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Paddle Boards 2021 guide for beginners: 9 best stand-up paddle boards tried and tested by experts

The health benefits of paddle boarding are immense! You get a full body workout, and it gives you a sense of wellbeing that’s unbeatable

Katherine Robinson

Have you ever thought about giving SUP – stand up paddle boarding – a try? As well as giving you a whole body workout it gives you a tremendous feeling of wellbeing and personal satisfaction after being on the water.

We called on the help of paddle boarding expert, Michael Robinson, who's based in Durham, to give us the lowdown. What follows is his guide to paddle boarding for beginners, written by him...

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As someone who has been a big fan of the sport since 2008 I can confirm that paddle boarding one of the best activities you can get into.

You can now put a huge 10-14 foot board in the boot of your car and travel to any water-based destination – and it’s something you can do all year round if you have the right gear.

This is definitely a sport you will want to share with friends and family and it's great for kids – I've recently got my daughters aged 11 and seven into it. The feeling of mindfulness and losing yourself and becoming one with the water as you focus on balance and technique is addictive, whatever your age or ability.

You do however need to be aware of your own limitations and confidence in different types of water and taking lessons with a reputable instructor is highly recommended.

I tried and tested a range of boards, so do keep reading for my top picks…

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What to look for when you're buying a paddle board?

If you're just starting out, you'll want a board that gives good stability in order to learn the basics. You want something with good width between 32 and 34 inches as well as 10 foot 6 to 12 foot 6 in length. It’s all in relation to your own body size and weight and heavier riders will also benefit from a nice thick board offering lots of volume ( between 5 and 6 inches).

Smaller riders will probably want a slightly smaller board and could drop to a thinner thickness ( between 4.75 and 5 inches) You will be surprised at how quickly you can progress if you put time and practice in on the water - as well as improving fitness you will gain better balance and a more confident stroke technique.

As you gain confidence in your ability you may want to progress with doing longer distances and want to go faster. The less width and longer the board, the faster you will go. Start with a good all-round board to gain your confidence in relation to your body size and consider upgrading if you find your passion grow for the sport.

Quality boards tend to hold their price when selling second hand if you look after them and you will have a better idea of what kind of paddler you want to become.

It's always worth trying out as many boards as possible before choosing the right one that feels right for your ability. You can do this by taking some initial lessons or by hiring boards.

This will also give you an idea what you want to get out paddle boarding- touring and exploring on flat water, surfing in small waves, racing, having fun with the family at the beach or lakes…. If you become addicted to the sport you will find that you may want a range of boards for different situations.

Paddle board expert Gary Willingham from fantastic SUP-focused UK retailer Sup Inflatables has this top tip: "Find a local or online SUP specific retailer. They are gods of SUP and will help you choose something great in your budget."

As for what to avoid when buying a paddle board online, he says:  "Don't buy a brand that has a kayak seat on, talks about Military Grade drop stitch,  offers free stuff, has a warranty that's so long you fall asleep reading it or a board that is on sale."

Best entry-level budget stand up paddle board for beginners


AquaMarina iSUP fusion 10'10, £429, Amazon


Length: 10-10

Width: 32"

Thickness: 6"

Weight: 8.6kg

This popular budget board has proved reliable as a starter board for entry level fun. It's lightweight and the grab handle is in just the right place for carrying it into the water. The three piece paddle fits in the bag easily and once connect together feels solid. The board comes with everything you need to get started, including a robust hand pump with decent grips and a release plus that makes the pump two or one way action – you can use it to suck the air out, making it very easy to pack away.


Best deluxe paddle board for beginners


Red Paddle Co Compact 9' 6’" package, £1,299, Red Paddle Co


Length: 9 foot-6

Width: 32"

Thickness: 4.7" / 120mm

Board Weight: 7.4kg

This is a great all round, amazing quality board from Red - an exclusively ISUP (Inflatable stand up paddle board) brand that were the first to revolutionise the market compatible model. When the board is rolled up and stored in its bag it is half the size of all other ISUPS. It's great on flat water and on the sea with small waves. It comes with a high quality carry bag and a Titan pump - the best pump on the market, Pumps are an overlooked item and having a good quality one makes such a difference. Due to its size the board is great for kids as well as adults. It's one of the lightest ISUP boards on the market (due to fantastic build quality) making it easy for children as well as smaller adults to pick up and carry to the water. The 5 piece paddle which comes with the board - which also fits very cleverly in the bag for storage - is also very good quality and can be adjusted for children to use as well as the whole family. It's so easy to transport and is great to just keep in the car and get in the water after work. I've even travelled with it on my back when cycling.

This is one of the more pricey ISUPS but the quality of these boards is second to none, plus the customer service and after sales care are fantastic.

Best deluxe paddle board for heavier beginners who struggle with balance


11 Feet Red Compact Package, £1349, Red Paddle Co


Length: 11 Feet

Width: 32"

Thickness: 4.75"

Weight: 8.4kg

Heavier or larger riders would be best choosing the 11foot version rather than the smaller 9-6. This is their second addition to the Compact family, the 11'0 Compact is a full-sized touring SUP that also packs down to half the size of a conventional inflatable paddle board and comes with the same premium qualities with the best pump on the market and the paddle and leash all fitting perfectly within a bag that is half the size as other boards of equal size.


Best Paddle Board for fishing


Bluefin Sup Voyage 10'10 Package, £699, Amazon


Length: 10-8

Width: 32"

Thickness: 6"

A heavier and stable beginner board that can carry a lot of weight. A strong well-built board that comes with a 5 year warranty, which is a nice touch considering other well-known brands normally offer 3 years. This board is a great one for anyone who wants to go fishing with their board. It has a sturdy cooler box which attaches to the board, which features a back rest for increased comfort for long hours on the water. There's also two built in mounts allowing you to connect the included fishing rod holders to the board


Best affordable paddle Board for intermediate riders/ beginners with good balance


Hurley Advantage 10, £499, Amazon


Length: 10 feet

Width: 30"

Thickness: 6"

Weight: 9.5kg

Surf-based brand Hurley's cool boards feature stylish graphics which are sure to get noticed when you take them out on the water. Slightly smaller in width for those with better balance which will suit those beginners who are wanting to progress further. The board is also quite light which will be good for lighter riders to carry to the water.


Best paddle board for all sizes and riding with kids on front


Beginners inflatable touring paddleboard 11feet, £349.99, Decathalon


This brightly coloured board – which also comes in blue if yellow's not your thing - is suitable for all size riders and can cope with kids and small adults on front due to its thickness and stability. It's good for cruising and having fun with the family and is easy to get back into its bag at the end of the ride. It's one of the cheaper boards on the market but note, it doesn’t come with a paddle and pump like most of the other packages.

Length: 11 Feet

Width: 32"

Thickness: 6"

Weight: 10.5kg


Best paddle board that can be shared by the whole family


Red 10-6 Ride SUP Inflatable, £899, Red Paddle co


Length: 10-6

Width: 32"

Thickness: 4.75"

Weight 9.95kg

If you're looking for a board that could be used by the whole family that can be trusted for high quality and safety then the 10-6 Ride is a great choice. It’s perfect for every rider, big or small, to enjoy the water. As is the case with all Red boards, the quality is top notch and their design features have been developed and updated each year to deliver a quality overall package, from the board itself to the bag it is stored in.


Best beginners paddle board for ocean riders


10-6 x 32 Allround Shark SUP, £525, Sup Inflatables


Length: 10'6"

Width: 32"

Thickness: 5"

Weight: 8.6kg

This is a great board for beginners which is great on oceans and rivers. There is a bit more of a rocker in the front of the board which helps to move through choppy waters. It also copes well with having a small child or dog on the front of the board on flat water. The width makes it very stable for beginners who are totally new to being on the water. The quality of the board makes it feel very rigid and strong - allowing you to just get out and have fun on the water. The bag that the board comes with is well thought out with lots of space for the board pump and paddle to fit into. It was lots of fun in the sea testing on very small waves and also was great getting onto rivers for short tours- I managed it well with small child on the front of the board too.


Best beginners paddle board for rivers and lakes


10-6 x 32 Gladiator Pro, £485, Sup Inflatables


Length: 10-6"

Width: 32"

Thickness: 4.75"

Weight: 8.9kg

A great board for beginners that was is slightly thinner than other models we tested but when pumped up to a high pressure feels very stable and rigid. It manages well with a small child on the front of the board on flat water. This is an amazing quality board for its price range – and although the bag and pump are not on par with the top end of the market versions they're still very reliable and the board itself was made to a high standard and felt safe and rigid in the water. This board proved great for touring on rivers and lakes – it feels lower in the water which makes it feel more stable. Heavier beginner riders may struggle a bit more, however, and would probably benefit from a longer or thicker board.

Essential paddleboard kit


dryrobe, £150, Amazon


Being on the water, whether sea, lake or river, will inevitably involve you spending a lot of time being out in the elements- getting the most enjoyment, mindfulness and fun out of these situations is a lot easier if you have the right clothing.

We tested one of the long sleeve dryrobes during our paddle sessions which proved to be such a great addition to the whole experience of keeping cosy and warm before and after. On the sea it offered the ability to get changed into and out of wetsuits before and after the sessions and on river and lake it proved to be an item you just wanted to put on and keep cosy and comfortable in while waiting to get on the water or after each session when cooling down and chatting as the sun went down. 

The change in temperatures when out by water does change quite dramatically if you are out all day and I can't stress how useful this robe is for someone who spends a lot of time outdoors- it's something I will use not just for SUP experiences but is so useful for all manner of outdoor activities. It's a really well-designed item with such attention to detail and quality. The inner lining, oversized pockets, quality zips and waterproof outer lining just make you want to spend time outdoors and in no rush to return home no matter what the weather. Even on hot days when you are doing an early start or for when the sun goes down it's the perfect addition.

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