How to choose a paddleboard: A beginner’s guide and the best first buys

An expert guide to paddlebaords, SUPS and the best first paddleboards to buy


by Myles Warwood |

There’s a new craze taking over the shallow seas and lakes across Britain, and it’s all about standing up and paddling.

Paddleboards are nothing new - they’ve been around for a long time but since the pandemic, they’re growing ever popular.

Why wouldn’t it be popular? Water splashes at your toes on a warm sunny day, and you take in the scenery as you float calmly onwards.

If you’re feeling a bit bogged down in all the jargon and didn’t know where to start when it comes to paddleboarding – we’re here to help with our handy paddleboarding guide.

What is a paddleboard, and how do I do it?

Imagine a long surfboard which is also wider and thicker – this is generally what a paddleboard looks like. Then you either sit, kneel or sit and paddle. This is done on water, down a river, on a lake or at sea.

It sounds simple but depending on the size of the board, using one can take patience, good balance and reasonable upper body strength to paddle all day long.

As a beginner, it’s best to look for a stand-up paddleboard. Also known as SUPs, these paddleboards are short, wide, and with a curved nose – this will offer the best stability. As your stability improves over time, you may wish to consider changing your board for something more suited to your new confidence.

Young woman stand-up-paddling on lake
Young woman stand-up-paddling on lake

What do I need?

Well, in addition to the paddleboard and paddle, depending on the weather, you may need a wet suit and some water shoes, and that should do you! If you’re a bit more advanced, you might not need the wet suit if the weather is warm and you are stable enough not to fall off.

You can get some excellent waterproof clothing for paddleboards now, such as rain jackets and the likes; you may also enjoy the added support of a buoyancy aid or lifejacket, just in case.

It’s also very beneficial to get a paddleboard with a leash - this will help keep everything together if it goes wrong and you end up in the drink.

Three important things to remember are:

The thickness of the board – SUPs vary in depth or thickness from four to six inches. A four-inch board will be perfectly fine for most, but the heavier you are, the more you’ll get your toes wet as you push the board more into the water. A board between four to six inches deep will be easier for beginners.
Length – Board length will also be something for which there will be plenty of options. Depending on your height and weight, when you’re starting, a good length would be 10’6" or 10’8” boards. Here there will be a decent balance between stability and manoeuvrability.
Width – The wider the board, the more stable it will be, making a board around 32-inches wide ideal for beginners.

Flat lay of SUP, clothes and accessories isolated on white

Our favourite wetsuit | Blueseventy Glide SJ Wetsuit, RRP £139.99

Our favourite buoyancy vest | Helly Hansen Rider, RRP £50

Inflated vs hard – Which is best?

The short answer is for all-around paddling; an inflatable SUP is a much better purchase. They are said to be more durable, easier to get about (as they can be packed down), lighter, and more versatile, and you don’t tend to hurt yourself so much if you fall onto them.

However, if you’re buying one with the intention of racing or stand-up surfing, then the hardboard construction makes them a better option.

Inflatable boards were once a bit of a novelty, but, over the years, they’ve evolved, and with a new wave of boarders, they have become more and more mainstream. They also have advantages in that a softer board reduces fatigue in your legs and feet as it absorbs impact and relaxes your feet more. They take up much less storage space and perform better across various environments.

It’s different strokes for different folks, and if you want something which will offer you a more stable ride as a beginner, it’s probably better to plump for an inflatable paddleboard.

What's The Best's adventuring Editor Adam Binnie is a recent convert to the inflatable SUP life - you can read his review of the incredibly popular and affordable Portofino stand-up paddleboard here.

One fin or three?

If it’s the speed you’re after, then one fin is generally better; the advantage of three fins is that it will make your board more stable laterally; this is beneficial in windy conditions or in water which has a current. Three fins also make it easier for a beginner to get the hang of the paddleboard.

Some boards come with detachable fins, which means you can make the best of all situations – starting with three fins. As your confidence and ability grow, you can move to one or get extra stability in windier conditions.

The sitch with drop stitch

If your purse strings can stretch to drop stitch technology, generally, it’s worth the investment. This technology makes the board much more rigid when inflated and stops the board from ‘bending’ in the middle. This is often seen in cheaper (although SUPs are rarely cheap) boards when they're fully inflated.

What’s an ideal board to start on?

Pricy, yes, but this has everything you need to get yourself out on the water as quickly as possible. The second addition to the Compact family, the 11’0 Compact, is a full-sized touring SUP that packs down to half the size of a conventional inflatable paddle board. This board is an ideal match for paddlers who regularly travel with their board or want to adventure further with the convenience of an all-in-one package.

Pros: Perfect starter board, everything you'll need in a one-off purchase
Cons: Expensive

Reviewed by What's The Best's very own Editor Adam Binnie the Portofino is an ideal starting paddleboard. Adam says the board is easy to inflate, has good proportions and is made of solid construction. The board will hold a rider of up to 90kg and goes on to say "it’s got everything you need in a beginner-friendly package with space to upgrade later down the line if you fall in love with the sport."

Pros: Great starter board, everything you need in one purchase, packs down to backpack size
Cons: Single action pump may need upgrading if used on a regular basis.

Answer the call of the water with the Fohn Explore 10'6" Stand Up Paddleboard Package. Designed for entry-level paddlers and suitable for use on flat water and waves, this paddleboard package includes everything you need for fuss-free water touring.

Made with a durable PVC construction with reinforced inner and outer wraps, the paddleboard boasts a robust, rigid and stable base for beginner paddlers. The EVA deck pad is also super grippy, while two branded carry handles make light work out of carrying the board to and from your chosen water landscape.

Additionally, the paddleboard package includes every essential you need to get started on your paddling adventures. A removable fin ensures a smooth water glide, the paddle enhances speed, and the two-way pump allows easy inflation. For safety, the coiled leash will stop the board from drifting from you in the water, and a handy repair kit will help prolong the board's life. Then when not in use, pack away in the backpack storage bag for easy transportation to and from your destination.

Pros: Everything you need at a good price, perfect paddleboard to get learning on, removable fins
Cons: Will need to purchase a newer board once you're ready to explore more.

SurfStar inflatable paddle board is made of high-quality military-grade PVC and eco-friendly glue. Built into 1.1mm PVC and reinforced drop-stitch core for higher compression and resilience.

You can easily carry your paddle board to the waterfront with the central handle. This ultra-light 18.8 lbs (8.5kg) board is easy to inflate and deflate. You can easily take your paddleboard anywhere with a body of water and enjoy fun water activities, such as surfing, yoga, fishing, camping, or sit back floating and enjoy the great outdoors.

Pros: Everything you need to get paddling, removable fin, very light
Cons: Lightness means you may be bashed about a bit more by waves.

The Bluefin Cruise SUP package 10'8" includes a lot for a pretty reasonable price. The board itself is designed to be tough, rigid and stable. The design consists of neoprene handles at the nose, rear and centre for easy manoeuvring, a kick pad for quick turns, and an integrated GoPro mount on the nose to help you capture your watery voyages.

The two-piece fibreglass paddle is ultra-light and floats on water, the pump has a double-action function that means you can also use it to deflate to board quickly, and the backpack is padded for extra comfort. This paddle board kit has a trick up its sleeve, too: it includes a seat and spare specialised paddle that means you can convert it into a kayak.

Pros: Seat for duel purpose, packs down to a nice size
Cons: No Grab handle in the middle of the deck can make it difficult to transport to the waters edge

Related | Best Action Cameras

Decathlon’s team of paddlers developed this touring stand-up paddleboard for half-day trips for beginners below 60kg.

A light, stable and easy-to-use inflatable Stand-Up Paddleboard (SUP) for users below 60 kg, for cruising or surfing small waves.

Pros: Low price, Perfect for beginners
Cons: Weight is only suitable for children, not full-grown adults

The Aqua Marina Fusion All-Around SUP 10’10” Paddle Board Package, is as the title suggests, an ideal all-round SUP paddle board kit that includes everything you need to get started on your water adventures.

The Fusion paddle board itself offers stability and a good gliding experience, as well as being highly competent on both flat water and small waves, plus it comes with a generous volume and payload that caters to those looking for an easier ride and in need of a higher carrying capacity.

Constructed with Drop Stitch Light Technology, the Fusion is also lightweight and very rigid and features a comfortable diamond grooving footpad for extra grip. Additionally, a neoprene carry handle makes light work of carrying it to and from the water, and a rubber patched valve ensures optimum airtightness, especially in harsh conditions, so you do not deflate when out exploring.

To finish the package, you can rely on a Double Action Liquid AIR V1 Pump for quick and easy inflating, alongside a Sports III Paddle, removable slide-in Centre Fin and safety leash to ensure fuss-free water touring. Furthermore, all the kit fits into a zipped backpack, making this paddle board set easily portable for adventuring home and away.

Pros: Low Price, comes with all you need, super grippy deck
Cons: Single fin might make stability more difficult.

Myles is a Commercial Content Writer for What's The Best, Parkers and CAR. His areas of expertise include cycling, fitness tech and hot hatches.

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