When it comes to picking the type of stand up paddle board to purchase, one key choice is between an inflatable (also called iSUP’s) and a traditional hard (epoxy, fiberglass) construction.
Both are great choices - however, inflatables are often overlooked by many customers. Very often we are asked “are inflatable SUPs any good?” or hear “I just don’t know much about them”. No problem! Our experts are here to help you understand more about inflatables, and why they are some of our favorite boards.
How Do Inflatable Paddle Boards Work?
Similar to white water rafting boards, a well made iSUP is incredibly rugged in construction. Made from rugged PVC, the bottom and the top of the board are connected to each other by drop stitches. As you add air to the board via the pump, the board takes shape and these fibers serve to keep the board from blowing up like a balloon. As you add more air pressure, the board gets stiffer and stiffer while maintaining its shape. The better the quality materials, the stiffer the board can get!
What can I use an iSUP for?
When they first came on the market, inflatables were used mainly for white water paddling, or as options for those who travelled by airline frequently. However - as technology evolved, iSUP’s are now available for all aspects of SUP, from flat water cruising, to surf, to race! Of course, they are still the go to board for those who paddle whitewater, as well, those who wish to travel to paddling destinations by air and take their own boards.
How do I Inflate an Inflatable Paddle Board?
Any good quality inflatable will come with a hand pump which will look like a larger version of bicycle pump . The hose of the pump attaches to the valve on the board and usually takes only a few minutes to inflate.
All Cruiser SUP inflatables come standard with a Bravo Dual Action pump, which means that as you press down the pump handle air goes in, but also as you pull the handle up, air pressure goes in. A quality pump will help you get your board inflated quickly and easily, whereas cheaper pumps will make inflation quite tough. Lower cost boards may come with foot pumps, which are very low capacity and awkward to use, or even no pump at all.
How Much Air Pressure is Needed?The performance of your iSUP is all related to how much air pressure the board can take. Boards that don’t go to at least 15 psi will be very soft feeling, and have quite poor performance. Cruiser SUP inflatables all inflate to 17psi, but in reality, can actually go to 18-20psi! This makes them some of the stiffest boards on the market. Inflatable paddle boards that do not offer a high inflation capacity are best to be avoided as they will feel soft, sluggish, and generally won’t be money well spent.
How does an Inflatable Paddle Board Compare to a Rigid Board?At 17psi, the performance of an iSUP compared to a rigid board is almost the same. Both offer great glide, great tracking, an a stable paddling experience. So - if they feel very similar, why would you get an inflatable paddle board instead of a hard board?
1. Easy Travel and Transport
Travelling from home to the water when you are paddling with a hard board requires a roof rack on your car. These can be costly, and time consuming to put a board on. However, a iSUP in its carry case can easily go into the trunk or back seat of even the smallest vehicle making them super convenient to get around. Also - if you travel by air plane checking a rigid board as baggage is nearly impossible, whereas an inflatable is just about the size of suitcase and can check as standard sized baggage!
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2. Convenient StorageIf you have an 11' rigid board, you need at least 11' of storage space in your garage to store your board. For those that live in smaller houses, apartments, or condos that is almost impossible. An inflatable in its bag takes up no more room than a large backpack and can fit in elevators, under beds, or in a closet.
3. High DurabilityBeing similar to white water rafting boats - inflatables are durable well beyond what most customer expect. Often people think they are going to be similar to cheap rubber pool toys, but they are 100% the opposite. Even though when inflated properly they are very stiff, if impacted against something (dropped or bumped into a dock) they have more give than a rigid board that will likely crack if impacted hard into something. This durability makes them ideal for surf or river/white water paddling!
4. They Feel Faster
This one is little tougher to wrap your head around, but is very common feedback from paddlers. Since the board is hollow and filled with only air, the “feel” of the board on the water is much more “direct” than a rigid board. You can feel every ripple on the water you are paddling on, which gives the iSUPS a very “lively” feel. With a rigid board, the feel of the water is dulled by the thick foam core and the layers of fiberglass. This direct connection to the feel of the water gives more of a gliding sensation, or what is called “virtual speed”.
Are inflatable paddle boards worth it - YES!
For a huge majority of recreational paddle boarders, inflatable SUPs are the ideal board. If you are concerned about durability, ease of transport, or storage, then without doubt inflatables are the way to go. There are times that a rigid board will out perform an inflatable, such as in high performance racing, or larger surf. However, for cruising in lakes, rivers, calm oceans, or small surf - an inflatable is well worth it given how durable, portable, and performance oriented they are.
Still not sure if an inflatable is right for you? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or comment below and we will be happy to answer any questions you have!