Which is better: an inflatable or a rigid paddle board? This is one of the major decisions you have to make when buying a SUP.
Now, it would be nice to have a straightforward answer, but it wouldn’t be truthful. The answer depends on your lifestyle and how you want to use the paddle board.
Both stand up paddle board types are amazing and have their benefits. They also have downsides.
So how do you decide?
We are going to have an honest inflatable paddle board vs hard SUP discussion. Hopefully, knowing who and what each type is best for will help you make the right decision.
The Difference Between Inflatable and Hard Paddle Boards
The main difference between inflatable boards and solid boards is the construction and board design.
Let’s take a closer look.
What Are Inflatable SUP Boards?
An inflatable paddle board is a board that can be inflated and deflated, as you can guess from the name. It is also known as an iSUP.
Inflatable SUP boards are built using drop stitch and PVC material.
With drop stitch construction, two layers of fabric are joined together using thousands of tiny threads. This ensures that the inflatable stand up paddle board maintains its shape when inflated.
But the drop stitch layers are not airtight, and that’s where PVC comes in. A layer of PVC is added to make the paddle board airtight.
Some iSUPs have one PVC layer while others have multiple layers. More layers translates to a more rigid inflatable board. But it can also mean having to deal with a heavier SUP.
Paddle boards made with a single layer are lighter but their rigidity can be disappointing. Some of them flex, especially with a heavier rider on board.
Different manufacturers use different techniques to make stiff but light inflatables.
What Are Rigid SUP Boards?
Rigid or ‘traditional’ stand up paddle boards are not inflatable. They are also known as fiberglass or epoxy boards.
The construction of rigid SUP boards starts with a foam core. From there you have layers of fiberglass, bamboo, wood veneer, plastic, or other materials.
One of the best things about hardboards is that you don’t have to worry about flex.
You may also notice that solid paddle boards are thinner and tapered, unlike iSUPs. Their thickness is not uniform all along the length of the board.
Inflatable Paddle Boards Vs Solid SUPs: An Honest Comparison
Now that you know what makes iSUPs and hard boards different, let’s see how they compare.
Hard standup paddle boards offer superior performance. They are exceptionally rigid, faster, and more agile.
This is not to say that inflatable boards don’t perform. But epoxy boards glide so well with less drag.
With better speed and maneuverability, hardboards are the best option for serious SUP surfing and racing.
However, the construction of inflatable paddle boards has come a long way. Their performance has improved. As a result, the difference in speed between these two paddle board types isn’t that big.
There are some well-made inflatable SUPs that will impress you with their performance.
The construction of both fiberglass boards and inflatable SUPs is an important differentiating factor.
The material used to make inflatable stand up paddle boards is military-grade. They are unbelievably durable.
But inflatable paddle boards are pretty durable too. It is easy to think that iSUPs are just like any other inflatable water toy,but you’d be surprised by how much they can handle.
While solid boards can easily get dented when you bump into rocks, inflatables will just bounce off. This makes them perfect for white water paddling.
You can throw your inflatable board off a roof, run it over with your car, or accidentally drop it on concrete and it will be fine. You cannot say the same about a traditional SUP board.
If you’re doubting, check the inflatable durability tests on YouTube. Red Paddle Co has the craziest tests; you’ll be amazed.
Also read our Atoll paddle board review – one of the most durable SUPs on the market.
One of the main advantages of having an iSUP is portability. Most paddlers are adventurous and love traveling with their paddle boards.
An inflatable SUP allows you to explore different bodies of waters, near and far.
Once you are done using your inflatable paddle board, deflate and roll it up to the size of a sleeping bag. You don’t need a truck or a car roof rack to transport it.
You can even fly with it all over the country for vacations. You won’t have to rent a paddle board everywhere you go.
This can’t be said about solid SUP boards. Can you imagine transporting a 12-foot long board by plane? You would pay ridiculous fees and some airlines won’t even allow a long SUP. Even thinking about it is stressful!
iSUPs are also the best for hiking. They come with a backpack that can accommodate the board and the rest of your SUP accessories.
How will you store your paddle board? This is one of the many questions you have to ask before buying a SUP. If you want your board to last, you have to store it properly.
Unless you are storing it inflated, a blow-up stand up paddle board doesn’t need much storage space. It will fit under the bed, in your closet, or somewhere in a corner. It is perfect for paddle boarders who live in small apartments or people who generally don’t have much space.
Hard boards can be tricky because they don’t deflate and require more space.
So the winner in this category is inflatable paddle boards (for a paddler with limited storage space).
Benefits of Inflatable SUPs
Why would someone choose an inflatable SUP over a fiberglass one?
The main reason is probably portability and storage. If you travel a lot and like to bring your SUP with you, an inflatable is a great option. Checking in at the airport will be a breeze and so will be hiking with your paddle board.
Inflatables don’t take up much space and you can store them anywhere.
The other benefit is that inflatable stand up paddle boards have better stability and a higher rider weight capacity. They are thicker and have more volume, which allows them to support more weight. Some single-rider iSUPs, like the Atoll 11’, can hold as much as 700 lbs–which is remarkable.
Inflatable boards have a softer surface. Why does this matter? Because you will most likely fall while paddle boarding. When that happens and you hit the SUP, you will be glad you got a blow-up board. The surface is more forgiving compared to a hard board’s surface.
Generally, inflatable SUP boards are cheaper. You can get a full iSUP package for as low as $300. The package includes a paddle board, paddle, leash, backpack, and a manual pump. That’s all you need to get started with the sport!
Inflatables are more durable than traditional boards. The military-grade material used to make them is no joke. You won’t have to panic every time you bump into something while paddling.
The iSUP will just bounce off the object. Hardboards can easily get dings and dents. That is why they are not a good option for white water paddling.
Lastly, inflatable SUPs are lighter. Epoxy boards can be heavy and a pain to carry across the beach, especially if you are on the smaller side.
Benefits of Hard SUPs
Many paddlers choose hardboards because of their performance. They are fast, responsive, and glide so smoothly on the water. These boards are great for catching waves and racing.
However, you can also surf and race with inflatable SUP boards, but they can only handle smaller waves and you certainly won’t be winning any races if the other participants have traditional racing boards.
Another benefit of hard SUPs is that they don’t require inflation and deflation. This may be a downside for storage and transport but it has its advantages. Having to inflate and deflate your paddle board every time isn’t fun.
Using an electric pump takes less effort but you still have to wait a few minutes for it to inflate.
With a fiberglass SUP, you can take it from your car and straight to the water. Once you are done paddling, load it onto the car and get moving. No setup is required.
Inflatable Paddle Board Vs Rigid Paddle Board: Which One Is Right for You?
An inflatable SUP board is suitable for the rider with limited storage space. It is also for you if you’d like to travel with your paddle board.
You should consider an iSUP if you want to paddle an area with a lot of rocks and obstacles. It will not get easily damaged.
An inflatable may also be for you if you are looking for quality on a budget. You will have many options. You can get a good entry-level board from a reputable brand like iRocker or Bluefin SUP Boards.
A rigid paddle board would be great for serious SUP surfing, racing, and long-distance touring.
You should also go for an epoxy board if you don’t like the idea of inflating and deflating your board every time.
Inflatable SUP Vs Hard Paddle Board FAQs
Are Inflatable Paddle Boards Better Than Hard Ones?
For some paddlers, inflatable paddle boards are better than hard ones. Both inflatable and hard boards have their pros and cons. It depends on your lifestyle and how you want to use the SUP.
Are Inflatable Paddle Boards Good for Beginners?
Inflatable paddle boards are good for beginners, as they are affordable, easy to transport and are also pretty stable. Stability is an important factor for anyone looking to learn paddle boarding. iSUPs also come with all the basic accessories in the package.
Are Hard Paddle Boards More Stable?
Inflatable SUPs are more stable than hard paddle boards. They have a uniform thickness and a higher weight limit, factors that promote stability.
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Inflatable SUP vs hard paddle board: which one will you choose?
Each paddle board type comes with its benefits and downsides. So it all comes down to what your priority is.
Inflatables are affordable, durable, portable, and easy to store. They have a soft surface that won’t hurt a lot if you fall and hit the board.
Hard boards offer better speed and overall performance. You also don’t have to inflate your board every time you go paddling.
If you have any questions feel free to ask us. Happy paddling!