Guide to Stand Up Paddle Boarding

If you’ve visited a beach, lake or river anytime in the past few years you can’t have failed to notice the increasing numbers of people gliding gracefully across the water, seemingly stood on the water. At first, it can seem slightly surreal. On closer inspection you realise they’re stood on what look like surfboards and are propelling themselves across the water by means of a paddle. And in some cases it’s not even restricted to one person per board, with some carrying anything up to 8 people. And that’s not including the dogs, who are often keen passengers on these craft too. The other thing that you will have probably noticed is that these boards come in a huge variety of sizes and styles, and that their use is as wide and varied as the people who use them –  from families having fun at the beach, to individuals using them for yoga, surfing, racing, fitness training or epic paddling adventures.

Welcome to the world of Stand Up Paddle Boarding, or SUP.

Guide to Stand Up Paddle Boarding

Whilst it may feel like a relatively new sport, the concept of SUP has actually been around for centuries, with many of the ancient communities on Hawaiian islands using a form of stand up paddling to travel and fish. In more recent times, it gained exposure in 2004 when renowned Hawaiian waterman Laird Hamilton started using it as a way of cross training for big wave surfing. Until then, the concept of stand up paddleboarding had been mainly used in the world of big wave surfing as a means of propelling the rider on to waves, faster than conventional means. However, it soon became apparent that the sport could have an appeal far beyond the waves and to a much broader range of people. The one main limiting factor at that stage however, were the boards themselves. In those early days, as the sport was finding its feet, most boards were made using an epoxy composite (like a giant surf board) which made them cumbersome and fragile, not ideal for mass appeal.

The Arrival of The Inflatable SUP

The biggest change to the sport of Stand Up Paddleboarding, and the one credited for giving the sport the broad appeal we see today, was the evolution of the inflatable board. Whilst early incarnations of these may have lacked the level of sophistication and technology available now, they instantly made the sport more accessible. The ability to pack up a 9, 10 or even 12 foot paddle board into a backpack meant that anybody who wanted to try the sport, could. No longer did you need a garage or shed in which to store your board, or a car to get it to the beach. What’s more, they were a lot harder to damage than the delicate, traditional hardboards.

Red Paddle Co were at the forefront of the development of inflatable paddleboard technology, and continue to push the evolution of these boards to this day. The early development revolved around a construction which has since become known as “dropstitch”, which refers to how the material that forms the top and bottom skin of the board is connected by threads which give the board it’s shape, structure and stiffness. Whilst this proved effective in the early days, and many manufacturers continue to use this technology, Red Paddle have long since evolved the construction of inflatable boards to produce unrivalled levels of stiffness, durability and performance, using their own proprietary construction, MSL. Even from the very early days, Red Paddle Co has always been focused on producing inflatable paddleboards that provide an authentic paddling experience, delivering the performance of a traditional hard board but in an easy-to-transport, agile yet durable package, that just happened to be inflatable.

The Shape of Things to Come

As the sport matured and more people across the globe took to the water on their SUPs they naturally wanted to go further and faster, and also use their inflatable SUP for an increasing number of activities. People started using their boards in all types of water conditions from waves and white water rapids to tranquil lakes, and for everything from surfing to Yoga. Inevitably this meant the range of boards, and more specifically the shapes of boards, needed to develop too.

Generally speaking, the longer and narrower a board is, the faster it will be. This type of shape therefore lends itself to touring paddleboards or racing, with inflatable race boards often being 12 ft or longer. Meanwhile, the rounder, wider shapes make perfect all-round paddleboards for a wide range of locations and conditions which is why they are often seen as also being perfect for first time paddlers. The smaller end of the scale is for SUP surfing as their shorter length and narrow tails (back of board) means they feel agile and responsive in waves.

Choosing a SUP that’s right for you

Once you’ve caught the paddle boarding bug, you’ll be starting to think about buying your own board. If you’ve had some lessons and rented a board or two, you’ll have probably started to get an idea of the type of board that you’re looking for. As already mentioned, an inflatable board makes a lot of sense for paddlers of all abilities, but in particular beginners. Not only are they much easier to transport, they’re also easier to handle in the water and the  additional volume makes them a stable platform on which to learn the basics.

However, a word of warning. Not all inflatable boards are made equal!

In recent years the market has seen an influx of low quality inflatable boards all claiming to offer a great paddling experience. Whilst their price can seem appealing, the poor construction leave them far behind the premium inflatable SUPs, in terms of stiffness, performance and durability.

Before making that all important purchasing decision it’s important to understand the differences in quality of the huge number of boards on the market and how these will impact your paddling experience. For a more in-depth look at all these key differences it’s worth checking out our guide to inflatable SUPs.  That guide will also give you a full rundown of the types of board available, but in the meantime here’s a quick overview:

These boards, as their name suggests, offer great versatility  and are perfect for beginners. That said, as you progress and your paddling improves, these boards are still a good option as they offer great all round performance in a wide range of conditions.

These boards are designed for experienced paddlers looking for an inflatable paddle board for epic paddling adventures. They’re generally longer than all round boards and features such areas to carry additional kit, such as camping gear.

Why paddle alone when you can have anything from 2 to 8 people helping you! Whether you’re looking to go on a group paddle adventure, have some fun with the family or get into multi-person racing, these boards are for you.

Designed for speed, these boards are longer (12ft+) and narrower than the All Round boards and have a sleeker appearance.

These boards are shorter and have narrower tails to increase manoeuvrability in the waves. They’re super-stiff and extremely durable, ideal for all surf.

The perfect platform for SUP Yoga needs to be wide, stable and ideally have a full-length deck pad. A good Yoga paddle board is a must have…

Paddle boards designed for kids are smaller and lighter making them easier to carry and manoeuvre in the water.

When paddling rapids a board needs to be super tough yet light and nimble – they should have high sides to allow them to break in and out of the water.

WindSUP boards combine everything that’s great about paddle boarding with the added advantage of being able to convert them into a windsurfer.

Choose the perfect paddle board

There’s a Red Paddle Co board and paddle for every rider and every adventure. Select your preferences with the dropdown boxes below to find your perfect inflatable SUP See all our boards >

How much do you weigh?
What's your riding style?
What experience do you have?

Learning to Paddleboard

With such a plethora of paddle boards available to the newcomer it can seem a little bewildering.

There’s nothing worse than having a bad initial experience due to trying it out with the wrong type of board and being put off the sport for good! Therefore a great way to start is by having a lesson. Not only will you learn the all-important basics but you’ll also get to try it on kit designed for beginners. Mastering the basic paddling technique, gaining an understanding of the equipment involved and learning about set-up, launching and safety will ensure you get the best possible introduction to the sport.

There are an ever-increasing number of paddleboard schools springing up around the globe and one of the best places to find one near you is learn2paddleboard.com, a site specifically designed with beginners in mind. Not only can you search for schools by location but you can review details about the courses they offer and their facilities. Many schools will also offer board hire, ideal for honing your skills after a lesson and before you take the plunge and buy a board.

Once you’ve mastered the basics of paddling, it’s also worth considering courses for intermediates or advanced paddlers, which will enable you to develop your technique and help you improve. There’s also a plethora of videos online about how to paddleboard that can be a useful resource.

Safe Paddleboarding

As with all water sports, staying safe on the water is paramount whilst paddleboarding. Even on the calmest, sunniest days there are dangers that all paddlers should be aware of, and take suitable precautions against. Following a few simple rules and equipping yourself with a couple of key items will ensure you’re always prepared in the event of an incident occurring. 

The most important rule to follow with any water sport is “if in doubt, don’t go out” and this is very much the case with paddleboarding. Wind, water and weather conditions can change quickly and so if you’re in any doubt, don’t venture out on the water. If you were to get it into any difficulty it’s not only yourself you put in danger, but also your potential rescuers. Therefore before heading out always make sure you check the weather forecast for that day and also check the tide information for the area. It’s also a good idea to have a knowledge of the prevailing conditions for the local area, such as any known rip currents. If you’re paddling somewhere for the first time, local paddle shops or schools should be a good source for this information, or failing that just chat to the local paddlers. It’s also always worth checking online for any information for that area.

In terms of kit, first and foremost you should have some form of floatation device. As life jackets or buoyancy aids can often be bulky and restrictive when it comes to paddling, the modern style of personal flotation device that packs up into a waistbelt are a great solution. It’s also important to dress for the conditions and have the right combination of clothing to ensure you stay cool if it’s a hot day or stay warm on the chillier days. It’s also a good idea to take additional clothing with you, such as a windproof and waterproof layer in case the conditions take a turn for the worse. A good quality, waterproof deck bag is therefore a good idea to keep your additional kit dry. It’s also great for carrying food and drinks to ensure you maintain energy levels and stay hydrated whilst on the water. It also means you can keep another important piece of kit dry – a mobile phone, in case of emergencies.

Unpack, Inflate and Explore

The Stand Up Paddleboarding of today is a far cry from that developed centuries ago by natives of Hawaiian islands. Even comparing the current breed of inflatable SUPs to the hardboards of the later 1990s highlights how far the sport has come and how accessible it now is. From city rivers to mountain lakes, remote surf spots to your local beach, stand up paddleboarding is a sport that can be enjoyed everywhere and by everyone, thanks largely to the evolution of the inflatable paddle board. Simply unpack your board, inflate and you’re ready to hit the water. Whether that’s for a casual paddle down the coast with mates, spending some quality time with the family, hitting the waves for some SUP surfing, going head to head with other paddlers in a race, or enjoying a spot of SUP yoga, the world of stand up paddleboarding has something for everyone.

unpacking an inflatable sup from the bag

More Information

For more information about anything in this guide, contact the Red Paddle Co team and start your paddling adventure today.