Why choose an inflatable SUP
INFLATABLE VS. HARD PADDLE BOARD - WHICH IS BEST?
Quick Answer: For all-around leisure paddling, inflatable SUPs are much better overall, due to advantages in durability, portability, weight, versatility, and injury prevention. But if you are buying a board mainly for SUP surfing or racing, certain technical attributes of hardboards make them worthy of consideration.
Inflatable Stand Up Paddle Boards, once considered a novelty among SUP boards, have evolved over the years and have become the new normal and the starting point when shopping for a paddle board. Here are seven comparison points to guide your decision on whether to purchase an inflatable SUP or a hard board, and then we will answer some more specific questions:
- Inflatable paddleboards have been proven over time to be more durable than epoxy SUPs. Quality inflatables are made from military grade materials that are not subject to the vulnerabilities of hard boards – dings and holes that require expensive repairs. This is why inflatables far outnumber hard boards on rivers, where impact with rocks is a factor and why SUP schools and rental agencies are increasingly opting for inflatable fleets to minimize board damage from careless handling by students and renters.
- Inflatable SUPs don't hurt as much when you fall on them. Falling onto a hard board can hurt. An inflatable paddle board is much easier on the body of the rider and anybody else the board might come in contact with.
- A softer deck reduces fatigue. Standing on an inflatable SUP is similar to standing on one of those expensive rubber mats used in commercial settings to reduce fatigue. Your feet will be more comfortable and relaxed due to the reduced contact pressure, and the benefits travel up your body to your knees, back and neck.
- Inflatables are lighter, and a lighter board gets used more. For a given board size, an inflatable will usually weigh less than an equivalently sized hardboard, making it that much less effort to get it to the water.
- Blow up boards can be checked in on an airplane for travel. An inflatable SUP can be rolled up to fit in a bag that can be placed in the trunk of a car or checked in on an airplane for travel. Taking your SUP board with you on vacation can save hundreds of dollars in rental costs while giving you the independence to paddle on your own schedule.
- Hard boards take up a lot of storage space. An inflatable SUP can be stored on a shelf, without requiring a high ceiling or taking up an entire wall of storage space. An entire fleet of inflatable SUP boards can be stored in a small closet when deflated.
- Inflatables Perform Better In Varied Settings. Advances in material technology and design have resulted in inflatable SUP boards that have rigidity rivaling a hardboard while also having distinct performance advantages over fiberglass or epoxy boards. the right inflatable board in the performance / enthusiast or all round class board can often be paddled anywhere on flat water, small waves, and even be used in whitewater depending on the model. If you compare an inflatable and a hard board with the same footprint, the inflatable can have up to 20% more volume, making it that much more stable, and supporting more rider and passenger weight. With performance advances, inflatables are increasingly being used in competitions and by casual SUP racers. 'Hardboard like performance' is no longer something to aspire to, rather inflatables have distinct advantages that have seen them come into their own.
CAN INFLATABLE PADDLE BOARDS BE REPAIRED?
Yes, many types of damage to inflatable SUP boards can be repaired, sometimes by the owner, but more frequently by a qualified repair shop. Most inflatable paddle boards still include a ‘patch kit’, but on a good inflatable, it is seldom needed. The patch kit is actually a throwback to early single layer inflatable SUP design where the question was asked, “what happens if it gets a hole in it”? The answer at the time came in a very distinct orange tube: the patch kit. These days, the need to patch is rare on a performance level SUP, and usually the result of significant impact with a sharp rock or object or careless abuse of the board such as dragging it on pavement.
WHAT PSI (POUNDS PER SQUARE INCH) SHOULD I INFLATE MY PADDLE BOARD?
For a high end inflatable SUP board, we recommend inflating to a pressure to 15 PSI and to a maximum of 17 PSI. A performance level SUP will achieve optimal rigidity at this level, and there is no need to go any higher. You will see some companies advertising an extreme maximum pressure, such as 20 or 25 PSI, but inflating to these high pressures is impractical from an inflation perspective and provide little to no rigidity improvement, putting the board under stress it doesn’t require.
ARE INFLATABLE PADDLE BOARDS MORE STABLE?
The stability of an inflatable paddle board depends largely on the thickness of the design. A well made 6 inch boards will generally be more stable than a hard board because of the difference in rail construction. A 6 inch thick inflatable paddle board will have a uniformly rounded rail whereas a hard board requires the rail to be tapered at the edges to reduce weight.
CAN I KEEP MY INFLATABLE SUP INFLATED?
There is no need to deflate your paddle board if you don’t need to make it more compact for storage or transport. There are generally no downsides to keeping a SUP board inflated, as long as you don’t keep it in direct sunlight or in a hot vehicle or storage space. Many of the SUP schools that we supply routinely keep their boards inflated all summer with no adverse effect.
CAN YOU SURF ON AN INFLATABLE SUP?
Yes. You can surf almost any SUP, but how well it will perform in the waves will depend on board design, shape and rigidity. The best inflatable SUPs for surfing will also be highly dependent on the height and quality of the waves you want to ride. For reference, you could surf a wooden door with fins glued on, but how well you will do that depends on if you are Kelly Slater. The ocean provides varied opportunities for stand up paddling, and surfing means different things to different people. For shoulder high or big wave surfing a surf-specific hard board design has significant performance advantages but for everything below that a performance inflatable offers great opportunity to have fun in the surf.
CAN YOU RACE ON AN INFLATABLE SUP?
Yes, many racers compete on inflatable SUPs. There are undeniable technical advantages to a hard board when it comes to SUP racing but the gap has closed in recent years, and the ability to check in an inflatable SUP for air travel is a serious advantage for out of town races.
ARE INFLATABLE PADDLE BOARDS BETTER?
Yes. You could just as easily ask the mirrored question, “Are Hard SUP Boards Better?” and you would get the exact same answer. Better is relative to what you want to do with your board and the types of water you want to ride in. For all-around and river specific uses, inflatable boards have significant performance advantages over hard boards that benefit most paddlers. For big wave surfing and competition class SUP racing, hard stand up paddle boards have an edge in performance.