Paddleboarding, in its modern incarnation, is only about ten years old. But in people years, that’s more like 26. My point: SUP is maturing. It has graduated from college, fallen in and out of love, landed and quit a couple of jobs. Recently, there’s been consolidation in the industry, with some manufacturers disappearing. You can find lots of SUPs on Craigslist. Meanwhile, innovation hasn’t slowed. Touring and racing boards are getting sleeker; surf-minded SUPs are getting shorter and wider. Designers continue to focus less on the sport’s wave-riding roots and more on day touring, fitness, and weekend racing—and our picks for the best new boards for 2015 reflect that attitude. Change is good.
There are faster, prettier SUPs out there, but the Saber ($1,199) is by far the year’s most well-rounded. Read the full Gear of the Year review.
Hobie EVA-Lution 11
Best For: Newbies.
The Test: It wasn’t so long ago that all SUPs looked like oversize surfboards. The EVA-Lution ($1,199) carries on that legacy, but with good reason: the 31.5-inch-wide, five-inch-thick shape is ideal for tentative beginners and is as happy cruising on a glassy lake as it is surfing mellow waves. The EVA deck is padded nearly from nose to tail, providing lots of traction and a softer landing during wipeouts, as well as a suitable platform for yoga. Made from a foam core with bamboo, epoxy, and fiberglass-laminate overlays, the Hobie is supremely durable and, at just 25 pounds, impressively lightweight.
The Verdict: An affordable all-arounder and a perfect first SUP. 11'; hobie.com
Earth SUP Biscayne
Best For: Day touring.
The Test: You could hang the Biscayne ($2,200) on your wall as art, but there’s purpose behind the beauty. To create a more eco-friendly board, Earth SUP tweaked the usual foam and fiberglass sandwich construction by adding fast-growing paulownia wood covered with flax-fiber cloth (plus some fiberglass). Instead of an EVA-foam deck pad on top there’s cork, which made the Biscayne the most comfortable SUP our feet have ever touched. At 28 pounds, the board is relatively lightweight, and it has a distinctively quick and slippery feel on the water. It turns beautifully, though beginners will find it a little tippy. If in doubt, choose the wider 29-inch model.
The Verdict: Sleek and sexy, in an earthy kinda way. 12'6"; supearth.com
SIC F-14 Wide-Glide
Best For: Sprinting comfortably.
The Test: This board borrows the superfast rocker shape of last year’s SIC Bullet 14 V.2 SCC—a svelte racer and the 2014 Gear of the Year winner—but boosts width to a nicely confidence--inspiring 30 inches and thickness to just over six inches to create a SUP that’s exceedingly user-friendly without sacrificing acceleration and glide. While it's perfect for day touring and fitness paddling, the F-14 ($2,399) is also a good choice for downwind runs. If you want to paddle fast but you’re not a racer (yet), this is your board.
The Verdict: An almost flawless SUP—and priced as such. 14'; sicmaui.com
Best For: Taking overseas.
The Test: Inflatable SUPs have gone from floppy, flaccid messes to bona fide alternatives to hard boards for travelers or the storage challenged. Like other elite members of the new school, the Adventurer ($1,295) can be inflated to a rock-solid 15 psi, gaining remarkable rigidity and a surprising amount of glide. “As smooth as a classic longboard,” said one tester. Unlike its peers, the 30.5-inch-wide, six-inch-thick Adventurer is designed for serious journeys, with stainless- steel D-rings that make it easy to rig up the nose for hauling gear on an overnighter. Bonus: interchangeable fins let you customize the configuration to match water conditions.
The Verdict: Impressively stout and mission-ready. 12'6"; nrs.com
Boardworks Infinity Phoenix
Best For: Surfing.
The Test: Most serious SUP surfers are now riding sub-nine-foot models that look like oversize shortboards. Though they’re highly maneuverable, balancing on them while you stand in the lineup waiting for waves can be tough. At 32 inches wide, the 8.5-foot Phoenix ($1,199) takes a moderate approach: testers found it only slightly unstable until they got the hang of it. And as soon as they dropped into a wave, the Phoenix absolutely flew. Credit the extra-wide tail and mini-Simmons-style fins.
The Verdict: Plenty of get-up-and-go. So go surf! 7'6", 8', and 8'6"; boardworkssurf.com
C4 Waterman Raptor
Best For: Anything you (and your friends) dare to paddle.
The Test: At 14 feet long, 60 inches wide, and eight inches thick, the Raptor’s ($2,999) footprint approaches a Subaru Outback’s, but deflated it’ll fit in your trunk. Topped off at ten psi (suggestion: get an electric compressor), the Raptor is ready for—well, what can you dream up? We had a hoot paddling it in flatwater with two big kids and surfed chest-high waves with three adults. Piloting the Raptor requires teamwork, but we’ve never had this much fun on a SUP.
The Verdict: Totally ridiculous and absolutely awesome. 14'; c4waterman.com