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January 10, 2022 9 min read

Soft Top Paddle Board Guide

Blue and white soft top paddle board

There are many paddle boards on the market, and it's hard to know which one would best suit you. 

Hard boards, soft top boards, and inflatable boards all have their pros and cons, and the one you choose will depend on your lifestyle and what you’ll be using it for.

In this article, we’ll go over what you need to know about soft top paddle boards, the benefits of owning a soft top board, and the things that may steer you in a different board type direction.

Soft Top Construction and Materials

Soft tops are made from an EPS core foam that’s cut into the desired stand up paddle board shape. 

Higher-end soft tops have one or numerous layers of fiberglass wrapped around the EPS core. This extra layer makes the board stiffer and easier to maneuver during activities like surfing.

The biggest difference between soft tops and hard paddle boards is that a soft top SUP has an ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA) and polycarbonate (PC) top layer to give it that squishy padded finish. Because the foam is squishy, it is less likely to ding or scratch. 

How They Compare to Hard Board and Inflatable SUPS

Man paddle boarding in lake

Inflatable paddle boards are easily inflated and deflated, making them easy to transport to remote locations or store away in tight spaces.

A soft top board is the heaviest of all paddle boards due to its extra layer of padding. This extra layer contributes to the board’s weight and makes it harder to transport than an iSUP.

Rigid hard top boards are better in windy conditions and give you the best performance out of all paddle boards. They’re essentially a bigger surfboard and perform well on waves and in choppy waters. 

Soft top paddle boards are great for beginners, but they normally aren’t as versatile when it comes to performance-based activities. 

When it comes to durability, soft top boards are up there with the best because they are able to withstand dings, dents, and bumps thanks to their soft outer materials. 

The Pros of Soft Top Boards

They are the Most Affordable Type of SUP

One of the major pros of soft top paddle boards is their price point. Paddle boards can be a big investment, and soft tops are the most affordable of them all. 

You may think that because of their low price point, they lack quality, but this isn’t the case. Soft tops are simply made with price-sensitive materials that lack neither quality nor durability. 

Their low price is part of the reason why they are a great type of SUP for beginner paddlers or children. 

People new to the sport are bound to hit rocks, scrape the sand, drop their board or bump into other paddlers. Having a board that’s on the lower end of the price scale is much easier to replace than an expensive one. 

Soft tops are also great for people on a budget and for people who only plan to take their board out a few times a year. If your board is in storage the majority of the time, there may not be much point in splashing out on the best. 

They are Dog Friendly

Woman paddle boarding with dog on a soft top paddle board

If you have a water-loving furry friend that would make an excellent SUP buddy, purchasing a soft top paddle board would be a great option. 

Its squishy deck is forgiving to scratches, grip-friendly to help with pups’ stability, and comfortable for your dog to sit on if you’re out paddling for long periods.  

Soft top paddle boards also have a higher weight capacity and a wider deck to give your dog more room to move around.

They are Good SUPS for Families and Kids 

If you’re looking for a durable starter board for your children or family, then a soft top would be a great option!

The soft outer deck will prevent injury if a child were to fall and should they bump into anything, the board will not ding or scratch. 

Soft top boards have spacious decks, allowing you to take singular or multiple small children and a dog on the front of the board while you paddle on the back. 

The squishy soft material provides extra comfort for your children when they’re perched on the front deck, letting you do all the work. 

They are Great for SUP Yoga

Alongside inflatables, soft top SUPs are the ideal board for SUP yoga. 

SUP yoga takes yoga to a whole new level because you’ve got the added challenge of balancing on a board that is on water. 

The soft outer material soft SUP boards are made from is a fantastic platform to practice all types of yoga poses. 

Rigid hard top boards don’t have a soft padded surface and can be painful to fall onto if you come out of a move unexpectedly. 

The wider deck of a soft top board creates a stable surface and gives a larger platform to work and balance on. 

They are Ideal for SUP Fishing

For all the SUP anglers out there, SUP fishing on a soft top paddle board is ideal because of its higher weight capacity. The larger weight limit means you can add on additional fishing gear and not have to worry about it affecting your board's performance.

Fishing from SUPs has become increasingly popular in the fishing community because SUPs can be taken to any remote waterway and reach places that aren’t accessible by larger boats. 

The soft top design will keep you comfortable while you’re out on the water for long trips and many soft top models have additional storage areas on the front deck in the form of bungees. 

Although you can get boards specifically designed for SUP fishing, having a board that can be used for both fishing and recreational purposes would give you the most use for your money.

They are Perfect for Beginners

A beginner paddler on a lake

If you’re new to paddle boarding and you’re looking to purchase your first stand up paddle board, a soft top SUP would be a great investment. 

It’s inevitable that when you’re first starting out on a stand up paddle board you are going to bump into things, drop your board or scratch it along the way. Don’t worry, it happens to the best of us!

A soft top SUP won’t show the damage to its deck as easily as a hard board would and if you can’t keep your balance on the board, falling on a soft deck is less likely to injure you than if you fell on a hard one. 

The wider surface area of soft tops also helps with overall balance, making it easier for you to learn and practice your paddling skills. 

Soft Top Cons

They Weigh More than Other Boards

The weight of soft top SUPs is heavier than hard boards or inflatables because of the extra padding that's added onto the core of the board during its construction. 

If you plan on taking your board to remote locations that require a small hike, a soft top SUP that is heavier than other boards may not be the best option for you.

They Aren’t as Fast as Other Boards

Another con of soft tops is that they aren’t as fast as other types of SUPs. 

If you’re an experienced paddler and you want a board that provides speed and decent maneuverability, then it may be better to opt for a rigid hard board. 

The fact these boards can't reach fast speeds is why soft top paddle boards are widely used for beginners, kids, surf schools, and families.

They are Hard to Store

Soft top paddle board on a rack

Storing a soft top board is slightly more challenging than if you were to store an iSUP.

They can’t be inflated and deflated like an iSUP, and therefore can’t fit into small storage spaces. If you purchase a soft top board, you’ll need adequate storage space in a place with little sunlight and cool temperatures. 

They Need a Roof Rack to Transport

To transport a soft top SUP, you’ll need a roof rack that is attached to the roof of your car. 

Getting your board on and off a roof rack, especially for solo paddlers, can be difficult if the board is too heavy or too long. 

What to Look For in a Soft Top Paddle Board

When purchasing a soft top SUP, there are a few important things you need to look out for, and the type of board you choose will depend on your specific wants, needs, and lifestyle habits. 

The first thing you need to decide on before purchasing a board is what you’ll be using the SUP for. 

If you want your board to be used by the whole family, then you will need a SUP that is long enough and has a high enough weight limit to hold and fit numerous passengers on board.

If you are a SUP angler or a SUP yogi, getting a board with a wider deck will give you more room to fish from and perform yoga poses.

For touring and long-distance paddling, you’ll want to opt for a longer-length board because they are faster and glide through the water easier. 

The things you need to take into consideration are: 

  • Length - Long boards are better for touring whereas short boards are better for surfing or for children who want their own board. 
  • Width - If you plan on doing fishing, yoga or paddling with your dog, you’ll need a board that is wide enough. 
  • Weight capacity - Calculate the entire weight that’ll be on the board at any one time.
  • Storage- How big is your storage space? Will it affect the length of the board you can purchase?
  • Price- There are boards for all price points, so figure out a comfortable budget and get buying!

FAQ’S

🏆 Are soft top paddle boards good?

A soft top SUP is a great board for people of all abilities, but especially for beginners and young children. 

Soft top stand up paddle boards can take a beating and don’t ding or scratch as easily as other types of boards. Their squishy outer layer makes them good for surf schools and paddlers that are new to the sport. 

If you want to stay on a budget but also have endless fun out on the water, soft top SUPs are the cheapest option on the market without lacking quality or durability. 


👍 What is soft top paddle board?

A soft top paddle board is a board with a squishy padded surface that is used to paddle on various types of waterways. 

The paddle board is made from an EPS foam core and coated with a soft material to provide a layer of padding on its top side.


🏝️ What should I look for in a paddle board?

When looking for a paddle board, you need to consider these 5 things:

What you’ll be using it for -The use of your board is the first thing you want to think about before purchasing. What activities will you use your board for, and who exactly will use it? 

Inflatables, hard boards, and soft top paddle boards are the 3 different types of boards you’ll be choosing from, and these boards all have their pros and cons.

The length of the board - Different lengths are suitable for different activities. Longer boards are better for long-distance paddling and touring, whereas shorter boards are better for surfing and speed.

The weight limit of the board - Your SUP needs to hold the entire weight of all passengers and gear that’ll be on the board at any given time. 

It’s best to first calculate the weight of everything you’ll be taking on your SUP and then find a board that can accommodate that weight. 

How heavy it is - There will be times you’ll need to carry your SUP over a long distance, so you’ll want a board that is light enough for you to carry.

Where you will store it - If you don’t have adequate storage, where will you keep your board? If you live in a small space, inflatables are the most popular option. 

The price of the board - Boards come in at all price points, and there is a SUP option for all budgets!


❓ Is foam or inflatable paddle board better?

Both foam and inflatable boards have their benefits. Your lifestyle and what you’re using your board for will ultimately decide which one you think is best for you. 

Foam boards are durable and can take on dents and dings from beginner paddlers or young children. They are the cheapest boards on the market, and their wide deck provides a high level of stability. 

Inflatable paddle boards are in the middle price bracket and can be inflated and deflated, making them incredibly easy to store. Like foam boards, they too can take on bumps but can tear if knocked into a particularly sharp piece of rock or debris.

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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