Stand Up Paddleboards – What is a SUP?

Paddleboard, known as the stand-up paddleboard (SUP), is sporting and leisure equipment, a vessel that’s designed to be propelled on the waterline by a single-bladed paddle. Paddling is mainly done on the paddleboard while standing at the center part of the board, while beginner paddlers like to kneel on the board.

SUP = Stand-Up Paddleboard

SUP = Stand-Up Paddleboarding

SUPs = Stand-Up Paddle Boards

Origins.

It is believed that the history of stand-up paddling dates back to 1,000BC (3,000 years ago) in Peru, where the fisherman used Caballitos de Totora, made out of reed, for fishing.

caballitos des totora

The modern stand-up paddleboard was re-introduced in 1930s Hawaii and was later popularized in the US, California in the 1990s. By 2004, SUP surfing was added as a category in the Buffalo Big Board Contest.

Market

Paddleboarding is a steadily growing market all around the world that attracts people from all kinds of backgrounds. There is an estimate of 4 million stand-up paddleboarders in the US as of 2022.

paddling statistics united states
Resource – Statista

Board use.
The main purpose of paddleboarding is leisure & flat-water paddling, touring, fishing, racing, and also whitewater paddleboarding, SUP surfing, and more.

Types of Paddleboards SUP

 

 

 

Board Construction & Features

Although the boards might look alike, each paddling discipline has its own set of features that are best suited for a certain activity. For example – fishing SUPs have rod holders, yoga SUPs are wider than average boards, touring SUPs have a wide deck for extra stability and for increased load capacity, etc.

Shape

Round or narrow.

The shape of the paddleboard resembles a surfboard, but on a slightly larger scale. While the average surfboard ranges from 6′ to 7′, a stand-up paddleboard is usually 10′ – 12′ long.

Bottom

Flat vs concave.

Paddleboards have often a flat or a concave bottom with a slight rocker and lifted nose. Racing or long & narrow boards have a V-shaped bottom, while the flat bottom is found on most leisure boards.

 

Rocker

Flat or curved.

Whitewater paddleboards have a noticeable bottom rocker that runs all the way from the tail to the nose for increased stability. Leisure boards have a small rocker on the nose area, slightly smaller from the surf SUPs to prevent the nose from nosediving.

 

Fins

Single, twin, thruster, or a quad-fin setup.

Paddleboard fins are generally long and deep for open oceans paddling, or short and shallow for whitewater and all-around paddling.

The number of fins is usually 3 – a larger single fin, and two built-in side biters. You’ll see two large twin-fin setups along with a quad-fin setup.

sup fins
1 and 3-fin set-ups are the most common on paddleboards.

 

 

 


What is an inflatable paddleboard?

ISUP is an ultra-compact paddleboard, packed in the size of a large backpack when deflated. Inflatable paddleboards are meant to be inflated to their recommended pressure before paddling. What might come as a surprise for many is that inflatable paddle boards are only about 5% slower on the water than their rigid counterparts, and many can’t tell the difference between a hard and inflatable SUP.

solid vs inflatable sup
Read moreHard SUP vs Inflatable SUP

 

Speed


What’s the average paddleboarding speed?

The speed of paddleboarding is often relevant only among racing and fitness boards.

  • Average 3.5 – 4.5 miles per hour (5.5 – 6.5km/h)
  • Racing 5 – 7 miles (8 – 11km/h)

A paddleboard’s length and width determine the speed in the waterline. Longer & thinner boards are capable of higher speeds, while wider boards offer extra stability and shorter boards have better maneuverability. As all the other disciplines are designed for fun or relaxed cruising, these boards have no special features regards increased speed.

 

Distance


How far can you paddle on a SUP?

An average paddleboard session is around 5-15 miles long that takes around 1-2 hours.

 

Board shape


Paddleboards can be categorized into two main designs – round and pointy.

Round-shaped paddleboards are generally smoother to turn, while SUPs with a pointed nose are more performance-orientated, or to cut through the wave. Paddleboards with a round contour offer better stability which is preferred by recreational paddlers.

portable sup solo 10'10"
inflatable SUP

 

SUP Sizes


A regular paddleboard is around 10’5″ long and 32″ wide and 4.5″ to 6″ thick with a maximum load capacity of up to 300lbs. The board lengths vary anything from 6′ tall river surf SUPs to 22′ multi-person racing boards. Wider boards are used among fishing, yoga, multi-person and touring boards.

 

Paddleboard Types


There are currently 13 main types of paddleboards – all-around, yoga, touring, fishing, racing, surfing, tandem, kayak/SUP, multi-person, whitewater, and kids SUPs. There’s also the stand-up pedalboard and a modular (folding) paddleboard which are not as common.

Types of Paddleboards SUP
Read more13 Types of Paddle Boards

 

 

 

Activities / Use


SUPs can be used for all kinds of activities, for racing, cruising, fishing, adventure, ocean wave surfing, downriver, whitewater surfing, family, fun & adventure, practicing yoga, and much more.

aqua marina 4 person SUP for racing
Multi-person race board

 

 

 

Materials / Construction


Inflatable & hard SUPS

The majority of paddleboards available in 2022 are inflatable (blow-up paddleboards) that are made of durable PVC. Polyvinyl chloride is the world’s third-most widely produced synthetic polymer of plastic.

Epoxy boards are the most popular among solid SUPs, followed by fiberglass boards. While all beginner surfing boards are made of soft-top (foam), it’s not as common among stand-up paddleboards.

  • PVC – Fin boxes, fins, paddles, coil leash.
  • Epoxy – Blanks, glassing.
  • Fiberglass – Blanks, resins, cloth.
  • Carbon – stringer, paddles.
  • Wood – Wooden stringer, usually made of Balsa wood.
  • Foam – EVA deck pad, a traction pad.

 

 

 

Sizes


The majority of paddleboarders use a 3 or a 4-piece paddle, while advanced paddlers get a 1 or a 2-piece paddle once they know their preference.

Paddles are generally made out of fiberglass, carbon, or plastic. Wooden paddles are not as common but can still be made by custom order.

paddleboard size chart
Read moreSUP Size Guide by Types

 

 

 

Paddles


The majority of paddleboarders use a 3- or a 4-piece paddle, while advanced paddlers get a 1- or a 2-piece paddle once they know their preference.

Paddles are generally made out of fiberglass, carbon, or plastic. Wooden paddles are not as common but still made by custom order.

sup paddle materials
Read moreSUP Paddle Guide

 

 

FAQ


What is SUP?

SUP stands for Stand-Up Paddleboard which is a vessel that is designed to be propelled on the water with a help of a singe-bladed paddle while standing up or kneeling on the SUP board. The act of propelling on the water with a board is called paddleboarding, also known as SUPing.

 

What does SUP mean paddleboarding?

Paddleboarding is an activity of standing up or kneeling on the board, where the paddler is moving forward on the water with a paddle. Paddleboarding is a popular sporting and leisure activity due to its low-resistant workout, calm surroundings, and a wide variety of different boards available.

 

Who is a paddleboarder?

A SUPer (which is not really a term) is a stand-up paddleboarder who is using the paddleboard on the water.

 

How many different SUP boards are there?

There are about 13 main types of stand-up paddleboards on the market, varying by their size, and purposed field of use. Although they might look pretty similar, each of the boards shares its unique set of features, suitable for the specific discipline.

 

What are SUP boards made out of?

There are only about 3 main SUP constructions, while the total number of materials is around 6. The most popular material used is; Epoxy, Inflatable PVC, and Fiberglass. In a very small minority, maybe less than 5% in total number, are the wooden paddle boards, soft-top paddleboards (foam), and also reclaimed plastic on some modular SUPs

 

How durable are paddle boards?

New epoxy paddleboards have a very dense foam that in case of small direct damage, the water wouldn’t emerge inside the foam core. That means, epoxy SUP boards are ultra-durable and lightweight.

 

How are paddle boards made?

The epoxy SUP paddleboard-making process consists of cutting the EPS blank in shape, installation of fin plugs, leash plug, and air vent, painting the core, lamination (with fiberglass cloth), and then adding another layer of epoxy resin. After that, boards get a good polish and are left to cure.

  • EPS blank is cut into shape
  • Board is sanded to its shape.
  • Fin plug(s), leash plug, and air vent are cut installed.
  • Core gets painted.
  • Fiberglass cloth + epoxy resin.
  • Polishing.
  • Curing.

 


 

Read next – SUP vs Canoe vs Kayak

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About the author

Ermo J

I created Nulltuul to share my experience, knowledge, and analysis with other surf enthusiasts out there. If I'm not surfing on my travels, I like to photograph waves, surfers, and the surf lifestyle in general.

Nick Felice

Hey! My name is Nick and writing is my passion and have been writing for over 20 years. The material I write ranges from screenplays to blogs to copywriting, just to name a few.

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