First let’s start with how NOT to buy a board:
One: If you want to take up standup paddleboarding, do not go into a surf shop, or even a paddleboard shop, and buy the prettiest board there. Oh, you will want to. Believe me. And when you spend a whole lot of time paddling, you spend a lot of time looking at your board, and it is nice to have a pretty one. I found this out when I got my Bark. (P.S. this is NOT my garage. My garage is further down. Steve Capps, former owner of my Bark, will cry when he sees my garage.) I might not be able to paddle fast for SHEET, but I get TONS of compliments on my board. It is really pretty. I also love purple, and if I were to pick a color, it would be this. However, the main reason I love this board is it helps me go fast enough to keep up with my friends. And that’s all I really wanted! To not be so far behind that I was literally in a different zip code when we went on group paddles. “Oh! You’re down there in 28409. I’m still up here in 28408. Let’s meet back at the bar!. . . In about two hours!”
Remember, though. We’re not talking about pretty boards! We’re talking about useful boards.
Two: Do NOT buy the cheapest board you can find if it costs more than $300. You can buy a board at Costco. At this point, you can probably buy one at the pawn shop. Heck, soon, you might be able to buy one of my boards at the pawn shop. (We’ll get to that later). When you’ve gotten hooked by the paddle bug, and if you have any money at all, or generous credit, the first thing you want to do is go out and get a board. You’re like a fly to honey. Anything sweet will catch your eye. You just want to be on the water. Before you give money to anyone, TRY THE BOARD. These things are expensive. Ideally, you want a board that will last you for more than three months. (Although, that can be difficult to find because you’ll get better so fast.) Don’t let anyone make you take a board you haven’t demoed. If they want to sell you this $1,750 board, they’d better hold your credit card and let you take it out for a few hours. [UPDATE: Apparently, most shops won’t let you take out a new board. I can understand that. SO, the next best thing is to try some of their demo boards (they probably have some close to the board you’d buy) and/or go to demo days and races where you can hop on other people’s boards. PLEASE TRY TO TRY SOMETHING CLOSE BEFORE YOU BUY!!] The reason you don’t want the cheapest, crappiest board you can afford, either, is that you’ll get better really fast, then you’ll be bored, then you’ll want a new board, and then your garage will start to look like mine: (Tangent: One time, I opened the door from the kitchen to the garage, and my friend was looking over my shoulder and she said “So THAT’S your secret!”)
Don’t Try This at Home
None of the stuff in this garage is cheap, but I’d like to offload some of it. Except John’s board. I’m never giving it back. The way you’ll end up with a whole lot of boards if you buy something cheap and not suited for you (or expensive and not suited for you) is that you’ll buy something new before you sell the something old (or new, but old to you), and then you’ll have seventeen boards and you’ll be broke and you’ll be using them to make a shelter on that abandoned piece of land off the highway and eating weeds. (But weeds are super healthy!)
How To Buy a Board
First of all, rent boards for a while. If you can rent for between $20-$50 and get your sea legs under you, by the time you’re done renting, you can skip the “beginner” boards altogether, and get something faster, or surfier, or whatever you need. If you rent, you can also try different boards. Next, go to demo days where you can try lots of boards. If your community has races (fun or for points) go to those and try some boards. Then read board reviews online. Read LOTS of reviews. LAST, go to your local shop and see what they have in stock. If you’ve done your homework, you should be able to tell them if you want a board that surfs, or goes fast in flat water, or is ideal for paddling through marshes and creeks, or if you need one that goes down rivers without putting you on your head on the rocks. The more you know, the less likely you are to be sold a bill of goods. If you see some boards you like, ask to try a demo or a board that is similar. It is not a very good idea to buy a new board without trying something like the one you’re planning to buy.
Does an All-Around Board Exist?
The short answer is no. That is how I now have three paddleboards sitting in my garage. I have a fast flatwater race board. I am borrowing a downwinder-surf board. I have my big fat Big Easy for taking friends out. When you’re starting out, it doesn’t matter as much if a board isn’t very versatile, but if you get heavy into surfing or heavy into racing, you’ll want boards that are specifically built for those activities. If you are really REALLY just going to paddle around with friends, there are some good boards that can also venture into the ocean. But, before you spend a lot to get one, spend a little to rent. At our local shop, for $100, you can rent five times for an hour each. That’s enough to try some different boards and get better.
I’m in Love with Ron House
I gotta tell you, though, if I were to pick one board to buy–just one–I’d probably get this Ron House board I’m borrowing. It is really stable, takes downwind like a champ, isn’t too shabby on flat water, catches waves, and seems pretty tough. I’ll probably change my mind tomorrow.