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Should You Buy an Inflatable SUP or a Hard Board?
Inflatable stand up paddle boards have absolutely exploded in popularity over the past few years due to the fact that they are affordable, convenient, and super durable. An iSUP can be stored in even the smallest of spaces which makes them perfect for apartment dwellers, high-rise living, and boat life. Also, if you happen to enjoy traveling, inflatable SUPs are a total game-changer as they can be deflated, rolled up, and brought along on planes, taxis, and even scooters!
But iSUPs weren’t always such a compelling option. When blow up paddle boards were first introduced, they left a lot to be desired. The first boards to hit the market lacked the durability and rigidity that today’s best inflatables offer, and performance was lackluster at best.
Fast forward to today, and the performance gap between the best inflatable paddle board models and their rigid counterparts continues to get narrower. Thanks to cutting edge advancements in drop-stitch construction technology, iSUPs are getting lighter, faster, tougher, and stiffer with each passing season. New manufacturing processes such as fusion construction are also helping to reduce weight, waste, and environmental impacts.
So should you buy an inflatable paddle board or a rigid board? Unless you’re a competitive paddler who is only interested in top-line surf or racing performance, an iSUP offers the most benefits and is by far the best choice. While there are literally countless reasons to choose an inflatable stand up paddle board over a rigid board, here’s a list of our top 7:
Top 7 Reasons to Buy an Inflatable SUP
The best inflatable SUP boards are made from heavy-duty materials that are virtually indestructible. The tough outer skin is made from an ultra-durable PVC fabric that is highly-resistant to punctures, cuts, and abrasions. While cracks and dings are always a major concern with hard SUPs, inflatables are worry-free in this respect.
With iSUPs, you never have to concern yourself with things like car roof racks or trailers. An inflatable SUP deflates and rolls up like a sleeping bag, allowing you to transport it in your vehicle’s trunk, backseat, or even on the back of a scooter, bicycle, or ATV.
Rigid stand up paddle boards require a ton of storage space and pose a serious challenge for anyone who lives in an apartment or high-rise condo. Inflatable SUPs, on the other hand, can be deflated, rolled up, and easily stored under your bed or in a closet.
While there are some exceptions, for the most part, inflatable paddle boards cost less than equivalent hard boards. In addition to being less expensive to buy, inflatables are also cheaper to maintain as you won’t have to spend a lot of additional money on costly future repairs. Lastly, since you’ll be able to bring your blow up SUP along on vacations, you’ll also save a lot of money on SUP rental fees. If you’re really watching your budget, you might want to check our our list of best paddle boards for $500.
Traveling with an inflatable paddle board is a breeze, and you can even bring your iSUP along with you when you fly. Just pack your board in a carrying bag or backpack, check it with the rest of your luggage, and pick it up once you arrive at your destination.
For camping and hiking enthusiasts, an inflatable SUP is a great piece of gear to bring along as you can experience off-the-beaten-path paddling spots that would otherwise be inaccessible. In a pinch, an iSUP can even make a comfortable sleeping pad, used as an air mattress. If you’re a serious adventurer, check our our top picks for the ultimate compact travel paddle boards.
Last but not least, inflatable SUPs are safer than hard boards. While iSUPs are extremely stiff when fully inflated, they still offer a slight amount of “give” and are more forgiving than rigid boards when it comes to bumps, knocks, and falls. This also makes inflatables a better choice if you’ll be paddling with children or pets.
What To Look For When Buying an Inflatable SUP
When you’re looking for a new inflatable paddle board, there are several considerations to take into account as you’re SUP comparison shopping. These are factors that we look every time we do an inflatable SUP review. While individual paddlers will obviously have specific things that are more important to them than others, this core list will give you some basic guidelines to follow as you’re comparing stand up paddle boards…
SUP Company’s Reputation
We highly recommend that you deal only with brands that have a strong reputation for standing behind the gear that they make. Does the company have a history of providing solid after sales support? How easy is it to contact the company and how long does it take to get a response from them? Are existing customers happy with the performance and durability of their boards, or are there a large number of complaints?
When it comes to inflatables, look for boards that are well-built with quality drop-stitch material and military-grade PVC that’ll hold up for many years. Avoid cheap, low-quality paddle boards that feature flimsy construction, low-quality materials, and a sloppy fit and finish. Cheaper, poorly constructed boards can’t be inflated to higher psi pressures, so that’s something else to watch out for.
Another important factor to consider is how you’ll be using your board. Are you looking for a multipurpose board that does a lot fairly well, or are you looking for a specialty model that is specifically designed to excel at one type of activity? What about water conditions? Will you be doing flat water paddling? Oceans? Rivers? While not built for speed, an all-around model is typically ideal for most paddlers as these boards are versatile, extremely stable, and easy to paddle.
Wider paddle boards offer increased stability, something that beginner paddlers will find helpful. 32″ wide is a good starting point for an all-around board, while widths of 33″ to 35″ are available to those willing to trade some mobility for the extra stability.
When compared with thinner 4″ boards, iSUPs that are 6″ thick will be stiffer, more buoyant, and ride higher in the water. The additional thickness will help to keep your feet dry while paddling which is especially important with cold water paddling in the winter. With that said, if you’re planning to spend a lot of time playing in the waves, we’d recommend a high-quality board with a thinner profile (4″-5″) for better surf performance.
Often overlooked, the warranty is a key factor to consider when you’re looking to buy an inflatable SUP. Warranties typically range from 1 to 3 years, and a longer warranty period shows that a SUP company has confidence in the durability of their gear and is willing to make things right if manufacturer defects occur.
Last but not least, the SUP accessory bundle makes a huge difference when it comes to overall value. Does the board come packaged with everything you need to start paddling, or will you be required to spend even more money on additional items such as a paddle or leash? Also, what is the quality of the included accessories like?
What Can You Do with an Inflatable Paddle Board?
In reality, this section would be more appropriately titled, “What CAN’T You Do With Inflatable Stand Up Paddle Boards.” Today, paddlers are using inflatable SUPs for everything from fishing to fitness, and their versatility and toughness are simply unmatched. Here are just a few of the things that you can do with an inflatable SUP:
- SUP fishing
- Fitness (yoga, pilates, etc.)
- Whitewater/river SUP
- SUP racing
- Touring and multi-day excursions
- Paddling around small children or pets
- Adventure travel
- Multi-paddler group fun
What is the Best Inflatable SUP?
We get asked this question a lot due to the fact that we review so many inflatable SUP boards, but the truth is, there’s no single board that is right for every paddler. All inflatable paddle boards (and brands) have unique pros and cons, and the right board for you may not necessarily be the best iSUP for someone else.
Also, keep in mind that there are a variety of board categories covering different types of paddling activities and water conditions. Here are the most popular types of stand up paddle boards and in each of these categories you’ll find both inflatable and hard boards to choose from:
Very stable, great for beginners, designed for general fun.
Larger boards designed for long-distance paddles, overnight SUP excursions, etc.
See our top rated touring SUPs
Yoga & Fitness SUP
Wide boards designed with stability in mind. See our top rated Yoga SUPs
Long, narrow SUPs with sleek shapes that are built for speed.
Wide boards with rockers designed for river surfing and rapids.
Stable paddle boards with plenty of accessory mounts and tie-down points.
Shorter and easier to maneuver SUPs designed to perform well in the surf.
Some of our top-rated paddle boards will be great for any skill level while others such as touring SUPs and racing boards are designed for experienced paddlers. The best inflatable SUPs for beginners are going to be wider models designed with stability in mind while advanced paddlers typically look for more performance-oriented boards.