Friday, April 25, 2008

Stand up Paddle Board Size: 3 Things to Know

This photo of Jack Gillen only shows part of his quiver and he rides them all! The luxury of a standup paddle board quiver assures that you always have the perfect board for the site and conditions of the day and for who you are. Men, women, kids and seniors, everyone buying a standup paddle board has different needs. Make sure the first board you get suits your expected needs, here's three things you need to know.

1. Size for your weight.
Study the dimensions of the boards you're considering and make sure you don't go too small. The general rule is that once you're up to paddling speed you don't want the tail to drag. Stepping slightly forward will smooth-out the water release at the tail but if the board is too small your nose will dig in. Watch other paddlers of similar weight, note the tail turbulence and trim of their board when underway. Ask for the dimensions or at least the length of their boards and size yourself accordingly. Board makers generally agree on certain dimensions. For example, 11' boards that are around 29" wide and 4 1/4" thick, or 12' boards that are 30" wide and 4 1/2" thick. The flotation is a combination of the length, width and thickness of the board. If you can't test a board or are inexperienced, listen to the advice and experience of others.

The division between light and heavyweight in windsurfing is 170# and I think it's a good reference weight for standup paddle board flotation. Heavyweights should have the biggest boards around 12'. Paddlers right at 170# do well on 11' boards and very-lightweights can go as short as 10'.

2. Size for your water conditions.

There are three basic water conditions: flatwater, roughwater, and surf. Flatwater is the ideal condition to check for tail turbulence and trim. You can see your wake and actually hear turbulence. You will even be able to trim a board that is too small but don't get cocky and think this will work for you in all conditions. The size and weight recommendations above work well in flatwater.

Roughwater will not be forgiving. The board seems much less stable and the nose will dig into the chop. The board that seemed fine in flatwater will seem too small. Get a bigger board for roughwater, approximately six inches to one foot longer. For all of our paddle adventures around our home in Bend, Oregon we are often on longer boards for stability so that rarely fall in the cold water.

Surfing has contrasting demands. You want speed and stability for paddling-out and catching waves, which favors bigger boards. Once you are riding a wave you want maneuverability and high performance, which favors smaller boards. Beginners in the surf should stick to the same board they use in roughwater. It will catch the waves easier and you won't fall so often. Better surfers will prefer smaller boards. They've learned the nack and timing for paddling out and catching waves so the performance when riding the wave is primary. 11' and 12' boards work fine in the surf for occasional surfers. High performance surfers are using 9'6" to 10'6" standup paddleboards. Stand up paddle boards we love in the surf are all the Paddle Surf Hawaii boards and the Hobie 10'6".

3. Size for your convenience.
There are many other things you do with your board other that riding it. You carry it to the water. You hoist it up on top of your head to load it on your vehicle. You store it someplace.

It's no good to set your heart on a certain 12' beauty if you cannot physically handle it, especially when the wind blows! Try picking it up and carrying it, hoist it over your head. If you have trouble, look for a board with a hand slot or buy our handle kit to attach a carrying handle. Smaller boards like the Amundson 11'3" and Hobie 11'2" are lighter weight with thinner rails and are easier to handle when out of the water, making these boards especially popular with women stand up paddle boarders. It's worth sacrificing some paddle glide by choosing a smaller board if it means that you can carry and load it. Also, check where you have to store it. If it needs to fit into the locking personal storage in your vacation condo, you better test this before you purchase. Having a smaller board in the locker is better than having a big board stolen from the carport rafters!  Easy carrying, loading and storing is part of the love affair with your first board.


  1. how big must the paddle be?

  2. To answer your questionheck this article on our blog about paddles.

  3. We found this site very helpful, thank you! We live in Hawaii and are new to paddle boarding, and we love it! You can have instant gratification - standing up right away - and you can do it with everyone in the family, even the dog! We've gone in the bay, the open ocean, up rivers ... so glad that this sport has found its way to us.

  4. I am 5 ft 2 and weight about 130. I have a five year old that loves water also. We were thinking about trying to find a board and paddle to cruise around the lake on. We don't really want to spend to much and are not looking to become professional paddlers. Is it possible for the 2 of us to get on one of these to paddle around the lake and what size would you suggest.

  5. I'm 5'4 and ride a 11' board, what would be a recomended paddle size?

  6. I'm 5'4 and ride a 11' board, what would be a recommended paddle size?

    These days, there’re lots of choices of paddle blade width, angle, length, shape and material as well as choices in shaft flex, shape, diameter, material and handle style. Below is some information to help you figure out what’ll work best for you but please feel free to call us at 541.639.2655 to talk you through it.

    Generally, stand up paddles should be 8” to 10” taller than you (or about 1 shaka above your head). For surf conditions, closer to 8” (because the water is active and the surfer is often crouched down). For flat water, closer to 10” (the longer length makes it easier to stand straighter and get more leverage). So for you, the shaft length should be about 70-72”, depending on your purposes. If racing is your main goal, you could add 10-12”.

    1. Surfing: 6-8"
    2. Flatwater: 8-10"
    3. Racing: 10-12"

    Other variables also depend on your intended use. There are three broad categories: surf, cruise and race.

    Surfing demands several kinds of paddling –explosive power to get you into a wave, precise paddle placement and angle to help you execute turns, and pulling power to help you punch out through whitewater and peaking waves. The shaft has to be particularly strong to withstand the demands of surfing and the occasional fall across the paddle. Big, powerful surfers tend to have somewhat larger blades. But you’ll also see some powerful surfers with very small blades. It comes down to their preference for pulling into a wave. Some like to make a few powerful strokes. Some prefer a higher cadence. A higher cadence makes it easier to catch more marginal waves, while those that wait for the big, perfect faces can enter the wave with one or two hugely powerful strokes. If you‘re a beginning SUP surfer, or even if you’re experienced at surfing, you might prefer a smaller blade. You may even prefer one of the super-small blades like the Kialoa Methane.
    Racing is a completely different animal.

    Racing blades tend to be small to enable a fast cadence. Blade control is important in a racing paddle, for that reason they tend to be T handles which give a more positive sense of blade angle than the ergonomic grips. Shaft flex for a racing paddle can be stiff to medium. If you’re doing longer races you’ll want some flex to save your shoulders. If you mostly do sprints you might want a stiffer shaft. You get more power into the beginning of the paddle stroke with a stiffer shaft. A softer shaft spreads the power out more. If you’re trying to lift the nose a bit to get maximum acceleration then you need instant power at the grab.

    Cruising paddles are roughly between these two extremes, with the determining factor being the kind of paddling you prefer. You never want to be bending at the waist to stroke your cruising paddle – your body should be comfortably erect. You also shouldn’t extend your upper arm above your shoulder. The stroke for cruising tends to be shorter than a racing stroke, from slightly behind the shoulder to the feet. Shaft flex is good, and ergonomic handles work very well.

    I know it’s a lot to figure out so, like I said, feel free to call and let us talk you through it. We’re happy to help. 541.639.2655.

  7. I am looking at buying my first board and the salesman at the local equipment shop has a rigid, foam sided board that he recommends (~$500). However, all of the other boards that I have seen have a hard shell all around. Are these foam boards worth it or are they just junk?