Stand Up Paddle Boards Inflatable or Hard – What’s it to be?

Stand Up Paddle Boards Inflatable or Hard – What’s it to be?

Stand Up Paddle Boards

As a water sport, Stand Up Paddle Boarding (SUP) continues to grow in popularity globally and with so many options and variations to choose from, its easy to see what all the fuss is about.

If you are yet to take the financial plunge though, one of the key considerations that you are likely ponding is do I go for a hard (rigid / solid) or an inflatable SUP. There are of course a bunch of differing views with pros and cons for both, so let’s delve a little deeper into some of the considerations that are worth taking on ‘board’…

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Inflatable Boards

For general leisure and all round paddling or for the novice, inflatable SUPs are likely to be better suited given their versatility. Once considered somewhat of a novelty and targeted at kids, with advances in materials and board technology, inflatables are quickly becoming a board of choice for newer entrants to the market.

Profile view of the GILI 11’ Adventure iSUP

Here are a number of pros as to why inflatables might be right for you:
  • Durability – quality inflatable boards are made from high tech military grade materials that make them less vulnerable in certain instances when compared to hard boards. Dents and holes on epoxy boards are expensive to repair so if being used for general paddling on rivers where impacts with rocks is an issue then inflatables offer a great level of durability. They are also less likely to be damaged if accidentally dropped on a hard surface.
  • Safety – by its very nature, the softer surface and deck makes for a less painful experience in the event you fall. As a novice or a relative beginner, this will be inevitable.
  • 2 Men with Paddle Board BackpacksPortability / Storage – most boards come with a roller away or backpack for board and accessory storage so are far more portable than hard boards. If like many of us storage is a challenge (apartment living or no garage), inflatable boards can also be stored in a wide variety of indoor and outdoor spaces which again makes them a very attractive alternate to hard boards.
  • Cost – whilst the adage ‘you get what you pay for’ is true in this instance, the entry point for an inflatable board is far more attractive in terms of pricing so for beginners or the casual weekend rider, an inflatable board will likely make for a more attractive spend.
  • Transportation – one of the key advantages of inflatables is that they can easily be packed into the car or taken VW Beetle with Board on Roof Rackson airplanes. When flying in particular, there will be no need to pay for excess baggage charges in certain instances or go to the over sized baggage counter as inflatable boards are simply checked-in as regular luggage.
  • Performance – a contentious area for some, the technological advances in board materials has seen the better quality boards rivaling hard boards in terms of rigidity. With the same footprint, inflatables can have up to 20% more volume when compared to hard boards making them more stable with an ability to cater for heavier board riders.

Hard (Rigid / Solid) Boards

Board paddling (with or without a paddle) has been around for many years and had well-established itself as a water sport long before the introduction of inflatables.Profile View of Epoxy SUP

Targeted for the more regular or serious board paddler, hard boards offer a number of technical attributes over their softer cousins and are typically a better option if you are looking to get into board surfing or racing. Hard boards as a broad statement typically offer a greater level of rigidity. They are a solid structure made from EPS foam which is then covered in one of a number of different materials (fibreglass, Kevlar, wood, carbon).
<< Play nice on the water – always follow appropriate Paddle Boarding Etiquette >>

Lets consider some of the stronger arguments that might favour a hard (rigid / solid) board:

  • Convenience – whilst not portable in nature, if storage is NOT a challenge then the ‘pick up and go’ nature of a hard board makes for an easier choice as there is no need to unpack or pump up your board.
  • Performance – whilst in opposition to the above inflatable comment, depending on the type of paddling that you are looking to do, hard boards offer a greater level of performance, agility and support when it comes to stability and glide speed given that they have a slimmer profile. They also perform better in waves (surfing) as well as in racing conditions particularly over longer distances. Hard boards are said to typically be 5-10% faster over compatible conditions when compared to inflatables.Paddle Board Surfer
  • Energy / Output – linked to the performance comment about, hard boards require less energy in comparison to an inflatable. When paddling, a certain amount of energy is absorbed into the board as you paddle. Given its aerodynamics, an inflatable board will absorb more energy meaning that you will tire quicker particularly when paddling over greater distances.
  • Wind Conditions – even in light to moderate conditions, wind can have a significant impact on your ability to manage and paddle an inflatable board. Hard boards will therefore offer a greater level of stability and control under windy conditions and will not require you to wait for good weather conditions.

Both hard and inflatable boards have their pros and cons so your board selection will likely be governed by the type of boarding that you are looking to do. SUPs are a great way to hit the water irrespective of your choice so as long as you’re enjoying our waterways, I’m sure you’ll make the right choice.

Hopefully you found the above helpful but as always we’d love to hear from you so please feel free to leave your thoughts or feedback.

Stay safe and get wet!!

2 thoughts on “Stand Up Paddle Boards Inflatable or Hard – What’s it to be?”

  1. Hi and thank you for sharing this article!! I was looking for an answer to just that question. Let me check with you: I am a complete rookie. I have seen them on a fresh water lake last weekend and most of them were inflatable. I like the idea of transporting them easily and having a lower cost. If I were to start and use it only twice or three times a month, which solution would you suggest? Do you have a favorite among them?
    Thank you in advance for your help!

    • Thanks for your comments Jane. I personally have an inflatable board as like you I only get to use it infrequently these days. It better suits my needs in terms of versatility and storage and as I typically do flat water paddling its a perfect fit for me (and my kids). There are a bunch of different manufacturers that will cater for your likely type of usage and budget. Perhaps once you set yourself a budget you can then check out some of the online reviews. If you’re able to get to a store as well then that’s a great start as its always nice to physically see some of the options out there – get a feel for quality, size etc. It’s also not a bad idea to do a lesson perhaps or try out a rental board. Nothing better than actually giving it a try I guess…


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