Best Paddle Boards
There is nothing like catching a wave and riding it, but what about life beyond the surf break? And what if you take away waves altogether? The flatter and calmer waters of lakes, rivers and the deep ocean are some of the best places to explore and enjoy in the world. All that is needed is the perfect vessel to experience them on. In the last couple of years, the interest in paddle boards has grown drastically. A host of manufacturers have risen to meet the demands, styles and designs were improved or invented, as more and more recreational users take to the water.
Below are five paddle boards that are considered at the top of their class. Each deserves to be in the top three in their own way. They are:
Stand Up Paddle boards (SUPs) are not new inventions or fads. Along with their adrenaline pumping cousin, the surfboard, paddle boards were used by ancient Hawaiians as a means to travel on and enjoy the water that surrounded the islands they lived on. It wasn’t until renowned big wave surfer Laird Hamilton took an interest in reviving and modernizing the activity that it started permeating the social mainstream.
Hamilton, who is jokingly given the nickname “the water god”, used his contacts in various industries to improve the paddle and not the board (high quality boards of various styles and sizes were already available from the surfing world). The rest as they say, is history. Thanks to the use of better built boards, light yet strong and more ergonomic paddles, and the charisma and eyeballs that follow such a legend, the activity and sport of paddle boarding has been catapulted into the mainstream and is now being enjoyed by untold numbers around the globe.
Just like almost every other sport and recreational activity, there are layers and levels to paddle boarding. Before a person can even stand on a board or grab a paddle there are some inherent questions that they should face. Their answers to these questions should be honest and forthright.
Environment of use
Location, location, location. The old realtor’s adage is also true for paddle boarding. Knowing where the paddle boarding will take place definitely has ramifications on the board and paddle to be used, the gear to be taken and even the style of paddling to be done. For example, a paddle boarding outfit used on glassy-surfaced lakes should be avoided when paddling swift flowing rivers. Paddle boarding in rivers is no joke.
What paddlers observe at the water’s surface does not necessarily translate what it contains beneath. From up high, a paddle boarder may see a fast running but seemingly clear river. However, debris such as submerged rocks and boulders may be lurking inches beneath the waterline.
Then there’s the rapids that may be lurking around a bend up ahead. Paddling in rivers require smaller, more maneuverable boards, whose fins are often shorter or made of flexible material to withstand the abrasive nature of the obstacles it may strike. While carbon fiber paddles are lighter they may chip, or break easily if struck on an unyielding obstacle like a rock or tree.
Wooden paddles or those which combine hard plastic and aluminum are preferred in these harsher environments. Then there’s the safety gear. It goes without saying that a PFD or personal flotation device along with a safety whistle are mandatory. However, in this case a helmet may help deter head injuries in the event of a spill into the water. If the river is fed by glacial or snowmelt, then chances are that a thick wetsuit is in order to prevent hypothermia.
Flat water and deep ocean paddling require their own types of boards. Long, flat and heavy cruiser boards enhance the experience of paddling in flat water lakes and rivers. Whereas open ocean paddlers may want something that will cut through the chop of waves and go with a touring board. These boards often have a thinner profile and possess a keel like that of a boat. These two features combined will greatly diminish the impact usually felt by the rider from the pounding of waves. Both types of paddle boarding will greatly benefit from the use of lightweight paddles as both activities tend to stretch for hours.
Type of activity
Once you’ve settled on where you want to paddle, it is time to decide on the why. Identifying the reason why you will be out on the water will also affect the paddle boarding outfit being brought. Will this be a race or competition? Perhaps a sleeker and more hydrodynamic touring board is in order.
Out for a leisurely paddle? A wider, heavier and therefore more stable cruising board should be considered. A growing crossover trend is fishing on a paddle board. If this is something being considered, then the use of a more specialized board which combines stability and maneuverability with the various needs of an angler.
Level of proficiency
The last but perhaps most important question to ask is the riders current skill level. Paddlers should be brutally honest in their answer. In general, paddle boarding difficulty increases as the type of water being navigated gets rougher and as the stability of the paddleboard being used decreases.
Proficiency, in this regard, does not care about how much time a paddler has spent on the water or how much safety gear they have on. Boiled down, the question becomes “Are you confident in navigating this type of water using this type of board?” Hesitations in their answer should be examined in depth. Where personal safety is concerned, what is another ten minutes of critical thinking and conversation.
Boards of all types exist to suit the needs of users of various skill levels, environmental conditions and activity types. In this day and age, there really is no shortage of them. A blade like board for racing? Not a problem. A super large board for sharing with a pooch or friend? They’re there. Want one to standup or sit down? Those exist too. The paddle boards listed below have made this list because they are the best, or one of the best, in their respective categories.
While the styling may resemble that of a touring board Surftech’s eleven-and-a-half-foot Saber is the quintessential cruiser. This board was built for the casual boarder in mind. Its sunken deck keeps the paddlers center of gravity closer to the water.
This feature greatly improves stability and is especially appreciated by newbies to the sport. With the Saber, durability and build quality can never be called into question thanks to high density molded core layered with fiberglass and epoxy. Surftech even threw in a half-deck wood layer to increase rigidity and enhance performance.
Rider comfort and safety was also taken into consideration in the addition of a soft foam-top which alleviates the aches and pains that come from standing on a hard board while simultaneously providing traction. It is this delicate balance between comfort and rigidity, ease of use and technically sound construction, speed and stability that has consistently put the Surftech Saber in many a “Top 10” or “Best of…” lists.
The mark against the Saber is that its 29-inch width is not suitable for activities that require a fair bit of movement such as yoga or fishing. However, the consistent glide and forgiving stability it offers is the reason why it is enjoyed by experienced cruisers and novice touring paddlers alike.
If this SUP can be summed up in three words they would be: portable, convenient and performance. These are all the hallmarks of a fantastic inflatable paddle board and the Sevylor Willow has them in spades.
Accompanied with a handpump this paddle board can be stored in the trunk of a car, brought to a body of water and then deployed in under ten minutes.
No expensive car racks, no strong man lifting required to get it off and on the racks, just unfurl the board and pump away until the board is rigid enough to stand on and perform paddling maneuvers (usually somewhere in the vicinity of 11 psi). The 32-inch wide board is rated to hold a 205-pound rider at most. The width of the board means that it provides a ton of stability to the paddler.
Constructed of highly durable rubber usually reserved for whitewater rafts the Willow can technically perform in any setting. It can even tackle flowing water like rivers, just remove the larger middle fin to prevent snags from weeds and increase turning mobility. While it can technically ride waters with waves its lack of a keel means that the rider will be more than susceptible to the bumps that come along with riding in choppy waters.
This means that flat water paddle boarding is where the Sevylor Willow truly shines. It really is the perfect and most convenient paddle board, almost. The Willow comes with everything you need to get out on the water, except a paddle. You’ll have to buy that one separately.
The initial reaction to Ocean Kayak’s Nalu is often a head scratch and a perplexed look. Is this a kayak or a paddle board? Actually, it’s both. A hybrid of the two watercrafts, the Nalu is not technically a SUP but rather a SUSOTP (Stand Up Sit-On-Top Paddle board).
The molded hard plastic hull, displacement style bow and cargo hold is reminiscent of recreational kayaks, but the absence of an enclosed leg area and a remarkably flat top bears a close resemblance to SUPs. Textured pads give paddlers traction and comfort, but when it gets a bit too tiring the rider can assume a seated position and even attach a Comfort Tech seat (sold separately) for added support.
The Nalu has turned out to be as popular with fishermen as it is with novice to intermediate paddle boarders. Ocean Kayak has set a 350-pound maximum weight rating on the Nalu however it seems that while the kayak may hold 350-pounds the SUP would sit dangerously low on the water line. And, while the Nalu gives the rider a chance to experience both worlds, it is in the end a compromise.
It is neither a paddle board nor is it a kayak. Which means that it is not the best at being either. Competition SUPers; racers, endurance paddlers and white water riders, will likely glaze over the Nalu but casual paddlers and anglers will greatly appreciate the hydrodynamics, stability and storage that it brings.
Part paddle board, part art. Pau Hana’s Oahu paddle board rides as good as it looks hung up on the wall. The 10-foot long, 32-inch wide paddle board is what is known as a noserider.
The Oahu possesses a spooned-out nose, meaning that the upward curvature of the front end of the board has been exaggerated. This translates to a smoother ride on the water due to a decrease in contact resistance with the water.
The exaggerated nose almost makes it impossible for the board to dip below the water line, even in the presence of chop. Furthermore, its design includes a wide tail complete with 4+1 fins (the longer middle fin is removeable) and full rails which only increases the quality of the ride.
The combination of the spooned-out nose and the stability features, not to mention the Polynesian artwork on the deck, is what really sets the Oahu apart. One would usually attribute a shorter board with less stability and more mobility, however the key features of the Oahu makes it one of the most stable and rideable boards under 11-feet.
While Pau Hana’s Oahu is one of the best all-around paddle boards, a rider can get their hands on, it is still worth it to go over its limitations, which mostly revolves around its length. Even though it is stable as can be, a short board especially one lacking a keel is susceptible to the whims and violence of waves and rough water. It is best to keep this in mind before taking the Oahu out for a ride.
If a paddler is looking for speed and distance, then they need look no further than the BIC Sport C-TEC Tracer. Measuring 12-feet, 6-inches tall and with widths ranging from 27- to 29-inches to accommodate riders of various weights, this SUP is a performance board that will suit a touring riders every need.
Its durability is a product of the inherent stiffness of the board but its maneuverability is due to the lightweight carbon weave fabric from which the majority of the board is made from. Its tapered nose helps it effortlessly slice through the water like a hot knife through butter.
The C-Tec Tracer was built for speed and the hydrodynamics from the blade-like nose is transferred through the sleek body. The 9” fiberglass touring fin makes sure that the paddler stays true to their course as they glide through the water.
While it can tackle the expanse of lakes and oceans, the board is limited by the size of waves it encounters.
The shape and features of the C-Tec Tracer means that it has a tendency to go through the water, which is perfectly fine if the water is calm of mildly choppy, but if you encounter a sizeable wave, the board will want to go through the wave rather than up and over it.
This means that the rider will be hit with the brunt of the impact of the wave. On top of this, its length increases its running radius. Needless to say, this is not the paddle board you want to take to big wave paddle surfing.
What started out as a fun yet necessary mode of transportation in a remote island chain in the middle of the Pacific Ocean has become sport and recreation, not just for ocean wave riders, but also for inland lakes and rivers that run through wild rapids and urban centers alike. Thanks to the forward thinking of one man, paddle boarding was introduced to and embraced by the mainstream.
The innovations that led to the paddle boards of today allow a wide spectrum of participants to enjoy their time standing up on the water. Everyone from novices trying it out for the first time, to adrenaline junkies that use them to weave their way through rapids, use paddle boards in a way that brings them the most enjoyment.
Out of the five excellent and noteworthy boards examined in this article there is one that stands out (pun intended) from the rest. It is not the fastest, nor is it even the most stable, but there is a clear reason why the Surftech Saber tops this list of Bests.
The Sabers dimensions and performance on the water offers the greatest number of users to experience Stand Up Paddle boarding. Its cruiser style means that it is a suitable all-around board that can take on different types of activities, paddling styles and environment.
It doesn’t excel in any particular field, but it fairs well in almost every single category. Its outstanding build quality and durability means that users are getting one of the “best bang for their buck” boards available on the market.
There is a wide spectrum of users that the Saber attracts, however it best accommodates novices to the sport all the way up to intermediate touring riders and experienced cruisers. With boards like the Saber leading the charge, it is no wonder why paddle boarding has caught on like wild fire.