How To Choose The Perfect Stand Up Paddle Board

How To Choose The Perfect Stand Up Paddle Board

The team at Northwest SUP & Fitness is your go-to resource for choosing the perfect Stand Up Paddle Board to meet your needs and budget!

Liters Of Volume, The Basics

Basically, liters of volume is the measurement of how much weight the paddle board can comfortably carry and still float above the water, as the manufacturer designed for optimum performance. For beginners, we recommend a board volume of approximately double your body weight in kilograms. To calculate your body weight in kilograms, divide your total weight in pounds by 2.2.

Using myself as an example: my current body weight of 200 lbs converted into kg = approx 91 kg, so if I was at a beginner level I would shop for a board with a liter of volume rating near or above 180. Don’t forget to account for gear if you’re planning on lots of all day iSUP paddle board trips with coolers or like to bring your four-legged friend along for the ride! If you end up with a board that’s rated slightly below your recommended liters of volume, it may feel a bit sluggish and tend to drag rather than plane across the water. If you buy a new traditional SUP or iSUP board with way too low of a liters of volume rating, you’ll find yourself struggling to balance with a paddleboard half submerged in the water!

On the flip side, a board with a much higher liters of volume rating than you require will not sit properly in the water and may be difficult to control and heavy feeling. Liters of volume is just the starting point for choosing the perfect SUP or iSUP paddle board for your personal needs. Board width, “displacement” or “planing” hull designs, length, fin placement, and board construction are all important factors to consider before purchasing what should be a long-term investment. Additionally, you should give thought to the style of paddling you prefer. Are you happy to casually paddle flat water lakes, or are you ready to cruise long downwinders on The Columbia?

NW SUP says: “Check out the inflatable Stand Up Paddle boards from Red Paddle Co! With their 25psi inflation rating and RSS stabilization system, Red Paddle Co iSUP boards are the most rigid and responsive inflatable paddle boards on the planet!”

Liters of volume should always be clearly listed on every Stand Up Paddle Board by the manufacturer. If you can’t find the liters of volume rating on a paddle board, don’t buy it!

Primary Stand UP Paddle Board Designs

Essentially there are four different primary styles of stand up paddle boards, although many top manufacturer’s are now offering hybrid boards that combine the different SUP board types into unique configurations for paddler’s looking for specific handling and speed characteristics. For the purpose of this explanation we are assuming fresh water paddling is the primary goal and are not including paddle boards designed specifically for surfing or white water conditions. Although, many of the top manufactures such as Red Paddle Co are now offering iSUP boards that do very well in both freshwater and white water or surfing conditions.

Michelle demos how to choose the perfect SUP for beginners and users who wish to do yoga or paddle fit.
Michelle demos how to choose the perfect SUP for beginners and users who wish to do yoga or paddle fit.

All-Around & Flat Water Paddle Boards


This is the original design which has long been identified as the standard paddle board. The rounded nose and wide-body make this the most stable paddle board on the market, and therefore it is often purchased by beginners. Although this type of board is much easier to initially learn and balance on, the sacrifice in speed and performance makes this a poor choice for paddler’s planning primarily long distance paddle trips. For those of you planning on doing awesome core-building yoga on the water or casual paddles across flat water lakes, a flat-water inflatable stand up paddle is the perfect all-around board, and at often a significantly lesser initial investment.


Just as the name implies, this style of board is best for flat water conditions and covering more ground than a standard All-Around Board. They have the same basic shape & design as the All-Around Boards, but tend to be a bit longer with a narrower body which allows them to cut through the water faster. Most Flat Water Boards have an almost banana-like shape to them, with both the nose and the tail protruding above the water line to help the board glide over the water without plowing.

There’s nothing better than relaxing on a Flat-Water Inflatable Paddle Board with the popular Planing Hull design. Ultra stable and great for beginners or those primarily using their boards for Yoga & Paddle Fit.

On my first day paddle boarding, even though I was using a rounded nose All-Around Board I was still struggling with balance. The idea of a narrower board was intimidating! Within a month, I was already wishing I had more speed & agility, and soon thereafter purchased my first of many Touring Boards. If I could give any advice on purchasing your first SUP Board, it would be to start on the SUP Board that will most fit your needs and trust yourself to learn the board’s unique characteristics.

NW SUP Says: Our Go-To Yoga & Paddle-fit SUP board is the 10’8 RIDE MSL from Red Paddle Co. The 34” width and ultra stable design, coupled with ease of transport only an inflatable paddle board can provide, makes them the perfect choice for paddle folks looking for a high quality all-around iSUP!
Buy your 10’8 RIDE MSL now!

Michelle stands next to a 13 foot Touring type inflatable SUP.
Michelle takes a Flat-water SUP for a spin on the river


A Touring Paddle Board will have similar characteristics as a race board, but will be a much more stable design, sacrificing a small amount of speed for overall stability. This is a big step up in performance from the All-Around or Flat Water Boards! In my opinion, an inflatable iSUP Touring Board is the perfect board for paddler’s who want to own one board that will suit all of their NW SUP needs. While the slightly narrower design and pointed nose do make balancing a bit more difficult at first, I guarantee you’ll be cutting through the water in no time and leaving your buddies on All-Around general purpose boards in the dust (or would it be mist?).

Some SUP sites do not recommend any Touring Paddle Boards for beginners. While there certainly are brands & styles of iSUP Touring Boards with extra narrow designs that would prove difficult for beginners, an iSUP like the Red Paddle Co 13’2 Voyager inflatable stand up paddle board is a great touring board for paddlers of all skill levels! With it’s excellent glide, efficiency, and speed, the Voyager still maintains a larger width body of 32 inches at its widest point, providing excellent stability.

Red Paddle Co also offers a great Touring iSUP in the 12’ 6” Voyager. It boasts an extra 2 inches of width for a total of 32’ at its widest point for added stability which, combined with its slightly shorter 12’ 6” length, makes this a great Touring Inflatable Paddle Board for both beginners and experienced long distance paddlers alike!

The Red Paddle Co 13’ 2” Voyager inflatable stand up paddle board is Jeremiah’s personal iSUP board of choice. The higher liters of volume rating, large cargo area both front & rear, and race driven touring design make this the ideal paddle board for big guys and their gear! It’s also a great iSUP board for the fisherman who want to throw out a line or do some trolling from their inflatable paddle board. The Voyager iSUP has also been a great Paddle-Fit board with it’s ultra stable design

Touring Paddle Boards utilize a Displacement Hull design with a wider stance and flat front for improved stability at the sacrifice of top speed while still covering ground at a solid pace. Ideal for long paddles!

Buy a 13’ 2″ VOYAGER+ MSL or the very popular 12’ 6” VOYAGER MSL now!

Michelle holds a Red Paddle Elite 12'6 racing board upright, fast and sleek but not recommended for beginners.
Michelle holds a Red Paddle Elite 12'6 racing board upright, fast and sleek but not recommended for beginners.


A Race Paddle Board will have a sharper nose made to cut through the water, and a raised profile up front designed to instantly shed water rather than pool & drain. It is also typically much narrower and more difficult to balance on for beginners and even many intermediate stand up paddlers. Most Race Boards are longer in length, which along with their typically narrow width gives them an arrow-like look. These are all about speed! Personally, I love my Race iSUP Board and will often choose it over my Touring iSUP Board, unless we’re hitting bodies of water that require a lot of maneuvering. These boards are designed to go as fast as possible in a straight line.

With a traditional fiberglass Race Board, the longer design also makes transporting and packing down to the launch more of a hassle. They are not nearly as nimble in the turns as the other SUP board types, but with some muscle and finesse can be used in almost any water condition. On this particular type of board, although we have seen several beginner level paddlers jump on the Red Paddle 12’ 6” X 30” Sport inflatable paddle board and do just fine, we agree with the general consensus and strongly feel this is not the right board for a beginning paddler.

Racing Paddle Boards will typically have sharp streamlined rockers and a narrow aggressive Displacement Hull design with a raised front to further assist in shedding water and maximizing speed while cutting thru the water.

Check out my personal Race Board here.

The new Red Paddle ELITE Inflatable Race Boards come fitted with a special fixture that is compatible with a Railblaza or RamMount, enabling you to securely attach a GPS to keep track of your speed & distances during training and racing!

Michelle carries a Red Paddle Sport MSL SUP, a hybrid board which combines the swift shape of a racing board with the stability of a touring board.
Michelle carries a Red Paddle Sport MSL SUP, a hybrid board which combines the swift shape of a racing board with the stability of a touring board.


A Hybrid Paddle Board will combine traits from the standard paddle board designs into unique configurations, allowing paddlers to find the exact board for their specific needs. Maybe a Race board is just too “twitchy” on the water for your liking, an All Around Board isn’t fast enough to keep up with the group, but a longer Touring Board is more board than you need?? Perhaps it’s time to check out a Hybrid Paddle Board! Red Paddle Co produces a very popular Hybrid Paddle Board with their SPORT MSL series of inflatable paddle boards that truly fall into their own category.

Combining the speed driven shaping of a Race Board with the stability of a Touring Board, the SPORT MSL inflatable paddle board comes in 3 different sizes to fit all body types & skill levels of paddlers. The SPORT MSL inflatable paddle boards are extremely stable making them a great first board for beginners to “get their feet wet”. They also provide exceptional speed and handling characteristics making them an ideal choice for experienced paddlers. These are the best bang for your buck for a “Do Everything” inflatable paddle board!

The SPORT MSL Inflatable Paddle Boards are a great choice for a first SUP Board! Stable enough for paddlers of all skill levels, while still offering performance capabilities and comfortable cruising making them a perfect choice for longer SUP trips. Many of our Fitness Clients prefer the SPORT MSL for Yoga & Paddle-Fit

Buy your SPORT MSL now! 11’0 X 30” SPORT MSL
12’ 6” X 30”  SPORT MSL

A young boy demonstrates the Red Paddle 9' 4" Snapper MSL, a youth paddle board.
A young boy demonstrates the Red Paddle 9' 4" Snapper MSL, a youth paddle board.


Many top manufacturers are offering Youth Paddle Boards in the same primary board styles as their adult counterparts. Stand Up Paddle Boarding on a board designed specifically for younger paddlers is perfect for confidence building and motor skills development. While most youngsters can certainly stand up just fine on a full-size adult paddle board, the Youth Paddle Boards are shorter, narrower and have a much lower liters of volume rating. Youth specific paddle boards make SUP much easier for the kiddos to learn balance, technique and maneuvering, not to mention a lot more smiles when they’re on a board made just for their size!

Liters of volume is probably the number one factor when sizing a paddle board to the paddler. Most adult sized paddle boards have liters of volume ratings much too high for kiddos, meaning the board won’t sit down into the water properly and will be a struggle for the kids on even a mildly windy day. The wider adult SUP boards will also force the shorter youngsters to paddle at an angle. A Youth Paddle Board will be narrow enough for the kids to paddle with correct form, making it much easier for them to stay in a straight line and keep a consistent pace.

Another factor to consider when purchasing a SUP board for the kiddos to enjoy, is the ability for them to easily pack the board themselves from the car to the water. This may not seem like a big deal at first, but after you’ve made 2 or 3 extra trips at every paddle outing because your kiddos can’t pack any of the boards themselves, you’ll be wishing they had a board they could easily lug around without Mom or Dad’s help.

For Youth Paddle Boards, we’re big fans of inflatables. They’re much lighter and easier for the kids to carry on land, and more importantly the top iSUP brands are nearly indestructible. My 8 year old son and expensive fiberglass boards don’t mix well! (as we learned the hard way). Red Paddle Co makes 2 different inflatable Youth Paddle Boards, both manufactured with the same quality MSL Fusion technology that makes them so incredibly durable. The 9’ 4” SNAPPER MSL is a hybrid combination of the popular RIDE series and a Touring Board, including a 6 point cargo tie down system up front. Perfect for confidence building and family SUP outings!

Michelle and Jeremiah carry a couple of their favorite Red Paddle Hybrid iSUPs

As your shopping for the perfect SUP or iSUP Board, you’re going to see countless other categories and types of paddle boards in both traditional fiberglass and inflatable SUP boards. Keep in mind, they’re all just adaptations of the basic board designs outlined above. Looking for the ultimate Fishing Board but still want to paddle the local lakes with your SUP buddies? Buy a nice stable Flat Water inflatable paddle board like the Red Paddle 10’ 8” RIDE and easily accessorize with the provided threaded mount and a standard fishing pole holder!

Found a company selling Yoga-specific boards for twice the price of a nice All-Around Board? You can easily purchase adhesive traction pads and apply them to any type of stable design paddle board and save some money.

Love the speed of a Race Board but don’t want to sacrifice cargo capacity? There are multiple suction cup cargo holding systems available at very affordable prices! My personal Bark Eliminator did not come with any cargo space, but $30 later and I had a suction cup bungee system that has never once come loose or given me issues out on the water.

There are also many Hybrid Boards on the market. These boards will combine characteristics from the other primary board types to further define your exact needs. One of Michelle’s favorite paddle boards is her  Red Paddle 11’ 3” SPORT MSL, which is essentially a Touring/Race hybrid and provides the stability of a wider Touring Board while allowing her to keep up with me if I happen to be on one of our faster boards. This is an EXCELLENT choice for beginners willing to take some time to learn the sport!

You can check it out on Red Paddle’s site here:

Obviously we’re big fans of the Red Paddle Co inflatable paddle boards! We attend Paddle Events all thru the Pacific Northwest and have personally paddled pretty much every top name brand of SUP board on the market. In our opinion, Red Paddle is putting out some of the most rigid & performance driven iSUP’s available, and at much more affordable pricing than other top brands. 25 psi inflation, MSL Fusion, and their RSS Stiffening Rods truly set them apart from any other inflatable SUP we’ve paddled.

We also enjoy the versatility & ease of transport only an iSUP can offer. Being able to load 4 paddle boards in the back of the car is pretty awesome! That being said, we still have several traditional hard surface boards in our personal fleet. We still own our first all-foam paddle boards we bought many years ago when first introduced to SUP (I’m sentimental, I just can’t bring myself to sell them).

Our number one priority is to share our love & knowledge of SUP with others. We’re here to help you, no matter what brand or type of stand up paddle board you’re looking for or whatever your questions may be.

A small image of a traditional hard surface SUP floating on the water.




A Red Paddle inflatable SUP sits on the rocky shore of a lake.

You have 2 types of boards to consider when purchasing your first Stand Up Paddle Board; Traditional Hard surface or Hardboards, or the increasingly popular Inflatable SUPS or iSUP Boards. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. In a perfect SUP world, it’s great if you can afford to own one or more of each board type. If you’re on a budget like most of us and purchasing multiple paddle boards isn’t a feasible option, we would suggest a quality Inflatable SUP board.

Storage & Transport are never an issue with an Inflatable SUP. They can be stacked directly on top of each other or rolled up into a storage bag. Thanks to top iSUP brands like Red Paddle Co, the price, quality, and performance of iSUP boards are very comparable to hard surface boards. And, both Inflatable and Hard Surface boards are available in all the same basic designs.

The main difference when considering Inflatable Boards is the vast difference in quality. Many of the cheaper Inflatable SUP boards may resemble a real paddle board but are in essence glorified pool toys. These cheap inflatables are also very susceptible to punctures. Spending a few extra bucks up front for an Inflatable SUP from a high quality manufacturer, like Red Paddle Co, ensures a durable board that will last for many years and perform at your expectations, even as you move from beginner status to experienced paddler!

Another huge factor, when comparing quality iSUP to Hardboards, is durability. Quality Inflatable Paddle Boards are much more durable than their fiberglass counterparts, which is why most SUP Rental Companies are now utilizing iSUP boards in their rental fleets. If you’ve ever owned a fiberglass board, you know all too well how susceptible they are to rock chips/damage. If you accidentally drop your inflatable board, it won’t chip or scratch, whereas a drop onto pavement with a fiberglass board can cause some serious damage. Fiberglass boards also use an outer shell, which if compromised can allow the board to become water-logged. On the other hand, if top speed is your main objective and budget or transport isn’t a concern, a high end fiberglass race board is going to be faster on the water than a comparable iSUP.

Our Fleet of SUP Boards at NW SUP & Fitness is primarily composed of Red Paddle Co inflatables due to their ease of transport and extremely stable design that’s perfect for beginner paddlers.

Hot Tip: A quick way to tell if the Inflatable Board you’re considering is worth the investment is to check the manufacturer listings for suggested PSI. If the maximum suggested PSI is anything less than 14 PSI, it’s a pool toy and should not be considered for a long term investment! iSUP Boards with higher PSI ratings mean they have a stronger stitch & seam design and are less likely to “banana” when inflated. The higher maximum PSI rating of quality inflatable boards is also a good indication of the rigidness of the board. Red Paddle Co inflatables have a maximum air pressure rating of 25psi! The high air pressure capacity of 25psi along with Red Paddle’s patented RSS (Rocker Stiffening System) makes them one of the most stable and rigid inflatables on the market today!

We hope you’ve learned a few things from the Team at NW SUP & Fitness. Our goal is to share our love of SUP and vast experience with all styles & types of  SUP Boards with anyone looking to paddle, from beginners looking for their first board to advanced paddlers looking for their next board. If you have any questions regarding Stand Up Paddle Boarding, please let us know and we’ll do our best to help you find the perfect SUP Boards and/or gear for your individually based needs and answer any other SUP related questions including information about our favorite SUP destinations.

Michelle demonstrates the ease of carrying a Red Paddle iSUP on its side, one handed.
Michelle demonstrates the ease of carrying a Red Paddle iSUP on its side, one handed.