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 through the San Juan Islands.
Welcome to the world of Stand Up Paddle Boarding, or SUP.
Whilst stand up paddle boarding may feel like a relatively new sport, the concept has actually been around for centuries, with many ancient communities on Hawaiian Islands using a form of stand up paddle boards for fishing. Things really took off in 2004 when American big-wave surfer Laird Hamilton started using one as a way of training. Until then, the concept of stand up paddle boarding 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 to a much wider range of people. The limiting factor for many would-be paddle boarders was 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 difficult to store and transport.
The biggest evolution to stand up paddle boarding was the invention of the inflatable paddle board. Whilst early versions couldn’t match their hardboard counterparts, they instantly made the sport more accessible and practical. The ability to pack up a 9, 10 or even 12 foot paddle board into a backpack made it considerably easier for anyone to try the sport. You no longer needed a garage or shed to store a massive paddle board, or even a car to get it to the beach. What’s more, they were a lot harder to damage than the much more delicate, traditional hard boards.
Red Paddle Co were at the forefront of the development of inflatable paddle board technology and continue to innovate and evolve the inflatable stand up paddle board to this day. The early development revolved around a design called “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 and structure. Whilst this proved effective in the early days, dropstitch boards lacked the rigidity of their hard board counterparts. Many manufacturers continue to use this technology whilst Red Paddle have long since evolved the construction of inflatable paddle boards to produce unrivaled 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 stand up inflatable boards that provide an authentic paddling experience, delivering the performance of a traditional hard board but in an easy-to-transport, agile yet durable package.
As the boards evolved so too did the sport and as more people across the USA took up paddle boarding, naturally, they wanted to go further and faster, and use their board for all kinds of activities that they had never originally been designed for. People started using their boards in all types of water conditions from Californian waves and white-water rapids of the Colorado River 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 change 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. A wider paddle board is also preferred for paddle board yoga, with increased thickness and tough durability. 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.
Once you’ve caught the paddle boarding bug, you might 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 will best suit you. 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 much more stable platform on which to learn the basics.
However, be warned. Not all inflatable boards are created 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 leaves them far behind the premium inflatable SUPs, in terms of stiffness, performance and durability. The old saying, “buy cheap, buy twice” definitely applies here!
Before making that all important purchasing decision it’s important to understand what affects the quality of these boards and how these differences 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 paddle boards . The 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 up to 8 people on the board to share the experience! 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 maneuverability in the waves. They’re super-stiff and extremely durable, ideal for all types of surf.
The perfect platform for paddle board yoga needs to be wide, feature increased thickness to help keep you dry, be stable and ideally have a full-length deck pad. Ideally the board should have handles on the side of the board, so they don’t get in the way during your yoga practice. A good yoga paddle board has all of these features and more.
Paddle boards designed for kids are smaller and lighter making them easier to carry and maneuver in the water.
If you’re taking on the rapids the board needs to be super tough yet light and nimble. These boards should have high sides to allow them to break in and out of the water.
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 >
With so many stand up paddle boards available, for a beginner it can seem quite daunting.
There’s nothing worse than having a bad initial experience because you tried out the wrong type of board! One bad experience can put you off the sport for good! A great way to start is with a lesson or two. Not only will you learn the basics, but you’ll also get to try it with a board and accessories designed for beginners. Mastering the basic paddling technique, getting to know the equipment involved and learning about set-up and safety will ensure you get the best possible introduction to stand up paddle boarding.
There are an ever-increasing number of paddleboard schools springing up across America and the best place to find one near you is learn2paddleboard.com, a site specifically geared up for beginners. You can search for schools by location, review details about the courses they offer and find out what facilities they offer. Many schools will also offer SUP hire, ideal for honing your skills after a lesson and before you take the plunge and buy your own stand up paddle 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. We’ve also got a series of videos on how to paddleboard that can help you take your paddle boarding to the next level.
As with all water sports, staying safe on the water is paramount. Even on calm, sunny days there are dangers that all paddle boarders 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 when it comes to paddle boarding is “if in doubt, don’t go out”. Wind, water and weather conditions can change incredibly quickly and once you’re out in the water it can be much more difficult to notice these changes, and even harder to do anything about them. If you were to get it into any difficulty it’s not just yourself you put in danger, but also your potential rescuers. Before you head out, always make sure you check the weather forecast for that day and 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 flotation 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. Take additional clothing with you, including a windproof and waterproof layer in case the conditions take a turn for the worse. A good quality, waterproof deck bag is essential 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. Whilst we’re on the subject, it’s always a good idea to make sure someone knows where and when you’re going so if you end up in difficulty, they can call for help.
The stand up paddle boarding of today is a far cry from that developed centuries ago in the 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 the Colorado river to Lake Michigan and remote surf spots to your local beach, stand up paddle boarding is a sport that can be enjoyed everywhere and by anyone, thanks largely to the evolution of the inflatable paddle board. Simply unpack the board, inflate and you’re ready to go. Whether that’s for a casual paddle down the coast with friends, 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 paddle board yoga, the world of stand up paddleboarding has something for everyone.