In less than a decade, SUPing has gone from a fringe pastime of Hawaiian watermen to one of the nation’s fastest-growing sports.
SIC Bullet 14 V.2 SCC
We quickly developed a go-to test route with the 14-foot-long Bullet ($2,799): launch into a windblown waterway for a 45-minute upwind sprint to a nearby barrier island. Without fail, the board sliced through chop effortlessly and showed best-in-class acceleration and glide. Once we reached shore, we’d shoulder the carbon-fiber Bullet (it weighs a meager 27.5 pounds) for a quick jog across the narrow island and a downwind run on the ocean side, sometimes even surfing the beach break. It rides swells smoothly and predictably, thanks to surfboardlike rails and a slightly upturned nose and tail. The versatility and speed come with a hefty price tag, but they’re worth it. Few SUPs are this capable—and fun—on both flatwater and ocean. 14'
Surftech B-1 Flowmaster
BEST FOR: Day touring.
THE TEST: The Flowmaster ($1,900, left) stands out as a superb flatwater paddling craft. At almost 32 inches wide, with a recessed deck that lowers your center of gravity, it’s hugely stable. It also tracks like a board that’s a foot longer. The displacement bow pushes some water and doesn’t excel in chop, but those are acceptable tradeoffs for an incredibly user-friendly board that tolerates a wide range of conditions. It’s made with an impact-resistant plastic-fiberglass blend that bumps the weight up to 36 pounds but also makes it nearly dingproof—and a good choice for navigating rocky streams.
THE VERDICT: A well-rounded touring machine. Just don’t expect to win any races. 11'6"
BEST FOR: Surfing.
THE TEST: SUPs built for riding waves keep getting shorter. But if you’re not a veteran surfer, boards under ten feet can be too small and tippy to be fun. Which is why we love the Kraken ($1,300, center). At a whopping 34 inches wide and 4.75 inches thick, this SUP is plenty stable while you stand in the lineup waiting for waves. A couple of testers enjoyed the maneuverability afforded by surfing the Kraken as a quad-fin, but most preferred the down-the-line cruising feel of a single.
THE VERDICT: Paddle out, drop in. 9'9" and 10'3"
NRS Earl 6
BEST FOR: Travel; the garage and closet-space challenged.
THE TEST: Paddling an inflatable SUP can feel like balancing on a waterbed. The Earl 6 ($1,195), in contrast, inflates to an ultra-rigid 15 psi, so it can perform almost like a hard board. It also weighs just 22 pounds—five pounds less than typical hard boards. The Earl 6 (so named because it’s six inches thick) is surprisingly fast, if slightly tippy, probably because it rides so high on the water. The board is sold as part of a package that includes a backpack carry bag and the high-volume, hand-operated K-Pump, which is the fastest and easiest we’ve ever used (seven minutes to fill the Earl 6).
THE VERDICT: A standout in the inflatable category. 10'6"
C4 Waterman Muñoz Mongoose
BEST FOR: Overnight touring and fitness paddling.
THE TEST: Smooth curves, soft lines. The Mongoose ($1,720, left) just has that look—you can tell it’s going to be fast and easy to paddle. And it is. Designed by legendary surfer and shaper Mickey Muñoz, the Mongoose has a slippery-fast, belly-shaped bottom that provides excellent acceleration and maneuverability—it spins on a dime. Of course, that’s a double-edged sword: one of our testers complained of poor tracking, especially in windy conditions. But the board’s speed is matched by an impressive amount of stability and float, making it a high-performing cruiser.
THE VERDICT: An exceptional pairing of comfort and speed. 12'6"
Riviera Select Series Soft Top
BEST FOR: Beginners.
THE TEST: A soft-top foam board is ideal for newbies—you won’t ding it if you bang it into rocks (or car doors), and it won’t ding you if it hits you in a wipeout. Problem is, most foamies eventually absorb water and slowly lose their float and performance. Not the Soft Top ($950, center). While the surface is pliable EVA foam, the core is an impermeable epoxy-fiberglass blend. Even better, it’s armored with carbon-fiber rail wraps. At 32 inches wide and 4.5 inches thick, the Soft Top will inspire confidence in most beginners, whether they’re paddling or surfing, though it might feel squirrelly to riders weighing more than 230 pounds.
THE VERDICT: Durability you can afford. A great, versatile board to learn on. 10'6"
Bic Cross SUP Platinum
BEST FOR: Fitness paddling or just tooling around.
THE TEST: We threw a forty-something beginner on the Cross SUP ($1,249, right), and she was immediately stoked on how stable and easy it was to paddle. Not a huge surprise, given that it’s a stout 33 inches wide and nearly five inches thick. The board, a design marriage of last year’s Gear of the Year–winning Bic Wing and a conventional surf-style SUP, yields a surprising amount of glide for such a short, wide board. And the wall-to-wall deck pad is the most comfortable we’ve ever tried—soft and cushy, like a yoga mat.
THE VERDICT: Have a vision of cruising with your dog or kid on the bow? This board’s for you, bud. 10'