Surfing introduced a distinct style and attitude to American culture thanks to the Beach Boys and 1962's Surfin' Safari. The next big change on the waves came in 2000. Hawai'in surfers had used outrigger paddles to get beyond the breakers for generations, but with the reintroduction of the longboard-paddle combination by Laird Hamilton and others, the paddleboard category was born.
You don't need surf to enjoy a Stand Up Paddleboard (SUP), and in fact on calm water it takes very little time to get the hang of paddling out of your seat.
The equipment is simple:
Board - SUP boards for flat water average about 12 feet long and 31 inches wide, and 4.5 inches thick, which will support a rider up to 250 pounds. Waveriding boards are closer to traditional surfboard dimensions. They may be made of foam, plastic, or wood, and usually incorporate all three. Smaller or more experienced paddlers may opt for less board, or go big for a smoother, better tracking ride.
Paddle - Very similar to a racing canoe paddle with an angled blade for steering and control, the shaft lengths run from 60 to 86 inches with a relatively small blade size and shape. Since the board has a shallow draft, you won't need much surface area to move fast.
You should find a local shop with a demonstration program to allow you to get on the board and find out where you are comfortable - more board or less? Features to look for:
Fin size - longer fins will straighten the tracking and possibly increase speed, at the cost of maneuverability.
Deck material - 'Softtop' models are exactly that, with neoprene or similar material providing grip and cushion underfoot, but it may affect your maneuverability on the board itself.
Rocker - Flat water boards will have little or no rocker, surfriders need more.
Rails - The edge of the board may be built up or thinned out. Higher rails are more stable, lower turn better.
SUP Paddle selection will be based primarily on rider height - your paddle should be 4 to 6 inches taller than you are. Adjustable paddles are great for figuring out your preferred size or for sharing, but a fixed-length shaft will be much lighter.
Whatever your decision, keep in mind that the value of quality will remain long after the satisfaction of savings fades.