Last week we showed how easy it is to get started SUPing from a physical point of view, and this week we’ll be looking at selecting the gear. Choosing your first paddleboard is a big decision; firstly there are practical reasons, as a SUP is a sizeable piece of equipment that you will be transporting, carrying, and storing. From a financial perspective, this might be your first actual investment in a new sport that you have perhaps only tried for fun a few times with friends or on vacation. The last main reason is related to your goals and your evolution as a paddler, as you might have trouble predicting today what kind of board you’ll want in two years.
Let’s see if we can tackle these decisions one by one.
The Size of the Prize
There are advantages and disadvantages to both hard-body SUPs and inflatable boards (ISUPs). Hard boards obviously will not puncture if accidentally scraped too hard against rocks (although, if you’re planning on paddling on whitewater, you’re probably too advanced of a paddler to be reading this advice ;)), some of the high-end ones are even lighter than ISUPs, and they’ll never lose their shape, as happens to ISUPS of lower quality. If you are planning on racing, you’ll probably want to invest in a hard paddleboard at some point.
But if you don’t have (or want to invest in) a roof-rack for your car and a basement or garage that has at least 12 feet (4 meters) of space in one direction, then you should probably be looking into ISUPs, which fold up to a size that can be easily managed in a large backpack. A family of 4 can head to the water with their boards stored in the trunk.
If you are considering a SUP for anything other than a distraction for your kids during summer vacation, make sure you have enough money saved up to buy a board that will not disappoint you immediately. If you have an ISUP in mind, this means at minimum deciding on a dual-layered board made with dropstitch technology (starting $900-1500). Anything less will lose its shape and bend like a banana in the middle.
Your Paddling Goals
As we get better and better at our respective crafts, we outgrow the tools we had when we started. The violinist buys an instrument crafted by a Renaissance master, the blacksmith progresses to a larger, and hotter forge. The same is obviously true with paddling, which is just another reason to think carefully about your first board. If you know you want to fish from your board, make sure the board is stable enough to hold your tackle. If you want to surf, make sure your board is wide enough to help you catch the waves. This sport is awesome, and that makes it addictive. You’ll want to be on the water every day, but only if you have a board that is a pleasure to use and on which you won’t waste energy paddling in circles.
At the end of the day, one of the best pieces of advice I ever heard about SUPing was to remember that it is a repetitive motion activity. This means that something you might not even notice (about form or gear) when doing 50-100 strokes for fun in a little cove can turn into a serious problem when heading on a proper session that involves 10,000 strokes and several hours. By analogy, a vintage bicycle might be lovely for leisurely 5-minute cruises through a city center, but it’s probably too heavy and lacking the gears to make it as enjoyable as a commuter bike.
So buy your first SUP wisely; it’ll be with you for many years