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Selecting a Stand-Up Paddleboard

This paddler is riding the Scout. She’s wearing an inflatable belt-pack PFD

By Tom Burden

The newest type of watercraft on your local lake, river or other water hole, stand-up paddleboards are simple, affordable, fun, and a great core workout.

How and where will you paddle?

SUP boards are designed for different paddling styles and environments:

Cruisers give general all-around performance in most water environments. Typically between 10'0" and 12'6" in height and 29-32" in width, cruiser shapes follow minimal arc along the rail for greater stability. Generally, they’re either designed for ocean or flat-water performance.

Ocean or Coastal cruisers feature greater nose and tail rocker for planing wind-chopped water. Flat-water cruisers have a flatter bottom for ease of glide. Hybrid SUP boards incorporate the key performance features of both coastal and flat-water cruisers. With slightly more rocker than a flat-water cruiser and a wider platform than a coastal cruiser, hybrids make a great all-around board for beginners and riders crossing over from flat-water to ocean and vice versa.

Level 6 14' Fourteen Touring Stand-Up Paddleboard is a long and narrow displacement-hull touring SUP that’s designed for speed.

Wave SUP boards, like the Surf’SUP are designed specifically for wave surfing. Smaller than a typical cruiser, they require a much higher level of riding skill. Increased rocker in the nose and tail keep the board from submerging while moving down the face of the wave. The rail curve features a greater arc for a tighter turning radius. The increased rocker and exaggerated arc shape make the wave SUP unstable and less suitable for flat-water paddling.

Racing SUP boards, such as the Woodpecker, are designed for competitive speed, with subtle design detail applied to the hull and underside of the board. Racing hulls typically feature a displacement hull (V Hull), planing hull (flat hull) or a combination of both. Racing SUP boards keep a lot of volume in the nose for buoyancy and momentum. Due to the racing-specific hull design, Racing SUP boards are less stable than cruiser or hybrid boards and require a higher level of skill and experience.

What length, width and volume?

Length and width: Your choice is determined by a combination of paddler weight (your size in relation to the board) and skill, intended use and your local conditions. Pick a board with enough volume and width for your body weight and style of paddling. Boards with more volume are more stable, but less responsive. More experienced and lighter paddlers can choose narrower boards. Novice paddlers should choose wider, flatter boards, which offer more stability.

Volume: The overall dimensions of the board (L x W x H) determine the volume. The greater the volume, the more rider weight it can support. A more experienced rider requires less volume in a board than a novice

Selection Chart for Jimmy Styks Stand-Up Paddleboards.pdf File

Jimmy Styks Recommended Weight Chart (by Rider Weight and Skill Level)

Weight (Lb.) Novice Intermediate Expert
<90 <76 Liters <72 Liters <68 Liters
110 94 Liters 88 Liters 83 Liters
130 111 Liters 104 Liters 98 Liters
150 128 Liters 120 Liters 113 Liters
170 145 Liters 136 Liters 128 Liters
190 162 Liters 152 Liters 143 Liters
210 179 Liters 168 Liters 158 Liters
230 196 Liters 184 Liters 173 Liters
250 213 Liters 200 Liters 188 Liters
270 230 Liters 216 Liters 202 Liters

Rigid, inflatable or soft board?

Rigid fiberglass SUPs are made with durable, smooth epoxy/fiberglass construction.

Here are a couple of Boardworks Kraken paddleboards on the bow of a cruising sailboat. SUPs are great for exploring remote harbors.

Inflatable SUPs like the Fiji, Seeker and Bora Bora aren’t inflatable pool toys, but are similar to our high-pressure-floored inflatable boats, meaning that they offer performance and durability comparable to fiberglass boards. Rigid because they’re inflated to 12-15psi, they excel in portability, fitting into your small car or tiny apartment.

Soft SUP boards feature a dense foam core wrapped in a softer foam layer on top, and hard plastic surface on the underside. Due to their inexpensive cost and durability, they’re a great choice for those first entering the sport. Serious beginner riders who stick with the sport may “outgrow” the soft SUP boards and may want to consider a cruiser or hybrid model.

Board Construction

Rail Curve: The rail curve, or board shape, affects the turning capabilities of the board. A curvier shape will generate a tighter turning radius with less stability, whereas a straighter shape will produce greater stability with less maneuverability.

Rocker refers to the upward “bending” of the nose and tail when laying the board flat. Boards have varying degrees of rocker. Flatter rocker will increase glide on still water while an increased rocker will produce optimal planing on wind-chopped water. Boards with greater nose rocker will be more forgiving on wave and vertical entry, but will be slower and more unstable on flat water. In general, boards with a lot of nose and tail rocker are used for wave riding rather than cruising.


Stand up paddles have an angle or “elbow” in the shaft for maximum efficiency. Size your paddle about 8"-12" taller than you are, closer to 8" if you’re primarily surfing, and closer to 12" for touring and racing. Some paddles are adjustable, which is a great option if you have more than one person using the paddle.

SUP Safety

  • The Coast Guard considers your stand-up paddleboard to be a “vessel” when used “beyond the narrow limits of a swimming, surfing or bathing area.” This means that, when you’re operating outside of the surf zone, you’re required to carry a Personal Floatation Device (PFD), a whistle (or other sound producing device) and, if out after dark, a white light to give warning to other boaters that you’re in the area. In most states, children under age 13 are required to wear a life vest.
  • Be a considerate operator. Stay on the right when in a confined channel. Stay clear of larger vessels that may have difficulty maneuvering and avoiding a collision. Stay well clear of fisherman and trolling fishing boats and avoid tangling their lines. Know the local regulations and navigation rules.
  • Paddle with a friend using the buddy system. If you do go out by yourself, be sure that someone on shore knows your planned route and when you expect to return.
  • Never go paddleboarding in severe weather or water conditions that may affect your ability to steer your board or return to shore. Understand the elements and hazards—winds, tides, current, terrain.
  • Never consume alcohol or any other substance that may impair your coordination, judgment or ability to safely paddle your board
  • Be a competent swimmer
  • Know how to self rescue, how to reboard
  • Know how to be towed, and how to tow another board
  • Know when to wear a leash
  • Don’t allow minors to use your board without adult supervision