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After researching over 50 SUP (Stand Up Paddle) boards, we bought 8 of the best SUPs available today to help you find the right one. We have over five years of experience in hands-on testing and reviewing paddleboards head-to-head, 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.
If you're looking for other gear or accessories to complete your kit, our paddling reviews will help outfit you for your next day on the water. We've tested and rated everything from critical essentials like SUP paddles and kayak paddles to key accessories like dry bags and PFDs. And while you're at it, don't forget to protect yourself from the sun with a men's or women's sun shirt and a sun hat.
Editor's Note: This review was updated on April 21, 2022 to provide more information on our gear reviews to help you find the best products for your day on the water.
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.
While it isn't the least expensive SUP out there, the Isle Versa Rigid offers a good balance of price and performance. This board is easy to paddle and glides quite well without making too many sacrifices when it comes to stability. It's easy to carry and durable enough to handle some minor abuses without issues.
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). Fortunately, they do make a longer length with more displacement if you are concerned about that. All in all, we recommend this board to anyone looking for a SUP that performs well in most conditions but who can't afford the top-dollar models.
The Sun Dolphin Seaquest should be your first choice if you are looking for a new SUP that won't shred your budget. 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, and it has some of the worst glide performance of any rigid board we tested. It's as bad as some of the inflatable boards we tested. This board is also exceptionally heavy, making it a bit difficult to carry or load on a car — a task that usually requires a second set of hands due to its bulk. Despite these drawbacks, the Sun Dolphin is an outstanding option if you are shopping for a SUP on a skinnier budget.
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 build quality. The Red Paddle Co Voyager bucks that trend and provides excellent glide performance and quality. While not as speedy or efficient as the rigid race-style boards, it's close. Whether you're racing or just want to move faster and more efficiently, this is the best choice that we've tested in an inflatable board.
The only significant downside to this board is the price. You can buy two or three cheaper boards for the same cost as one Red Paddle Co model. But that's the price of quality, and it's priced about the same as other high-end rigid SUP models.
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 Isle Versa 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 hgih-end options.
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.
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 and followed the top performers by just a small margin. The Endurance XL 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 Isle Versa and the Boardworks Kraken followed behind. Neither of these is a 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. Most inflatables feel like 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 Pau Hana Malibu Classic did about average in the glide performance tests. Its design stacks the cards against it a bit in this metric, with its shorter relative length and rounder nose, but did quite well despite that. It gets up to speed without too much effort and moves a decent amount of distance per paddle stroke but it would definitely be considerably more fatiguing to paddle for longer distances than a touring-specific SUP.
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, 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 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 considerably more stable than the Isle when loaded up with cargo, most likely due to its massive 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. All in all, we would suggest sizing up this board or going for another option if you plan on hauling a bunch of weight.
We found the Pau Hana Malibu Classic to be slightly above average when it comes to stability overall. If the water is calm, we love how rock-solid this board feels. It's plenty wide for beginners and novice paddlers. We actually think it's one of the more stable options — even with cargo — on flat water. However, this all changed with waves. The round nose seems to slap its way through waves rather than slicing through them, which makes for a jarring ride. The board usually won't tip on you, but the abrupt motion can lead to some unexpected dunks.
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, Isle Versa, Malibu Classic, 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. It has 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 Pau Hana Malibu Classic also feels like it fights you a bit if you are leaning into a turn to try and make it turn a little tighter, preferring to remain flat on the water.
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.
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, 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 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 Malibu Classic is a little chunkier at 31 pounds but is on the shorter side, so it isn'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 Malibu Classic is next on our list when it comes to durability. This VFT covered board did show some cosmetic scrapes and scratches but held up quite well to our none too gentle treatment.
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 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.