If you’re in the market for a stand up paddle board you’ve likely noticed that inflatable SUPs are here in a big way. Whether it’s your first big buy or an addition to a healthy fleet, you are probably wondering how seriously you should consider them.The main question is: are inflatable sups any good? It’s natural to be stuck on the fence between a hard board and an inflatable one but by the end of this post you’ll be clued up and ready to climb down. Stick with us while we make our case.
Exhibit 1: Rigidity
Over the past decade the gap between inflatable and hard boards has closed due to tremendous improvements in manufacturing processes and materials. The majority of iSUPs today can withstand up to 25 PSI with ease and their rigidity is pretty comparable to traditional SUPs. Even at the lower pressures they are normally ridden at, 12 to 15 PSI, there is no hint of flex. For the most part advancements in drop-stitch technology as well as the move from single layer to double layer PVC bodies account for the rigidity revolution. There is no shortage of gimmicky video footage on youtube showing these boards run over with everything from tractors to monster trucks to make this point. In more appreciable terms, you’ll also find scores of content showing them performing to the max in conditions you may have thought were only suited to hard boards. Modern day inflatable SUPs are incredibly rigid, bottom line.
Exhibit 2: Portability
The best SUP is the one you have with you because that is the one you will actually use. Imagine joining the best gym in the country but needing to drive 6 hours to get there. How often do you think you’d actually work out? In the same vein, when comparing hard boards to inflatable you need to factor in accessibility.
Are you likely to buy a pricey roof rack and foist your board on top of the car every time you want to use it? Are you going to swaddle it like a baby to protect it from stones and debris on the motorway? Or, would you get more use from a something that you can chuck on the back seat or even wear in a backpack on a city bus? For most people, this is a major factor in making the choice.
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Exhibit 3: Storage
Great news! You can keep your clothes and own a paddleboard. I’m sure many people have plenty of space in their manor houses and doubtless there is no shortage of closets in their Thames-front pied-a-terres. In my case however space is at an absolute premium and I have no place to store a hard board 365 days a year. Unless of course I get rid of all my clothing which is not a pretty option considering the climate in northern England.
Inflatable SUPs take up very little space when folded into their carry bags but you can also store them burrito style under the bed, in the boot of your car or jam it up through the crawl space into the attic. Storing your iSUP for winter is no big deal, all they ask for in the off season is a clean, dry place out of the sun and at least slightly reduced PSI for the big rest. This ease of storage makes the SUP sport accessible to the many people out there who use their wardrobes for something other than sports equipment.
Exhibit 4: Air, train and bus travel
Paddling the nearest and dearest water where you live will likely constitute the majority of your SUP use. As you’re bound to love the sport, you’re going to want to take your board on holidays at some point. iSUPs travel easily and most boards in the 10’-11’ range can be checked as standard baggage. Best of all, there are all-inclusive packages available which include the carry bag for free. Hard boards on the other hand will require the purchase of a well-fortified soft carry case the same way a surfboard does. These bags are no joke because they have to be sturdy enough to protect the board in transit and as such they are expensive. As Jason Paul of SUP the mag points out:
“Unlike traditional rigid paddle boards that are susceptible to dings, cracks, and other damage, inflatables are ding-proof and virtually indestructible.”
You’ll also need to check this kind of SUP as a large, awkward piece of oblong sporting equipment rather than as standard baggage. This is another price increase to consider if you plan to go anyplace far away because your hard board will always be as long and wide as it ever was.
Exhibit 5: Durability
Every SUP needs TLC and with the proper care and keeping, inflatable paddle boards can easily last a lifetime of use. I don’t know about you, but I’m not an expert board shaper and I don’t have a workshop stocked with epoxy and fiberglass in my house. It’s not easy to repair dings and scratches in hard boards yourself without the proper skill and set up to do so. iSUPs on the other hand are simple to repair on your own with just a PVC patch and some glue. Many come with repair kits that include these and a valve tool and coming to grips with using them takes no more than a couple minutes of your time. Inflatable boards are extremely durable but in the event that you do manage to puncture your board, you’ll find that patching it is a quick and durable fix. That’s right, a puncture is not a death sentence for your board. If you do get one, you’ll just patch it up and keep on paddling as soon as the glue is dry.
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Exhibit 6: Versatility
There is nothing worse than buying something hyper-specialized and being pigeon holed into doing the same thing over and over again. iSUPs are infinitely versatile and can be tailored to as many activities as you can imagine. For your first board, we recommend an all-around style with at least 30” of deck width and 10’-11’ feet of water line. The best inflatable SUP for river use would also perform well in open water and on canals. The real differentiation comes down to how specialized you’d like to be in the type of paddling you’ll do. An all around board can be used for small wave surfing, light rapids, touring and family days out. You can even convert them to kayaks with the addition of PVC patch D-rings.
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Ok, so when is a hard board better?
Now that I’ve made the case for iSUPs, I’ll give hard boards their due. The latter are definitely a better choice if you are competing professionally or heavily active on the race circuit at events like the Cardiff International Whitewater Festival. They are also preferable if you are doing very high performance or competitive SUP surfing. Hard boards can also be shaped for you individually the same way a surfboard can. This provides a level of customization not available otherwise. These super high-performance scenarios are where hard boards shine. The simple fact of the matter is that for the majority of paddlers, the performance advantages of hard boards go unnoticed, are not maximized and are therefore not applicable.
iSUPs are a fantastic choice for the vast majority of paddlers in all but the most technical and competitive situations. Better still, they travel light and pack down easily which saves you space and money both at home and while travelling. Any SUP is an investment. The easier it is to make use of, the more action you are likely to get for your money. I think it’s safe to say that very few inflatable SUPs live out there days lonely and forgotten in the garage. This is simply because you can do so much with them in so many types of water. One board can serve such a range of people that the whole family can easily carry and paddle the same SUP. If you’ve got any questions, leave us a comment. We’d love to hear from you.
A BIG BLUEFIN THANK YOU
Activity Holidays Greece gives us gorgeous shots of our SUPs on the Med.
We’d like to thank GBSUP for keeping us posted on the latest SUP races in the UK.
Thanks to ISA Surfing for hosting their annual World SUP and Paddleboard Championship.