is the main consideration when choosing an inflatable or solid SUP. 

Inflatable Paddle Board

Inflatable paddle boards are crafted with durable PVC designed to last for years. They are a stable, lightweight option for families and children. The main benefit of an inflatable SUP is its portability and easy storage. 

An inflatable paddle board inflates and deflates in minutes. Most inflatables come with a SUP backpack so you can pack up your board and hike to lakes or streams over distances that would be nearly impossible with a solid board. When deflated, the inflatable SUP stores easily in its backpack and takes up much less space in your garage than a solid SUP. 

Inflatable paddle boards are great for yoga, fishing, and family use, but high performance inflatables are designed for touring and racing as well.

Solid Paddle Board

A solid or epoxy paddle board maneuvers and performs better than an inflatable paddle board. Its ability to cut through water makes a solid SUP ideal for surfing and racing. 

The biggest limitation of a solid paddle board is its portability. In order to get to the lake, ocean, or river, you will need a SUP roof rack or large truck with space to haul your SUP. A solid paddle board will also take up a fair amount of space to store. 

3. Size of your Paddle Board

When choosing a stand up paddle board, you want to find one of the appropriate size. If you have a paddle board that is too short or too narrow for your level of experience, you risk capsizing. If your paddle board cannot support your weight, your board will drag in the water and you risk getting wet! We’ll review the importance of each specification to help you choose the best stand up paddle board. There are some general sizing basics to understand.

Volume

Volume is the buoyancy of your SUP measured in liters. The volume is based on the paddle board’s length, weight, and thickness. The higher a board’s volume, the more weight it can handle. And don’t forget to factor in the weight of your gear!

Weight capacity

As discussed above, a paddle board’s weight capacity depends on the board’s volume. Also choose a paddle board with a weight capacity that exceeds your own weight to avoid riding low and slow in the water and making you more unstable. Here is a general weight capacity guide based on volume:

  • If your weight is < 200 lbs: Any standard inflatable or epoxy SUP will work.
  • If your weight is 200-235 lbs: At least a 175 L SUP (inflatable or epoxy) works. 
  • If your weight is 235-275 lbs: At least a 181 L epoxy board or a 242 L inflatable SUP.
  • If your weight is over 300 lbs: At least a 230 L epoxy board or a 272 L inflatable SUP.

At GILI Sports, a paddle board’s weight capacity is clearly marked on page one - because nobody wants to do math...

Length

Paddle Board Sizing Diagram

The desired length of your stand up paddle board is best decided based on how you want to use it. 

The most popular length of paddle board is 10’ - 11’6 and is an ideal length for an all around board. SUP of this length tend to be used for general recreation, fishing, yoga, or floating with your dog. 

A short board (less than 10’) can maneuver turns more easily. A short board works well for young riders or children, and is ideal for SUP surfing. 

A long board (12’ or more) cuts through the water and has the capacity for speed. A long board is ideal for racing, touring, or long-distance floats.

Width

The width of a paddle board is the side to side measurement of the deck. Widths range from 29” to 35”. A wider board will be more stable, while a narrower board will be faster.

Gauge the width you will need based on your skill level and activities you want to enjoy. A board wider than 31” will be more stable for beginners and tall riders, but also ideal for activities such as yoga or fishing. A narrower board (29” - 30”) is better for paddle board racing or tours in more experienced paddle boarders.  

Thickness

Hard/epoxy paddle boards tend to run 4” - 4.5” thick. An inflatable paddle board should be no less than 6” thick. An inflatable SUP less than 6” will lack stability and performance and it could cave under too much weight. 

4. Hull Types

A stand up paddle board’s hull design determines how well it will perform in the water. There are two main types of hulls, a planing or displacement hull. 

Planing Hull

Paddle Board Planing Hull Diagram

A planing hull typically has a rounded nose and rides above the water. It is more stable and ideal for all around boards and for beginners, but it adds increased maneuverability making it also a great choice for surfing SUPs.

Displacement Hull

Paddle Board Displacement Hull Diagram

A displacement hull has a pointed nose that is designed to cut through the water for a better glide. SUPs with a displacement hull will have more speed and are good options for racing, touring, or long-distance paddling.

5. Transportation and Storage

When choosing a new stand up paddle board, you also have to consider how your board will work when OFF the water. Where will you store it? How do you get it to the water? Can you carry it?

Inflatable stand up paddle boards are easier to transport and store. Simply deflate your board and fold it up in your SUP backpack and throw it in the trunk. They are lightweight and most children can carry them to the water. 

Hard/epoxy stand up paddle boards will require a roof rack or truck to transport to the water, and you’ll have to find space in your garage for storage.

6. Pricing and Where to Buy

There are an overwhelming number of paddle boards to choose from, so how do you decide how much to spend

First, consider WHO you are buying your paddle board from. Most monstrous sporting goods stores sell paddle boards, but they also sell baseball mitts - so paddle boards are not their specialty. You want to find a reputable company whose business is paddle boards. At GILI Sports, their whole world is paddle boards. If you have a question or issue with your SUP, you will reach a live person on the other end of your questions. 

There is a vast range in paddle board pricing, but typically you get what you pay for. A GOOD inflatable SUP will run $700-$1200. This may seem high, but you must consider the quality of the board. 

If you purchase a “cheap” SUP, it will likely be crafted with low quality materials and with poor construction. It might be cheaper, but what good is that if you have to buy a new board next season? You want your investment to provide for years of paddle boarding adventures!

7. Board Features and Accessories

After you’ve narrowed down your options based on size, weight capacity, hull design, and you’ve determined what activities you hope to enjoy - we can get down to the nitty-gritty. Let’s look at the smaller features and details of the paddle board that can add to your day on the water. 

Deck pad

The deck pad or traction pad cushions the middle of your board. If you want to float with kids and your dog or plan to enjoy SUP yoga, you should look for a paddle board with a full-length EVA deck pad. 

Leash

Does your stand up paddle board come with an ankle leash? This is an essential component of stand up paddle boarding. Attaching a leash to your SUP ensures that your board does not get away from you in the case of a fall. If your paddle board does not come with a leash - you will need to buy it separately. 

Tie-Downs and Attachment Points

Attachment points consist of D-rings, bungees, or action mounts. The more D-rings and bungees you have, the more cargo space on your SUP. You can pack a SUP cooler, and anchor, or a tackle box. Action mounts provide a means to attach your fishing rod holder or even a GoPro to record your day. Your ankle leash easily clips to a D-ring for your safety. 

Construction

Inflatable Paddle Board Construction

Whether you buy an inflatable or hard/epoxy stand up paddle board, you want to ensure it is constructed with durable materials to withstand many years of use. Consider how easy they are to carry, and the potential for damage if they are dropped.

A quality inflatable paddle board will be designed with multiple layers of military grade PVC over a drop stitched core. The addition of side rails will increase the board’s rigidity even more.

A hard SUP is crafted with an EPS foam core wrapped in layers of fiberglass or resin. A hard paddle board can ding easily and make for a rough landing if you fall. 

Fins

A stand up paddle board’s fins determine its speed, tracking, and ability to maneuver in the water.  Most paddle boards have easily removable fins to make transport and storage easier, as well as make it easier to change your paddle board experience from a racing SUP to a surfing SUP simply by changing the fin orientation. 

A single central fin will help your SUP track straight in the water. If you add two smaller side fins (a 2+1 setup), this increases a board's maneuverability. There are specially designed fins for racing and touring to improve performance. When purchasing a new SUP, determine the type of fins included and how easy they are to remove.

GILI SUP removable fins

Paddle

You obviously need a paddle for your stand up paddle board or you won’t get very far. Paddles are usually made of aluminum, fiberglass, or carbon fiber and equipped with a nylon or carbon blade.

An aluminum paddle with a nylon blade is the least expensive paddle option but tends to be the heaviest. At the other end of the paddle spectrum, a carbon fiber paddle with a carbon blade performs well and is lightweight - but expensive. A fiberglass paddle is in between aluminum and carbon fiber in regards to durability, weight, and expense. 

Paddle Holder

When paddle boarding, you sometimes want your hands free for yoga, to cast your fishing pole, or to dive into the water. A paddle holder is a great accessory on a paddle board to secure your paddle for hands-free action. 

Complete Package

Most paddle boards come with a “complete package” so you are able to unpack your gear and hop onto the water. These packages can vary in their quality and materials. 

A good SUP package should include an ankle leash and fins. Most inflatable SUP packages should include the above in addition to an inflation pump, SUP backpack, and paddle. 

The difference in the quality of items can vary. A dual-chamber inflation pump will fill your iSUP faster than a single chamber pump. The paddles may be a less expensive aluminum or a high-quality carbon fiber. Look close at the included package to determine the better overall value. 

Carry handles

You need grab handles to carry your stand up paddle board to the water. Most boards should have a center and front grab handle, but if there’s an added rear handle, it makes carrying your board even easier. 

Paddle Holders

As mentioned above, the addition of a paddle holder can make your day on the water more enjoyable. Park your paddle to take a swim, cast your fishing pole, or pose in your downward dog (yoga). 

Action Mounts

Action mounts are a fantastic addition to paddle boards. You can attach your GoPro, a fishing rod holder, or even a cup holder to an action mount. They heighten your paddle board experience by allowing the addition of fun accessories.

More Boards to Check Out

Our favorite stand up paddle boards were mentioned above: a great family option with the GILI Meno 10’6/11’6, the GILI Komodo is a great all around option, and the GILI Meno 12’6 Touring is specialized board build for racing and touring. But we have more to recommend! 

1. GILI Air 10’6

 

GILI SUP Air budget board

 

Measurements

Weight

Weight Capacity

Special Feature

Price

10.6' x 31" x 6"

19 lbs

280 lbs

Best Budget Board

Check Price

The 10’6 GILI Air is an inexpensive inflatable paddle board that’s perfect for beginners. It is an all around board with a planing hull and wide deck for added stability. Its stable design makes it a perfect option for general recreation, fishing, or yoga. More experienced riders will love the 10’6 Air for its maneuverability, and its tri-fin design makes surfing in and out of waves easy and fun. 

The GILI Air comes with a complete package filled with all you need to hop onto the water. An inflation pump, ankle leash, snap-in center and side fins, as well as an aluminum paddle can all be loaded inside your SUP backpack for easy storage and transport to the water. 

As will all GILI products, your paddle board purchase supports GILI’s mission to assist in ocean conservation efforts. 

2. GILI Adventure 11’/12’

 

GILI SUP Adventure board

 

Measurements

Weight

Weight Capacity

Special Feature

Price

11' x 32" x 6"

12' x 32" x 6"

23 lbs

24 lbs

290 lbs

330 lbs

Fastest GILI Board

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The GILI Adventure is an inflatable stand up paddle board that comes in 11’ or 12’ length. The added length with a wide stable 32” deck makes the Adventure a stable board, while the  pointed nose adds the potential for more speed and the option of touring or long-distance paddling. 

The Adventure comes with a complete package that includes inflation pump, ankle leash, carbon fiber travel paddle, easy-to-remove center and two side fins, and a SUP backpack. 

A total of 16 D-rings means ample capacity for accessory attachments. You could even throw on a SUP to kayak conversion kit to change your paddle board to a sit down cruise. 

GILI’s two-year warranty and contribution toward ocean conservation efforts makes it a deal that’s hard to pass up. 

3. GILI Manta Ray 12’/15’

 

GILI SUP manta ray multi person board

 

Measurements

Weight

Weight Capacity

Special Feature

Price

12' x 45" x 8"

15' x 52" x 8"

35 lbs

52 lbs

725 lbs

1150 lbs

Best Multi-person Board

Check Price

The GILI Manta Ray is a large-and-in-charge inflatable paddle board built for a party. The massive deck space and the Manta Ray’s stability make it an ideal multi-person board to bring along your family, friends, AND your dog. 

The Manta Ray’s complete package includes TWO dual-chamber inflation pumps so you and your passenger can fill your iSUP in minutes, Two paddles (carbon fiber or fiberglass) for double the paddling power, and a paddle holder provides space to rest your paddle while you swim. 

In addition to space for passengers, the Manta Ray has the capacity for accessories! Nine action mounts and 22 D-rings mean your stand up paddle board will be decked out with coolers, cup holders, and a dry bag filled with snacks for your floating party. 

A massive grooved traction pad adds to your floating comfort and a rolling SUP bag helps transport your Manta Ray to the water. 

As with all GILI paddle boards, a portion of your purchase will save our reefs, oceans, and turtles, as well as come with a 2-year warranty. 

You’ve Got the Tools - Now Go Find Yourself a Board!

There’s so much to consider when choosing a new stand up paddle board, but hopefully this article will give you the tools needed to make a good choice. The best stand up paddle board is one that fits the mold for how you wish to use it. Do you want to race, surf, tour, or paddle with five of your friends? Your ideal paddle board is out there and waiting for you!

FAQ’S

🏆 How do I know what size of paddle board to buy?

When deciding on what size paddle board fits your needs, look at its volume and weight capacity first. You should find a stand up paddle board that has a weight capacity much higher than your own weight and the weight of all the gear you plan to bring aboard your SUP. If your paddle board does not support your weight, it will be more unstable and slow in the water. 

The narrower the paddle board, the faster it will be while also being less stable. A wide paddle board increases the stability, but slows it down. Entry level users should look toward an all around paddle board that is wider than 31” and at least 10’6 - 11’ in length for the most stable ride. 


👍 What is the best stand up paddle board for beginners?

The ideal beginner stand up paddle board will be 31-35” wide and at least 10’6-11’ in length. This provides the space for a wide stance for new paddle boarders. An all around board will have a rounded nose for added stability with the added ability to maneuver. 

An inflatable paddle board has excellent stability for beginners with the added benefits of easy transport and storage. Consider the GILI Komodo for a great all around board perfect for beginner use. 


🏝️ How much should I spend on a stand up paddle board?

The price you spend typically reflects the quality of the paddle board. Cheap boards are more likely to suffer from poor construction and will not last very long. It is important to look beyond the price tag to find a SUP that will last for many years of paddle boarding fun. 

Inflatable paddle boards are less expensive than epoxy SUPs of equal quality. Typically, a full paddle board setup with an included package will run from $500 - $1200. 


❓ How do I care for my new SUP?

There are some simple tips to extend the life of your SUP. You should rinse off your board after use in salt water and dry off your board before storage. When storing an inflatable SUP, remove the fins to prevent damage of the fins and your board. 

Don’t over inflate your board or drag it on the ground. Even though inflatable paddle boards are incredibly durable, why risk it? Avoid storing a SUP in direct sunlight to avoid UV rays breaking down the overall structure. Store epoxy boards in a dark place and keep your inflatable SUP in its backpack. 


📦 What should I look for when buying a paddle board?

There are so many answers to this question! The first thing to ask yourself is how do you want to use your stand up paddle board. If you are a beginner looking for general recreation, look for an all around paddle board that is wide and stable. If you are more experienced and looking for speed or a touring board, look for a narrower paddle board with a displacement hull. 

When buying a paddle board, look at the construction to ensure it's a board with the durability to last, and also consider if the paddle board comes with an included package: paddle, pump, leash, fins, and storage. Do you want to use your paddle board for fishing? Then consider the number of attachment points with D-rings and action mounts to attach your fishing rod holders, tackle box, and gear. 


📦 What size paddle board should I get for my height?

In general, a tall paddle boarder would want to consider a board at least 31” wide for stability, but choosing the best paddle board size is based mostly on weight and the board’s volume. Consider your own weight as well as the weight of your gear to choose a paddle board. 

  • If your weight is < 200 lbs: Any standard inflatable or epoxy SUP will work.
  • If your weight is 200-235 lbs: At least a 175 L SUP (inflatable or epoxy) works. 
  • If your weight is 235-275 lbs: At least a 181 L epoxy board or a 242 L inflatable SUP.
  • If your weight is over 300 lbs: At least a 230 L epoxy board or a 272 L inflatable SUP.

At GILI Sports, the weight capacity for each board is clearly identified for each inflatable paddle board. 


📦 How long of a paddle board do I need?

The appropriate stand up paddle board length is based on how you want to use your board. A shorter board under 10’ will maneuver well and cut in and out waves easily for surfing. A board longer than 12’ will track well with good glide for touring and racing. 

The most popular paddle boards sit in a middle range of 10’6 - 11’ in length and tend to be stable all around boards for multi-purpose use.

Pat McCaw
Pat McCaw

Author, physician, mom and lover of all things outdoors. If there’s water or a hiking trail nearby, that's her happy place. Throw in family and a couple of dogs and it's paradise!


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