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After researching over 50 SUP boards, we bought 11 of the best models available for head-to-head testing to help you find the right one. We have over six years of experience in hands-on testing and reviewing paddleboards side-by-side, paddling lakes, rivers, and streams in a wide variety of conditions to rigorously compare performance. We evaluated and compared glide performance, maneuverability, and stability, all in our quest to find out which SUP is truly superior to the rest. Regardless of whether you are looking for a beginner board on a budget or one perfect for a professional paddler, our expert recommendations can help you find the board you need.
The Surftech Catalyst merits the highest score that we have seen so far, so it wasn't hard to award this model the crown of 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. It 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 genuinely one of the best boards that you can get in terms of performance, and we highly recommend it for those who can afford the high price tag and are careful enough to keep it from getting too scratched and scuffed.
Most inflatable SUPs offer great value, durability, and ease of transport compared to their rigid counterparts. However, they usually suffer from poor glide performance and stability. The Bluefin Cruise Carbon bucks that notion, thoroughly impressing us with its top-tier stability and solid glide performance. This SUP has a separate inflatable deck chamber that makes it feel much more like a rigid board, making it more fun to paddle and better for rougher conditions. While not as speedy or efficient as the rigid race-style boards, it's not so far behind that we wouldn’t mind taking it on a longer paddling trip. This SUP is our top choice if you plan on going the inflatable route.
The only notable downside to this board is the price. It is quite a bit more expensive than other inflatable models, in line with most rigid models that outperform it in some metrics. It’s also on the heavier side, weighing almost as much – or even more – than some of the rigid boards. You will have to decide if the extra cost is worth the ease of transport and increased durability against scrapes and scuffs you get with an inflatable model.
If you are searching for an all-around SUP that paddles very well and won’t bust your budget, then we highly recommend the Tahe Beach Performer. This board is one of our favorite options to recommend to families or beginners as it is considerably more durable than some of the fiberglass options and still offers solid paddling performance. It’s nice and stable for those just learning how to paddle and offers good enough glide performance that you can undertake longer tours without it becoming unduly fatiguing. This model fares quite well in rougher waters and is fairly maneuverable.
One slight concern we had with this board is its lower than average recommended weight capacity. This can mean a loss of stability for larger folks or those planning to transport cargo (kids, coolers, canines, etc). This SUP is also a bit on the heavier side, tipping the scales at around 32 pounds. Despite that, we are hard-pressed to find a better budget buy for those wanting the most value in our current lineup.
The FunWater 11 should be your first choice if you are looking for a new SUP that won't shred your budget. This inflatable SUP board is very lightweight and easy to transport and carry, is reasonably easy to inflate, and provides surprisingly solid all-around performance. It also comes at a really great price that makes it easy to venture into the world of paddle boarding without breaking the bank or needing a ton of storeage space. The package includes everything you need to get started, including the board, fins, pump, paddle, leash, and carry bag. The FunWater is appropriately named, providing tons of fun on the water without breaking the bank or your back.
While the FunWater provides adequate performance for beginner paddlers and families compared to its inflatable competitors, it definitely falls short of the performance capabilities of most rigid SUP boards. Inflatable models are typically softer and more flexible than their rigid counterparts. While this makes them less susceptible to typical dings and dents, it also makes them less stable in choppy water, and less capable of slicing and gliding at higher speeds. However, if high-end performance isn't a top priority and you're looking to get out on the water without a big financial commitment, the FunWater is our top choice.
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.
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 the Lake Tahoe are 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?).
Our team has logged 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 and 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.
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.
If you are shopping for a new SUP on the tightest of budgets, then the Sun Dolphin Seaquest 10 would be our top recommendation. This molded plastic board costs a fraction of what some of the fiberglass or other composite models do. However, this board does make some fairly serious concessions in our minds when it comes to actual paddling performance, particularly with glide. If you are willing to spend a bit more, we think the Tahe Beach Performer is the next best option. It costs quite a bit more than the Seaquest 10 but offers much better all-around performance, and still saves you a bit of cash over the other high-end options, all while coming close to matching their performance.
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, all leading to more fun. 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.
The Catalyst is a much shorter board than the Raven, 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. The Endurance XL can keep up 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 hefty size.
The Isle Versa, the Tahe Beach Performer, and the Boardworks Kraken followed behind. These models are more of an all-around design than a dedicated touring board but each of these SUPs held their own against the top models, especially given their shorter stature. These boards 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 SUP came from Red Paddle Co Voyager. Most inflatable models feel like soft barges, but not the Red Paddle Co board. 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 or the Isle Versa in terms of glide performance.
The Bluefin Cruise Carbon doesn’t glide quite as well as the Red Paddle Co Voyager, having a shorter overall length and more of an all-around design. It definitely took more work to paddle this SUP for longer distances but not so much that we would object if we went on a medium-distance paddle.
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.
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.
Following the unshakeable performance of the Seaquest 10, the Pau Hana Endurance XL, the Boardworks Kraken, the Tahe Beach Performer, and the Isle Versa all tied for the next position in our stability series of tests.
It's easy to see why the Pau Hana Endurance XL is a stable SUP. This giant board is almost more akin to a boat than a board. We took this paddle board out in the windiest and waviest conditions we could find, and it easily handled just about everything we tossed its way. It's a fantastic option for beginner paddlers and can also carry a significant amount of baggage before you notice any toll on handleability.
The Kraken, Tahe Beach Perfomer, 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.
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 in really rough 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 considerably more stable than the Isle Versa and Tahe when loaded up with cargo, most likely due to its larger displacement and weight capacity. The Versa has a relatively lower maximum weight capacity than many of the other SUPs, so it can definitely start to feel a bit tippy if loaded up close to that limit.
The Tahe Beach Performer has an even lower stated maximum weight limit, exacerbating the stability problem if loaded with gear or a larger paddler. All in all, we would suggest going for another option over the Isle Versa or the Tahe if you plan on hauling a bunch of weight.
When it comes to stability, we generally found the inflatables to be inferior compared to their rigid counterparts. However, it is worth mentioning that we are quite impressed with the stability of the Bluefin Cruise Carbon. This SUP features a separate inflatable deck chamber that drastically improves the stability in our opinion and it can almost match some of the rigid boards in rougher conditions.
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 made it stand apart from the rest of the group. It 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, so you can execute a U-turn in relatively narrow channels and waterways.
A group of boards all tied for the next spot, with the Kraken, the Isle Versa, the Malibu Classic, the Tahe Beach Performer, the Bluefin Cruise Carbon, and the Raven 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 most don't take a ton of room to complete a U-turn, with the exception of the Raven and the Bluefin. Both of these SUPs have a rather large turning radius, meaning you might need to frequently back-paddle and complete a three-point turn when trying to turn around this SUP in narrower areas.
Ease of Transport
Our next set of tests rated and ranked how much work it is to get these boards to the water — a prerequisite to most paddling trips. We based our scores on the measured weight of each paddle board, then looked at how comfortable the handle(s) are on each board. After that, we carried each board over land for a short distance and looked at the difficulty of loading each SUP on — or in — different styles of vehicles.
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. This put the Red Paddle Co Voyager, the Bluefin Cruise Carbon, and the Funwater at the top of the rankings in this regard.
We found the Kraken and the Versa to be the easiest to transport of the solid boards. They're some of the lighter options, making them much easier to load on a car. This pair of SUPs both sport pop-out handles, which can make it a little easier to maneuver a board into a truck or on roof racks.
Next, the Surftech Catalyst, the Boardworks Raven, the Tahe Beach Performer, and the Malibu Classic 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 Malibu. The Catalyst and the Raven both weigh between 20 and 30 pounds 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 Malibu Classic and the Tahe Beach Performer are a little chunkier at 31 and 32 pounds, respectively. Fortunately, these SUPs are on the shorter side, so they aren’t unduly difficult to load up on a car or carry.
The Endurance XL is just a bit harder to get to and from the water than the average SUP in our minds. It's 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.
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. 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. We also combed through user reviews and forums, noting any commonalities that we found.
In our minds, the Sun Dolphin Seaquest 10 is easily the best board when it comes to durability. While it sustained some minor wear and tear during our rigorous — and sometimes abusive — testing process, these were all essentially cosmetic injuries. We dragged the Sun Dolphin across dirt and sand, even taking them down rivers where they almost continually scraped on branches and other snags. It survived this rough and tumble treatment with ease, while we are sure we would have practically destroyed some of the other SUPs if subjected to the same abuse.
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 inflatable boards are all very durable in our minds, up to a point of course. They held up very well to rough abuse, shaking off scrapes, scuffs, and drops much better than their solid competitors. However, there is the obvious issue of them deflating if you somehow manage to puncture them.
The Malibu Classic and the Tahe Beach Performer are next on our list when it comes to durability. These plastic-covered boards did show some cosmetic scrapes and scratches but held up quite well to our none-too-gentle treatment. We did manage to tear the deck pad on the Tahe a small amount running it over a sharp point on roof racks, so you will want to pay extra care to prevent this.
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.
The Versa suffered some fairly noticeable scrapes and scuffs but no major damage from transport or collision.
We bought all the best stand up paddle boards and tested them head-to-head to help you find the perfect new paddle board. We hope this has been a helpful and comprehensive comparison of the top products, whether you are searching for a budget model for a beginner or a top-tier product for a high-performance paddler.
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GearLab is founded on the principle of honest, objective, reviews. Our experts test thousands of products each year using thoughtful test plans that bring out key performance differences between competing products. And, to assure complete independence, we buy all the products we test ourselves. No cherry-picked units sent by manufacturers. No sponsored content. No ads. Just real, honest, side-by-side testing and comparison.