Planning to Buy a SUP Board For Surfing? Whether you are a seasoned surfer or someone who has always wanted to give surfing a try, stand up paddle boarding is a natural way of getting into the waves. Standing upright on a board gives you a vantage point for seeing the incoming waves, your paddle helps you get in ideal position for catching the wave, and there is advantage is the fact that you are already standing when the wave approaches. And if you’re over the ripe old age of 30 you’ll appreciate that it is a little easier on the body than prone surfing and can be a more approachable way of having fun in the waves.
If surfing will be you main SUP activity, you’ll want a board specialized for surfing, but if it is something you want to dabble in when opportunities arise, a board with more varied uses will make the most sense. Before choosing a board, ask yourself these 5 questions:
There are really two ways to go when choosing a board shape for SUP surfing. If surfing will be the main purpose of the board and you plan on owning a second board for other paddling types, then you should consider a surf-specific design. If only one SUP board is in the cards for you and you want something that will let you have a great time catching waves but also keep you happy paddling in various non-surf venues, you should go with an all-around board shape that is also amenable to surfing.
Specialized SUP surfing boards are short - usually less than 9ish feet in length - and have relatively low volume compared to boards used for general paddling. Some have only 4 inches of thickness, which is now considered too thin for most paddle boards, as 5 and 6 inch boards with greater stiffness has become the norm. The lower volume of a surf-specific board can enhance performance on large waves where the board will be skimming over the water surface instead of relying on the inherent buoyancy of the board, and the thinner rails of a 4 inch thick board may enhance turning performance in certain conditions. Some surf-specific SUP boards have a very narrow tail to make the board more responsive to foot pressure when turning. The factors that make these boards work well for surfing - short length, low volume, reduced thickness, and narrow tails - also make them less suitable for other types of paddling where more length and volume are needed.
All-around SUP boards, if chosen correctly, can double very nicely as a surfing SUP while still being an ideal board for everyday paddling. The key to choosing a versatile board that will do well for you in the surf is to find the sweet spot of length, width, and thickness that checks off all the boxes for you. Go with a length at the short end of your recommended range, a width on the mid side, and a thickness that gives you enough buoyancy to glide efficiently on flat water.
In general, for an all-around board that will also be used in the surf, a rider weighing less than 160 lb should consider a 5 inch thick board in the 9’6” length range, a rider under 180 should look in the 10’0” to 10’8” range for a 5” board as an all-around alternative. Paddlers over 190 lb who benefit from more flotation should consider a 5 inch or 6 inch thick board of 10 feet or longer depending on the type of waves you want to ride. Riders with surfing experience can go with smaller and shorter boards than beginning surfers. This as a guide will get you closer to a surfing 'feel' but choosing a larger board is also OK, it will just handle a little differently and be more challenging as the waves get bigger.
Another option in small surf can, surprisingly, be a touring board, which you would control more like a pure long board. You are not going to whip turns on it, but a reasonably stable touring board can be a lot of fun in surf for riding long small waves, and can provide a great option for pushing through the break to exploring the coastline behind it.
While the dimensions and shape of a board are the first factor to consider when choosing a board, the fin setup can let you tune - and sometimes really transform - the performance of the board.
The most basic fin setup for a surfing SUP is a single long center fin. Having just one fin in the center creates the least drag and works well on boards that are optimized for surfing, hard boards in particular. On inflatable paddle boards, the rails are more rounded and contribute less to carving performance than the narrower rails of a hard board, so some additional assistance from the fins is crucial. Adding side fins alongside the center fin contributes to the rider’s ability to control the tail of the board in the absence of hard rails that would otherwise contribute to carving performance. For this reason, we recommend a board that lets you add side fins when you need the extra traction, but has the flexibility of being used with a single center fin when speed is your priority. A permanent three-fin setup will also get the job done, but with a little less flexibility in terms of tuning your ride.
Harder fins are often favored by pure surfers for more control, but with inflatable SUP surfing, you won’t be riding perfect barrels where the rigidity of the fins will dramatically impact the feel of the board. A fin with a little flex will perform fine in most wave environments, so have fun and don’t sweat the black art of fin selection.
Pure surfing is a thrill and obsession, and when the conditions are right we will rack up a surfboard and see you out on water ourselves. For other times when mother nature isn’t providing, it doesn’t stop us going out and riding whatever is out there – and for this reason we think inflatables have distinct advantages for those of us who can’t live in Hawaii all year round.
As with any type of SUP board, the quality and texture of the deck pad on a SUP surfing board makes a big difference in traction and on how the board feels under foot. In general, a thicker and longer deck pad that covers more board surface is a good thing because there will be a tendency to fall on various parts of the board especially while learning to surf.
If you will be surfing your SUP, look for a board with a contoured tail pad area with a raised rear edge to keep you back foot from sliding off the board and to give you more leverage when applying foot pressure. A feature that is very helpful but available on fewer boards is a raised arch bar at the tail of the deck pad that lets you feel where your back foot is situated without having to look down.
If pure SUP surfing is your thing, a hard board has some distinct performance advantages over an inflatable. The most obvious is that shape of the rails, which are considerably more sculpted on a hard board and more amenable to surfing maneuvers. On the other hand, traveling with a hard SUP board can be an expensive and inconvenient proposition, in which case your choice in some cases may be between surfing an inflatable or not surfing at all.
On the other hand, inflatables have their own advantages for surfing. Beginners will appreciate the softer landing when falling onto the board and slightly lighter impact when the board inevitably gets flipped onto your head after a fall. Much of the time learning to surf will be spent on your knees, which will be far more comfortable on the softer surface of an inflatable. And if surfing will only be an occasional thing for you, the convenience and performance advantages of an inflatable SUP in other conditions will far outweigh any technical advantage of a hardboard in the surf.
Even when the surf isn’t great, you can still get out and have fun on your inflatable. We’ve spent many hours on days where we couldn’t use our surfboards due to poor wave conditions, just charging small breaks, riding the small waves, and getting out behind the break and checking out the coast.
A well designed and built inflatable SUP is a significant investment, so you’ll want to make sure to choose wisely and get a board that will get you having fun on the water as much as possible. If you will be surfing frequently, it make sense to consider a surf-specific board and have a second board for other types of paddling. If surfing will be one of many things you want to do on your board, we recommend choosing an all-around board that has the right shape and features to perform for you when there are waves to catch.
With those basics under your belt, come see our selection of the best inflatable paddle board for SUP surfing.
Want more expert advice on choosing an inflatable SUP board? Check out our 2018 Inflatable Paddle Board Buyer’s Guide.