Whether you're looking to drop down the face of a wave or just cruise on open water, skip the soft board and learn standup paddleboarding (SUP) on one that performs. There are two types boards: Surf-style boards, which are shaped like oversized longboards, are wide and flat, and feature a rounded nose and tail. These SUPs are built for stability, not speed. With this type, you can cruise flat water and slow-moving rivers, and even paddle into face waves.
If you're looking to paddle longer distances smoothly and quickly, then opt for a long-distance board instead. Also known as displacement-hull boards, these longer, sleeker SUPs slice through water and are designed for touring, fitness paddling, and racing. Here's a group of SUPs that won't let you down out on the water.
Bic Sport 11'4" ACS
Most sub-$900 SUPs suck, but this surf-style Bic is a welcome exception. At 32 inches wide and 4.5 inches thick, it's plenty stable for beginners. It handled admirably on a four-hour cruise with a 200-pound tester and his dog. With a sturdy polyethylene outer shell, this SUP is durable, but you pay for that toughness with extra weight. At a bulky 41 pounds, you won't want to carry it very far. The heft does lend the Bic a bit more glide than a lighter board, though. [$850; rei.com]