Over the last decade, stand-up paddle-boarding has exploded in popularity. What began as an oceanic pursuit for a handful of surfers that included Laird Hamilton, Oahu's aquatic stuntman Brian Keaulana, and a few old-school surf instructors from Waikiki, has today become globally ubiquitous from beach breaks to harbors to lakes and hidden angling spots.
Today's market has evolved into a dizzying array of boards for fishing, racing, river running, flat water, and yes, surfing. Constructions run the gamut, too, from exotic epoxies, carbon, and fiberglass to incredibly durable foam and inflatable models. For a beginner especially, the choices can be overwhelming, and that's' where this guide comes in.
Because of these different genres and construction types, we decided to break paddle boards down into four categories: inflatable, soft, hard (surfing), and fishing — taking the beginner and first-time buyer into account. The picks that follow are the result of hours of time spent on screen and on lakes, tidal creeks, and of course, the open ocean.
Among the most important considerations for stand-up paddle boards (SUPs) are weight and durability — two factors that are not always mutually exclusive. In the case of the boards that follow, we've tried to ensure that you'll not only be able to hoist the board onto the roof of your car, but that it also won't ding at the slightest bump or snap in half on a waist-high wave.
We also took market factors into consideration. Currently, the stand-up paddle board marketplace is as fluid as the ocean. Manufacturers, vendors, and models come and go seemingly overnight. We've tried to recommend well-warrantied products from companies we know you'll be able to deal with at least a year or two from now.
A final important factor to note is that if you have children who will be playing around with a stand-up board in the ocean or on flat water, we strongly recommend either an inflatable or our completely soft foam model recommendation. The last thing you need is a 25- or 30-pound, ten-foot-long airplane wing banging off your child's head or a rigid fin digging into their skin.
The All Rounder has a number of features going for it. First off, its construction is super durable, with an extruded EPS foam core that won't soak up water should the board take a ding. That's unlikely though because lain over the foam is a carbon fiber, epoxy, and fiberglass cloth bonded in place beneath underneath a tough epoxy resin. The EPS/epoxy combination makes the board a nicely light 24 pounds while its deep, perfectly balanced grab handle enables fatigue-free carrying.
The board was clearly shaped by a surfer. Though it's plenty stable with a nearly five-inch-thick and 32-inch-wide deck, its surf-friendly construction includes nicely transitioned rails whose squared off shape near the board's base allows the board to pivot quickly into turns. And while you may not care about the double concave shape on the hull, this mild hull curvature translates into lift and speed when going down the line and traveling parallel to a wave's face.
At the tail, the board is gently rockered, which helps initiate turns. Though the board only ships with a large and rigid single fin, it features side plugs to add a pair of inexpensive FCS fins for extra bite in waves and straighter tracking in windy flatwater conditions.
We also liked the board's deck traction, which was very grippy but soft enough to keep your feet from going numb during a long paddle. Another thoughtful touch is a slight upturn at the back of the traction pad to keep your foot from slipping off the back of the board and giving a point of reference in turns.
The board is built with a series of plugs along the rails and deck for attaching a cargo net, or a nose-mounted GoPro — a great touring feature. For surfers above 195 pounds, REI also offers an 11'6" version of this board— and in typical REI fashion, a year-long warranty.
We'd love for this board to also ship with a paddle and leash, but for those items, you'll have to spend some extra money.
Cons: More expensive than some other epoxy boards on the market, we'd love to see this sold as a package with a set of side bite fins, a leash, and a paddle
In the decade and a half since founder Scott McClain began selling his "slick skin" surfboards from a Charleston garage, Liquid Shredder has refined its manufacturing process to a high degree. Liquid Shredder's 10'6" standard soft board is a feather-light 26 pounds and a very stable 32 inches wide and four inches thick.
Liquid Shredder uses a patented construction process. The company begins with a core of extruded polystyrene (EPS) foam that won't absorb water even if the board is punctured. The core is then reinforced with lightweight aluminum I-beam stringers to keep it from flexing or breaking amidst the waves. It is then literally shrinkwrapped inside a padded foam and seemingly bulletproof vinyl skin.
The rails (sides) of the board are then further wrapped all the way around in another protective layer of PVC. The board's ride is stabilized with a set of three soft, flexible fins with smaller 'sidebite' fins that help it track straight and stop it from sliding sideways in steeper waves.
We really liked thoughtful touches like an offset center hand grip which ensures that the short and long-armed can carry the board comfortably, a patch kit in case you should somehow manage to scrape a hole in the board's coating and a small Gore-Tex vent that purges air from inside the board in case you leave it out in the hot sun and the gasses inside it expand.
It also features a small plug near the tail to drain water should any ever intrude and a soft and grippy foot patch that extends over most of the deck.
I've owned my first Liquid Shredder for more than 10 years and it's still going strong. Treat this SUP with a little bit of TLC and it will last a very long time. The one-year warranty though, adds a nice peace of mind.
Cons: Because the board is so lightweight, it can be a handful in windy conditions, which want to turn it sideways to the wind. We would also love to have some tie downs to secure gear to the deck.
Back in 2012, standup paddleboarder Stephen Aarstol appeared on NBC's Shark Tank and convinced billionaire Mark Cuban to take a $150,000 chance on his small paddleboard company. Since that time, Tower has exploded in sales from $100,000 to better than $25 million. The company's formula is quality gear at an affordable price coupled with solid customer service, and it sure works. That's why its inflatable SUP is our favorite.
For a lot of folks, an inflatable SUP makes perfect sense. They're easy to transport, safe for kids and beginners, and with modern composite materials — like military-grade outer skins — incredibly durable. So much so that inflatables are the board of choice for SUP'ers on rock-strewn rivers.
Boards like the Tower Adventurer are made rigid when blown up, thanks to a nifty bit of technology that uses tens of thousands of gossamer threads that join the upper and lower decks. When inflated, the threads act like a network of tiny support columns. At 6 inches, the Adventurer is thicker than many inexpensive inflatable boards, giving it the rigidity of a hard, epoxy-built board. Its seams are also glued with a super strong epoxy. You'd have a very, very hard time splitting it.
The Adventurer features a mildly flexible and easily removable center fin and a pair of permanently affixed 'side bite' fins to help keep the board straight in wind and waves. It comes with a hand pump and gauge and inflates to its full 11 PSI pressure in a few minutes. Note that you will exert yourself blowing it up, and you might be happier with one of the brand's 12-volt electric pumps.
Out on the water, the Adventurer tracks straight and surfs surprisingly well on even medium waves and its soft construction is a confidence booster for any beginner. At 24 pounds, it's also surprisingly light. We've even tested a Tower amidst the waves and sharp coral of Fiji. It glided across the waves and even took the occasional scrape across the reef without puncturing. The three-piece paddle is not as light as high-performance models, but proved durable and perfectly serviceable.
We also really like Tower's inclusion of a carrying strap and its two-year warranty. Some of the company's most oft-cited online praise cites its prompt and attentive customer service. If the board should lead you to spend more time on the water than you think you should, Tower also includes a copy of Stephen Aarstol's book, " The Five Hour Workday" as part of the package — to help you justify your newfound addiction.
Amazon buyers are exceptionally pleased. More than 500 reviews earned the board a 4.5-star average, and 77% of reviewers gave it 5 stars.
If there are downsides to the board, it's in the fact that, like any other lightweight rounded nose board, it's pretty susceptible to being blown sideways in a stiff breeze. Like essentially every other inflatable, too, you can't really turn this board and hold it in line against the wave using its side edges, or 'rails'. They're simply too big and rounded.
When surfing, you have to turn this board by weighting the back. We would love to see D-Rings on this model to attach gear up front, but for just over $500, you can't have everything.
Cons: Flimsy pump, doesn't do very well in wind and could use D-rings up front. We'd like it even more if it came with a bag and leash.
If you want a board that can perform in the surf, you'll want to be sure it incorporates something called rocker, which is the front-to-back concave of a board's hull that allows it to sit more comfortably on a wave's face, where a straighter, flatter board (which is great for touring and steady tracking) would be more difficult to manoeuvre. You'll also want a wider board — at least while you're starting out — for stability.
But whether you're a beginner or not, this is a great board for anyone, especially those planning to ride smaller waves (i.e., most of us). At 10 feet, it's still short enough for sportier spirits to surf a little more aggressively, thanks to the V-rocker and the rockered tail, which really lets you walk back and pivot into a turn with relative ease.
This board will also float most people with its 190-liter volume and 4.25-inch thickness, which grants it the ability to float 230 pounds of human and gear or dog, or pretty much whatever you're willing to strap or try to balance atop its deck.
But just because it can float a lot of weight does not mean it's stable. Maneuverability almost always comes at the cost of stability, and being only 10 feet long this board does not track well, so don't bother trying to take it touring, and if you want a more hybrid-style paddle board, consider our main pick, Adventure Paddleboarding's All Rounder instead.
Outdoor Gear Lab reviewed the Naish Mana GTW calling it a "great choice for surfing" but complained about it being too slow to track and compete with their other boards, which were all tested for touring, and not so much surfing. Beginners complained that the board felt a little unstable, that is until they found their footing. Again, if you're really set on specifically surfing, this could be a good SUP for you. If not, look for something a little more hybridized.
Cons: Too short to perform as a touring paddle board, somewhat unstable, requires deft footing (but this will teach you quickly where to stand and when)
In a lot of instances, fishing from a standup paddleboard actually makes more sense than fishing from a kayak. If you're fishing in a salt marsh, you can see above the marsh grass to know where you're going. You can get into super shallow waters provided your fins aren't too deep or too hard, and you can 'sight' fish. So if you possess a good pair of polarized sunglasses and the ability to move smoothly and stealthily, you can sneak up on fish who, don't forget, can also see you.
There's so much to like about this board it's tough to even know where to begin. First off, for its level of detail and outfitting, this package is simply unbeatable. It includes not only Isle's nicely appointed board but a solidly built and remarkably light 3-piece adjustable carbon paddle, backpack, pump, 10' coiled leash and removable snap-in center fin. It also features side bites to help with stability and tracking while riding small waves.
Fishing-wise, the board itself has a plethora of angler-friendly features. It weighs only 27 pounds, making it one of the lightest fishing boards on the market, which is particularly remarkable for its 11'6" length and very stable 36" width. With a huge air volume of 287 liters and at six inches thick, it will support 320 pounds of rider and gear — even a seat, cooler, or your trusty Labrador retriever.
We loved that the Sportsman comes installed with three Scotty Mounts, the industry standard for everything from rod holders to electronic gear. We also loved the center, nose, and tail grab handles and the fore and aft bungee webbing for securing gear. The EVA deck pad on this board is also perfect. It's smooth, soft and grippy, so your feet won't fall asleep while you're standing and your knees and butt won't chafe from sitting down and casting.
Our only real complaint is that, like most tall inflatables, the Sportsman can be a bit unruly in the wind. The other issue is that the board is often sold out on Amazon and ISLE's own site.
Check back soon, as the company does restock and they should be available again shortly. If you're in a real rush to get a fishing SUP, we understand. The Pau Hana Big EZ Angler is a large, rigid option with a real (and rather luxurious) teak deck. We recommend it fully if the Isle Sportsman is out of stock.
Pros: Gear mounting points galore, stable for casting and paddling, terrific price. 60-day love it or return it guarantee
Mineral sunscreens are highly effective, and far less toxic to small aquatic creatures that can metabolize chemical-based sunscreens, but they usually leave a streaky white mess. We'll never stop searching for the perfect solution, but Thinksport's SPF 50+ Sunscreen is the best trusty, eco-friendly, and almost-sheer option. For the face, Raw Elements' Tinted Facial Moisturizer with SPF 30 is on the greasier side, but it blends in better than any others we've tried. Here are all of our picks:
While sunscreen helps keep sunburn and cancerous skin cells from forming, the best prevention is to wear clothes. But even lightweight cotton and linen shirts still allow a good deal of the sun's harmful rays to pass through to your precious epidermis. Do yourself a favor and reach for sun protection clothing, even if you're already wearing sunscreen. Our favorite sun shirt is the Hurley Icon QuickDry Shirt because it's lightweight, protective, and fast to dry.
Let's face it: sometimes sunscreen isn't enough, especially since dangerous UV rays can penetrate your clothing. Instead of risking it, avoid future sun damage by wearing stylish garments with UPF 50 protection.
To help you find the most stylish sun-smart offerings on the market, we've rounded up five fashionable brands that sell clothing with a minimum of UPF 50.
We've tested nearly a dozen board shorts, and researched many more. After wearing them both in and out of the water, Patagonia's Stretch Planing Board Shorts win our praise for being lightweight, unrestrictive yet sleek, affordable, and the quickest drying pair we tested.
Daily use of a good sunscreen like the Coppertone Ultraguard SPF 70 or theGoddess Garden Organics' Everyday SPF 30 Natural Sunscreen will fend off sunburns today, and help prevent the skin damage that leads to aged, wrinkled, blotchy skin later on in life. Here are the Insider Picks:
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Carbon Fiber Kayak Paddles
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