Solid vs Inflatable
When beginning your search for a SUP board, inflatable vs solid is always a super common question. Which is best?
The fact is, iSUP design & manufacturing technology has experienced huge advancements in recent years. As a result, inflatable stand up paddle boards are incredibly rigid & supportive. Updates in drop-stitching also allow you to control the rocker, without relying on a solid board.
Due to such impressive advancements, portability & excellent performance can easily be achieved with an iSUP. Not only are they super simple to travel with, they can be conveniently folded when deflated for maximum ease of storage.
However, considering your SUP habits is crucial when choosing a board. Intense racing or touring vs all round usage will require different characteristics. Provided you have ample storage space, a solid board is probably the best option if you frequently take part in extreme SUPing or competitive racing.
But for the vast majority of paddlers, the benefits of solid boards are often heavily outweighed by their inconvenience. Today’s iSUPs offer hugely impressive rigidity & durability, with far better storage & travel options.
Shape, Length, Width, PSI & Rocker
SUP shapes, length, PSI & rocker characteristics all have a significant impact on SUP performance. Here’s a few things to keep in mind when buying your board:
- A gently-pointed nose cuts through choppy water & waves. Providing it doesn’t stick up too far out of the water, maintaining balance should feel easier.
- A sharply-pointed noise is best for racing quickly in straight directions.
- A rounded nose (like a traditional longboard) is best for small waves & leisurely paddling.
LENGTH & WIDTH
- Longer boards provide the straightest, most efficient forward movement & tracking. They’re also quicker at covering greater distance with each paddle stroke. Requiring slightly more effort to turn from side to side, SUP paddle length also depends on board size, paddler height & the type of paddling you wish to achieve.
- Wider boards help increase stability & make balancing easier. If seeking a board for all-round use, it should be at least 15” (38cm) wide. The wider the board in proportion to its length, the slower & more stable it will feel.
- Narrower boards are better for quick racing, but are more challenging to balance on. A long, narrow board will be fast, but requires more skill & core strength to paddle or turn effectively.
- A board’s thickness from top to bottom affects balance & buoyancy. 5” – 6” (13 – 15cm) thickness is ideal for most adult paddlers, & 4” (10cm) is most appropriate for children.
- To maintain stability during paddling, rigidity is essential. An ideal single- chamber inflatable SUP PSI should be between 12 & 15. A higher PSI is also possible, with the majority of iSUPs able to be pumped well above 20. However, this won’t noticeably increase board rigidity or performance, & could damage the deck & stitching over time.
- Multi-chamber boards often have a lower ideal PSI per chamber, but offer the same level of rigidity as a single-chamber SUP when inflated properly.
- When considering a rocker, SUP performance can greatly vary. A board’s rocker is the appearance of a curve when viewing your board from the side. Different heights have their own individual benefits, but all rockers should be gradual from nose to tail.
- A gentle, very gradual rocker makes for a smooth, efficient glide when paddling straight in flat waters. It cuts through waves without the nose planing, avoiding unnecessary bumps.
- A stronger rocker allows for more aggressive turning & carving through water. While great for surfing, this isn’t particularly efficient for other types of paddling. In fact, stability & tracking are made more difficult with this type of rocker.
Paddler Height & Weight
Your specific height & weight has great influence on the SUP you should choose.
Bigger, taller paddlers will feel most comfortable on longer, wider boards due to their higher centre of mass. Larger boards provide more surface area on the water, making it easier to stand upright & maintain balance. This is particularly important when first learning to SUP.
- For boards over 12’ in length, the ideal size of paddler will be over 6’ tall or weighing more than 90kg.
- Paddlers under 6’ tall weighing less than 90kg will find balancing on shorter, narrower boards slightly easier.
Racing & Touring vs All Round Use
Boards designed for touring & racing offer increased speed, smooth glide, & the straightest tracking possible. Usually featuring a longer waterline & narrower deck space, racing boards are able to cover larger distances faster. They’re also ideal for speedy downwind paddling.
However, all-round boards have a less aggressive shape. They should strike perfect harmony between deck width & length, prioritising ease of balance over speed. Whilst not as quick as touring & racing boards, they’re more versatile overall. They can be used for more types of paddling across a wider range of conditions.
A quality SUP deck pad is crucial for providing traction. Otherwise, you’ll be forced to maintain balance on a slippery, wet surface.
They should be firmly attached to the board deck, with a raised pattern for enhanced grip. Providing a tactile sense of a board’s tail end, a deck pad also helps paddlers avoid stepping too far back. This is especially helpful when turning.
Rigidity strongly depends on SUP board construction. Components all high-quality boards should have include:
- Drop stitching. Evenly spacing-out thousands of individual threads between 2 pieces of PVC material, this creates the robust body of an iSUP. Drop stitching allows them to become so rigid when properly inflated, they can easily match the rigidity of solid boards in the water.
- A machine laminated, PVC-layered deck & hull. They should be resistant to UV rays & securely taped at the side rails.
- Internal heat-sealed seams, completing an iSUP’s first layer of air & watertight sealing.
- A second, external side rail to reinforce the strength of internal seams. At least 2 individual layers of reinforcement should be present, ensuring maximum longevity & durability.
- All quality iSUPs should have a hard plastic valve. If you notice a small protuberance on the underside of your board, don’t be alarmed! This is there to safely accommodate the valve.
SUP Fin Systems
The vast majority of today’s iSUPs come complete with a detachable centre fin or skeg. SUP fins are essential for paddling in a straight line, & help prevent the board tail from slipping sideways.
Ideally, a detachable centre fin will be anchored in a secure ‘slot & lock’ system. This provides a firm attachment, ensuring the fun doesn’t move around when slotted in place. Most quality SUP attachment systems should be simple, without excessive parts to be removed.
More advanced iSUPs may feature the addition of smaller fins on either side of the central fin. This is known as a ‘thruster’ design, & helps improve tracking without sacrificing speed or turning ability.
However, it’s important to NEVER put weight on your iSUP on land if the centre fin is fitted in place. This could damage the fin, & may require a replacement before you can safely paddle again.
And there you have it, the ultimate SUP buying guide!
Whilst we’ve covered all important aspects to consider when purchasing a board, don’t hesitate to contact us if you have further questions. Simply send an email to
firstname.lastname@example.org & a member of the team will be in touch.
But be sure to visit our FAQ page first, as you may find the answer you’re looking for!