Inflatable vs. Hard Paddle Board – Which is Best for You?

Paddle boarding can be a fun activity to add to your new lakefront home. Imagine a tranquil morning before all the boaters are out, watching the sunrise from the middle of the lake! But before you go purchase a new lake toy, you need to consider if an inflatable or a hard paddle board is best for you. Inflatable Stand Up Paddleboards are great for flatwater paddling and convenience but generally don’t perform as well in rough water paddling or sup surfing as a hard board.

What is a hard SUP-

Hard SUPs, or solid standup paddleboards, are most commonly built from different materials like foam, fiberglass, Kevlar, plastics and wood, and protected with coats of epoxy resin. The foam core creates buoyancy, while layers of fiberglass, Kevlar or bamboo veneer creates durability and rigidity, while the epoxy finish works to harden the board and ensure it’s water tight.

Many epoxy boards have an air vent installed on the deck, used to prevent delamination of the epoxy resin from the EPS foam blank. Other finish layups, like plastic, are available and usually cheaper, but don’t necessarily provide the same level of performance. Other than shape, size and a few other factors, when considering a new purchase it’s important to make sure the board is light enough for you to manage, provides ample floatation (volume) for your weight and comes equipped with a thick, unblemished finish to ensure it’ll be durable and water tight.

What is a IUP-

Inflatable standup paddleboards, or iSUPs, are manufactured from layers of PVC plastic with woven fibers that connect the top and bottom at points inside throughout the board. They typically come in a carrying case about the size of a large duffle bag, weighing anywhere from 18 to 28 pounds. iSUPs come equipped with a valve that the operator attaches to a pump (most often included with the iSUP) and uses to inflate the board, normally to around 15 psi.

iSUPs can become surprisingly rigid once inflated, and some even come equipped with carbon strips or rods that run along the rails or stringer (the center line) from nose to tail to increase stiffness. Many iSUPs, especially boards geared for river paddling, come with flexible, built-in fins, but some come with fin boxes for replaceable fin options. Inflatable SUPs are commonly a bit lighter than most solid boards because they are composed mostly of air and plastic. They’re also generally less expensive.

Pros of inflatable boards

1) Portability for transport, storage, travel, etc.

2) Durability, especially for blunt impacts such as smooth rocks, ideal for rivers and rocky shorelines where epoxy boards can get damage easily

3) Safety-soft surface, this is especially helpful for beginners who often try to break their fall by falling onto the board instead of into the water

Cons of Inflatable Boards-

1) Pumping up/ longer setup and breakdown- a hard board is ready to go, a iSUP takes some time to set up and inflate.  For this reason (and because it is better for the board) almost half of users surveyed keep their boards inflated even when not in use.

2) Flex- inflatable SUP’s are more flexible than hard boards which leads to lower performance and a wobbly, less stable feel and absorbs energy, resulting in lower board speeds.  The flex is especially noticeable in rough conditions and in the surf.  Flex is less much of an issue in smooth, flat water, so it depends what you plan to use the board for.

3) Limitations of shape- Inflatable have fat, rounded rails and the thickness is the same from nose to tail.  Hard boards have finely tuned rails and are tapered (less thick) in the nose and tail area, with the volume generally focused on the standing area where it is needed for stability and less volume in the nose and tail for better performance, especially in waves and chop.  A hard board gives the shaper/ designer many more options to optimize performance for specific conditions, rider weight, and skill level.

4) Longevity and seam issues-  The PVC material and glue break down over time and more quickly in heat and UV exposure.  Leaving an inflatable SUP in the sun can cause the air inside to expand, increasing pressure on the seams that can get softened/ weakened by the heat, causing it to give. Once an inflatable starts to leak at the seams, it is very difficult to repair, this usually means it has to be replaced.  In comparison, a well built and properly maintained epoxy hard board can last a very long time.

5) Risk of puncture

6) Lower performance in some conditions

7) Environmental impact: Keep in mind that a lot of petrochemical products are wasted if the board gets disposed.  It’s better to buy a quality board and get lots of use out of it than buying junk that ends up in the landfill.

You’ll want an inflatable paddle board if…

  • You have minimal storage space
  • You travel often and want to take your board with you
  • You’re a first-timer or on a budget
  • You’re an adventurous paddler and need a durable board\

You’ll want a hard paddle board if…

  • You plan on only using it at local beaches, lakes, bays
  • You want to catch waves & go SUP surfing
  • You’re a load and go paddler
  • You want optimal performance, agility, and speed when paddle boarding

Don’t rush into buying the first paddle board you need… take some time and do research on a good quality paddle board, either hard or inflatable that will last you a good while and be a great addition to your water toys at your lakefront home!

Posted by Scott Freerksen “The Lake Guy”

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