Paddle Board for Beginners

About five months ago, my best friend and I each purchased an inflatable, standup paddleboard (iSUP) so we could get some fun exercise in while socially distancing amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. It was also meant as a way to bond with our children, and not long after, many friends joined in with boards of their own. Their favorite was the Runwave Kohala that also proved quite popular around the harbor we paddled at. In this review, I take a look at what makes it an excellent beginner board. It had also been marked a “Best Seller” by Amazon.com a couple times.

The typical rental fee for a SUP in our area runs for $30/person for two hours. So, doing the math for an inflatable SUP at $300, that would equate to 10 rentals for up to 20 hours of use. It made sense for us to purchase one instead to save in the long run. I, personally, own and prefer the DvSport Sunshine, but the benefits of the Runwave Kohala for beginner and recreational use cannot be ignored. There are differences between both boards that this review will go over.

What makes the Runwave Kohala a great beginner paddle board? Are epoxy (solid) SUPs more durable than inflatable ones? As it turns out, no. But before we get into that, let’s first start with the different types of iSUP constructions as each affects their durability, stability, and cost. Knowing which one to choose can be quite confusing.

Paddle boarding with friends and family

Inflatable Paddle Board Construction

Single Layer

DvSport Drop Stitch /DvSport

Consists of a single layer of construction.

  • Lowest price
  • Lightweight
  • Lowest maximum supported rider weight
  • Not as durable
  • Flexes a bit

Dual Layer: Glued

DvSport Dual Layer with 5″ Side

Original construction method that combines two single layers.

  • Pricier than single layer
  • Heavier
  • More durable
  • Stiffer, increasing stability
  • Good performance

Dual Layer: Laminated

Latest, dual layer technology that improves over the glued, dual layer construction method.

  • Higher price
  • Lightweight, but heavier than both single-layer and glued dual-layer
  • Higher maximum supported rider weight
  • More durable
  • Stiffer, increasing stability
  • Better performance

The Runwave Kohala iSUP uses the single layer construction technique.

Paddling with my son /Dam Vu Nguyen

Who is Runwave?

The company appears to be an Amazon-only seller incorporated in Brighton, CO. I was not able to find an official website, and the only method of customer service appears to be through Amazon.com or email to: [email protected] (found on the last page of the User Guide). I have found their customer service to be responsive in a test message exchange.

What’s Good? What’s Bad?

Pros

  • Relatively lightweight at 25 lbs (compared to my dual-layered DvSport of 24.5 lbs)
    • Light enough to be carried to remote wilderness locations
  • Less expensive than hard boards
  • Fast to deploy/inflate
    • First time, it took me 20 minutes reading instructions and looking for the parts
    • Second time took roughly 11 minutes to get paddle-ready
    • Consider using an electric pump for faster deployment. See TIPS section for more
  • Compact and portable
    • Folds away easily to the size of a sleeping bag
      • Simply deflate, remove specific parts, protect the fins, and roll away
    • Takes up less space than hard boards
    • Can fit in a smaller car, is easier to carry around, and can be checked in on an airplane (and helps save on rental fees)

Runwave Kohala /Runwave

Inflatable SUPs are more durable than hard boards as they won’t scratch or ding when dropped, making them a bit more suitable for rocky, wild adventures

  • More durable than hard boards as they won’t scratch or ding when dropped, making them a bit more suitable for rocky, wild adventures
    • This did not initially make sense: why would an INFLATABLE be more durable than a HARD board?
      • Hard boards are more prone to cracking, scratches, and appearance of holes that require immediate fixing. Who knew?
  • Causes less injuries than hard boards
  • Excellent board for beginners and leisure paddling
    • Inflatables cause less fatigue
  • Excellent stability aided by its 6″ inflated thickness, 33″ width, 11′ length
    • Volume was not provided. To get an estimate, take about 24% off the dimensions to account for the irregular shape: 325L (428L x 0.76)
    • Larger thickness, width, and length makes it more stable than my DvSport (5″, 32″ width x 10′ length, and 240 L volume)
    • Extra volume adds more stability and weight support over hard boards
      • Supports up to 352 lbs, according to the manufacturer (88 lbs more than my DvSport), easily supporting two adults!
    • Does not flex as much as my DvSport iSUP
    • Its dimensions make the board perfect for recreational, beginner paddling
  • Can be used for surfing on small waves, though it will not be very nimble because of its large size
  • Based on my research, inflatables can last 10 years or more, depending on maintenance, storage environment, and other factors

DvSport Sunshine vs Runwave Kohala

Backpack /Runwave

  • Multiple accessories included
    • Carry bag/Backpack – Big enough to likely fit 2 iSUPs
    • Runwave-branded Pump with max pressure of 29 PSI (2 Bars)
      • Can pump air in or out. Connect the hose to the opening marked “OUT” to inflate
      • Single and Double Action pumping. I use Double to quickly inflate to about 8 PSI, after which I switch to the easier Single
      • Note: My friends’ Runwave purchased prior to November 2020 came with a less efficient, single-action pump
    • 3 fins (1 removable 9″)
    • 3-part, floating, length-adjustable aluminum paddle
    • Safety leash with key compartment
    • Repair kit
  • Seat can be optionally attached to turn it into a kayak
  • Very well-written manual with step-by-step, visual and text instructions

Cons

  • Takes time to inflate or deflate
    • Hard boards are ready to go and require little to no preparation
    • Took about 12-16 minutes to deflate, clean up, roll up, and pack away
  • Slower to turn and paddle than my DvSport due to its larger thickness, width, and length
  • Requires a pump
    • Inflating a paddleboard to 12-15 PSI (about 1 Bar) takes quite a workout
  • Does not perform as well or as fast as hard boards, making them not as good for racing competitions, though the performance gap between SUPs and iSUPs is narrowing
  • Art design is a bit busy. I much prefer the simple art of my DvSport
  • Backpack is quite large and looks to be able to hold 2 iSUPs. Wish it was more compact for just one, but the extra size makes it easier to pack the single iSUP away
  • iSUP is puncture resistant, but not puncture-proof

Admiring the view

Tips

Board Preparation

  • Ensure the valve is clean and free of dust and debris
  • Inflate the Runwave Kohala iSUP to between 12-15 PSI (15 PSI is best)
    • Warning: Do NOT go over 15 PSI with this Runwave iSUP!
    • If the board will be left in the hot sun, inflate to only 12-13 PSI, and let the heat increase the internal pressure
    • In general, inflatable SUPs should be inflated to 15-17 PSI (no more than the rated max), even if the manufacturer states that it can go as high as 25 PSI
  • If using an electric pump, inflate to 10-12 PSI, and hand pump the rest to 15 PSI
    • Do NOT use an air compressor as it could easily overinflate
  • Double-check board pressure before heading out
    • Before first use, leave the board inflated for a day and see if it loses pressure. If it does, refer to the manual on how to find the leak
    • Leaving board in the sun/heat can increase pressure, and in the cold can have pressure decreased

Safety leash attached to tail of board /Abahub

A safety leash is NECESSARY to help keep the board attached to you. Not having one could separate the board from you by the wind or stream, forcing you to swim all the way back to shore. A leash can SAVE YOUR LIFE!

  • You should always have a safety leash
    • Attach ankle cuff to the less dominant leg and the other end to the loop at the tail of the board
    • Keeps board close to you when you fall into the water, and prevents any waves or wind from moving it away
  • Do not drag paddle boards across the pavement as that can puncture and damage
    • The board has a carry handle at the center. Lift board onto its side with the handle facing away from you (bottom of board faces you), and grab the handle to lift the iSUP off the ground

Inflating the Paddle Board

Paddle Preparation

Like whitewater rafting and kayaking, the proper grip, angle, and length will make for a more enjoyable experience.

  • Length: Adjust paddle shaft about 7-10″ above your height
    • When your arm is fully stretched out with paddle flat and close to your body, your 90-degree bent wrist should rest over the top of the handle
  • Hand positions
    • Place one hand on TOP of the handle. This helps minimize injury to yourself and others and maximizes efficiency
    • Raise both elbows up to shoulder height and arms bent at a 90 degree angle
      • The length from one elbow to the other is where the other hand should hold the paddle shaft
  • Paddle blade: Should be curved towards the nose of the board for better efficiency
    • Blade is angled forward, away from you

How to Paddle

  • When entering the water, ensure the fin(s) of the board have fully cleared the sand and are entirely in the water
  • Ensure a SUP safety leash is attached to your ankle and the tail of the board so you won’t get separated from the board. It could SAVE YOUR LIFE!
  • Wear (not just carry) a personal floatation device (PFD)/life jacket, if required, though strongly recommended
    • Check the laws of your Country and State, especially regarding children (See LIFE JACKETS section for more info)
  • Kneel with your body centered over the board (where the board handle is) and paddle away from the shore
  • Before standing up, put the paddle horizontally across the board in front of you (do not let it go)
    • With the body in a dog position, stand up around where your knees were (one leg at a time). Keep legs spread apart
  • Unlike snowboarding, have knees and chest face forward while paddling
    • Stand straight and look forward, not down, for better balance
    • Practice your balance while standing before you start paddling
Basic Paddle Strokes /REI
  • Ensure paddle blade is angled forward and away from you
    • In other words, when looking at the blade from its side, the smaller angle from the shaft to the end of the blade should be facing forward
  • Starting from the front of the board, place whole blade under water and pull it back CLOSELY along the iSUP until it is near your feet
    • Keep entire blade under the water when pulling. Having it partially above water will waste energy
  • If you find yourself about to fall, land in the water (not onto the board) to avoid injuring yourself or damaging the board
    • Do not fall feet first as you could get yourself injured on corals and rocks. Try to land flat

More Paddle Tips

  • Getting back onto the board more easily
    • After a fall, go to the tail side and place both hands on each side of the board
    • While pulling yourself back up on your stomach, kick with your feet behind you (not under the board) to help propel your upper body onto the board (like a seal)

Stabilizing tripod posture /Alex Link

For added stability, especially when waters are rough, place the paddle (with handle down) in front of you to form a tripod. Bend your knees as necessary to lower your center of gravity

  • If you need to push yourself away from something, gently do so with the handle pointed at it to minimize injury to other persons and/or damage to the property
    • Blade is more dangerous and damaging than the handle
  • To move up or down the board, scoot/jump forward/backward with both legs at the same time (don’t walk)
  • When you get better, one of the fun things I like to do is to jump up and turn 360 degrees without losing balance

Stowing Away After Paddling

I have found that after paddle boarding, putting away the iSUP into the car can be a pain, especially when the ground is full of sand. The following steps help me put the board away quickly and simply without dirt:

  • While still in the water, secure the paddle blade into the front netting (handle portion should be near the board’s center carry handle)
    • Attach the leash to paddle’s handle

How I carry the board, paddle, and leash

  • Pick up iSUP sideways off the water by the center carry handle (with it facing away from you) and ensure no part touches the ground/sand
    • Your hand should be able to carry the board, paddle, and leash all from the center carry handle
    • This also leaves your other hand available to hold anything else needed
  • Leave the iSUP leaning against your car to let any remaining water drip away
    • Wipe off any sand and water
    • Remove the large fin from the board
    • Secure the leash to the middle carry handle so it won’t fall onto the sand
  • Move the board into the trunk (front first) or onto tarp on the ground
  • Open the valve to let air out and start folding the iSUP (from the tail end) into the trunk
    • Clear out any sand, debris, or water around the valve
      • Not doing so could cause damage to the valve and introduce leaks
  • Once home, hose down the board with fresh water
    • Let it dry completely so mildew does not build up
  • Follow the steps under the “Storage” section to put the iSUP away

Kayak seat accessory

Storage

  • There is no need to deflate an inflatable board for storage
    • If storing outdoors, raise it off the ground (but do not hang), and cover it with a tarp
  • Only use mild soap and fresh (not salt) water to clean
  • Deflating the iSUP
    • Hose down the board with fresh (not salt) water, and let it dry completely so mildew does not build up
    • Clear out any sand, debris, or water around the valve
      • Not doing so could cause damage to the valve and introduce leaks
    • Manual states to start folding from the tail side, but that could leave some air behind. This is the process I follow instead:
      • Fold from the nose side until all the air has been squeezed out, then close the valve
      • Unfold the board and start folding from the tail side, paying attention to the fins and ensuring they are protected
      • Towards the end, tuck in the nose and finish folding. This will help protect the nose
      • Strap the folded board to keep it from unrolling
  • Store away from direct sunlight and extreme temperatures
    • Avoid environments that can go above 150F (66C) (such as garages) or below -10F (-23C)
  • Keep the iSUP in its included storage bag
Her very first time learning how to SUP

Activity Preparation

  • Dress appropriately for where you are boarding
    • Hypothermia can kill within minutes
    • Considering wearing a life vest
  • Be aware of your surrounding and stay away from boats and motorized vehicles
    • Note that paddling back upstream or against the wind will be quite tiring
  • Don’t go paddling when it looks like it could rain or lightning is approaching
  • For emergency, you should have a whistle with you for signaling
  • You should let a trusted contact know where you are going, who you will be with, what you will be wearing, and when you expect to return
  • You should always paddle with at least another person
  • Wear a life vest, especially when heading out into the ocean
    • Don’t just BRING one and attach it to the front net… WEAR it. It could save your life!
  • When wearing sunglasses, be sure to have a strap attached to them
    • A friend and I each lost our Oakley sunglasses the moment we fell into the water

Choosing a Board

DvSport Sunshine iSUP

The following are general guidelines on how to select the right board. I am not a professional SUP rider and suggest you visit a paddle board shop for advice appropriate to you.

  • The wider a board, the more stability is added (useful for beginners or tandem riders) but harder to paddle
    • 31″ and wider are perfect for beginners and tandem riders
    • 30″ or narrower, due to less drag on the board, increase mobility and speed, suitable for surfing
  • The longer a board, like snowboards, the more streamlined it is to cover distance
    • 12′ and longer are designed for racing
    • 9′ – 11′ are great for recreation
    • 9′ or less are intended for surfing due to more nimble mobility
  • The thicker a board, the heavier of a rider it could carry
    • 5″ or thicker are best
    • 4″ are perfect for children and light paddlers

It is better to be too light than too heavy for a board

  • The higher volume of a board (measured in Liters), the more weight and height of a rider it can accommodate due to increased buoyancy, and be more stable
    • Choose a board that is at or below the suggested weight limit
      • Going above the weight capacity can introduce a sinking drag and be harder to paddle on
      • Take into consideration
        • Overall weight, including any food, water, gear, and companions
        • Your skill level and age
        • Water environment and activity type
    • Check out a SUP Volume Calculator (1 kg = 2.2 lbs)
      • Not all boards with the same volume are the same. Their concavity and overall shape, among other factors, affect a board’s performance
      • Beginners: Total weight x (1.1 to 1.4)
        • If you are 170 lbs and plan to bring a 50 lb child with 10 lbs of food and water, total weight is 230 lbs. Volume should be between 253L – 322L
      • Intermediate or Advanced: Total weight x (0.9 to 1.1)
      • It is better to be too light than too heavy for a board
    • 200L and up are generally great for recreation and beginners

Keep in mind that after a few times of paddling, you may find yourself quickly advancing in your abilities. My personal recommendation with anything I do is to always get something that is at least a notch above my current skill level.

Paddle boarding in the harbor

Life Jackets

There may be laws that require Personal Floatation Devices (PFD) to be worn, especially for children under a certain age. You should check the Country’s and State’s regulations before heading out.

There are laws that require you, especially children, to wear (not just carry) a life jacket.

In California, children under 13 years must WEAR a PFD. Failure to do so can result in an infraction and a $150 fine. In some States, the penalty could even be a criminal citation and/or misdemeanor! Wearing (not just carrying) a PFD is good practice as you never know when you could find yourself in a dangerous situation. The strongest swimmer could still be overcome by unforeseen circumstances, including:

  • Cramp paralyzing you
  • Speed boat knocking you unconscious
  • Hyperthermia, fatigue, and/or dehydration draining your energy
  • Rip current pulling you far out into the deep ocean
  • Falling into a recirculating current that spins and traps you like a washing machine
  • Having your foot pinned by a branch and you entrapped underneath the water
  • Panicked person dragging you under water
  • Falling into the water and losing orientation on which way is up or down
  • Shark biting or a jelly fish stinging you

Wear a life jacket! It could save you or your loved one’s life!

There are many factors that could pull even the strongest swimmer into a life-threatening situation. You may feel that wearing a life jacket makes you look “stupid” — I felt that way at first, but the truth is: nobody cares how you look in one! It became second nature to wear one in no time.

Life Vests /PumpedUpSup.com

Choosing a Life Jacket

How do you pick a floatation device that fits you? It depends on your swimming ability, weight and size, activity type, and many other factors. Start with these resources:

Performance Types

There were three, common types I came across while shopping for my family:

  • Type III
    • Best comfort and freedom to move
    • Swimmers need to know how to turn themselves onto a face-up position and may need to tilt head back to keep it above water
      • An unconscious person will likely be in trouble with this classification of PFDs
    • For when a quick rescue is possible (ie. close to the shore)
    • Usually the least expensive
  • Type I
    • Bulky with least freedom to move
    • Turns most swimmers onto a face-up position
    • For when rescue may take a while to reach you (ie. remote or rough areas)
    • Most commonly found on commercial boats and tend to be expensive
  • Type II
    • Good comfort and freedom to move
    • Turns some, not all, swimmers onto a face-up position
    • For when a quick rescue is possible (ie. close to the shore)
    • Meant for calm inland waters
    • Good compromise between Types I and II

What We Bought

Infant Classic & Heads-Up Child /Stearns

Children

For my young children, I wanted a Type II PFD with bright colors that would stand out for rescuers:

Both kept my children buoyant with their heads out of the water once they were floating on their backs. They needed some help getting turned face-up as neither know how to swim yet.

Adults

I had a hard time finding a Type II that I liked for myself and browsed for Type III instead. Oddly, most were gray, black, or blue and not a bright color that would be easy to spot during a rescue. I really wanted something almost entirely yellow, orange, or red, but eventually narrowed the choices down to these highly-rated ones:

  • Onyx MoveVent / Weight limit: over 90 lbs / Type: III
    • Great for paddle boarding as its higher back clears above the kayak seat. It also has a zippered pocket and place to attach accessories (ie. knife) with
    • Sellers had been taking advantage of the current, high demand (due to the COVID-19 pandemic) and listed it for around $110
      • Check the price history and set yourself a price alert for when to buy. I got it for $51 shipped
  • NRS Chinook / Weight limit: over 90 lbs / Type: III
    • Really impressed me with the number of available pockets, all-orange coloring for visibility, and high back for kayak comfort and movement
    • Had one of the most recommendations by enthusiasts and checked every box I was looking for
    • $160 price tag was too high for me for recreational paddle boarding

NRS Chinook & Onyx MoveVent /NRS and Onyx, respectively

The Onyx MoveVent feels very comfortable. I purchased the Medium-Large in Yellow for my chest circumference of 40″ — you measure just below the armpit for men and around the breast for women. At a current, COVID-19 quarantine weight of 198 lbs, the vest has kept me well afloat whenever I fell into the water. The Onyx unfortunately does not come in an all-yellow color scheme.

Beginner-friendly Runwave Kohala iSUP

Final Thoughts

The Runwave Kohala with its wider and longer paddle board makes for a very stable, beginner-friendly, inflatable that can easily accommodate two adults with its approximate volume of 325L. It had brought a lot of joy, great memories, and needed exercise in a socially-distanced World that had been shut down by the COVID-19 pandemic. It very much helped my son find the joy of playing in the water when he used to be fearful of it, and it had also brought out several friends and my sister-in-law to come out and get a little break from life’s everyday stresses. This Runwave board is a favorite among my circle of friends, but as I had stated a few times before, I still prefer the slightly more expensive DvSport Sunshine iSUP for its cleaner art and slightly more nimble capabilities.

Purchasing an inflatable stand up paddle board was an eye opener and money saver over rental fees. It very much was more stable, VERY lightweight, and easier to stand on for longer periods of time than hard boards, but I also felt more pride taking care of something that was mine. Unlike my two friends, I also did not have to mount the board on top of the car nor use up a large amount of space in the garage.

My best friend and I said to each other that we should have bought one long ago instead of wasting so much money on rentals, but in a way I am glad we waited: technology has improved and prices had gone down quite a bit. Happy paddle days ahead!

Hours after she started learning how to SUP for the first time

Other Recommendations

  • For a dual layer, slightly more advanced iSUP, consider my current favorite: DvSport Sunshine

Runwave Kohala iSUP

$329.00
4.2

Features

4.5/5

Design

4.0/5

Performance

4.0/5

Ease of Use

4.0/5

Value

4.5/5

Pros

  • Attractive pricing
  • Lightweight and durable
  • Excellent stability
  • Compact and portable
  • Great beginner board

Cons

  • Not as nimble and speedy as hard SUPs
  • Busy art design
  • Takes time to inflate, deflate
  • Must not be kept in hot storage
  • Single layer is not as durable as Dual