How to choose the right Stand Up Paddleboard (SUP) for you

By Fraser, LOOKB4 Advocate

When I bought my first SUP, LOOKB4 didn’t exist, so I did what everyone does…

I started off by finding the cheapest option. Then I looked into what the difference was between that and a more expensive model. Then I started to search for writeups and reviews, which were hard to find from anyone except manufacturers.

Ultimately, I went to many different shops, eventually being upsold and buying a SUP three times more expensive than the one I had started out looking at.

Now, this wasn’t a disaster… I got a great SUP first time round, but it was luck more than judgment. It was a much faster process when I bought my second SUP, but I didn’t like it as much in the end.

I’ve learnt a lot from these two buying experiences, and I wanted to share some tips so you don’t have to make the same mistakes.

I was not a competent SUPer – if that’s the right word? I fell off a lot… but enjoyed it. Because of that though, I wanted something stable more than I wanted something fast.

Rigid or inflatable?

The first choice to make is inflatable or rigid. Basically, you want to consider a rigid SUP if: you are a surfer, you are looking to surf or race a SUP, and you have plenty of storage space. Otherwise; if you’re looking for comfort, stability, easy storage or portability; get an inflatable.

I went with the latter: inflatable. They also come in several different shapes, but for general use, a rounder nose is fine. The pointier the nose, the faster it is through the water (but also harder to steer).

Price points?

Inflatable SUPs start at around $400 and go up to around $2,000. The main differences you’re paying for are in durability and load capacity. The expensive SUPs have heat-welded joints with thicker skins made of better materials. This means two things. Firstly, they’re less likely to puncture; secondly, they can be inflated to a higher PSI and hold more air. This second point is really important…

What about load capacity?

The litres of air a SUP can hold is directly proportional to the load it can carry, at a factor of 2 to 1. If a SUP can take 300 litres of air, it can carry a load of up to 150 kilograms. I’m not a small man at around 110kgs, so I wanted something that I felt could easily take my weight. And maybe another person at the same time.

The SUP I bought first time round was an NSP Allrounder F5. It can take 305 litres of air, pumped up to 18PSI. It’s 10 feet 6 inches long and came with a decent pump, good carry bag and carbon fiber paddle – which is rare.

It was around $1,300, which was a lot more than I planned to spend, but in hindsight it was worth every penny.

Any surprises found after use?

There are a few key things that make this SUP so good, and I was only aware of some of them (like its quality construction) at the time of purchase. It’s nice to be surprised in a good way after an expensive purchase, isn’t it?

  1. The fin is detachable. The steering fin on the bottom comes off, very easily. This means you can have multiple fins for different conditions and, when you pump it up, it sits easily on the ground until you flip it over and click in the fin.
  2. The ankle tie is elasticated. While it’s still long, it sits out of the way and doesn’t drag in the water, get caught on things, or make you trip over it.

The NSP is very deep, so it does sit quite high in the water, but it’s still very stable and very comfortable. My wife and I have been on it together, at a total of 180kgs, and it was fine.

It takes about 15 minutes to pump up by hand, which is quite hard work on your own, but you can always cheat and get an electric pump for around $100 to $150.

In short, I’ve never had an issue or complaint with this SUP.

What about the other SUP?

The second SUP I bought was a RED. The main reason for this was their reputation. When I bought the NSP, the shop also sold REDs but they were too expensive. They’re also the brand most good watersports venues hire out.

I didn’t really look into them that much… I thought, if they were better than what I had, and what I had was great, it was a no brainer. Not so much.

Firstly, the RED SUP has fixed dual fins. I thought dual fins would help it track better, and they do a bit.

My RED is shallower than the NSP, so it’s good in shallow water and reeds (lakes etc.), but it’s a big pain in another way…

Any worrying discoveries?

As with the NSP, the port to pump it up is on the top (but, as mentioned, the fins aren’t detachable), so you have to lie the RED on its fins to pump it up. By the time you’ve finished, they’ve gone out of shape!

The first time it happened I freaked out, but some quick Googling taught me this is OK; I just need to pour boiling water on them and reshape them each time… It works, but compared to the detachable fin on the NSP, it’s rubbish.

The ankle leash on the RED is also not elasticated. It’s very long, drags in the water, gets in the way, and really just screams lazy design. Not a fan.

What you do get with the RED is a dual chamber pump compared to the single chamber pump of the NSP. It’s much better and faster to inflate.

Did it meet your needs?

The RED is 10 foot 8 inches and takes 297 litres of air, so it has a larger surface area with slightly less air. This means it sits a bit lower in the water, which makes it feel slightly more stable, and maybe slightly quicker, but both gains are really negligible; and no one buys an inflatable SUP to race.

It comes in a better bag that has wheels as well as carry straps, which would make it better for holidays, but the bag and pump being of better quality is offset by a really cheap paddle.

The carbon fiber paddle on the NSP is exceptional. The plastic RED paddle is so bad you need to replace it. It literally rattles. So while the RED wins on bag and pump, are these the things you want to prioritise? They aren’t for me. Having the superior paddle and fin on the NSP far outweighs what the RED has to offer me.

Storage tips?

I leave both SUPs fully inflated in the garage most of the time as I now live near the water. You need to give them a quick air top up once a month, but you’re all set after only a minute or so of pumping.

They’re quick to deflate, and both are easy enough to carry as backpacks. If you were going for a short holiday, you could easily pack your travel stuff around the SUPs and take them as your travel bags.

Final verdict?

I hope this helps. Both are good SUPs, but for me, the lesser-known underdog NSP has it.

If I’d been able to speak to people on LOOKB4 about their firsthand experiences with various SUPs first, I think I would have bought two NSPs and avoided any post-purchase regrets.

That’s where I think this app will really help. For me, it’s not so much about stopping people making a bad purchase as much as it is helping them find their ideal product fit. Something that will bring hours of joy on the water hopefully for years to come.

Maybe I’ll see you in an Advocate call soon!

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