Paddleboards come in two main types: inflatable paddle boards and hard paddle boards. As you begin to look for a new standup paddleboard (SUP), one of the first decisions you’ll have to make is whether to go with an inflatable SUP or a hard SUP.
But as it turns out, they each have their own advantages, so it all comes down to your needs and where you plan on paddling. There are many types of paddle boards made from ISups, fiberglass, foam, wood and some high-end race boards are made of carbon fiber. Here’s a breakdown of each board type and where they can be best used.
What Are Inflatable Paddle Boards?
Inflatable stand-up paddle boards, also called iSUPs, are the latest innovation in SUP boarding. They’re made of lightweight PVC material that’s durable and easy to transport. This makes them an ideal choice for any type of watersport enthusiast, from beginner to expert.
Before we get started, let’s clear a few things up about iSUP boards. Some people think inflatables are cheap, flimsy, and lack performance. But that’s not the case. Modern inflatables are built using high-quality materials and construction methods that are used to create premium products.
The military-grade PVC is lightweight and durable, with drop-stitch seams that give it maximum strength. This makes inflatables a perfect choice for both beginners learning the ropes and experienced adventurers discovering new locations, alike!
Inflatable paddle boards come in many shapes, sizes, and designs. Flatwater models are designed for lakes and calm ocean bays where waves aren’t an issue; such as the Blue Fin Cruise Inflatable Paddle Board.
Benefits of Inflatable Paddle Boards
If you are considering an inflatable SUP (stand-up paddleboard), you are likely looking for a more convenient option than a hard board. Here are 4 benefits of purchasing an ISUP:
- Inflatables are more convenient: They can be deflated and stored in their carry bag, which makes them easy to transport. They can be taken on an airplane, boat or RV; carried on your back while riding your bike; and even stored in a small space such as a closet.
- They are extremely lightweight: You can carry an inflatable stand-up paddleboard (SUP) using one arm. Since they are so light, they are easy to take anywhere. The boards weigh between 12 and 40 pounds. Most come with a backpack carry bag. Some bags are better than others, but most people can comfortably carry them for more than 200 yards.
- Inflatable paddle boards are versatile: Inflatable paddle boards are growing in popularity and for good reason. It’s not hard to see why—they’re versatile and stable, making them enjoyable for paddlers of all ages and skill levels. The increased popularity of inflatable paddle boards has led to a wide variety of options on the market.
- Inflatable paddle boards are very durable: You might be surprised at how well these paddle boards hold up. They’re nearly indestructible and totally ding-proof. Tears and leaks can happen, but if you are careful about where you put your board down (and what it comes in contact with), it should last you a long time with little wear and tear. I’ve had an inflatable paddle board for years, and it still looks brand new. I have noticed that the vinyl gets cloudy if left out in the sun too long, but all it takes is a quick wipe-down with some marine cleaner to restore its original sheen.
What Are Epoxy or Hard Paddle Boards?
Hard SUPs are made with epoxy resin. Epoxy resin is a type of plastic that is hard and durable, so it’s ideal for paddle boards that have to withstand the elements. It’s also impact-resistant, which makes it perfect for high-impact sports like paddle boarding.
Epoxy boards are typically made with an EPS (expanded polystyrene) foam core that is covered in layers of fiberglass, with epoxy resin coating the outside. Carbon fiber rails give rails extra strength and make them lightweight. These hard SUPs cut through water easily, making them ideal for SUP surfing and maneuvering on waves. Since there is little drag from the materials, these boards can gain a lot of speed as well.
Since hard boards are more responsive to the rider’s movements, beginner paddle boarders often struggle with them. Epoxy SUPs are best recommended for expert riders. There are many benefits to hard SUPs, but one drawback is that they take up a lot of space and often get damaged due to ‘getting in the way’. Also, because of their longer manufacturing process, you can typically expect epoxy paddle boards to be more expensive than other types
Benefits of Hard Paddle Boards
The benefits of hard paddle boards are many. They can be used in a number of conditions and they provide a very stable platform for your paddling activities. There are several advantages to using a hard board over an iSUP or inflatable paddle board. Some of the most important benefits include:
- Rigidity of hard paddle boards: Rigidity is the key benefit of using a hard board. Being able to slice through the water provides advantages for a number of use cases. A rigid board is also much more stable than an inflatable one, which means that you can stand up on it to take pictures or even just stand up for fun!
- Performance of hard paddle boards: If you’re looking for a high-quality stand-up paddle board for exercise or racing, hard boards offer better glide and momentum. Most serious paddlers have a quiver of hard boards of various shapes and sizes (including displacement hulls to really move through water). As I mentioned above, some inflatable SUPs are catching up in quality, but hard boards still win here.
- Easier to set up: Hard boards can just pop off the roof rack and hit the water. Inflatable SUPs need some love and attention. It’s a trade-off for the convenience of these boards. They also tend to be more difficult to repair if you do happen to have an incident with either board.
What Are Soft Top or Composite Paddle Boards?
Soft-top paddle boards contain a foam core that is covered with a spongy material to provide a soft, padded finish. This makes them ideal for families and young paddlers who are likely to hit rocky bottoms or bump into each other while learning how to paddle board.
Soft tops and composite boards are cheaper than traditional hard-plastic boards. While some of them don’t perform as well in certain areas, they’re still a good buy for beginners. If you’re looking for a board that will turn easily and requires minimal effort, then soft tops could be just what you need.
They’re also great for learning how to surf or stand-up paddle (SUP) in choppy water because they won’t sink like solid plastic boards would if they were punctured by rocks or coral reefs.
Which Paddle Board Is Right for You?
When trying to decide which paddle board to pick out of an inflatable paddleboard, hard paddle board, and soft top paddle boards, there are five factors to consider. Choosing a paddle board that will be perfect for your needs like flat water paddleboarding will depend on many things. Those factors will be your portability needs, storage space, durability, performance, and budget you have.
Portability of Paddle Boards
If portability is your main concern, an inflatable paddle board is the way to go. These boards roll up when deflated, making them easy to transport and fly with when you go on vacation. They’re also lightweight, so carrying them to and from the water won’t be a problem.
If you don’t mind putting in a little more effort for a more durable product, a hard paddle board will suit your needs best because it doesn’t require inflating or deflating before or after use.
Storage Space of Paddle Boards
When choosing between an inflatable and a hard paddle board, consider how much storage space you have at home. If you live in a small apartment or home with minimal storage space, an inflatable SUP will be your best option. You can easily store one in any room of your home.
If you have more room to spare, then a hard paddle board may be the way to go. Hard boards are more durable and less likely to puncture than inflatables, so they’re better for storing outside or in a garage or attic.
Durability of Paddle Boards
The durability of a paddle board is an important factor to consider when purchasing one. If you’re going to be taking your new board on multiple adventures and want to ensure it lasts for years, then you’ll want to look at the different types of durability available.
Inflatable paddle boards are more durable than hard sups. You won’t ding or scratch your inflatable board if you drop it. If you drop your hard sup while paddling in rocky rivers or white water rapids, there’s a chance your board will be damaged. If you want to avoid the hassle of repairing your board, an inflatable will give you more carefree days on the water.
Harder material makes for a more durable paddle board that can withstand rough waters better than an inflatable one would. However, due to their rigidness, hard boards are less flexible than inflatables and tend to break if they get hit by rocks or other objects while out on the water.
Performance of Paddle Boards
When it comes to paddle board performance, hard paddle boards outperform inflatables. Hard paddle boards are easier to catch waves and more agile than inflatable paddle boards. In other words, they’re better suited for SUP surfing, racing, long-distance expeditions, and burn calories while paddle boarding.
However, if you’re looking for a great all-around board that will work well in a variety of conditions (including flatwater), inflatable paddle boards are the way to go. They’re more durable than hard boards and don’t require as much maintenance. Another factor you will want to consider is which size paddle board you will need.
Common Paddle Board Questions
Are All Paddle Boards Inflatable?
The quick answer is no, not all paddle boards are inflatable. There are many types of paddle boards made from fiberglass, foam, wood and some high-end race boards are made of carbon fiber.
Inflatable paddle boards are an excellent choice for anyone looking to get into the sport without spending a lot of money or those who want to travel with their board. The main advantage of an inflatable SUP is that it can be packed up in a small bag or even strapped to the outside of your backpack and taken anywhere you want to go.
How Long Do Inflatable Paddle Boards Last?
The most commonly used quality inflatable boards, if well cared for, can last from three to five years. Boards that are used frequently or poorly cared for will last only three years or less.
How long an inflatable paddle board (iSUP) lasts depends on how it’s used and stored. You can extend the life of your board by following these tips:
Keep your board out of direct sunlight when not in use. Sunlight breaks down the material and makes it more susceptible to damage from UV rays.
Store your inflatable paddle board on a rack or in a storage bag when it’s not in use. This also protects against UV damage and moisture from rain or snow.
Don’t leave your iSUP inflated while stored away — this can cause leaks in the material and lead to further damage over time. Instead, deflate it fully before storing away until the next time you’re ready to use it again.