Buyer’s Guide to buying a Stand Up Paddle Board
Over the last few years, interest in stand-up paddleboarding has soared in the UK. There are so many places to explore the water from a paddle board, from lakes, harbours and rivers to coastal areas. And its popularity isn’t surprising. Paddleboarding is an easy water sport to get the hang of and can be enjoyed with family groups and friends, young and old. The kit’s designed to be easily transported and you don’t necessarily need expensive or technical clothing when you start out. Don a buoyancy aid and you can be pretty much out on the water without too much faff!
If you’re one of the many who’ve tried out paddleboarding in group sessions and used rented equipment, you may well be looking to invest in buying your own stand-up paddleboard (SUP). Here’s the Boards360 handy guide of what to look for and how much to budget for your first board.
First off, we recommend buying an inflatable stand up paddle board - or ISUP for short. You can buy a solid board but there are so many benefits to inflatable paddle boards. Lightweight, both on and off the water, they fold down into a large backpack making them easy to carry, get into the boot of a car or stash in the cargo hold on planes. If you have limited storage space at home, they’re much easier to find a nook or cranny for than a full length, solid board would be.
And when you’re out using the inflatable kind, they’re more manoeuvrable in the water and easier to carry to the edge and kinder to your knees (if you paddle that way!). ISUPs are also great if you’re a relative newcomer to the sport as they’re far more forgiving if you hit the river bank or bottom out on a rock and much less prone to scrapes and dings than a traditional hard board… or we should say most inflatables are. This is where we need to talk about price in relation to quality and how the board performs!
Your first board investment needs to be a good one. You’ll want to buy a SUP that will last throughout the years as you progress from beginner to advanced paddler. Our best advice is to find a brand that designs and makes paddle boards that are robustly constructed from highly durable materials and manufactured using higher eco and environmental standards. If you stretch your budget at the start, you’ll be the owner of ISUP kit that gives you better performance, higher quality accessories and you won’t be looking to either sell it or worse still, take it to the tip, after just one summer’s use.
How much should I pay for a good ISUP?
There are lots of different shapes, styles and quality of boards on the market covering every conceivable paddleboarding activity from surfing, fishing, racing and touring. So it’s good to do your research and think about what sort of paddling you’re planning to use your board for. A quick search online and you’ll find a wide range of SUPs and accessories starting from around £250. Good price, right? Well, no, not really. For an entry level SUP board built for one paddler and their kit, we’d recommend setting aside a budget of around £500. You might say ‘we would say that’ but there are so many reasons why you’ll be a happier paddler if you do invest a bit more. Don’t forget, this budget should get you a high quality board and a starter pack of lots of useful accessories including pump, leash and paddle too.
So what’s wrong with the less-expensive boards?
The key thing to remember is that not all ISUPS are born equal. Board rigidity is the key to successful paddling so you’ll want to be able to inflate your ISUP to the right pressure to give you the stability you need. The materials used, and how the paddle board is constructed are really important factors in what makes it both efficient and effective in flat open water or surf conditions. The construction of cheaper boards means that they often fail to get enough air on board so you end up with too much wobble and a distinct lack of straight line movement. Or you’ll have too much of the board sitting in the water. This isn’t great as it means you’ll lose a lot of energy paddling both the board and the water - all very tiring!
Hit a rock or scrape the bank with a paddle board that’s cost you less than best, and you could end up with a puncture that’s tricky to repair and will always be at risk of deflation and water ingress. And then there’s the problem of sunshine and salty water as different materials and glues respond differently to UV rays. Expose your £250 board to UV rays for too long and you might find its layers delaminating faster than you’d want. Pay more for your SUP, and you’ll be buying technology that’s been well-researched and tested in loads of different conditions. How and where the board’s constructed, the type of PVC used, solvents and glues have all been carefully designed to help you get the high performance you’ll be looking for.
What should I look for in my first Stand-up paddle board?
Let’s start from the inside out. The core of high quality inflatable stand up paddle boards is made using dropstich construction. Simply put, dropstiching connects the top and bottom inner fabric of the ISUP with thousands of threads. When you inflate the board, dropstiching holds the shell firmly in place to prevent the material from bulging at the sides - that’s where the rigidity comes from. The sides are also protected from damage by PVC rail bands and give you greater durability and a better shape to the board.
Next comes the outer layering and this is where you’ll start to see the difference in quality of build. Ideally, look for a paddle board that has either Fusion construction or dual layering and avoid anything that is termed ‘single layer’. A single layer is just one layer PVC covering the dropstitch core. You might be tempted by promises of tough rails but these boards will feel bouncy and unstable, have a poor length to thickness ratio (not great for good handling), and will be far more at risk of deflation and punctures if you do have a prang. They take less weight too so, if you’re an adult paddler, you’ll want to steer clear if you’re looking for high performance.
Fusion construction offers a really good compromise for price versus quality for entry level boards. On fusion boards, the drop stitch inner is constructed with a double layer of bonded fabric which is then coated with a single layer of PVC material or mesh. The result is a really durable board which is highly rigid but still light to carry on land and manoeuvrable in the water. You’ll find this construction used on good all-round boards which will get you out on the water for a variety of different activities.
Finally, the dual layer boards. These comprise two additional layers on top of the drop stitched base cloth and then a PVC external skin. This combination is normally found on more specialist boards designed for specific activities on open and flat water which require an even greater level of durability. They’ll also happily carry heavier loads too.
So let’s look at the paddle board outer. Again, quality counts. Look for boards with a non-slip EVA deck pad with good density and thickness. If you go for something with low density, it’ll degrade quicker and be more uncomfortable under the knee and give less rear deck friction for turns under foot. Also, search for paddle boards that come with handles - ideally one handle in the middle so you can carry your inflated board under your arm to and from the water, and handles at the side, front or rear. These will make the ISUP easier to move around both in the water and on the river bank.
Removable or flexible fins are a real asset too when it comes to manoeuvrability in the water, and for setting up and storing your inflatable. D-loops are handy if you need to tow another board, and cargo nets (sometimes termed 4-point bungees) provide a secure way of keeping dry bags, coats and picnics in place on deck.
Don’t forget, many of the mid-market paddle boards (from £500+) will also come with starter package - including pump, paddle and leash. Our final piece of advice: buy a brand that’s been tried and tested by a specialist retailer and speak to your training centre coaches and paddle boarders with plenty of paddling experience to find the best board to suit your style and help you enjoy many years of happy paddling!
To browse the Boards360 range of inflatable SUP's click here.