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5 W’s of Buying a SUP
You want a stand up paddle board, or SUP. But which one should you buy? Often used in the field of journalism, the “Five Ws” constitute a formula for getting the full story. I have found that the same questions have helped many of our customers get dialed in on the right board for them. I hope that it may be of some help to you, too. The following is just a framework. My husband and I own Epic Boardsports, LLC in Cocoa Beach Florida. Since 2011, we have been guiding customers through the buying process and are proud to stock the best brands in the industry. We are available via phone, e-mail, or in person at our shop 6 days a week to help customers with their individual needs. But hopefully the following can be a great place to start for you or someone that you know who is beginning the process of shopping for their first SUP.
Who am I buying this board for?
Adult? Child? Adult PLUS child or canine “passenger”? And then – is the paddler a beginner? A more advanced rider? Is the one board going to be purchased for multiple paddlers? This is where most people start in the buying process. The answer to the “who” question should help a buyer determine how much “real estate” and volume is needed in a board. A board that is 10’6 x 30” with 160 liters of volume may be a perfect 1st SUP for an athletic, average-sized adult. But that same 10’6 x 30” board will perform much differently with a 50 pound child or dog riding along on the nose of the board. When riding with company, we have found that the paddler and passenger alike are more comfortable with more length, width, and volume. If sharing a board with a spouse or friend, more consideration should be given to the needs of the paddler that will be using the board more frequently. If riding with company some, or all of the time, consider the mix of use. If mom or dad is going to bring junior along only 10% of the time, then maybe consider getting a board with the right volume for just mom or dad, which may sit a little lower in the water and lose some performance when paddling with junior.
What am I paddling for?
Let’s break it down: fun, fitness, or fishing? That is the question. It may sound like an oversimplification, but you gotta start somewhere, and those are the 3 broad categories that cover most paddlers. If fun is your focus – then be ok with sacrificing some in the performance department just to be able to enjoy some “liquid therapy” time. You don’t need a specialized race board to enjoy some scenery and close encounters with nature. Customers who are focusing on fun and relaxation tend to be happiest with boards that are 9’5 to 11’2 in length and 29 to 36 wide, with ample volume (so board thickness may vary anywhere from 4” to 7” thick to achieve the necessary volume for the paddler)
Models to consider: Naish Nalu 10’6, Starboard Drive 10’5×30, Pau Hana Oahu 9’5×32 or 10’x32
Are you paddling to maintain a certain level of fitness or race? Then you may be more concerned about performance. Consider boards that are 10’6” or longer and anywhere from 24” wide to 30” wide. You will be able to cover more distance and have a more efficient, higher cadence stroke if you aren’t paddling a wide board. Also, look at “displacement” shape boards, or “hybrid displacement” shapes. They tend to give you added performance over traditional planning style boards with “surf board” noses.
Models to consider: Pau Hana Mini Sport, Pau Hana Cadence, Starboard Freeride, Starboard AllStar Models, Boga El Tiburon 11′ or 12’6
Are you paddling to take your yoga practice to the water? Then stability is paramount. Consider a board that is 9’ to 11’ long and 32” to 26” wide.
Models to consider: Pau Hana Lotus, Starboard Astro Yoga, Naish Nalu 10’10 or Naish Alana 10’10
Do you want to tour many miles of coastline with gear on board for fishing or camping? Better consider volume and tracking capabilities over any other variables. Popular adventure boards are those that range from 11’ to 14’ in length and have tons of waterline for tracking and width for stability.
Models to consider: Jimmy Lewis Searcher, Starboard Fisherman, Starboard Avanti, Naish Glide series, Pau Hana Big EZ Angler
When, or how frequently, will you be paddling?
Are you looking to paddle on the weekends for fun? Or are you going to be making this your primary fitness medium, and so will be paddling many times a week? If you are making a commitment to paddle frequently, then you may ok to consider a board that may feel a little less stable at the time of purchase, but that you are willing to grow into a bit. Another segment to the “when” question – is condition – related. Will you be paddling when the conditions are less than perfect? If you are paddling when the winds are up, you may want to consider a board that can handle some chop, or swell. Or, if you are up for paddling when the winds are cranking in a direction conducive to doing a downwind paddle, then you may want to consider buying a board that is made to perform in downwind conditions. If you are determined to get in the ocean and surf sup even in mushy, choppy conditions, then you need to consider a wider board with softer rails. If you are only going to paddle on the cleanest of days – river or ocean, flat water or surf, then you can afford to choose a board with sharper rails and a narrower width.
Models to consider for downwind: Starboard Freeride or Freeride XL, Starboard ACE series, Naish Glide Series
Models to consider for mushy surf: Naish Mana Series, Naish Hokua 32 Series, Starboard Wide Point Series, Starboard Airborn series
Models to consider for perfect surf: Starboard Pro Series, Naish Hokua Series
Where will you be using your paddle board?
Are you going to be paddling on the ocean to catch waves? Then consider a surf-specific SUP. Are you going to stick to the river? Do you want a board that performs well in the river for cruising, but can catch some waves too? Is your place to launch right behind your house, or do you want the board for travel? Even within surf sups, or race sups, there are differences in their performance in various conditions. For example, for surf sups, we have found that wider shapes or fish shapes perform best in our mushy wave conditions that we are given most of the time. The width provides the added stability element that is needed for inconsistent waves. Or consider, when selecting your race board – are you going to be paddling in open ocean events, or on flat-water conditions? Give some serious consideration to the rails of the race board when making your decision on this purchase because harder rails can be fine for flat-water racing conditions, but choppy, or open ocean events can prevent more of a challenge. If you will be using your board beyond your own backyard, what type of traveling will you be doing? If traveling by car – think through whether you will be transporting it on top of your car or if you want to fit the board inside of your vehicle. To transport the board on top of your vehicle, you may need to budget some money for a rack system. If you want to fit the board inside of your car, then consideration will need to be given to how much real estate you have inside your vehicle. The length or width of your board may be determined by how much room you have inside the car. If traveling by air with your board, consider an inflatable board.
Inflatable models to consider: Naish Inflatables, Starboard Astro Series
Why are you paddling?
Are you paddling to catch waves? To tour? To race? Generally speaking, longer boards track better than shorter boards, and conversely, shorter boards turn easier. So if you are looking to surf with your SUP, then you may find it easier to turn and manage your board in the surf if it is 10’ or shorter. If you are looking to race, then you need to consider which class you will be racing in – surf class? 12’6? 14’? That will hone in the board options there as far as length is concerned. If you are looking to tour efficiently, a longer board will track better, so you may want start the consideration at 10’6 or longer, and around 29” to 30” wide.
Models for Surfing: Starboard Hero, Starboard Whopper, Starboard Avanti, Starboard Pro Series, Starboard Wide Points, Starboard Air Borns, Naish Hokua Series, Naish Mana Series
Models for Racing: Naish Javelin Series, Starboard All Star Series
Models for Touring: Naish Glide Series, Starboard Pocket Touring, Boga Tiburon
Models for All-Around Cruising: Starboard Drive, Starboard Blend, Naish Nalu Series, Rogue All Waters Series
Now grab that board and get on the water!!
Ultimately, the buying decision is a dynamic process. The same quiver of boards that works for me as an experienced female paddler who is 5’2, and weighs 120 pounds will not perform the same for a novice male paddler who is 6’2 and weighs 210 pounds. Also, while blogs and forums related to the sport of stand up, magazine articles, and the opinions of friends can be useful information, they can also serve to add confusion in the board buying process. Don’t reach the point of “paralysis by analysis.” You have to start somewhere, and most likely, you will buy more than one paddle board in your lifetime. There’s no real substitute for an on-water demo. We have many boards in our demo fleet. They run the gamut in size and shape. Try before you buy if possible. While not every board on the market may be available for demo at your local shop, trying a few different boards out will help you make your buying decision much more confidently.