The Ultimate SUP Guide

Helping You Choose the Right SUP Board

By: Robert Stehlik, founder and CEO of Blue Planet Surf

One of the most frequent inquiries we get is how does one determine what size and type of board is right for them. As avid water enthusiasts, our main objective is to share our knowledge with potential paddlers, so they can make an informed choice when buying their first or additional boards for their quiver. With the right knowledge, one can choose the ideal board and ultimately have more fun on the water.


As a surfer of many years, I personally consider over 100 different variables when I’m choosing my own boards. For many SUP enthusiasts, it would be excessive to consider so many variables, so we wanted to simplify the board selection process and narrowed a board seeker’s focus down to 12 basic points.

If you have any questions about it, don’t hesitate and contact us.

1. Function

First and foremost, the paddler must consider what type of paddling they intend to do. By determining if an individual will be surfing, racing, cruising or doing a hybrid of those, they will have narrowed their board selection down already.

In general, the shorter and narrower the board is, the more maneuverable it will be, while the longer and more streamlined the design is, the more efficiently the board will cover distance and the better the board will be for racing.

For cruising, one should consider boards that are in between those two spectrums, and skew their choice either shorter or longer depending on how they want their board to perform.

2. Height / Weight

Height and weight, along with skill level, are the next big factors an individual should pay close attention to.

Because paddle boarding requires the board to be floating, height and weight dictate the amount of floatation the board will need to offer.

In tandem with height and weight, one must also consider athleticism and skill level of the rider as that will impact their ability to manage different levels of volume at a consistent weight. If there were twin brothers who grew up in the state of Hawaii and all variables for them are constant other than the fact that one spent the majority of his time in the library while the other spent the majority of his time on the soccer field, we can rationally conclude that the brother with an athletic background would probably do a little better the first time on a SUP than the brother who enjoyed the library.

3. Conditions

It is important to account for the type of waters you will be paddling in as specific boards are designed for managing different types of environmental conditions.

In general, the fuller the outline of the board, the more stable the board will be and the better it will be for cruising in calm conditions, whereas the more pointed the outline is, the more control and displacement the board will offer, making it ideal for windier or choppier conditions.

Oceans, lakes, rivers, and other bodies of water offer many different environments for paddling so the main thing to consider is how frequently will you be in each of those conditions and choose board shapes and sizes that are most conducive to optimizing performance in those environments.

4. Future Goals

The main two points to consider when addressing future goals an individual may have for SUPing are:

  1. How frequently you intend to paddle each week, and
  2. Will you be progressing at a fast pace or do you prefer the challenge to be moderate for slower growth over time

By carefully considering those points, you may or may not want to choose a board that will allow you room for growth so you don’t progress out of a board too fast and need to buy another one.

Keep in mind, there’s nothing wrong with owning multiple boards (quiver) to offer variable performance if conditions vary where you paddle or surf.

5. Length

The length of the board is measured from the tip of the nose to the tip of the tail.

When it comes to the length, the basics to remember are that longer boards are faster while shorter boards are more maneuverable.

In general, surf SUPs are in the 8’-10’ range, cruise and recreational SUPs are in the 9’-11’ range, touring boards are in the 11’-12’ range and race boards are usually 12’ and longer.

6. Width

The width of your board is the most influential factor in the overall stability of the board. It is measured from the absolute widest point on the board and could be forward or back relative to the middle of the board from nose to tail.

Like anything else in the SUP world, if we gain something on one end, it’s because we’re giving up or sacrificing something on the other end. Although wider boards offer greater stability, they decrease the overall speed and responsiveness of the board due to the additional surface area.

In general, performance surf and race SUPs are 26”-30”, intermediate SUPs are 29”-33”, and beginner boards or boards designed for taller and/or heavier individuals are usually 33” or wider.

7. Thickness

Thickness is probably the least important and and sometimes misleading variable. Do not disregard the thickness variable all together, though, but pay close attention to volume (thickness) distribution from the nose to the tail and from the stringer (middle of board) out to the rails.

The thickness, like width, is measured at the absolute thickest part of the board, which is usually by the stringer and belly of the board. If the board has a flat deck, the thickness is pulled farther out to the rails which will result in more floatation and stability.

If the board has a convex deck, the thickness tapers out toward the rail and will usually offer less floatation but greater surf performance.

Most surf SUPs are between 3.5”-4.5” while most recreational, touring and race SUPs are between 4.5”-6”.

8. Volume

Volume is a great factor to be aware of. That being said, don’t rely on volume as the most influential determinant of what board is right for you as you must always assess boards from a holistic point of view, accounting for as many variables as possible.

Unlike surfing where the speed on a wave generates planing and lift, SUPs should offer a good amount of floatation even when not moving. Height, weight, board function and paddler skill level are the four most important things to look at when figuring out the appropriate volume for your SUP.

Choosing a board with too much volume may inhibit performance, especially in the surf, while choosing a board with too little volume will result in a general lack of floatation relative to the rider.

One of the best ways to figure out proper volume for you as a paddler is to utilize the Blue Planet SUP Board Volume Recommendation Chart. It uses 3 of the factors mentioned above and can give you a pretty solid idea of what volume you should consider with a simple mathematical calculation.

The basics of the volume recommendation chart are to take your weight in kilograms and multiply that weight by a factor between 1.1 and 3. The lower the multiplying factor the more performance and surf oriented the board will be, whereas the higher the multiplying factor the easier or race oriented the board will be. Determine where you fall in the chart and utilize the appropriate multiplying factor for you.

9. Nose

In general, you have pointed noses with less surface area (sometimes referred to as displacement hulls) and full noses with more surface area (sometimes referred to as planing hulls).

With pointed noses you have increased maneuverability, increased displacement, increased speed, less drag and less stability. Fuller noses offer nose riding performance, better planing, increased stability, and increased drag. For surfing, except for nose riding capabilities, look for more pointed noses. For touring and racing, pointed noses offer better displacement in calm and choppy conditions. Fuller noses allow for longboard style surfing with the ability to nose ride, and provide additional stability in calmer flat water conditions.

On the downside, fuller noses are less than ideal for managing open ocean conditions, or waters with lots of texture and chop.

10. Tail

The tail of your board has similar properties to the nose in the sense that surface area is the main consideration to be looking at. Fuller tails offer a better planing surface for increased glide and speed but have looser control and maneuverability, whereas more pinched in tails offer less planing surface for better control and tighter turning, especially in the pocket.

For bigger wave high performance SUP surfing, looking for less surface area in the tail to contribute to more control in those steeper and hollower sections.

For small wave SUP surfing, choose slightly fuller tails to help generate and maintain speed with looser turning. For flat-water racing, choose tails with less surface area if you’re paddling in rougher conditions to provide additional control or choose tails with more surface area if you’re paddling in glassy, calm water conditions to increase planing surface and glide.

11. Rails

The rail design of your board is influential in the stability and surfability of the board. To oversimplify it, you can look at the rail design in the standing area of the board (usually 1’-2’ in front and behind the handle) to determine what kind of performance the board was designed for.

The thicker and boxier the rail is (more volume pulled out to the rails), the more stable the board will be and the better it will be for racing, touring and cruising. The thinner or more tapered off the rail is (less volume pulled out to the rails), the better the board will be for holding a rail in the face of the wave when surfing and controlling your turns. Thinner rails also allow for better control in rail to rail surfing and faster responsiveness on a wave.

12. Rocker

Coupled with the board’s outline, the rocker line is a make it or break it factor for board performance.

Flatter rockers mean more speed while increased rocker lines mean better turning in the surf or better management of open ocean conditions in SUP racing.

Usually for higher performance surfing, you’ll want more exaggerated rocker lines, whereas flat water recreational paddlers and racers look for flatter rockers to maximize speed.