I love stand-up paddle boarding. I started paddling about three years ago, renting a board at first, and early last year decided to take the financial plunge and buy one. It took me several weeks of searching local surf shops and outdoor-sports stores to find what I was looking for at a price that didn't make me squeamish. The board I purchased is no longer being made, and every time I take it out, I get admiring stares—it's a beautiful 11-foot bamboo-print "woodie"-looking board with a Hawaiian logo.
Though I have a board, I recently went out to see what the current market's like, focusing on stores that sell paddle boards exclusively.
OEX has two locations: one in Point Loma (5060 North Harbor Drive) and one on Santa Clara Point in Mission Bay (1010 Santa Clara Place). The Mission Bay OEX is where I test-drove the board I eventually purchased; board demos are offered at both locations. OEX's introductory purchase package of a Jimmy Styks "Little Billy" 10-foot-6-inch board with bag, paddle and leash is $850, which is a great place for many paddlers to start. OEX also carries boards by Starboard, JP Australia, Amundson, Surftech, Aquaglide and Imagine, along with a good selection of lightweight and adjustable paddles. The Point Loma store has the larger selection of boards, while the Mission Bay store also carries canoes, kayaks and wave skis.
I found the largest showroom of boards—more than 150—in an in National City warehouse. Isle Surf & SUP (340 W. 26th St.) carries its own line exclusively. Isle doesn't wholesale to other shops, but it does have a web store. The best seller is the "Glider" board ($810 with paddle), available in both 10-foot-10-inch and 11-foot-10-inch sizes and designed for a rider who wants to do a combination of flat paddle and long-board surfing. Isle also has a longer racing board and a less-expensive line for beginners called Tava.
A bit farther south, in Chula Vista, I stopped in the Creed showroom (1031 Bay Blvd., Suite N). It's a little tough to find in its non-retail-oriented space, but the beautiful boards, with Polynesian or tribal designs over bamboo veneer, were worth the search. Creed boards are lighter-weight than other boards—by roughly 25 percent—without giving up durability (and when you're hefting an 11-foot board, weight makes a huge difference). The boards also come with a ding barrier on the nose and tail, a GoPro camera docking hinge and a removable soft rubber smart-handle that makes the board easier to carry. Creed's basic Kai hybrid board sells for $999 with fins. You can also test-drive a Creed board at the nearby South Bay Watersports.
West Coast Paddle (4360 Morena Blvd. in Bay Ho) is owned and managed by Bob Long, a paddle-boarding enthusiast with two-decades in surf retail. The big warehouse is a block from Costco and features a huge variety of boards, including Riviera, Paddle Surf Hawaii, Liquid Shredder, Boga, Surftech, Bark, Jimmy (Lewis) Series, Rogue and Lakeshore. This store had the best selection of distance boards (also used for racing) that I saw anywhere in San Diego with at least a dozen boards to choose from. Their best-selling package is a 10-foot-6-inch Riviera board that includes paddle and leash for $900.
My last stop was at Tower Paddle Boards in Pacific Beach (845 Garnet Ave). Tower specializes in inflatable boards (featured on the TV show Shark Tank and part-owned by Mark Cuban). The original design's been changed to make the board sturdier than its first edition, and the line's been expanded to include epoxy boards that are a bit shorter, lighter and thicker than most. Prices are competitive with board-and-paddle packages at $699.