When Kari and I first met, we were working at REI. Working for the largest outdoor retailer in the US had many perks, as you may imagine. About five or six years ago, a big perk fell out of it's packaging during shipping and landed in my lap.
Standup paddle boarding was relatively new to the East Coast, so the East Coast REI distribution center hadn't quite figured out how to properly package the boards for shipping to the stores. During the summer of either 2011 or 2012, I can't remember, almost every board shipped to our store arrived damaged.
Sometimes the customer was ok with the damage and would accept a few bucks knocked off the price. Other times they wanted a pristine board delivered to them without any damage. The guy that ordered a Surftech 11'6" Bamboozle was a member of the latter group of customers. He was not willing to accept the board with a small ding on the rail and missing fins. As I would have been as well, had I paid full price for the board.
The board sat in the warehouse for a few months until the store had their famous Garage Sale. If you aren't an REI member, you should be (not a paid endorsement!). The Garage Sale happens at every store at least once a year.
What is the Garage Sale!? The story of the REI Garage Sale begins with REI's now defunct return policy. It used to be that any item you purchased from REI could be returned, no questions asked, for the life you owned the item! As you can imagine, there were numerous returns. When the warehouse fills up, the store hosts a Garage Sale.
Some returns are worn out, or broken; even after twenty years of honorable service to REI members taking advantage of a good situation (members that eventually ruined it for all of us by causing the demise of the lifetime return). Most of the time these items are thrown away or recycled before going to the Garage Sale. But most items are just returned because they were in less-than-perfect condition, or simply not wanted for various reasons. Our joke was that some people thought REI stood for Rental Equipment Incorporated.
The Bamboozle was in the Garage Sale, and I was working that day. I think retail on the board was around $1500. When I took lunch it was still available. Management had marked it down to $1,000. I knew their bottom price would be ~$600, so I asked if I could have it for that. I was told to wait one more hour to give REI members a chance at it. One hour later, I had purchased my first SUP!
I had a prodeal through REI with several surf companies, so I was able to order all three fins (more on fins and board style later when I give up the secret for buying an SUP) for less than $50. I squished some epoxy into the ding, then proceeded to add very many more dings over the last five or six years.
The board is big and heavy, but it's stable, easy to paddle, and fun. It has been on just about every sailing trip I've taken. I've lost count of the number of people that tried paddling for the first time on this board, including me. Kari fell in love with the sport while sailing with me and playing on the board while at anchor. So this year, it was finally time to get her a board of her own.
I've learned so much about paddle boarding in the last few years, that I thought I knew exactly what I wanted to get for her first board. She needed something lightweight that she could load and unload on her own, yet stable enough for her beginner abilities. Based on these needs, we settled on the BOTE 10'6" Flood. Check it out here. It weighs 28 pounds and has a paddler weight capacity of 230 pounds.
Those are excellent stats for a beginner board! So we bought it, and promptly hated it. Not because it's a bad board! But because it wasn't nearly as stable as the 11'6" Bamboozle we had both become used to, even though the weight capacity, width, and rail size are all similar (the most notable difference is the Bamboozle is 1' longer. Remember this!). Eventually, I got used to the smaller board and fell in love with it. It was fast, maneuverable, and challenged my skills.
But we learned an expensive lesson. Kari had no intentions of learning to paddle all over again. She wanted a board that she was comfortable on from the first moment she set foot on it. That is a very reasonable request for a $1200 purchase (not including paddle and pfd). Luckily, we purchased the board at REI. Although they no longer allow lifetime returns, they still offer a one year return policy. They took the board back, no questions asked (although they did check it for damage first. And we were returning it very lightly used with all the original manuals and parts, including the bottle opener that comes with every board. I even washed it for good measure.). Unfortunately, they did not carry the Bote 12' HD that we decided to get her.
We purchased the second, and final, board at Annapolis Canoe and Kayak. They let us try out a few different boards before we settled on a purchase. We did not have the car with us that day with the roof rack, so they held the board and graciously loaded it for Kari when she came almost a week later to pick it up.
Our take-away from this purchase was to disregard the manufacturers specs almost entirely. The details that I had always sold boards on had failed us, miserably. Looking at weight capacity may work if you are willing to practice, or are already very good at paddle boarding, in case the manufacturer tends to inflate that number. Weight capacity is arbitrary, and no two manufacturers calculate it in the same manner. Use this number as a guide and NOT as a hard and fast rule!
So here it is! My secret to picking your first SUP:
Choose the biggest board with the highest weight capacity that you are willing to lift on top of your car and shell out your hard earned cash for. That's it! No matter what the shop tells you, nothing else matters. Rail size, weight, rocker, weight capacity, fin configuration...The list goes on forever, and is totally useless to beginners and most non-pros. Don't try to memorize all the details. This is a recipe to go into a shop and not purchase a board because you're afraid you forgot some little detail that you'll hate yourself over just after the return policy expires. Boards are expensive, but do your best not to research this purchase to the point of freaking yourself out.
What about surf, flatwater, river, etc.? Don't worry yourself too much over these details. You will scare yourself out of purchasing a board! Besides, life is too short for just one board. Pick one, then get a more specific one next year. But, here is a handy guide:
If you live at the beach and want to surf, get a surf-style board. They look like a big surfboard, like my Bamboozle. Which also does fine in flatwater, rough water, and deep rivers.
Live near a river with lots of rocks? You may want to consider an inflatable. Inflatables are awesome, by the way. They are in no way like a pool floatie. You know that's what you are thinking! Your favorite SUP shop will almost certainly have one inflated on the floor. Go stand on it and be amazed!
Paddling mostly on a large body of water that is relatively flat with maybe the occasional boat wake, or you want to race; or you want to surf occasionally; or yoga? Get any Bote Board, or some other racing/touring board. Annapolis Canoe and Kayak carry several to choose from.
If you are in Virginia, do yourself a favor and make the trip to Appomattox River Company!
Don't over complicate your first board! Remember to get the biggest board that you are willing to lift onto your car that you are also willing to pay for.
You've reached the end of your research. Go do it!
We want to hear from you! Please leave your own buying tips that have worked for you and your preferred spelling in the comments!
P.S. I still don't know how to spell it. Manufacturers and shops are spelling it "standup," "stand up," "paddleboard," and, "paddle board." I spell it "stand up paddle board" because I don't like the red squiggles under misspelled words. Keep in mind the abbreviation is "SUP," not "SUPB," or "SP," or any other variation. Maybe that will settle it? SUP = Stand Up Paddleboard?
This article does NOT contain any paid endorsements. We've linked to shops and boards that we have personal experience with and are happy with. This is not an endorsement from us, and they certainly don't endorse us. So please don't tell them we mentioned them on our website. :)
We are an adventurous couple exploring the Chesapeake Bay by boat, paddle board, jet ski, and whatever other means necessary!
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