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. :)
This article was posted on our original site in the fall of 2017. The original comments did not carry over. :(
It can be done!
It feels like it's been a lifetime since we've owned a boat. Counting back from the day I think we sold Rhumb Line, it's been roughly ten months. But, the boat sat on the hard for the last seven months we owned her, leaving us closer to a year and a half without the freedom of cruising the Chesapeake Bay on our own. On the other hand, some could easily say we have been unshackled from the burden of the cost of boat ownership, thus saving thousands in the past ten months. To us, money is of no concern when it comes to having our own boat that affords us the thrill of exploring the bay all on our own!
To me, the scariest burden of owning a boat has always been the threat of sinking. Following very closely behind sinking; an engine suddenly falling silent in a busy, narrow channel. Rhumb Line, at 40 years old, kept these two fears at the front of my mind any time we were out of a boat hook's reach of the dock. Two things eased my worrying mind enough to take the chance of leaving the safety of the dock: BoatUS membership, and having the Sea Doo in tow behind us.
At 130 horsepower, the Sea Doo is powerful enough to tow just about any boat on the water. I once towed a 40ish foot sailboat that had run aground in the West River. The Sea Doo struggled to get the big boat off the bottom, but it did it. The tow to the fuel pier was uneventful from there. Imagine what the bigger personal water craft (PWC) out there can do with as much as 300 horsepower!
In addition to being a great tow vehicle if...ahem...when needed, the jet ski comes in handy in many other situations. For one, sometimes sailing gets boring. Especially cruising. You are at the mercy of the weather, wind, and tide, and if they aren't lining up for you, 30 miles on the Chesapeake Bay can take ten hours to cover. Might as well take turns doing 60 mile per hour circles around the sailboat!
Secondly, a PWC can reach distances most powerboats can't match in as short an amount of time. Want to run up to Vera's on the Patuxent River from Solomon's Island for an orange crush at the tiki bar? That trip could take hours on a sailboat, but only a matter of minutes on the wave runner.
And just like a tender or dinghy, the Sea Doo is great for tooling around ports and harbors. Just remember to enjoy sunset back at the boat, because in the US you can't ride a PWC after sunset. And ALWAYS wear your life jacket while riding, no matter what! Not only is it the law, it just makes sense. You don't want to look like you don't have any sense, do you?
It's worth noting that PWC's aren't designed to be towed at planing speed. In the case of our Sea Doo, we aren't supposed to tow over about 13 mph. There are ways to safely tow at planing speeds on faster boats. See our YouTube video (below) on this topic for more information! And please leave a comment about your adventures on the Chesapeake Bay.
Would a PWC be nice to have along, or would it get in your way?
When Kari and I were first dating, I was living mostly on my 27' Hunter, Rhumb Line. For some reason, this did not deter her. The boat leaked from every crack and crevice anytime it rained anywhere within a 50 mile radius of our location. Sleeping was a combination of freezing our asses off, sweating so badly it was best to sleep in swim trunks, and being water boarded by rainwater pouring in through closed hatches.
I thought it would be a good idea to move to Maryland when Kari's father said he had a 36' Silverton Express laying in a boatyard that he wasn't using. There's more to this story, obviously, but let's keep it interesting and short. I spent the better part of July, 2014 cleaning the boat up and getting her ready to go back in the water. Six zincs and two bug bombs later, she was in the water and being towed to her new home at Shipwright Harbor in Deale, MD.
Yep. Towed. Although this boat was cleaner, dryer, cooler, and warmer (cooler and warmer when it counted) than Rhumb Line, it didn't run. I guess you can't have it all.
In states with four true seasons, like Maryland and Virginia, the marinas turn the water off on the docks around Labor Day. It comes on again around Memorial Day, depending on freezing weather. So all winter, we made wonderful memories walking to the marina showers on frozen docks, returning with frozen hair, including my beard. It wasn't too unlike being in the Coast Guard in Alaska, again.
We both got a little sick of making these memories and dreamed of home ownership. For reasons that make no sense at all to me now, I wanted a yard to mow and garden in. That desire is so dumb to me once a week during the summer, now.
All summer this year we spent most of our time at the marina, even though we don't even own a boat right now. It seems like we were only coming home to walk the dogs. Both of us decided we want to move back onto a boat.
Wellll...Let's not get ahead of ourselves! Now we are approaching winter here near the end of fall. We are both thankful for the house and all it's insulation. Perhaps the boat could be our summer home!
But don't just take our word for it (sorry Levar Burton and Reading Rainbow). Check out our friends at Life's a Port for loads of great information on living aboard!
Spacious boat living
Winter on the chesapeake bay
We are an adventurous couple exploring the Chesapeake Bay by boat, paddle board, jet ski, and whatever other means necessary!
Friends Of chessie
For the best in Chesapeake Bay liveaboard lifestyle and reviews on boating products, visit our good friends at Lifesaport (hint: say it out loud).