Best Stand Up Paddle Board of 2020
Related: Best Inflatable Paddle Boards of 2020
Best Overall Rigid SUP
Surftech/prAna Catalyst Tuflite VT
The Surftech Catalyst merits the highest score that we have seen so far, and we chose this model as the best overall SUP. It's one of our all-time favorite boards, offering a perfect combination of speed, stability, and glide performance, all in a sleek and stylish package. This board looks great and feels super light both on and off the water, making it easy to turn and easy to carry.
Unfortunately, all of this performance comes at a price, and the Catalyst is one of the more expensive boards that we have tested. This board also tends to show scuffs and scrapes much more prominently than other boards, so you want to treat it delicately. However, the Catalyst is truly one of the best boards that you can get in terms of performance and we highly recommend it, as long as you can afford the top-dollar price tag and are careful enough to keep it from getting too scratched and scuffed.
Read review: Surftech/prAna Catalyst Tuflite VT
Best on a Tight Budget
Sun Dolphin Seaquest 10
The Sun Dolphin Seaquest should be your first choice if you are looking for a new SUP and are hoping to spend a moderate amount. This plastic stand up paddle board is exceptionally durable and can handle almost anything you throw at it. It is also extremely stable, easily cruising through choppy waters even when you have plenty of cargo or a dog or child on board. It is a fantastic option for a beginner who doesn't want to invest a ton until they get a feel for the sport or for families who want a board that can handle plenty of abuse.
However, the Seaquest is not particularly fast, having some of the worst glide performance of any rigid board we tested. It's as bad, or even worse, than some of the inflatable boards we tested. This board is also exceptionally heavy, which can make it a bit difficult to carry or to load on a car — a task that usually requires a second set of hands due to this board's bulk. Despite these drawbacks, the Sun Dolphin is an outstanding option if you are shopping for a SUP on a skinnier budget.
Read review: Sun Dolphin Seaquest 10
Best for Families and First-Timers
BIC Sport TOUGH-TEC Cross
This SUP almost matched the performance of the Catalyst overall, yet is more budget-friendly. This makes the Cross an excellent option for beginner to intermediate paddlers or families who are willing to make a more significant initial investment in their board and don't want to outgrow it quite as fast. The Cross is more than enough board for tons of paddlers' entire paddling career, combining excellent glide performance, stability, and maneuverability in a relatively affordable and durable package. It can take a beating without showing too much damage and is one of the more stable boards, making it particularly good for novice paddlers or for kids or someone else who doesn't want to have to treat their board too delicately.
While the Cross TOUGH-TEC is a lot of things, lightweight isn't one of them. This SUP weighs significantly more than most of the other boards in the group. It also isn't quite as stylish as some of the boards in the group, but it is one of our favorite boards if you want a good mix of performance at a more budget-friendly price, especially if you want one that can withstand a bit more of a rough & tumble lifestyle than the other boards of the group.
Read review: BIC Sport TOUGH-TEC Cross
Top Inflatable Touring SUP
Red Paddle Co Voyager+ MSL
Most inflatables offer great value, durability, and ease of transport. However, they usually suffer from poor glide performance and quality. The Red Paddle bucks that trend and provides excellent glide performance and quality. While not as efficient as the rigid race-style boards, it's close. Whether you're racing or just want to move more efficiently, this is the best choice.
The only significant downside is the price. You can buy two or three cheaper boards for the same cost as one Red Paddle model. But that's the price of quality, and it's priced about the same as other high-end rigid SUP models.
Read review: Red Paddle Co Voyager+ MSL
Best for Fishing or Big & Tall
Pau Hana Endurance XL
If you are looking for a board that can haul some serious weight around, then look no further than the Pau Hana Endurance XL. This hefty board has a listed maximum payload of over 400 pounds, making it a fantastic option for any big & tall paddlers or anyone who needs a stable way to transport a ton of gear on their SUP. Designed for fishing or endurance paddling trips, this board not only has ample area to store things under its forward cargo net but also has 35 threaded mounting points and multiple through holes to secure things too. Pau Hana makes a full line of accessories that attach to these, including camera mounts or fishing pole holders, or you can always make your own to customize this board to your cargo carrying needs. In addition to being a packhorse, the Endurance XL is also surprisingly speedy with tons of glide once you get it up to speed and is large and stable enough to handle conditions that would instantly capsize other boards.
There is no getting around the fact that it is one of the largest boards we have tested to date. It takes considerably more effort to get up to speed than some of the smaller SUPs and isn't quite as nimble. We will say we were pleasantly surprised that this board wasn't clunkier, but you probably aren't going to be winning any slalom races on the Pau Hana. However, while this board's larger size might be manageable in the water, it's considerably more difficult on land. It can be exceptionally difficult and tiring to carry by yourself and can be almost impossible to load on a tall vehicle if you don't have any assistance. Despite its heft, this board is quite fun on the water and paddles great even when fully loaded for camping, fishing, or a marathon tour and we would recommend this board to anyone using it for those purposes — though it does come at a premium price. However, you just might want to make sure you have a buddy around for the unloading or loading process.
Read review: Pau Hana Endurance XL
Why You Should Trust Us
Our review and testing process for stand up paddle boards is led by Marissa Fox. Marissa is a former competitive snowboarder, PADI Master Scuba Diver Trainer, RYT yoga instructor, and AIDA freediver. She has also traveled the world working for various non-profits and marine conservation projects, such as satellite tagging whale sharks in the Philippines, monitoring Minke Whale behavior in Iceland, and promoting turtle conservation in the Caribbean. When she isn't working as a land-use attorney in Lake Tahoe or traveling, she spends her free time on — or under — the water as much as possible, whether it's stand up paddleboarding, swimming, scuba diving, or snowboarding (frozen water counts, right?).
In total, we logged dozens and dozens of hours on these boards, taking them out in every type of conditions possible — everything from early morning paddles with completely still waters to conditions that were windy and wavy enough that we were repeatedly cautioned not to head out on the water, all to help you find the perfect stand up paddle board. Along the way, we rated and scored the glide performance of each board, looking at both their speed and acceleration, as well as how maneuverable and stable each SUP is. Additionally, we evaluated these boards out of the water, comparing their ease of transport by seeing how much work they are to load up on a car or carry to the water and their durability by how much damage each board sustained throughout the normal course of testing.
Related: How We Tested SUP Boards
Analysis and Test Results
We took all of the results from each of those individual tests and evaluations and divided them into five weighted rating metrics: Glide Performance, Stability, Maneuverability, Ease of Transport, and Durability. Each board received a subscore in each metric, and each metric is weighted proportionally to its overall significance. While we think the weightings are spot-on for an average paddler, you will want to pay particular attention to how each board performs in the metrics that you care most about, such as if you value stability or ease of transport above all else.
Related: Buying Advice for SUP Boards
If you are shopping for a new SUP on a budget, then a couple of boards immediately come to mind: the Sun Dolphin Seaquest 10, and the BIC TOUGH-TEC Cross. The TOUGH-TEC Cross is the most expensive of these three, but it also scored the best overall, only falling just a little bit shy of the top scores of the entire group. This makes it a great option for anyone who is still being budget-conscious when they shop but are willing to spend just a bit more for a board that will last. The Seaquest 10 is the board for anyone who pays attention to price above all and wants the least expensive board possible. It's slow and weighs a ton but is very stable and built to last — just don't plan on paddling anywhere in a hurry or carrying it for very far.
The most important metric in our test — accounting for 35% of the total score — is glide performance. Boards that glide well allow you to travel further and move faster while expending less effort. A board that doesn't glide well will feel slow and sluggish, leaving you struggling to keep up with friends. To evaluate the performance of each board, we ran a time trial and a glide-per-stroke test for each board — both on flat water and in rough conditions.
The Surftech Catalyst and the Boardworks Raven tied for the top score in our glide performance metric, offering fantastic amounts of speed and tons of glider per paddle stroke. Only stand up paddle boards specifically designed for racing will outperform these boards. (We didn't test racing SUPs as they are far less stable and are well outside the budget that most people can tolerate.)
The Raven is a longer touring board and is exceptionally fast — especially on flat water. It can be quite hard to go fast on choppy water with touring boards, as their so-so stability can make it hard to focus on paddling when so much effort is required to stay upright.
These boards also have decent glide per paddle stroke once they are up to speed but are far inferior to the Catalyst when it comes to acceleration.
The Catalyst is a much shorter board than the other three, which means it can't quite compare in terms of outright speed. However, this SUP from Surftech simply feels exceptionally light on the water and has tons of acceleration, letting you get up to maximum speed without a ton of effort. It's a breeze to paddle and we wouldn't hesitate to grab it for longer tours, even though it isn't necessarily marketed as a touring board.
The Pau Hana Endurance XL followed the top performers by just a small margin. It can keep up with those four once it gets up to speed but it takes a long time and a lot of effort to get this board up to cruising speed compared to the other boards, dropping it down a few points. This is completely understandable, given the Pau Hana's heft.
The BIC TOUGH-TEC Cross, the Isle Versa Epoxy, and the Boardworks Kraken all followed. None of these are touring boards but each of these SUPs held their own against the top models, especially given their shorter stature. These three boards all have fairly typical hull designs and get up to speed quickly with a decent glide per paddle stroke but a longer touring board will slowly start to overtake them on longer paddles.
By far the best glide performance of an inflatable came from Red Paddle Co. Most inflatables feel like barges but not the Red Paddle. This SUP does an excellent job of mimicking a high-end rigid touring board — almost to the point that you could forget that you are on an inflatable, but not quite, putting you just behind the Kraken, TOUGH-TEC Cross, and Isle Versa in terms of glide performance.
The remaining boards all scored below average in this metric, to the point where we wouldn't want to grab any of them for a paddling trip that covered more than a mile or two. In particular, the Sun Dolphin Seaquest distinguished itself by being particularly sluggish.
The Sun Dolphin claimed the last place position for this set of tests, being both exceptionally slow and having one of the shortest glides per paddle stroke. This SUP is extraordinarily boat-like and feels like it displaces much more water in the front of the board as you paddle. It's fine, it just feels significantly more like most inflatable boards, rather than a rigid stand up paddle board.
Stability is responsible for 25 percent of the overall score for a good reason. A stable board can make all the difference between an awesome day or an abysmal one. It doesn't matter how well a board glides or how speedy it is if you can't stay on it. We evaluated how each board handled rough water and carried a handful of canines and cargo. We also polled a panel of beginner paddles to rank each board's stability.
Easily claiming the top spot of the entire group, the Sun Dolphin offers extreme stability. This is by far the most stable board we have tested to date, doing an excellent job in rougher or choppy water. However, we did notice that his board can get a little squirrely in river currents and eddies, with one of our testers almost inexplicably getting knocked off this board in the river. It's shaped a bit like a whitewater kayak and offers edges that are easy for currents to grab. On flat water, it's a fantastic option for beginners or entirely new paddlers and is excellent for hauling dogs, kids, or cargo.
Closely following the Seaquest 10, the BIC Ace-Tec Cross Adventure came next in terms of stability. This board is somewhat of a barge, handling choppy water and excessive cargo without any wobbling and instilling a sense of confidence in even the most novice paddler. This board handled having multiple people or small children aboard without any difficulty. This rock-solid board is also perfect for those that want to try their hand at on-the-water yoga.
Following the unshakeable performance of the BIC Cross Adventure and the Seaquest 10, the BIC TOUGH-TEC Cross, the Pau Hana Endurance XL, the Boardworks Kraken, and the Isle Versa all tied for the next position in our stability series of tests.
It's easy to see why the TOUGH-TEC Cross and the Pau Hana Endurance XL are stable boards. They are both giant, with the Endurance XL in particular beginning to resemble something more akin to a boat than a board. We took these boards out in the windiest and waviest conditions we could find and they both handled them with aplomb. These are great options for beginner paddlers and can also handle quite a lot of cargo before you notice an impact on handling.
However, we would give a slight edge to the Endurance XL when it comes to navigating wavy waters, as our testers occasionally took the unplanned swim when paddling the BIC TOUGH-TEC in the same conditions while the Pau Hana was unphased.
The Kraken and the Isle Versa both did surprisingly well in our stability tests, considering they are quite a bit smaller than the top boards in this group of tests.
Both of these stand up paddle boards did excellent in choppy water, handling small wakes and waves with ease. However, this pair of boards were just a little too shaky to relax on in rougher conditions, forcing you to take a more athletic stance and adjust your body position compared to the lackadaisical approach you could take toward waves while on a board like the Endurance XL or the Seaquest 10.
The Kraken did feel slightly more stable than the Isle when loaded up with cargo, most likely due to its massive displacement and weight capacity. The Isle was still more than up to the task of carrying some extra passengers, provided they were on the small side. However, our beginner paddlers slightly favored the Isle — though not by much.
Rounding out the lower portion of the pack, the Raven is a narrow touring board designed to travel fast and glide well. This board does alright in choppy conditions while paddling but feels quite tippy when stationary — and you are essentially doomed to take a dip if a wave or wake comes by if you aren't moving. Slimmer boards also can be very difficult for novice paddlers and don't offer all that much space for loading them up with cooler or other baggage.
The CBC isn't a particularly narrow board but is one of the least stable, with almost all of our testers taking a fall from this board and anyone who wasn't alright with getting dunked refusing to paddle this SUP by the end of our testing.
Comprising 15 percent of the overall score for each board, our Maneuverability metric consisted of two tests: completing a full U-turn and paddling around obstacles, slalom-style. We set up buoys and steered around natural obstacles to determine scores, noting how close you could get at various speeds and still have time to avoid a collision. For the U-turn test, we paddled as fast as possible on one side and shifted our weight to tilt the board, comparing the amount of area it took to do a complete about-face without back-paddling when determining rankings.
Claiming the top spot in our maneuverability metric, the Surftech Catalyst's exceptional agility distinguished itself from the rest of the group. The Catalyst is supremely light on the water and receptive to both paddling and shifting your body weight to turn extremely quickly. This lets you easily avoid most obstacles even if you only see them at the last moment, where other boards would crash into them. This also means that the Catalyst doesn't require a huge amount of space to turn, letting you execute a U-turn in relatively narrow channels and waterways.
A group of boards all tied for the next spot, with the Kraken, Isle Versa Epoxy, the Raven, and the CBC all being just a bit above average when it comes to maneuverability. You can avoid obstacles easily enough on these boards if you see them early enough and they don't take a ton of room to complete a U-turn — except for the Raven. This board does have a rather large turning radius, and you usually need to back-paddle and complete a three-point turn when trying to turn around this SUP in narrower areas.
The remainder of the boards all earned so-so marks for their average maneuverability. They aren't impossible to turn, but you are probably going to hit a submerged obstacle if you don't spot it early enough. The Pau Hana Endurance XL, the BIC Ace-Tec Cross, and the Sun Dolphin Seaquest are particularly slow to turn.
Ease of Transport
Our next two metrics analyzed and assessed the performance of these boards out of the water. Our Ease of Transport metric consisted of four tests and made up 15 percent of the final score. We weighed each model to verify the manufacturer's claims, evaluated the ergonomics of the handle, loaded them on a car, and carried each one over a set distance.
Overall, inflatable boards are easier to move than rigid stand up paddle boards. Period. It's simply no comparison, as inflatable boards can be deflated and fit back into a large backpack, then tossed in the trunk or back of a car. You don't have to worry about strapping down a hard board in a way that your tie-downs won't whistle and is tight enough to keep your SUP firmly attached to your car but isn't so tight that it damages the board or your car. On top of that, inflatable SUPs tend to be much lighter, again making them easier to load.
The California Board Company 10'6" is the easiest to move of the solid boards. It is a soft-top model and is considerably lighter than most of the boards in the group, weighing about half as much as the heaviest SUP we have seen.
The CBC's reduced weight and somewhat forgiving foam design made it easy to carry and load on a car. The handle is the standard recessed type that is common on paddleboards, though it is positioned off the centerline of the board. This can be very convenient for those with a shorter reach, but can also be quite frustrating if you grab the board from the wrong side.
The Kraken is the next easiest to transport. This board weighs about the same and consequently, was relatively easy to load on a car.
Next, the Surftech Catalyst, the Boardworks Raven, and the Isle Versa Epoxy are all about average for a rigid SUP when it comes to moving them to and fro. The Raven is the longest of these three boards, measuring a little over a foot more than the Catalyst or the Versa. All three weigh between 20 and 30 lbs. and are about the same amount of effort to carry around. However, the extra length of the Raven can make it a little more difficult to load on top of a vehicle.
The BIC TOUGH-TEC Cross and the Endurance XL all are just a little bit harder to carry than the average SUP. The Pau Hana Endurance XL is also one of the longest and heaviest boards of the group — hence the XL in the name — making it almost impossible to load on top of a car by yourself. At least, not without adding a few scrapes or dents to the board. You can carry this board around by yourself, but it definitely isn't the most fun. However, the comfortable fore and aft handles make it much easier to carry around with a buddy.
The BIC Sport TOUGH-TEC Cross isn't particularly unwieldy due to its length but it is quite heavy and isn't perfectly balanced. However, this board does earn some points when it comes to loading it on a car, as its construction method makes it much more forgiving when it comes to sliding it around on roof racks — similar to a soft-top board.
The other stand up paddle board from BIC, the Cross Adventure, came next. This board is on the heavier side and is exceptionally cumbersome and unwieldy to move. It usually requires an additional person to load on a car. Being one of the widest boards of the entire group, it's much more difficult for those with a smaller arm span to grab the recessed handle.
Finishing at the back of the group, the Seaquest can be a huge hassle to move around. It is cumbersome at close to 50 lbs. — over double the weight of other boards in the group. Even though it is only 10' in length, its weight makes having additional help carrying or loading it appreciated. Luckily its extreme durability means you can throw it around a bit. Despite its bulk, the handle is relatively ergonomic, and it isn't too bad to carry for very short distances — emphasis on the very short.
Durability accounts for the remaining 10 percent of the score. Because we can't completely speak to the durability of these products after only evaluating a single unit for a few months, we use two different methods to judge them. First, we gave each board a careful examination after all the other testing, noting any scratches, scrapes, scuffs, or other damage it had incurred during our rigorous testing process. Second, we combed through user reviews and forums, noting any commonalities that we found.
In our minds, the Sun Dolphin Seaquest 10 and the BIC TOUGH-TEC Cross are by far the best boards when it comes to durability. While both of these boards sustained some minor wear and tear during our rigorous — and sometimes abusive — testing process, these were all essentially cosmetic injuries. We dragged both of these boards across dirt and sand, even taking them down rivers where they almost continually scraped on branches and other snags. Neither board came out much worse for wear from our rough and tumble treatment, which we are quite confident that none of the other SUPs would have endured without significant damage.
However, we did find that water sometimes made it inside the Seaquest 10 — something backed up by other user reviews. Fortunately, there is a drain plug that can be used to evacuate water from the inside of the board if this becomes problematic.
The TOUGH-TEC Cross only had scrapes and scuffs, as well as a decent abrasion along the front of the skeg. However, we took this board multiple times down a river, bumping into all sorts of submerged rocks, roots, and trees along the way — something we wouldn't have attempted with pretty much any board besides the Seaquest 10.
The Cross Adventure and the CBC followed, each coming out of our tests with less damage than the average board would. The Ace-Tec Cross Adventure is made from exceptionally durable plastic and only displayed a few minor scratches after heavy use. Also, it is very well received by other users, with many reviewers noting how bulletproof this board is. Unfortunately, we had to deduct some points for the fin design.
We found the fin attachment system to be unreliable at best. We're somewhat amazed that we didn't lose it in the course of testing; it fell out a few times but we always recovered it. This would inevitably happen if you owned the board and some modification is necessary to keep the fin firmly attached to the board.
Rating the durability of the CBC is a mixed bag. We found zero damage to this soft foam board at the finale of our testing. However, many user reviews complain about the quality of this board, with the deck fading and the foam easily damaged.
The Isle Versa Epoxy sustained some scratches to the paint on their top decks — with our canine tester taking partial responsibility in both cases. The Raven had a few scrapes, as well as some noticeable pressure dings from being strapped down, even with padding on the car's crossbars and between the straps and the board. Extra care must be taken when transporting this board to prevent any damage. Also, none of these three boards had any overwhelmingly negative commonalities in user reviews or forums, instilling some confidence in our assessment of the boards.
The Kraken, the Catalyst, and the Endurance XL are all about average for a fiberglass composite rigid paddleboard in terms of being resistant to damage, which is to say that they are all fairly fragile. We wouldn't even think about loading up any of these on a car without padding and each of these boards have one or two spots with significant damage that came from a relatively minor event. The Kraken's has a chunk out of the nose from a relatively light tap while carrying it, the Pau Hana has a similar one on the side, and the Catalyst got a solid scratch on the bottom when sliding it around to load it on a car.
We honestly hope that our side-by-side review and expert recommendations have been helpful in your search for a new stand up paddle board and helped you find the perfect product, regardless if you are a beginner shopping on a budget or an expert paddler looking for a high-performance board for your next long-distance paddle.
— Marissa Fox