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What Size Paddle Board Do I Need?

Ian Fortey by Ian Fortey Updated on July 12, 2021. In

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If you’ve finally come around to paddle boarding you’ll need to pick the right board. Like any sport, the right gear goes a long way to making it more fun for you. Or maybe you’re just into it for the great workout. Whatever it is, if you’ve tried a few boards you may have noticed a difference. Some definitely feel more comfortable and easy to control than others. It’s like bowling, You need the right sized ball to bowl a great game. And you need the right sized SUP board to do it right.

What Makes a Good Stand up Paddle Board?

A stand up paddle board needs stability. Some paddle boards will be shorter or more narrow than others. This may offer greater control for some advanced paddle boarders. For most of us, they’re just harder to use. So you need to get a board that can fit the bill for you. Most paddle boards fit into a mid-range of sizes.

In general, most stand up paddle boards are somewhere between 10 feet and 11 feet long. Width also varies from board to board. The most common paddle board width is going to be 32 inches to 34 inches. Stick to the higher end of both if you are not sure of your own balance. That makes sense, right? The longer and wider the paddle board, the more stable it will be.

Something meeting these dimensions will probably weigh around 25 pounds.

These are by no means the only sizes of paddle boards out there. Intermediate and advanced paddlers will probably be looking into different sizes. Short and medium boards tend to be easier to control if you have more experience.

Inflatable Paddle Boards vs Hard Boards

You can find two basic kinds of paddle boards out there. Inflatable boards are ones you need to add air to. Hard boards are made of a composite and are rigid like a surfboard. Each has some potential advantages.

Paddle Board Durability

Many people hear inflatable and think it must be low quality or a kid’s toy. That’s not true at all. In fact, if you’re just looking to have a great time on the water, inflatable is probably your best bet. Inflatable sup boards are durable and actually hold up better than epoxy boards. When an epoxy board gets damaged, those holes need to be repaired and that can be costly. For this reason, if you’re paddle boarding on a river, you almost definitely want an inflatable board. The rock in a river can be devastating for a hard board.

Paddle Boarding Performance

If you’re a beginning paddle boarder, inflatable is ideal. The maximum weight capacity of inflatable boards can exceed standard boards. That’s because an inflatable board of the same size as a hard board may have 20% more volume. That volume not only increases weight capacity but stability.

Storing Your Paddle Boards

Another upside to inflatable boards is storage. A deflated board doesn’t take up a lot of room at all. You can easily store them in a garage or a closet. A hard board needs room. Remember, these things are over 10 feet long. That means you need a good deal of space if you want to stick with a hard board.

Inflatable Board Sizes

Inflatables make a great choice for beginner borders. The size variety alone offers a range of features. If you want increased stability, you can get larger inflatables, up to 11 feet in length. These can also be up to 36 inches wide and 6 inches thick. Inflatable boards are available in all the same sizes as hard boards. They are often more affordable and just as good if not better.

Choosing the Right Paddle Boards

At the very basic level, a paddle board is not too much different from a surfboard. Heck, it’s not too much different from a plank of wood. But a good paddle board is going to bring a lot of extras to the table.

What you need the board for can affect the size you’re looking for. If you want to have better control, look for a smaller sup board. A board that is 9’6” is ideal for greater maneuverability. The sup width should be 32 inches. A wider board will lose maneuverability. Be aware of weight limitations, however. If you weigh over 150 lbs, a board this small will not work. You’ll be too heavy to stay afloat.

If you want the best speed go up in length. A racing sup board will be up to 12’6”. A true race board may be as narrow as 26”. But a good quality touring board will have a more stable 32” width. A race sup board is definitely only something for an expert. And, keep in mind, a hard board built for racing takes up a lot of room. If you don’t have 13 feet of space to spare, it might be a bad idea. Unless, of course, you choose an inflatable board.

Thickness does not vary a lot between boards. A 6” thick boat is one of the thickets you’ll find. 5” thick is typical of most sizes. A thinner board may snap more easily if it’s cheaply made. Keep that in mind if you’re looking at hard boards. For inflatable boards, a thinner one may not have the stability you desire.

Paddle Board Sizing Based on Weight Capacity

Obviously there are no hard and fast rules for what paddle boards will work best for you. But if you’re a beginning paddle boarder, we can give you a good idea. These are sizes that may work out best for you. Understanding weight capacity is the most crucial factor for beginning paddle boarders. This chart will show the length, width and thickness based on user body weight.

> 125 lbs to 150 lbs Paddle Boarders: You want a paddle board that is 30” to 32” in width. The board’s length is 9’6” to 10’9”. 5” thick is ideal. This is for very small adults and children or teens.

150lbs to 175 lbs Paddle Boarders: At this weight you can safely bump your board up to 33” wide. Also, you can try out a board that is at least 10’ in length. You can go all the way to 12’6” if you’re looking to race.

175lbs to 200lbs Paddle Boarders: You can try a small increase in width here. Up to 33” would work great. Thickness and length for your board will remain the same.

<200 lbs Paddle Boarders: At this body size you’ll need some of the larger paddle boards available. The right size paddle board will be least 32” to 34” wide. You’ll also want it 10’ to 12’6” in length. At this size it should also be 6” thick. Increasing width is important here when you increase both length and thickness. It will offer more stability and buoyancy. This is especially important if you are a paddling boarding novice. Until you have a feel for boarding, larger is better.

Intermediate or advanced paddle boarders may prefer narrower boards. Likewise, you may want to try the long paddle boards.

The Best Thickness for Paddle Boards

Thickness rounds out your paddle board dimensions. Width offers stability as we’ve said. Length tends to give speed. Shorter lengths are easier to maneuver. But how does paddle board thickness affect things? We said earlier a thicker board will be stronger. That makes sense, of course. A cheap, thin board may suffer breakage. That doesn’t necessarily mean you want a thicker board, however.

There are many 6” boards available. However, unless you weigh over 200 lbs, this is not really necessary. The board is going to be bulky and unnecessarily big. A 6” paddled board, even an inflatable paddle board, can feel like too much. Paddle board performance may suffer. As long as you choose a quality board, in most cases 5” will be perfect. That extra inch may not sound like much, but consider the area. A board that is 10 feet long and 32” wide is over 26 square feet. That extra inch in thickness can make it hard to handle.

Thick boards, whether they are inflatable sups or hard paddle boards, are ungainly. Paddling suffers with a thicker board. It rides a little more sluggishly on the water. If you want to have a smooth paddling experience, thinner will always feel better.

Thicker sup boards ride high on the water. That can actually decrease the stability you get from a wider board. It will develop a wobble if it’s too thick for your size. Less thickness means a lower center of gravity. This is ideal for beginners because it can handle rough waters easily. You’ll feel more secure.

In addition, if you’re new to paddle boarding,6” boards can be a real hassle. If you fall off of a 6” board, getting back on is harder than you think. The extra buoyancy makes climbing onto it very difficult. They resist pushing down, so you have to put more effort into climbing up.

Even when using inflatables, a 6” board may try your patience. For starters, it can take a lot longer to blow up. You’ll invest 20% more time inflating a 6” board. Once it is inflated, it’s going to catch a lot more wind. It may not seem like a big deal, but wind on the water will push you around. That extra inch will make you veer off course a lot. That means more effort by you just to keep going straight.

But, again, this depends on your own skill and comfort. If you need that extra thickness then definitely go to 6”. Also, if you’re buying a cheaper board, 6” might be better as well. A strong 5” board has to be made with high quality materials. If it’s on the cheaper end, it may not be able to be as rigid as needed when it’s that thin. So really, it’s a balancing act.

The feel of a 5” board on the water is very different from a 6” board. If you ever get a chance, you should try both to see. At the same width and length, the feeling is very different. A 6” board has a way of making you feel disconnected from the water itself. It’s a bit like being on a flat raft. It floats and will get the job done, but it’s less fun. The 5” boards are just more fun and make it feel more real. It’s like the difference between a fast food burger and a homemade one.

In our opinion, you should stick with a high quality 5” inflatable board. Even as a beginner, this should work out well for you. Your size concerns should be concerned with length and width. As we’ve seen, that all depends on your body size and comfort levels on the board. The other big concern here is that a good quality 5” board will cost more. If you don’t think you’ll be spending a lot of time paddle boarding, maybe 6” is best. If it’s just a fun leisure activity, don’t stress over it.

Why Use 6” Boards at All?

So if a 5” board feels better and works better, what is a 6” board for? Well, as we said, one of the big points in favor of a thicker board is price. A 6” board can be substantially cheaper. That can make them very attractive.

If you get serious about paddle boarding, some 6” boards make sense. A sup touring board that’s over 12 feet long could easily be 6” thick. This helps balance out that excess length. If a long sup touring board is too thin, the rigidity could be sacrificed.

If you’re very advanced, a whitewater rafting board is an option. As you can tell, these are for serious sup boarders. The thickness is needed to maintain the integrity

Paddle Board Uses

So obviously you want a paddle board to go paddle boarding. But what kind of paddle boarding? There are actually a few variations you may not have heard of. Paddle boarding originated as just people on a board paddling with their arms out in the water. It evolved into standup paddle boarding as a variation on surfing. It functions as a sort of cross between surfing and kayaking. But it has several variants.

Yoga

Sup yoga is just what the name implies. You do yoga while on a stand up paddle board. Sup yoga requires balance and calm waters to be done properly. The experience is very serene and calming for many. If you want to give sup yoga a try, check out some videos on YouTube or see if there are classes in your area.

Whitewater

We mentioned this earlier, but whitewater sup is a very intensive version. You want a much wider board for this purpose, around 35” to 36” because of the choppy waters. You don’t want to try whitewater paddling boarding as a novice. This is a pastime for people who are very comfortable and confident on a board.

Racing

Just like surfing, paddle boarding can get competitive. Racing paddle boards are long and narrow. You can find some sup racing boards that are 14 feet long and only 23” wide. Obviously maintaining balance on a board like that takes a skilled hand. But the speed and tracking is incredible.

Fishing

Just like fishing from a canoe or kayak, fishing from a stand up paddle board can be a lot of fun. There are boards designed specifically for anglers. These can have room for gear and even seats.

Any of these alternate uses may change the size of the board you need. We recommend getting used to recreational paddling or flatwater paddling before trying any of these, however. It’s good to have a feel for any equipment you use on the water. Once you feel confident in how to control a paddle board, then see what else interests you. Your standard paddle board may be great for just having fun, but not so great for fishing or racing.

Paddle Size

One thing people may overlook when sizing their paddle board is the actual paddle. It’s half the name, it deserves at least as much consideration as the board. The wrong sized paddle can make paddle boarding a real chore. Too often paddle boarders will get a great board but then cheap out on the paddle itself. Some sellers even act like one paddle is the same as the next. That’s simply not true.

The best paddles need comfortable handles. Avoid molded plastic if you can. Check for seams or ridges. Even tiny bumps can cause irritation on the water. Remember, you may be paddling anywhere from 1,000 to 3,000 strokes out there. Look for molded carbon handles whenever possible.

Paddle size is very important and causes a lot of frustration. A telescoping paddle sounds good for customizing size, but is it? If it uses those metal knobs you push in to extend or retract the shaft, will water get in them? That could end up increasing paddle weight and causing it to sink if it drops.

The best paddles have a cam lever on the shaft. This allows you to make length adjustments. That way it can suit your needs without compromising integrity. You can tweak the paddle to match your height easily with this kind. That means you don’t need to worry about a specific size. Instead, you can adjust it easily to the perfect size.

Aluminum paddles are typically very heavy. A better option is fiberglass or carbon fiber. These are lightweight and make your experience more enjoyable. Always test a paddle weight before buying it if you can. Many cheaper paddles advertised as carbon fiber are only carbon fiber outside. The inside will be fiberglass, which increases weight. If it weighs over 30 ounces, it’s either not carbon fiber at all or contains very little. True carbon fiber should be under 25 ounces. If it’s 30 ounces or less, it may still be a blend of carbon fiber and not be too heavy to use.

The Bottom Line

Stand up paddle boarding can be a heck of a lot of fun. The variety of boards can also be intimidating. If you have little experience, follow our guide based on your size to get a feel for what you like best. Ideally, try a few boards before investing in your own.

Remember, bigger isn’t always better. Length needs to be balanced with thickness and width for the best experience. And finally, the most expensive board isn’t always the best.

About Ian

My grandfather first took me fishing when I was too young to actually hold up a rod on my own. As an avid camper, hiker, and nature enthusiast I'm always looking for a new adventure.

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