The first thing every student says to me is "I don't have good balance, will I be able to stand up?"
One of the biggest mistakes people make in getting into SUP is trying or buying a board too small or narrow for their size, then after falling in several times, deciding the sport isn't for them. The #1 rule for beginners is to look for a board that is appropiate for your height and weight. At 6'-5" and 230lbs, I sink anything less than 10' and feel unstable on anything less than 30" wide. Bigger is better to start. Once you get some water time and gain your sea legs, then you can decide if you're comfortable getting a shorter board.
Types of boards -
6' - 10' - Great for kids, smaller folks, short distances, or experienced surfers. 29"-33" wide.
10'- 12' - Best for your first board, all arounder boards for many uses, tall folks, and first time surfers. 8" to 33" wide.
12-6' - Stock class for racing, and/or an all arounder board for beginners, tall folks, small waves, etc. Comes in a round or pointed nose, planning hull or racing nose/hull. 30-31" wide.
14' - Mostly a faster racing, downwind, and/or touring board, great for longer distances, very stable, also great for tall or larger folks. Comes in a round and pointy nose. Some have tie-downs for gear. Seattle shaper Bobby Arzadon built a 35" wide board for a huge Samoan Seahawk player called the 'Bamboocha'. Most are 27-29" ish wide.
18' - Same as above but even faster! Longer is often faster. Great for long distance racing, downwinders, and touring. Usually 27" wide. Consider a lighter board for easier carrying, lifting on your car, etc. 18' noses tend to be pointed.
Other things to consider -
- Always try before you buy (paddles too). Many come to me after they bought a unstable board, asking what to get next. Is it too heavy to carry? Is it stable? Does it feel slow or fast?
- How are is your carrying distance to the water? Get a lighter board if this is an issue. There are wheels for SUPs and kayaks that can help in long carries. And shoulder strap systems.
- How tall is your car? Do you need help putting the board up?
- What type of paddling do you want to do? Racing, fishing, surfing, rivers, flat water, easy, downwinders, touring, expeditions, not sure?
- Budget? There are plastic boards for $300, epoxy for less than $1k, and hollow carbon boards over $3k. Pros and cons? Plastic is heavier and slower but can takes a beating. Average board is epoxy over foam. Carbon is light but expensive and some boards may not take hits well. Think about what suits you best. A neighbor bought a used Liquid Shredder from me for his kids and summer lake house. It could be used as a raft, fishing platform, multiple kid boat, etc...
Board Design -
Rocker - the hull/bottom curve of the board. More curve is easier to turning or surfing, but will be slower on flat water and harder to keep straight requiring a bigger fin.
Nose - the front. Some are rounded, some are pointy. Pointy makes it easier to paddle upwind, and cut through waves paddling out in surf. Some have surf ski or 'kayak' style noses for more effecient paddling thus faster with less effort.
Tail - the back end. Differnet types of tails - Pin is best for racing; Square is most stable; Fish Tail is great for surfing and turning quicker, etc.
Rails - the sides. Rail design helps determine how a board turns, it's stability, etc. Sharp rails are more stable but turn sharper and will catch current in a river thus flipping you. Pros and cons. Many boards have a pointy nose, rounded rails in the middle and sharp rails in the tail.
Deck - Top. Most sups have a traction pad. Those that don't can be waxed for traction. Boards with short traction pads can be waxed in the non pad areas, a good idea for surfing.
Bottom / Hull -
-Planning hull is flat.
-Displacement is round like a 1/2 circle.
-Some have concave hulls.
-Vee is well, 'v' shaped in the middle of the hull which helps keep the board straight and sometimes helps it turn easier depending on the amount and location of Vee. Too much can make a board tippy.
Note: Some boards will be advertised as a 'displacement hulled'. Few SUPs are true displacement hulls. Some have 'kayak' style noses with a point nose, with vee then flatten out to a planning hull under the feet, then round out in the tail to displacement or planning with sharp rails.
Shaper Steve Boehne of Infinity Surf in Dana Pt, California has a great page on their site that helps to describe which board is for you, Click Here.