Have you ever thought about giving SUP – stand up paddle boarding – a try? As well as giving you a whole body workout it gives you a tremendous feeling of wellbeing and personal satisfaction after being out on the water.
We called on the help of paddle boarding expert, Michael Robinson, who’s based in Durham, to give us the lowdown. What follows is his guide to paddle boarding for beginners, written by him…
As someone who has been a big fan of the sport since 2008 I can confirm that paddle boarding is one of the best activities you can get into.
You can now put a huge 10-14 foot board in the boot of your car and travel to any water-based destination – and it’s something you can do all year round if you have the right gear.
This is definitely a sport you will want to share with friends and family and it’s great for kids – I’ve recently got my daughters aged 11 and seven into it. The feeling of mindfulness and losing yourself and becoming one with the water as you focus on balance and technique is addictive, whatever your age or ability.
You do however need to be aware of your own limitations and confidence in different types of water and taking lessons with a reputable instructor is highly recommended.
I tried and tested a range of boards, so do keep reading for my top picks… Several are in the sales at the moment, so it’s a great time to get involved.
The physical and mental benefits of taking up paddle boarding are immense
What to look for when you’re buying a paddle board?
If you’re just starting out, you’ll want a board that gives good stability in order to learn the basics. You want something with good width between 32 and 34 inches as well as 10 foot 6 to 12 foot 6 in length. It’s all in relation to your own body size and weight and heavier riders will also benefit from a nice thick board offering lots of volume ( between 5 and 6 inches).
Smaller riders will probably want a slightly smaller board and could drop to a thinner thickness ( between 4.75 and 5 inches) You will be surprised at how quickly you can progress if you put time and practice in on the water – as well as improving fitness you will gain better balance and a more confident stroke technique.
As you gain confidence in your ability you may want to progress with doing longer distances and want to go faster. The less width and longer the board, the faster you will go. Start with a good all-round board to gain your confidence in relation to your body size and consider upgrading if you find your passion grow for the sport.
Quality boards tend to hold their price when selling second hand if you look after them and you will have a better idea of what kind of paddler you want to become.
It’s always worth trying out as many boards as possible before choosing the right one that feels right for your ability. You can do this by taking some initial lessons or by hiring boards.
This will also give you an idea of what you want to get out paddle boarding- touring and exploring on flat water, surfing in small waves, racing, having fun with the family at the beach or lakes…. If you become addicted to the sport you will find that you may want a range of boards for different situations.
Paddle board expert Gary Willingham from fantastic SUP-focused UK retailer Sup Inflatables has this top tip: “Find a local or online SUP specific retailer. They are gods of SUP and will help you choose something great in your budget.”
As for what to avoid when buying a paddle board online, he says: “Don’t buy a brand that has a kayak seat on, talks about Military Grade drop stitch, offers free stuff, or has a warranty that’s so long you fall asleep reading it.”
Best entry-level budget stand up paddle boards for beginners
AquaMarina iSUP fusion 10’10, was £429 now £411.84, Amazon
This popular budget board has proved reliable as a starter board for entry-level fun. It’s lightweight and the grab handle is in just the right place for carrying it into the water. The three-piece paddle fits in the bag easily and once connect together feels solid. The board comes with everything you need to get started, including a robust hand pump with decent grips and a release plus that makes the pump two or one-way action – you can use it to suck the air out, making it very easy to pack away.
Bluefin cruise SUP package, was £499 now £404.99, Amazon
An entry level paddle board for lighter riders, which again comes with everything you possibly need to get started, including paddle, pump and backpack. It’s currently in the Amazon sale, so hurry to grab a bargain.
Best deluxe paddle board for beginners
Red Paddle Co Compact 9′ 6’” package, £1,349, Red Paddle Co
Length: 9 foot-6
Thickness: 4.7″ / 120mm
Board Weight: 7.4kg
This is a great all-round, amazing quality board from Red – an exclusively ISUP (Inflatable stand up paddle board) brand that were the first to revolutionise the market compatible model. When the board is rolled up and stored in its bag it is half the size of all other ISUPS. It’s great on flat water and on the sea with small waves. It comes with a high-quality carry bag and a Titan pump – the best pump on the market, Pumps are an overlooked item and having a good quality one makes such a difference. Due to its size the board is great for kids as well as adults. It’s one of the lightest ISUP boards on the market (due to fantastic build quality) making it easy for children as well as smaller adults to pick up and carry to the water. The 5 piece paddle which comes with the board – which also fits very cleverly in the bag for storage – is also very good quality and can be adjusted for children to use as well as the whole family. It’s so easy to transport and is great to just keep in the car and get in the water after work. I’ve even travelled with it on my back when cycling.
This is one of the more pricey ISUPS but the quality of these boards is second to none, plus the customer service and after sales care are fantastic.
Best deluxe paddle board for heavier beginners who struggle with balance
11 Feet Red Compact Package, £1349, Red Paddle Co
Length: 11 Feet
Heavier or larger riders would be best choosing the 11foot version rather than the smaller 9-6. This is their second addition to the Compact family, the 11’0 Compact is a full-sized touring SUP that also packs down to half the size of a conventional inflatable paddle board and comes with the same premium qualities with the best pump on the market and the paddle and leash all fitting perfectly within a bag that is half the size as other boards of equal size.
Best paddle board for fishing
Bluefin Sup Voyage 10’10 Package, £699, Amazon
A heavier and stable beginner board that can carry a lot of weight. A strong well-built board that comes with a 5-year warranty, which is a nice touch considering other well-known brands normally offer 3 years. This board is a great one for anyone who wants to go fishing with their board. It has a sturdy cooler box which attaches to the board, which features a back rest for increased comfort for long hours on the water. There’s also two built-in mounts allowing you to connect the included fishing rod holders to the board
Best paddle board for yoga enthusiasts
Bluefin Aura fit 10’8 Package, was £549 now £449, Bluefin Sup
The extra wide 91cm / 36 inches all-round shape of the Bluefin Aqua is designed especially with yoga, pilates and aqua-based fitness in mind. It’s also a good all-rounder board, which is both stable and rigid. The kit also comes with a durable travel sup backpack and lightweight fibreglass paddle – and there’s a sale on right now, so hurry to grab a bargain.
Best affordable paddle board for intermediate riders/ beginners with good balance
Hurley Advantage 10, £499, Amazon
Length: 10 feet
Surf-based brand Hurley’s cool boards feature stylish graphics which are sure to get noticed when you take them out on the water. Slightly smaller in width for those with better balance which will suit those beginners who are wanting to progress further. The board is also quite light which will be good for lighter riders to carry to the water.
Best paddle board for all sizes and riding with kids on front
Beginners inflatable touring paddleboard 11feet, £349.99, Decathalon
Length: 11 Feet
This brightly coloured board – which also comes in blue if yellow’s not your thing – is suitable for all size riders and can cope with kids and small adults on front due to its thickness and stability. It’s good for cruising and having fun with the family and is easy to get back into its bag at the end of the ride. It’s one of the cheaper boards on the market but note, it doesn’t come with a paddle and pump like most of the other packages.
Best paddle board that can be shared by the whole family
Red 10-6 Ride SUP Inflatable package, £999, Red Paddle co
If you’re looking for a board that could be used by the whole family that can be trusted for high quality and safety then the 10-6 Ride is a great choice. It’s perfect for every rider, big or small, to enjoy the water. As is the case with all Red boards, the quality is top notch and their design features have been developed and updated each year to deliver a quality overall package, from the board itself to the bag it is stored in.
Best beginners paddle board for ocean riders
10-6 x 32 Allround Shark SUP, was £525 now £446, Sup Inflatables
This is a great board for beginners which is great on oceans and rivers. There is a bit more of a rocker in the front of the board which helps to move through choppy waters. It also copes well with having a small child or dog on the front of the board on flat water. The width makes it very stable for beginners who are totally new to being on the water. The quality of the board makes it feel very rigid and strong – allowing you to just get out and have fun on the water. The bag that the board comes with is well thought out with lots of space for the board pump and paddle to fit into. It was lots of fun in the sea testing on very small waves and also was great getting onto rivers for short tours- I managed it well with small child on the front of the board too.
Best beginners paddle board for rivers and lakes
10-6 x 32 Gladiator Pro, £515 now £437.75, Sup Inflatables
A great board for beginners that was is slightly thinner than other models we tested but when pumped up to a high pressure feels very stable and rigid. It manages well with a small child on the front of the board on flat water. This is an amazing quality board for its price range – and although the bag and pump are not on par with the top end of the market versions they’re still very reliable and the board itself was made to a high standard and felt safe and rigid in the water. This board proved great for touring on rivers and lakes – it feels lower in the water which makes it feel more stable. Heavier beginner riders may struggle a bit more, however, and would probably benefit from a longer or thicker board.
Essential paddleboard kit
dryrobe, £150, Amazon
Being on the water, whether sea, lake or river, will inevitably involve you spending a lot of time being out in the elements- getting the most enjoyment, mindfulness and fun out of these situations is a lot easier if you have the right clothing.
We tested one of the long sleeve dryrobes during our paddle sessions which proved to be such a great addition to the whole experience of keeping cosy and warm before and after. On the sea it offered the ability to get changed into and out of wetsuits before and after the sessions and on river and lake it proved to be an item you just wanted to put on and keep cosy and comfortable in while waiting to get on the water or after each session when cooling down and chatting as the sun went down.
The change in temperatures when out by water does change quite dramatically if you are out all day and I can’t stress how useful this robe is for someone who spends a lot of time outdoors- it’s something I will use not just for SUP experiences but is so useful for all manner of outdoor activities. It’s a really well-designed item with such attention to detail and quality. The inner lining, oversized pockets, quality zips and waterproof outer lining just make you want to spend time outdoors and in no rush to return home no matter what the weather. Even on hot days when you are doing an early start or for when the sun goes down it’s the perfect addition.
Dog buoyancy aid, from £64.95 depending on size of dog, Red Paddle Co
It is such an amazing experience to share your SUP adventures with your kids and dogs once you gain your confidence in your own ability on the water. There are lots of PFD Life Jackets on the market for children and it is great to see that there are now companies producing buoyancy aids for dogs. We tried out one of Red’s buoyancy aids for dogs over the past month on rivers and in the sea. This has been a great safety aid for our small Bichon Frise who loves to be out with us on the water but not a great swimmer. It has given us peace of mind when he is on the front of the board. When he jumps in, the grab handle on the top makes it easy to pull him back onto the board.
Really impressed with the quality and the overall design which has been well thought out. Ergonomically designed to support the dog in the water and give them a positive swimming position. Packed full of features and made using durable, tear-resistant Cordura® fabric, the Red Original Dog Buoyancy Aid is available in 5 different sizes to cover all breeds.
Swimbest swim jacket, from £14.49, Amazon
If you’re going on the water with little ones, it’s a good idea to invest in a buoyancy aid or swim jacket for them, especially when they’re just learning how to swim. This is Amazon’s best-seller, which is suitable for 16 months to 7 years and comes in a rainbow of different colours. It’s fitted with floats which you can remove to adjust the buoyancy, and the jacket design means they have a full range of motion in the water
Inflatable buoyancy aid belt, £49.99, Decathlon
Or for adults, use this inflatable buoyancy aid belt. Lightweight and compact, it’s for paddleboarders of all levels who are looking for more freedom and safety on the water.
Women’s pro change jacket long sleeve, £144.95, Red Paddle Co
We tested the Pro Change long sleeve jacket from Red which came in an alpine teal colour. (There’s also a short sleeved version available for £119.95 and you can see the men’s versions here.) The soft and light feel to these jackets is amazing and I have used this not just for changing in and out of my wetsuit but it is so comfortable I find myself wearing it for chilling out on the beach in all kinds of weather.
The quality and design features, as is always the case with Red, make these jackets such amazing quality and are well worth the price. The triple-layer construction with super soft fur lining keeps you warm when catching up with friends after a session, even if the rain is lashing down. Handy chest pockets are great to keep your valuables close to hand whilst staying dry and premium 2-way YKK zips with finger pulls make doing the changing robe up simple no matter how cold your hands are. These jackets are great for water sports but I also find that they can be used in so many other activities.
Odoland Paddle Board carry strap and deck bag, was £19.99 now £17.99, Amazon
If you’re in the market for a carry strap, this one is a good option because its adjustable length is longer that others – meaning that whatever size your board is, there’s no problem. The velcro straps mean you can slot in your paddle too, and the waterproof deck bag is a nice touch – plenty of room to store your phone, wallet and other valuables.
Kids quick dry change robe, £29.95, Red Paddle Co
Our two children love to wear these on the beach and have been great bits of kit for changing in and out of wetsuits and bathers. The suede microfibre feels amazing and our kids wanted to wear these all the time. Quick-drying and packs up super small in its own bag – this has become an essential beach accessory which we will always pack for beach adventures from now on.
Titan II SUP Pump, £84.95, Red Paddle Co
Once you start to take regular trips to the beach, lake or river you begin to pay closer attention to how much time and energy it takes to unpack your board and to inflate it. This can be quite exhausting and many struggle to inflate their boards to the correct pressure. Different brands offer different pumps within their packages and this really does make a difference in being able to get your board pumped up with the highest pressure.
The best pump on the market at the moment is undoubtedly the Titan 2 SUP Pump from Red. We have tested this pump out and it is incredible compared to other pumps on the market. When out with a group of friends it regularly gets shared and passed around. The design of the pump is so well thought out with fold-away foot grips and a detachable handle and hose so the double chamber can easily fit into bags or the back of the car.
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The dual cylinder offers an easier and more effective pumping action and a lot of friends of smaller size found it easier to pump up their boards to a much higher pressure than their regular pumps. The Titan2 SUP Pump is definitely a great investment to add to your enhanced experience of getting onto the water with your board. It also comes with a range of additional nozzles which we have used for blowing up camping beds and rubber dinghies.
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