Choosing Your First Stand Up Paddleboard
••••• This article can also be read in the Summer 2013 issue of California Paddler. You can get a copy in the shop or read it online at calpaddlermag.com •••••
Choosing your first Stand Up Paddleboard – What to get? What to get? What to get?
*Pre-article Factoids to Keep in Mind: Length of the board on the water equates to speed, speed becomes glide & inertia, glide & inertia mean you paddle less and go farther. Beam (or width) becomes drag, slowing you down and making you work harder. On the water, every inch in length is an advantage. Off the water, those same inches are a hindrance. Keep these basic facts in mind and read on.
I’m not gonna start this little “How To” article by saying stand up paddleboarding is so easy anyone can do it. That would be a lie. But I can in good conscious say, stand up paddleboarding is so easy almost everyone can do it. And using the basic law of averages, chances are pretty good this means you. Also, I’d like to start this with a little disclosure: The first photo I ever saw of someone SUPing, happened to be of Laird Hamilton on the Colorado River, heading through the Grand Canyon. I instantly thought to myself, what a nut. And then, within a year, I started to see more people in more photos on more stand up paddleboards and I thought, this is the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen. And then I went to the Outdoor Retailer show in Salt Lake City and there were one or two companies hawking these overgrown surfboards and I thought, this fad’ll be dead in five years.
And then I finally tried it. Now I’m singing a different song.
Today I’m of the opinion that SUPing is similar to sex in a couple ways. There are those who are doing it and those who wish they were doing it. And for those who don’t wish they were doing it, it’s only because they’ve never done it.
Now, I’ve been a kayaker for more than twenty years. A lot of my best memories involve a kayak. I make my living selling kayaks. Heck, I even met my wife when I sold her a kayak. But when I get on the water today, nine times out of ten, I’m on a SUP. Why? Well, for one reason, the Stand Up Paddleboard eliminates inconvenience as my excuse for not getting on the water. Board, paddle, lifejacket, go. And the fact that a SUP weighs at least half of what a kayak weighs is a big portion of convenience. That means my wife, who weighs half of what I do, can easily put the board on the car as well. Next, the dogs like it. And anything we can do with the dogs is a bonus (feel free to substitute children for dogs if that’s your cup of tea). I’m also a big fan of seeing what’s going on in the water around me. When you’re standing five to six feet above the water you get a much better view of all those cool things happening below you – bat rays, leopard sharks, otters, sea lions, etcetera. But enough about why, let’s get to what.
Types of Stand Up Paddleboards (in a nutshell)
*Caveat – All rules have exceptions. But in an effort to keep this article short, I’ll be focusing on rules, not exceptions.
Basically, there are two general types of SUPs. You’ve got your Displacement Hull and you’ve got your Planing Hull. In the simplest of terms, a displacement hull slices through the water (like a kayak). A planing hull travels over the water (like a surfboard). Typically, the displacement hull is faster and more efficient while the planing hull is more stable.
The displacement hull offers two subspecies: The Race Board and the Touring Board. The race board is usually 12’6” or 14’ in length (because of race class) and is as narrow as they can go without tossing all but the pro into the drink. The touring board is anywhere between 12’ and 14’ and has greater width for general stability – think of it like going on a tour with your bicycle. It wouldn’t be too much fun if you kept falling off. The Sub-sub-species of all this is the Trainer Board which is typically 10’6” to 11’6” and not something I would recommend to most people for their first board, so that’ll be something to discuss another time.
The planing hull also offers two subspecies with a lovechild resting gently between them. I give you the Recreational SUP, the Surf SUP and the crossbreed of the two, aptly called the Crossover SUP. The recreational (or rec) SUP, is wide, stable and not too terribly fast. The surf SUP has more rocker, less volume and is designed for, oddly enough, surfing. And the crossover can easily be used for both but may not be absolutely great for either. Sizes are all over the place. Length can range anywhere from under 9’ for the smaller surfer who knows how to rip it up, to a hair past 12’ for the, shall we say, larger paddler. Width and thickness help considerably with volume and volume is what makes the board float. So, if you’re 98 lbs with your sunglasses on, there’s not many boards that won’t float you just fine. But if you’re 298 lbs, your gonna want the widest, thickest SUP you can lay your hands on.
Let’s move past that for now. Let’s talk about the basics of the purchase itself. It’s your first board and maybe you’re not even sure if you’re really gonna like it all that much. Should your first board be used?
Well, when you purchase a used board from someone off of a Craigslist ad, you’ve really got three ways to go. First, you might get super lucky and fall into a sweet deal with the perfect board. It’s brand new, there was a divorce, and bingo, they practically give you the board and they throw in a top of the line paddle that just happens to be your size, for free. Not a terribly realistic scenario, but it could happen. Second scenario involves you getting a SUP that maybe doesn’t look so great but it’s cheap and it gets you out on the water. It’s not the perfect board for you, but now at least you’ll know more about what you’re looking for on the second go around. Lastly, you get a used board that looks new for less than half of what you’d have to pay in the store. Maybe it looks a little small but you can’t believe there are suckers paying retail prices out there in the world. You take it out to the bay and spend more time in the water than you do on the board (the board made for someone 75lbs lighter than you). You got a great deal on a total pain in the butt and now the only thing you can actually do with it is to sell it to somebody else.
Or you could buy used from your local SUP shop. They’re probably not going to tell you what you want to hear (you know, the line about how they were just gonna throw it away, so you can have it if you want it). In fact, what they think the used board should cost and what you think the used board should cost are probably two very different numbers. However, they probably want you to be a satisfied customer who comes back to the shop to buy something else. So your big advantage of buying from these guys is they’re most likely not going to sell you something that’s not going to work for you. At our shop, we’re going to guarantee your satisfaction and chances are your local SUP shop will too.
Well if that’s the case, why should you buy new? That’s a good question. I knew you’d be paying attention. To begin, I don’t know a single retail paddle shop that carries a remarkable selection of used boards. We’re all focused on new boards. That’s how we do our part to keep the economy rolling along. Somebody designs. Somebody builds. Somebody distributes. Somebody sells. Sure, you can buy used and cut out those first three guys but that doesn’t make the economy move anymore than some silly vote in Washington. So while this isn’t supposed to be an article on the individual responsibility of economic recovery, understand that at our shop and others, we do have a responsibility to get things kicked in the right direction. That’s just one of the reasons we’ve got dozens of new boards in stock and only a handful of used. That is, of course, the long way to say, that while we’ve probably got your perfect new stand up paddleboard in stock, we are less than likely to have a used one that’s comparable. And again, when you buy a SUP from us we’re gonna guarantee it’s the right board for you. Wouldn’t you rather pay a little more to get exactly what you want? That was a rhetorical question. Of course you would.
Now, of course, you can buy online or from some massive chain as well. I’m not going to tell you not to. But you’d better be sure of what you want. No box store or online discount warehouse is gonna make sure you get the perfect board. And they’re not gonna let you demo a board so you know it’s the right board for you. Nor are they gonna have stand up paddle classes so you can get a little knowledge and a little experience under your belt either before or after your big purchase. And I doubt they’re gonna have a dozen ways to transport your SUP on top of your vehicle or store it properly back at your house. Also, when you support your local paddle shop, your local paddle shop supports you. Resources like local knowledge, spare parts, board repairs, classes, tours – even just the basics like showing you how to properly tie down your sup to your car – are the things we, your local paddle shop, can offer you that the online warehouse or the national chain can’t.
So you’re looking at buying your first stand up paddleboard and maybe you don’t even know if you’re gonna like it. Hey, it’s the fastest growing new sport in the world for a reason. And that reason is: it’s a bucket of fun. So don’t sabotage what should be a lifetime of great times over a couple bucks. That’s all I’m saying.