Size—as in, your weight—matters when it comes to buying SUP boards. If you weigh less than 180 pounds and plan to paddle mostly flat water, but want a board tough enough to take on waves—a great board for you is the C4 Parmenter/Kealuana 10-6 Classic ($1,634; c4waterman.com). The stable, steady 10'6"-long, 28.5"-wide Classic has a double-wall TEC (thermal epoxy compression) construction, which makes it plenty strong to withstand waves when you want to take it to the next level. The Classic has a flat deck and bottom, but also a progressive rocker and a rounded diamond tail, so you feel stable starting out, but won't feel stodgy with this board once you start riding big waves.
Surftech's Pearson Arrow 11' Laird ($1,790; surftech.com) is an inch wider and a little thicker than the C4 above, but it's also a great board to grow into: You can paddle long distances in flat water, but it also turns well, making for a smooth transition to trickier paddling in the surf.
If you're landlocked like me, consider C4's iSUP 10-6 ATB ($1,125). Made from almost indestructible rubber, including the fins, this all-terrain 10'6"-long, 30"-wide inflatable board—popular with river paddlers—comes rolled in a travel bag with a hand pump that's easy to operate solo. Weighing a mere 22 pounds, the board is so light and maneuverable that you don't need a car rack or a burly companion to help you haul it from car to water.
You won't get very far on any board without a paddle, so you might want to add the C4 Stand Up HD Fiberglass Kahui paddle ($240) to your virtual checkout cart. With an easy-to-grip oval shaft, an ample eight-inch blade, and a fierce-looking tattoo design, you'll look, if not feel, like a pro. One last thing: When you finally get out on the water, always gaze out at the horizon rather than down at your board.