July 24, 2021 8 min read

Choosing a Paddle Board

Different types of paddle boards

So you’ve discovered stand up paddle boarding, and now all you can think about is perfecting your skills and gearing yourself up with the best SUP equipment money can buy. But are you getting deflated in trying to choose a stand up paddle board

Paddle boards come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. It can be overwhelming at times. But sometimes, a little bit of guidance will help you make the decision. 

Lucky for you, we’re here to shed some light on the subject. 

There are some things you need to know before buying a SUP, and understanding the different types of paddle boards is one of them. Once you know what type of SUP you want, you can then begin to think about what size paddle board you need specifically for what activity you want to do.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves – you don’t run before you can walk. So you don’t look at SUP size and weight charts before initially learning about the types of paddle boards they refer to.

Types of Stand Up Paddle Board Construction

To begin with, stand up paddle boards can be differentiated by construction methods and materials. Traditional paddle boards would have been made using wood, until fiberglass and epoxy became standard. 

Over time, materials have been developed and enhanced to be better suited for beginner paddlers, learner boards, speed features, and maneuverability. Inflatable paddle boards have evolved in recent years and have become the most popular and preferred type of stand up paddle board.

However, all construction types of boards come with specific benefits suited for certain individuals better than others. Sometimes it’s not as clear as inflatable vs solid paddle boards, or hard over soft top composites.

Epoxy / Hard Paddle Boards

Epoxy hard paddle boards

Epoxy is the type of resin used to make fiberglass paddle boards. Hard boards are typically made using an EPS foam core that is wrapped in layers of fiberglass with an epoxy resin coating. Several layers are used and carbon fiber is often chosen for rails to give extra strength, durability, and a lightweight finish.

Hard SUPs cut through the water and glide with ease. They tend to have sensitive control making them ideal for SUP surfing and maneuvering on waves. There is little drag from the materials so, shape allowing, these boards can gain a lot of speed as well.

As these boards are more responsive to the rider’s movements, beginner paddle boarders often struggle with hard boards. Therefore, epoxy SUPs are best recommended for expert riders.

While there are many benefits to hard SUPs, a major drawback is transporting and storing the board. Hard boards take up a lot of space and often get damaged due to ‘getting in the way’. Also, due to a longer manufacturing process, you can typically expect epoxy paddle boards to be more expensive.

Soft Top / Composite

Soft top paddle boards are made in a similar way to epoxy. They use a foam core, but are layered with soft, spongy material to give a soft and padded finish. This means they are less likely to show up scuffs or dings – perfect for paddle boarding and surf schools.

Versatility is limited for performance-focused activities. However, soft boards are perfect for families and young paddlers who are likely to hit rocky bottoms or bump into each other while learning how to paddle board.

These boards are also great for taking dogs on board. If they scratch through the soft layers, it causes less damage than on epoxy or inflatable.

Soft boards are often heavy because of the extra padding used in construction. These boards have a layer of polyethylene on the bottom to reduce drag, however this can get damaged easily. 

Most soft top / composite boards are cheap and cheerful. While they can hold back on performance in some areas, they still get the job done and are a good entry-level paddle board type.

Inflatable SUP Boards

Inflatable SUP boards on lake

Over recent years, inflatable boards have been rising in popularity proportionally to the increase of quality. It’s a common paddle board misconception that inflatables are made from cheap materials. Modern construction and materials have brought iSUPs to the table, they can now compete with fiberglass options and excel in some areas of paddling.

iSUPs are made using heavy-duty PVC with drop-stitch technology that creates an air core. When inflated correctly, inflatables should feel just as rigid and stable as an epoxy board, and they are also super durable and can handle rough environments. They glide along the surface of the water rather than cutting through, so can be slower than fiberglass SUPs.

Inflatables come into their element when it comes down to transporting and storing the boards. Simply deflate the SUP, roll it up, and stow it away in the SUP backpack, typically included with the purchase.

There are many different types of inflatable boards ranging in terms of versatility and performance level, so you really can find something to suit any sort of rider, regardless of ability and chosen paddling activity. 

Inflatable paddle boards are perfect for those who want to travel with their SUP, seeing where the adventure takes them, with reliable all-around performance. They are also great for anyone limited in storage space.

Main Types of Stand Up Paddle Boards By Activity

SUP board types depending on activity

Next, we can separate types of paddle boards by intended purpose and activity. The sport is evolving at a rapid pace with new branches of paddle boarding emerging each season. Recently, we have seen SUP Yoga gaining popularity, with yogis hitting the water with their SUPs as a floating mat.

While there are many categories of paddle boarding, we can label three main types of SUPs that cover most areas.

All Around / Flatwater Paddle Boards

All around paddle boards are fantastic, versatile options that can perform well in many roles. They are best for flatwater paddling and are suitable for any level of experience. A good all-around board can take a beginner from learning how to paddle, right through to a competent paddler enjoying a cruise.

Key features include:

  • Wide deck and rounded nose
  • Usually 10’6 or longer in length
  • Planing hull for increased stability while motionless
  • Inflatable all-around SUPs are a popular choice, but epoxy is also available

All around SUPs are best for general paddle boarding, SUP yoga, SUP fishing, tandem paddle boarding with a dog or friends, and learning the basics.

Surf / Performance Paddle Boards

Performance paddle boards, specifically surf SUPs, are designed for an increased maneuverability and speed element. They are shorter and highly sensitive to the riders’ weight distribution. As these boards are more specialized, they are only recommended to riders with more experience and are not suitable for lazy lake paddles.

Key features include:

  • Narrow and pointed nose
  • Typically between 7’ and 10’ in length
  • Planing hull to cut through the water efficiently
  • iSUPs are surfable, however, epoxy is the preferred choice

Surf SUPs gain stability through movement. They are difficult to keep balanced on when stationary.

Touring / Racing Paddle Boards

Last but not least, is the touring type paddle board. These SUPs are long and streamlined to produce a cutting speed, perfect for racing and endurance paddling. These paddle boards are often made with specialized fiberglass and carbon fiber materials to get the most lightweight board possible. The tracking and storage areas are also super important.

Key features include:

  • Narrow deck and pointed nose
  • Length between 10’ and 13’
  • Displacement hull for speed and a smooth ride
  • iSUP varieties can be found, however, epoxy is the preferred choice

These finely tuned SUPs can be difficult to control at first, but once the rider has mastered the weight distribution, then there will be no stopping the adventure. Touring boards are perfect for long-distance paddling.

Different Types of Paddle Board Sizes

SUP board sizes

And finally, we have different types of paddle boards determined by size. While the most common size is 10’6 to 11’ in length, there can be a variation to achieve increased speed, maneuverability, or stability for tandem riding.

Short, medium, or long? That is the question.

Short SUP

Short SUPs are under 10 ft in length and are ideally suited for SUP surfing and for kids to play on. These paddle boards have a lower weight capacity due to the lower volume and float. This makes them more difficult to stay stable when stationary for some riders. 

However, a shorter SUP is easier to turn in the water and can quickly carve along a wave’s face – perfect for joining the local line-up.

Medium SUP

Medium SUPs range anything between 10 ft and 12 ft in length. These are your typical paddle boards and the most common for an All around type stand up paddle board. 

They generally have a good amount of volume and float, making them a stable choice for any size rider for flatwater cruising. Medium-sized boards are perfect for SUP Yoga and SUP fishing – there is plenty of deck space to spread out and carry any gear needed for the day.

Long SUP

Long SUPs are 12 ft or longer, not normally exceeding 14 ft in length. Fast, powerful, and streamline, these boards are designed for long-distance explorations and touring. 

Once the rider gets into a paddling rhythm, the speed generated from these long SUPs is incredible!

Wrapping Up: Types of Stand Up Paddle Board

Inflatable or fiberglass, long or short – the combinations of stand up paddle boards are endless. Once you have determined how you want to use your paddle board, and where your adventures will take you, there will be no stopping you from finding the perfect type of paddle board for you.


🏆 What are the different types of paddle boards?

Paddle boards can be different by construction, intended activity, and size. From these three areas, there is an endless variety of SUPs, finely tuned to match certain riders and branches of paddle boarding. The main different types of stand up paddle boards include:

  • Inflatable stand up paddle boards
  • Fiberglass stand up paddle boards
  • All around SUP (General Purpose)
  • Surf paddle boards (Performance)
  • Touring paddle boards
  • Short SUP boards
  • Medium SUP boards
  • Long SUP boards

👍 What is the best kind of paddle board?

Inflatable SUPs are the best and most versatile kind of paddle. With new materials and construction, inflatable stand up paddle boards can compete with any fiberglass SUP on performance, rigidity, and durability. They are incredibly versatile and can be taken in a whole range of water conditions.

🏝️ How do I choose a SUP?

When choosing a SUP, you need to consider your height and weight, making sure the paddle board is the right fit for you. You also need to think about where you will be paddling and what type of venture you will be having. From here, you will be able to determine what type of paddle board will be best for you personally.

If you want to hit the waves, check out surf paddle boards. Endurance? Touring paddle boards will be good. All around SUPs are perfect for people who want to do a bit of everything.

❓ What is the best type of paddle board for beginners?

Beginners need a wide and stable paddle board to help them find balance and learn how to get moving. All around Inflatable SUPs are perfect for beginner paddlers because they are safe, stable, and versatile. When you fall off the board, and it will happen, an inflatable board will be soft if you hit it and won’t get damaged in the learning process.

📦 What is the best size paddle board for beginners?

The best dimensions for a beginner paddle board are 10’6 to 11’ in length and 31” to 35” in width. These dimensions provide the best stability, due to an increased surface area, as paddlers find their balance. The volume needs to be between 220 and 280 L to give the best float and stability. As the paddler progresses, they can experiment with the size and see how it can make a difference to their paddling experience.

Abi Leach
Abi Leach

Surfer, paddle boarder, and ocean lover. She loves traveling and discovering new destinations all across the world. When she's not writing, she's exploring the outdoors and enjoying fresh air.

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