We bought all of the best rigid and inflatable stand up paddleboards and put them through a rigorous series of side-by-side tests to rank their performance. We spent hours and hours testing, paddling each board on both calm and rough water. We conducted time trials and maneuvered through a slalom course. We also tested the how easy it was to move and transport the boards, as well as their durability and stability. The following sections detail our testing process in each of our five rating metrics. For more information on the performance of individual products, take a look at our comprehensive review here, or check out our buying advice article for more background information on these products in general and how to pick the best fit for your needs.
Our first metric — Glide Performance — made up 30 percent of the total score. The first test involved counting how many paddle strokes it took to cover a preset distance on flat water with each board. We tested this in a small, protected lake on a calm, clear day.
Our tester was paddling at a medium intensity and rested sufficiently between trials, so fatigue did not affect the results. The second test was a timed test on a measured course with each board. Our lead tester once again paddled at medium intensity and rested sufficiently between trials to prevent fatigue. We conducted two trials with each board and averaged the results to minimize variability. The final test for glide performance was identical to the second but in rough water.
This test was performed on a much larger lake in windy conditions, causing small waves and overall much more turbulent conditions.
Our Stability metric ranked on par with Glide Performance, also accounting for 30 percent of the overall score. Once again, we conducted a trio of tests to ascertain which boards were the most stable and which ones would dump us in the water at the smallest wave — something we learned much to our chagrin.
The first test was rough water handling. We had a panel of moderate to experienced paddlers take out the boards in rough and windy conditions and provide their opinions. The panel took all of the boards out on the same day and cycled through them, to get the best side-by-side comparison possible. Conditions were rough enough that more than one tester ended up taking an unexpected dip due to a surprise wave, wake, or gust of wind.
The second test was to see how the boards handled when there was more than a solo paddler on board. Our testers took out the boards with both canine and toddler passengers, rating their stability. Thankfully, all of the boards were stable enough that no one ended up in the water inadvertently.
Next, we had a few beginner paddlers — first time on a board to less than three prior times paddling — take out the boards and give us their opinions. Finally, we had a person who was experienced with yoga attempt to do some basic poses on the boards that were advertised as being suitable for yoga and got their opinion.
We didn't factor this into the overall scores, as performing yoga on some of the racing and surfing boards would have led to catastrophic yet comical results. We did note our opinions in the individual reviews for these boards.
To assess the maneuverability of each board, we conducted two separate tests and recorded the general opinions of our testers over the course of all our testing sessions. The first test was a slalom course. We set up a reasonably difficult slalom course, and our lead tester took each board through the course and back as fast as she could, allowing sufficient time to rest between trials to reduce fatigue.
The second test in this metric was completing a 180° U-Turn with each board in our small testing lake, attempting to complete the entire turn without back-paddling. The range of performance in this test was comically wide, with some boards abruptly turning without issue, while other boards forced us to abort the test as the boards were about to hit the shore. We scored based on the paddler's opinion, the observable results, and the GPS track of each board using the Strava app on an iPhone.
Ease of Transport
To find out how easy, or hard, each board is to transport we weighed each, noted the ergonomics of the handle, rated the ease of carrying them on land, and examined the difficulty in loading the boards on a car. We had a variety of people move and transport these boards — a diverse range of ages, gender, and sizes. As our custom, we weighed the boards ourselves and scored based on our measured weight, rather than take the manufacturers' claims at face value. Lighter boards scored higher. Heavier boards lost points.
We tested ease of carrying and ergonomics throughout testing, as we moved these boards around a lot. However, we did lift each board and carry it over a short distance at the end of the test, to better compare them side-by-side and confirm our prior opinions.
Finally, we put each board on top of a car, one after another, to evaluate how easy they were to transport by automobile. We used a Subaru Outback with Yakima Racks as our testing vehicle. Small cars without racks or much taller cars would be more problematic. The car we used was a good middle-of-the-road option.
This final metric evaluated the durability of these boards. To evaluate this, we looked at two things: common issues in user reviews and the post-testing condition of each board. While we were as careful as possible, we conducted extensive testing over a short period, moving tons of boards back and forth — likely much more than most users would.
In all honesty, this probably caused more scuffs, scrapes, and scratches than most people would incur but proved to be useful for rating these products. We gave each board a thorough examination at the conclusion of our testing, noting any damage and awarding points correspondingly. We also combed through the — albeit limited — user reviews of these products to look for common issues. Comprising the last component of this metric, we compared the included warranty for each product, awarding more points to the more comprehensive ones.
Hopefully, this gives you a better understanding of what we did and why we did it. If you are interested in how specific boards stacked up, take a glance at our comprehensive review here, or check out our buying advice guide where we break down what to look for and why when shopping for a new board.