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June 13, 2022 8 min read

The Right SUP Surf Board

Man holding a paddle board on the sea with a boat as a background

Paddle boards come in a range of shapes, sizes, and materials, all with different purposes to suit various skill levels. 

Although most paddle boards are designed to glide over calm flat waters effortlessly, there are now boards suitable for joining the surfers and riding the waves.

SUP surfboards really give you the best of both worlds. Not only do you get the thrill that comes with surfing, but you can also paddle at a leisurely pace down your favorite local waterways. Paddling may be slightly more difficult on a SUP surfboard, for reasons we’ll get into later, but you have to compromise somewhere.

So, if you’re on the hunt for your next board suitable for surfing, we’re going to explain how to choose a SUP surfboard and what to look out for before you purchase.

SUP Hull Types

Paddle boards come in one of two hull types, planing hulls or displacement hulls. The hull is the body of the paddle board, and its shape impacts its uses, speed, and stability. 

Displacement hulls are reserved specifically for racing and touring boards. A displacement hull features a pointed nose that slices through the water and allows the rider to travel at faster speeds. The narrower board makes an ideal race board as they track incredibly straight and are ideal when sharp turns or any turns for that matter aren’t necessary.

When it comes to maneuverability, however, they don’t match up to their planing hull cousins. The need to be able to maneuver the board quickly is why SUP surfboards fall into the planing hull category. 

A SUP with a planing hull is wider, flatter, and usually features a rounded nose. If you’ve ever seen a longboard designed for surfing, they look strikingly similar to a planing hull SUP. Planing hull SUPs are the most versatile and can be used for flatwater paddling, recreational paddling, SUP yoga, and of course, SUP surfing. 

Solid or Inflatable SUP

Woman meditating on a soft top paddle board

Not only do paddle boards come in different hull types, but they also come in different constructions. 

When purchasing a paddle board, you have the choice of a solid board, an inflatable board, and a soft-top board. We go into more detail about the different types of paddle boards in our article the 3 Different Types of Paddle Boards You Need to Know, but we’re going to simplify it for you here. 

Although there are three types, SUP surfboards usually come in an inflatable or hardboard design. The construction that you pick will ultimately come down to whether you’re using this board solely for SUP surfing or if you also want the versatility of being able to use it day-to-day as well as on the waves. 

Hardboards with an eps foam core are more like their surfboard cousins. Their rail shapes are more structured, making it easier to maneuver the board and carve through the water. They’re also going to improve your overall speed, which plays hand in hand with being able to catch the perfect wave. 

Despite the fact that hardboards perform better for surfing purposes, they’re harder to transport than the inflatable board varieties. If you’re an avid traveler and wish to take your paddle board to surf overseas, the costs that come with checking in your stand up paddle board can be the difference between choosing a solid board or an inflatable. 

Inflatable paddle boards can be compact into a backpack and are extremely easy to travel with. We’ve covered how simple it is to transport your inflatable SUP boards in our article The Ultimate Guide to Traveling with an Inflatable Paddle Board.

Even though hardboards have the upper hand when it comes to speed, inflatables are a fantastic option if you’re just starting out in the sport of SUP surfing. 

Falling off your board is guaranteed, and the softer landing surface will be extremely appreciated when you do happen to fall. The softer surface of an inflatable also improves your overall comfort. When you first begin learning how to SUP surf, you’ll spend a lot of time in the kneeling position which will be considerably more comfortable than on a hardboard. 

Inflatable paddle boards also have more advantages in other types of water, so if you’re after a versatile board that isn’t only going to be used for SUP surfing, then it could be a more sensible option for you.

For even more reasons as to why you should choose an inflatable stand up paddle board, check out 9 Reasons Why You Should Check Out a Blow-Up Paddle Board.

Board Volume and Weight Capacity

Man fishing on a paddle board with all fishing accessories

When choosing any type of paddle board, you need to pay close attention to the paddle board’s volume and total weight capacity. 

Inflatable boards come in different volumes, and this volume will affect how much weight the board can carry. If your total weight exceeds the board's capacity, it will be extremely difficult to paddle as the SUP will sink slightly into the water. 

This difficulty will only increase when surfing, so ensure you’re calculating your weight and the total weight of anything else that could be on deck (especially if you want to use your SUP surfboard as a regular board as well) and find a board with a high enough weight capacity.

Board Length for Surfing

The board length is one of the main differentiating factors between a SUP surfboard and a regular paddle board.

Surf-specific paddle boards are shorter with a narrower nose and tail. They resemble a regular surfboard and have a curved rocker that helps make them more maneuverable out on the waves. 

The shorter length of a SUP surfboard, however, makes them slower on flat water, and you’ll find that they don’t particularly track in a straight line. But, as we mentioned before, you have to compromise somewhere if you want to use the board for both surfing and recreational paddling purposes.

A SUP board designed for surfing will typically be around the 9 to 10-foot range as the shorter length is more suited to sharp turns and movement.

Longer boards 10 to 12 feet long are used for recreational paddle boarding, SUP yoga, and SUP fishing. While boards 12 feet and over are categorized as touring SUPs.

SUP Fin Set-Ups for Surfing

Paddle board fins setup

Although the length of the paddle board plays a huge role in how well it will perform out on the waves, the fin set-up can also make or break the board's performance. 

One of the most basic fin setups for a surfing SUP is a singular long center fin. A fin setup of this type will create the least amount of drag on the board, especially for solid surfing boards. 

If you choose the inflatable paddle board route, then the fins will provide the necessary assistance to carve and catch waves. Inflatable SUPs have more rounded rails, which contribute less to the board’s overall carving performance than that of hard boards.

You can also choose to add side fins to your inflatable board to help improve the ability to control the board's tail. As solid boards have rails to improve their carving performance, inflatables need a little extra guidance, which comes in the form of side fins. 

When purchasing a board designed for surfing, you will find some with detachable fins or with a permanent three-fin setup. The permanent version comes with the advantage of never losing your fins, but they can also provide more of a challenge when it comes to turning.

Flexible rubber fins attached to the fin box will work perfectly fine with inflatable paddle boards. As you aren’t going to be riding barrels like your friends on traditional surfboards, the harder fins that they’ll have on their boards aren’t necessary. 

SUP Extras and Accessories

The accessories that come with the board are also something to take note of. Paddle boards are large purchases and that price can be amped up even further if it doesn’t come with all the necessary extras you’d need to get out on the water.

Paddles

Aluminum shaft paddle with a teal nylon blade

One of the most important accessories when it comes to SUP surfing is the paddle. The three main types of paddles are made of aluminium, fiberglass, or carbon fiber.

Aluminum paddles are the cheapest of all three and this price reflects in their quality and performance. They’re heavier than the more premium paddle choices and they’re usually used by paddle schools as they’re easy to replace when damaged by inexperienced paddlers. 

The next step up is a fiberglass paddle which is lighter than an aluminum paddle. This lighter weight makes it easier and less tiresome to pull through the water. 

Finally, you have the premium carbon fiber paddles which come in two variations: a carbon fiber shaft with a nylon blade, or in full top to bottom carbon fiber material. The full carbon fiber paddles are the most lightweight of the bunch and this, along with their durability are what make them excellent paddles for SUP surfing. 

A carbon fiber paddle will make paddling a breeze and will require less energy thanks to its lightweight design.

Leash

Leashes are recommended for all types of paddling, but they’re especially helpful when SUP surfing. If you fall off your board on calm water, there is a good chance your board will remain relatively close to you. When surfing, however, the waves can push it a fair distance away from you.

Now, this may not seem like a big deal, but having to swim and retrieve your board, with a paddle in your hand will tire you out and waste unnecessary energy that could be used for catching waves. A SUP leash, however, allows you to reach down to your ankle and pull your board towards you. 

Fins

We previously mentioned fins and how necessary they are to a board’s performance, especially when surfing on an inflatable surfboard. If your board doesn’t come with the fins it needs to perform well, you’ll have to buy these separately. 

Bag

Inflatable stand up paddle board bag

As you’ll be transporting your board from A to B, you’ll need a bag to keep it safe from any scratches. Inflatable boards can be deflated and packed into a backpack that can easily be carried or worn on your back. You can also get inflatable SUP bags with wheels to make the transportation process even easier. 

Hardboards are less likely to come with a dedicated bag so you may need to purchase one elsewhere.

Pump

This one is only important to the inflatable SUP surfboard crew. Of course, you’re going to need a pump to inflate your SUP. Some, but not all, SUPs will come with a dual action pump which will take roughly 5-10 minutes to inflate your entire board. 

You can also purchase a triple action hand pump, or an electric pump for a speedier inflation. We’ve covered which pump would be best for your SUP over on a Guide to Inflatable SUP Pumps: How to Choose the Best Pump for Your Paddle Board, so check it out if you’re unsure!

Purchasing all these accessories separately not only increases your total spendings but it can also slow down the process of getting out on the water. Finding a board that comes complete with everything you need will be less stressful, more cost effective, and gets you out on the water instantly. 

FAQ’S

🏆 What size surf SUP should I get?

SUP surfboards typically range from 9 to 10 feet in length. They’re longer than your average surfboard which are around the 6 foot mark because SUP surfboards can also be used for stand up paddling. 

The longer length of a SUP surfboard increases the board’s overall weight capacity and this weight capacity is what allows the rider to stand and paddle. As the weight of the rider is concentrated in one are when standing, the board needs to be buoyant and to be able to hold more weight than that of a surfboard.


👍 What size paddle board do I need for SUP surfing?

SUP paddle boards are the smallest of the paddle board family and come in at roughly 9 to 10 feet in length. A board longer than 10 feet will be extremely hard to maneuver on the waves.


🏝️ Can a SUP be used as a surfboard?

Yes! There are stand up paddle boards designed specifically for surfing. However, not all paddle boards are suitable for the sport. 

SUP surfboards are 9 to 10 feet in length making them easier to maneuver on the waves. Recreational boards are 10 - 12 feet and although they could be used by experienced surfers, the longer length will make them extremely difficult to execute the quick turns needed for surfing. 

If you’re after a board that you can use for both SUP surfing and for recreational paddling, then you want one that is under 10 feet in length.

Megan Bryant
Megan Bryant

Based in Bali, her favorite SUP spot is the GILI Islands themselves. Travel is another passion of hers - she dreams to see the entire world one day.


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