Should you get an inflatable SUP or a hard paddle board?

There was a time in the not so distant past that this question would have been scoffed at by any paddle boarder. Inflatable paddle boards used to seem geared more toward providing fun for a child than lasting longer than it took for a puncture to deflate it to the trash heap. Recent advances in board technology have brought a new, serious, strong competitor to the debate.

Removable fins, better constructed boards with rigid, firm structures are part of the landscape now. Anyone thinking of getting an inflatable board should look for double seams, reinforced PVC exterior, and a very important aspect, a high pound per square inch ranch (PSI). Look for an inflatable board with a PSI of 15 to 25 range.

Boards that are 14 PSI or lower tend to be inexpensive and made of inferior quality materials. A high PSI allows your board to be highly rigid. A rigid board bounces off rocks or other objects with ease and handle obstacles well. Usually, the outside hull of a hard board is a fiberglass shell. If it hits rocks like when going down whitewater rapids, for example, it gets dinged and if difficult to repair.

a picture of the inflatable paddle board lifestyle

Your Board Choice Should Reflect Your Lifestyle

Determining the right board for you depends a great deal on your lifestyle. Ask yourself where you plan to use it. Flat water paddle boarding is more forgiving than surf paddle boarding. River boards have a variety of uses, however, it depends on the river and its location. Whitewater paddle boarding takes a different board and skills than a lazy afternoon float down a wide river with no obstacles.

Serious wave navigation and surfing needs a harder board for stability. Any plans you may have in a competitive setting should steer you in the direction of a harder board. For the best speed and performance, a hard board cannot be beaten.

Flat water paddle boarding, especially for the performance driven boarder, is a good environment for a hard board. When it comes to maneuverability a hard board is a good choice. Hard boards are typically quicker than an inflatable board as well. If you need a board that can make tight turns and rapidly responds to your direction, then get a hard board.

a picture of an inflatable sup in a car

Decide if Convenience And Size Matters

Accessing certain beach or lake fronts is not possible without considerable walking. Whether this is over asphalt or in the woods a hard board gets unwieldy and heavy very fast. With a length ranging from nine to 14 feet long, and weight that averages between 26 and 30 pounds, a hard board is more difficult to manage because of their size.

Smaller people with small hands may encounter problems trying to carry a hard board by themselves. This is especially true for boarders trying to wrestle their board and gear across busy streets and crowded beaches just to reach the water. Boards 14 feet long tend to try the patience of drivers waiting for you and your board to clear the street on a hot day.

Experts recommend trying to load a board on your vehicle before committing to a purchase. Strongly consider renting the board type you have your eye on to understand what is better for you rather than what board looks good.

a picture of a dog on a hard paddle board

Choose a Paddle Board for Your Pet

Decide whether you plan to paddleboard alone or with your pet. If there was a sport designed by a dog, paddleboarding would be the one. There are some considerations to keep in mind for your pet’s comfort and safety, as well as yours.

Believe it or not, there are many dogs that cannot swim. Dog owners with Bulldogs, Pekingese, Pugs, Boxers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, Dachshunds, Basset Hounds, and others with short muzzles and/or large heads should plan to purchase a special dog life jacket for your pet. All dogs paddle and attempt to stay afloat, but dogs with characteristics that do not allow their heads to remain above water will drown.

Owners of dogs naturally acclimated for water sports may find their dog is confident to the point where they head directly to the  nose to sit or stand. This spot happens to be the least stable and has little grip available for your pet’s paws. A doggy pad or a deck traction pad provides a stable area with the gripping ability for your dog.

Inflatable boards, with their more stable qualities, tend to be a better choice when going with your dog. Dogs paws cannot grip fiberglass boards very well and tend to slide around with a traction pad. If your dog prefers to sit or needs to sit down to take a break, an inflatable provides a surface that is more comfortable than a hard board.

a picture of a costco wavestorm hard paddle boardWhat do You Want from Your Paddle Board

You should consider why you plan to purchase a paddle board. If you are a water sports buff and want to try something new, you may not need a top of the line board at first. Try different boards if possible before committing yourself to purchasing a board. You may be a hard-core person who is looking to introduce someone new to the sport. Help them learn the pros and cons of each board type and remember that their storage and portability requirements may be vastly different from yours.

Before you make a purchase, give significant thought as to what you hope to gain from it. If you are highly competitive, you may want to consider a board geared toward performance. A harder board is always rigid and requires no inflating. The moment you exit your vehicle your hard board is ready to hit the water. They are highly responsive and almost always seem to anticipate your next move.

Performance based boarders are unlikely to be completely comfortable with anything but a hard board. Regardless of easy portability or a decreased need for storage space, the speed and performance capabilities demanded by certain styles can only be satisfied with a hard board. Inflatables do not tend to track as well as hard boards. If you are trying to maintain a straight line while paddling on alternate sides, a hard board often performs better than an inflatable board.

A weekend hobbyist may require something with portability. Many inflatable paddleboards are compact to the point where they fit in a backpack. The convenience that comes with an inflatable paddle board may be the perfect choice for your weekend  lifestyle. These boards have a softer landing surface for beginners and other people who tend to fall.

The stability of inflatables makes it easier to learn the sport. The flip side is that they tend to flex or sink in the middle of the board. While this is often due to under-inflation, it is still frustrating to encounter while standing on your board trying to maneuver your way back to shore. If you are just learning the sport, you may want to get a wider board for its stability, whether it is an inflatable board or a hard board.

a picture of cold water inflatable paddle boards

Extreme Climates May Affect Your Board Choice

Your choice should include where you live and the time of year you want to go out. The climate where you plan to practice plays a role in your choice of boards. Very cold water and an unforgivingly cold climate makes air contract. This makes an inflatable board less practical than a hard board in the cold. No matter how rigid an inflatable intends to get, the freezing water will counteract its rigid properties.

Final Thoughts For Consideration

Limited storage space, convenience and the compact portability of an inflatable paddle board meets the needs of many enthusiasts. An inflatable board is far easier to transport than a hard paddle board. Consequently, many beginner people are more likely to stick with a sport that looks easy but takes a surprising amount of skill and conditioning to maneuver.