Stand-up paddleboarders looking to buy a new board, in today’s market, are spoiled for choice. They are presented with a huge array of options, with paddleboards of different sizes, shapes, and materials easily available for purchase.
If you are an SUP enthusiast, then depending on your needs and preferences, you can buy a racing board, touring board, all-around board, or flatwater board. You will also have to decide whether you want to purchase a traditional, solid paddleboard or an inflatable one.
The type of paddleboard that is right for you will largely depend on how you want to use it. If you plan to explore distant beaches or try whitewater SUP, then an inflatable board might be the perfect option for you. On the other hand, if you’re more interested in SUP surfing and racing, then you’d do better to go for a solid board.
This is because solid and inflatable paddleboards are designed for different types of paddlers and offer distinct advantages. How and where you plan to go paddleboarding will determine what type of board you should bring with you. Attributes that are an asset in one environment could be a liability in another.
So, in order to make the right buying decision, you need to know some more about the characteristics of both inflatable and solid paddleboards.
Traditional (or hard) paddleboards are made from materials such as wood, foam, fiberglass, and plastic. These core layers are then protected with an outer coating of epoxy resin. The wood and fiberglass provide rigidity to the paddleboard, while the foam core produces buoyancy. The outermost layer of epoxy resin helps make the paddleboard stiff, durable, and water-tight.
Hard paddle boards are preferred by SUP surfers and racers because they provide unmatched stability and maneuverability in the water. Having a rigid, unyielding board under your feet can make it much easier to move swiftly while navigating huge waves and fast currents. However, the downside is that these paddleboards can be quite heavy and difficult to transport from one place to another.
Woven fibers and strong PVC plastic are some of the materials used to manufacture inflatable paddleboards. These form the outer layer of the SUP board, covering an inflatable, drop-stitched core that forms the heart of the paddleboard.
Drop-stitch is a method of tying two layers of material together with a large number of thin threads. When the paddleboard is deflated, the two layers of the drop-stitched core collapse into each other until they’re completely flat. The board can then be rolled up and packed into a small case or backpack.
Most inflatable paddle boards come with a pump and a valve that can be used to inflate or deflate it, as necessary. They also come with flexible fins that are either built-in or replaceable. Much less rigid than their solid counterparts, inflatable paddleboards have the advantage of being lighter, more portable, and easier to store.
Which Paddleboard Is the Best?
As mentioned above, neither solid nor inflatable paddleboards are inherently superior. Which paddleboard you should buy depends entirely on what you want to use it for. Let’s take a look at the type of paddleboard you will need in a handful of different situations.
- Traveling: If you plan to travel a great distance with your paddleboard, then an inflatable board is the right option for you, since it can be deflated, folded, and stored in a small bag during the journey. This would make it easier to take an inflatable board on a car or an airplane.
- SUP Racing: Solid paddleboards provide greater stability, agility, and overall performance in the water. They are also easier to maneuver and direct, even amidst large waves or fast currents. Hence, for SUP racing and long-distance paddling expeditions, solid boards are preferable to inflatable ones.
- Bad Weather: Inflatable paddleboards are lighter than solid ones, so they are easily impacted by strong winds and choppy waters. Being heavier and more rigid, solid paddleboards are not as easily affected by the winds and waves. So solid boards should be used when the weather is less than ideal.
- Whitewater SUP: If you plan on using your SUP board for river trips or whitewater paddling, then you must choose an inflatable board. This is because most rivers have boulders and rocky outcroppings with which the paddleboard can collide.
The impact with a boulder could dent or chip a solid board, but a flexible inflatable board would not be similarly damaged.
- Children and Beginners: Inexperienced paddlers, especially children, can lose their balance and fall on their paddleboard. Falling on a hard board might cause injury, particularly to kids. The surface of an inflatable board is softer and more flexible, so the risk of injury is much lower.
In essence, whether you should buy an inflatable paddleboard or a solid one depends on your priorities. Inflatable paddleboards are ideal for those who prioritize convenience, while solid boards are preferred by those who seek better performance. So take stock of your own needs and desires, before purchasing a high-quality stand-up paddleboard from a trusted manufacturer in your area.