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:
As a specialist inflatable paddle board dealer, here are some of the questions we are most frequently asked regarding inflatable SUP boards:
We could answer this question with an arbitrary range, such as 2 to 12 years, but the truth is that the durability of an inflatable SUP will depend on the quality of the board you buy and the type of use it endures.
For a real world example, we can use our direct experience when we first started this business back in 2012. The first brand we sold boards for was Earth River SUP, and most of these are still on the water. That’s nearly nine years for an early design inflatable, and the manufacturing technology has come a significant way since.
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.
For a high end inflatable SUP board, we recommend inflating to a pressure of 15 PSI or 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.
The stability of an inflatable paddle board depends largely on the thickness of the design. A well-made 5 inch thick inflatable paddle board will generally be more stable than a hard board because of the difference in rail construction.
A 5 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. Increasing the thickness of an inflatable paddle board of the same outline to 6 inches reduces its stability and is a completely different proposition to a hardboard. Nose and tail shape influence stability also but to a lesser degree.
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.
Inflatable paddle boards can be great for surfing. 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.
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.
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.
Pumped Up SUP is an online store specializing in high-performance inflatable stand up paddle boards and accessories. We're always happy to answer your questions - just give us a call at 1-877-777-1769.
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