June 3, 2017

By Amy Whitley

On a sunny afternoon on the shore of Southern Oregon’s Applegate Lake, I looked up from beneath the shade of my wide-brimmed hat to watch my kids play king of the mountain — on the water.

They gleefully battled for footing on the limited deck space of our two-family paddleboards, crashing into the lake with a splash as often as they managed to scramble above water. Their laughter carried over to the shore, and I thought to myself, not for the first time, those paddleboards were a great investment.

We weren’t so sure when we bought our two inflatable, 12-foot standup paddleboards (or SUPs). Would our family use them a few times and then lose interest? Would they prove unwieldy for our youngest to manage, or boring for our teens? Instead, we found that we used our SUPs all summer long, and into the fall, on both lakes and calm sections of our local river, the Rogue.

I loved touring our local lakes peacefully, getting a solid workout while gliding silently through the water. My kids like playing on them, but also love the adrenaline rush of dropping to their bellies on Class I-II rapids on the river. We brought our portable paddleboards on camping trips and even on a road trip across Eastern Washington to Idaho, where we used them to explore massive Lake Coeur d’Alene. By the time autumn hit, we knew our SUPs had been one of our best family investments in outdoor gear.

Finding a Good Starter SUP

Choose an all-purpose recreational board with a planing hull (the rounded front) instead of a touring or racing SUP (with the pointed front, like a surfboard). Recreational boards are wider and longer, which helps with balance. While not as fast as the more specialized models, they’re far more stable.

You can choose from several board lengths; I recommend a medium length, around 12 feet. Longer boards are best for racing, and shorter boards are best for surfing.

While some boards are made of foam or plastic, we opted for inflatable SUPs with an air core. Quality inflatable boards are lighter and easier to transport, and only take about five minutes to inflate. Once inflated, our friends and family couldn’t tell the difference between our SUPs and the plastic kind — they’re that solid.

Look for a board that includes a removable fin; they make turning easier on lakes and wide rivers. (Just be sure to remove the fin before floating shallow rivers.)

Must-Have Gear Accessories

Paddles are a must, and usually come with your SUP. The paddle should be roughly six inches taller than you. Look for the height-adjustable kind so multiple family members can use it. Kids will also need a personal flotation device (PFD) while paddleboarding.

It’s amazing how far you can travel on a SUP, and kids can find themselves in the middle of a lake in a hurry. In many locations, PFDs for kids are required; we make it a family rule to always wear one.

If you buy an inflatable SUP, you’ll also want an air pump (ours came included). Lastly, make sure you have a bag to store your SUPs in, or a car rack to fit them if they’re not inflatable.

Have fun all summer long!

Amy Whitley is an outdoor travel writer and family travel blogger at Pit Stops for Kids. She lives in Southern Oregon with her husband and three sons.