Paddleboarder and stand-up paddleboard instructor, Duncan Slater, takes a look at some of the best paddleboard options on the market
Given its huge surge in popularity over recent years, stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) will need little introduction to anyone that spends time on the water. If you want to get into the world’s fastest growing sport too, here are seven of the best paddleboard options for entry-level and all-round use…
What size of paddleboard do I need?
In SUP, as in surfing, measurements are generally imperial. In a nutshell, an average all-round paddleboard is around 11 feet long and 32 inches wide. The wider the board the more stability it has – but that width is also drag, so a narrower board will be faster yet tippier.
Taller, heavier riders generally appreciate a little more width for comfort. A 32” wide board is a sensible beginner / all-round option – although a lighter or more progressive rider might prefer a 30”, while heavier or more nervous paddlers may appreciate a full 34”.
The longer the board, the better it will glide in a straight line, but the harder it will be to turn. All-round boards tend to be 10’ to 11’4” in length; longer will be more satisfying for flat-water ‘touring’, shorter more suited to ‘messing about’ in choppier water and even catching small surf.
Best paddleboard brands
The massive growth in paddleboarding over recent years has also seen un upsurge in frankly substandard brands looking to ‘cash in’ on the sport’s popularity.
Most reputable brands are sold via dealer networks, although there are a few notable small independents selling direct on the domestic market. Many of the best paddleboard brands were borne from the windsurfing industry; Starboard, Naish, Fanatic, JP – and in fact the inflatable market leaders Red Paddle were founded by Tushingham Sails down in Devon.
Solid or inflatable?
Although the best paddleboard for top-end surfing and racing is still generally of solid construction, inflatable paddleboards are justifiably more popular for most recreational uses. A good quality inflatable (ie; well constructed and able to pump up to sufficiently high pressure) has minimal performance disadvantages, yet will be much more resistant to damage from the inevitable knocks and scrapes.
Often more pertinently, storage and transport is much easier with an inflatable that packs down into a backpack than a relatively delicate solid board. This is particularly true for sailors, who increasingly have a paddleboard onboard as a boating accessory.
Best paddleboard for beginners
Red Paddle Ride 10’6″
There’s no overlooking the world’s best-selling paddleboard – the Red Paddle Ride is undoubtedly the finest inflatable beginner board you’ll find.
At 10’6″ x 32″ and 10’8″ x 34”, both bigger sizes of Ride are floaty and wide so offer plenty of stability for learning how to SUP. Red also offer a smaller 9’8″ x 31″ version for children and super-lightweights.
Build quality is of the high standard Red are renowned for, guaranteed with their 5-year warranty and sold complete with top-end pump, paddle, and bag.
This size and shape of board is great for learning the basics and extremely easy to paddle, yet intermediate paddlers may prefer something a little more dynamic…
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Red Paddle Sport 11′
Once you’re comfortable standing up and paddling, in all but the very choppiest of waters a more progressive shape such as the Red Paddle Sport range will perform better than a shorter, wider ‘beginner platform’.
This 11′ x 30″ is an ideal all-rounder for flatter water and/or lighter paddlers; alternatively the 11’3″ x 32″ will suit larger riders and/or choppier waters, while the 12’6″ x 30″ is slightly more specialised towards flat-water ‘touring’.
The stiffening side battens, rubberised hard-release ‘speed tail’ and slightly racier outline make the Sport glide satisfyingly well between strokes. An incredibly rigid feeling inflatable, sold complete and suitable for a broad range of use.
If you’re on a super-tight budget, Decathlon’s own-brand ItiWit offers an adequate inflatable range for the money and this 11′ x 34″ would be a fair choice for a heavier or less confident rider.
However, the recommended 15psi of air pressure isn’t great – some rigidity achieved by increased board thickness, which makes it ride high in the water so harder to climb back onto and prone to getting blown around.
While the overall build quality is the best you’ll find at this budget, fittings such as the slide-in fin system are poor. Although sold with a leash, be advised that the pump and paddle aren’t included: you can select these at a ‘bundle’ discount.
RRP: £349.99 (board only) or £385.17 (complete bundle)
Starboard Whopper 10′ ASAP
Starboard’s 10′ x 34″ Whopper is a little too short and wide to be ideal for covering much distance, but it’s a really stable and forgiving design – and this solid board really comes into its own in ‘real-world’ waves, as it loves to catch everything from ankle-slapping mush to head-high surf.
ASAP (As Strong As Possible) construction means a full-length deckpad, plus impact-resistant high-density EVA wraps the whole rail to protect both board and rider from bumps and dings.
Extra fibreglass, epoxy resin and Australian pine reinforce the layup too, although this does all add up to make it fairly heavy. Sold board only, so you’ll need a leash and paddle to go with it.
RRP: £1,099 (board only)
TAHE 10’6″ Beach Performer
BiC Sport – the watersports subsidiary of the famous biro company – rebranded as TAHE following a 2019 merger. BiC’s surfing and windsurfing reputation has long been for virtually indestructible, mass-market products, and TAHE paddleboards follow that theme.
This 10’6” x 31.5” is a no-frills, versatile solid that looks wave-friendly and should be fun in flat water too.
Constructed in thermoformed ’Tough-Tec’, an extremely strong outer polyethylene skin wraps a watertight EPS foam core for maximum impact resistance, but that comes at the price of weight – a hefty 14.5kg.
Solid value for money, but supplied without a leash or paddle.
Gladiator 11’2″ Pro
Best paddleboard for value
While many ‘more affordable’ brands can be a false economy, as the build standard can be terrible, there are some well-made inflatables available at lower price-points.
Gladiator is the best example, offering the highest quality package around for price-conscious buyers. Akin to the Red Paddle Sport, this Gladiator 11’2″ x 30” doesn’t have the top-spec accessories or super-plush finish but would really suit a lighter paddler looking for a decent board that won’t break the bank.
For larger riders, this board’s bigger sibling the 11’4″ is similarly impressive. The sleek outline suits flat-water use yet the shape isn’t so specialised that it won’t perform well in all conditions.
Freshwater Bay Classic 10’6″
If surf’s your thing, then this 10’6″ x 32″ could be ideal. On the south-western coast of the Isle of Wight, Freshwater Bay itself scores great Atlantic groundswell earning this little brand a genuine surf pedigree.
The longboard shape will really help you catch waves, while classic all-round measurements mean it will work perfectly well on flat water too.
Constructed in wood-sandwich with added carbon underfoot and kevlar around the rails, nose and tail, you’ll still need to look after this stick more carefully than the others featured here – hence, alongside a carbon paddle and the essential leash, the ‘bundle’ includes a padded boardbag for storage and transport.
RRP: £945 (board only) or £1,170 (complete bundle)
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