Inflatable paddle boards have probably taken over the SUP market in the past few years – and here we’ll explore the reasons why.
Yes, these two board constructions (inflatable & non-inflatable) are designed for one thing – to be ridden on the water with a help of a paddle, but at the same time, they’re made out of completely different materials.
The reason why iSUPs have boomed as heavily is that they offer nearly an identical performance to rigid SUPs.
– It is believed that inflatable paddle boards are only 5% slower than rigid boards.
- iSUP = Inflatable Stand-Up Paddle board = Inflatable Paddle board
- Rigid SUP = Hard SUP = Solid Stand-up Paddle board = Non-inflatable paddle board
Why to prefer inflatable SUP over a rigid SUP?
One of the biggest reasons why inflatable paddle boards have gained such popularity is their compact size. The whole 10’6″ longboard fits nicely into a large backpack that’s included in the bundle.
ISUPs offer an unbeatable alternative to rigid SUPs by having nearly the same characteristics. One of the most popular iSUP range starts from $400 where you’ll see boards with over 10,000 ratings online – that’s a solid selling point for sure! Not to forget that the inflatable paddle board bundle comes with everything one would need to get on the water – a 3-piece paddle, carry bag, puncture kit, etc.
Inflatable SUPs come in different designs for all the possible disciplines out there. From Yoga to Kids’, Touring, and Race SUPs.
An average size 10’6″ x 32″ x 6″ inflatable SUP weighs in at just 16lbs. (Compared to 30lbs + rigid SUPs).
One board for the whole family
ISUPs offer a convenient way to transport the board to the beach and which then can be used for the whole family. Since these boards are filled with air, the chances of hurting a paddler are smaller compared to rigid SUPs.
Not only do the majority of inflatable paddle boards cost less than their rigid counterparts, but you’ll also save from buying the set of crossbars and SUP holders for your car. Anything extra placed outside the car, especially on the roof, creates more drag which leads to decreased fuel efficiency.
Whenever you are planning to use the paddle board in the surf, or simply travel often – an inflatable paddle board is easy to carry, and less likely to hurt the paddler as well. You don’t have to worry about the board’s safety on the car’s roof as well.
Storing away an inflatable board is easy – it is basically the size of an 80L backpack.
Take it on a small boat
Whenever you are thinking of going to explore an island that’s out of reach by a paddle board – you can just take it with you!
Extra workout/warm-up before going in
It takes around 5-10 minutes to inflate an average paddle board which means you are getting a nice pre-paddle warm-up.
What are the downsides to inflatable paddle boards?
As iSUPs are inflatable, filled with air – the risk of hitting something sharp is always out there and it stays relevant throughout the whole time of use.
Have to keep away from the sun
If you leave anything that’s inflated to its maximum recommended pressure out on the sun for long periods of time – it can simply bulge up and damage the seals. It only happens in badly ventilated locations with intense UV rays.
Not as stable in messy conditions
Although iSUPs have a quite similar ride feel in perfect paddling conditions, they are not as stable in windier conditions.
Slower to the water
The compact design is great – but that extra inflation time sets you back with extra 5-10 minutes.
You are less likely to use it as your daily paddle board
If you are fortunate enough to live right by the water and’d like to paddle as often as possible, an iSUP might not be the option for you. Yes, you can store one away like a rigid board, but once you’ve found your preferred riding style – an inflatable SUP can limit your progress due to its lack of customization.
Parts are usually made of low-quality materials
Although that’s not the case among well-known SUP brands, a majority of mass-produced iSUPs come with cheap and low-quality fins, a paddle, and a pump.
Rigid Paddle Board PROs
What are the benefits of a non-inflatable paddle board?
Increased momentum and speed – the original Epoxy SUP boards are known for their better ‘hold’ in the water.
Since the whole board is in one solid form, there’s no flex (or give) to it. A rigid SUP is basically a small watercraft that has slightly better stability than an inflatable SUP.
Rigid boards often come in beautiful designs.
There’s much more engineering put into making one, and many specific materials are used to give a specific board its characteristics.
You can use one for surfing
Although pretty much any board can be used to surf a wave, including an inflatable board – it is the epoxy SUP that’s best to surf some medium to large waves. Read our full Surf SUP Guide.
Faster to the water
No need to inflate the board – just take the paddle and off you go.
Faster on the water
Non-inflatable paddle boards are faster on the water with increased stability. That is one of the only reasons why rigid SUPs are still as popular.
You can add custom fins
Due to its solid fin box – there’s a wide selection of center fins to choose from.
Different keel options
Rigid SUPs have a great variety of designs available that affect the overall performance.
Less likely to submerge the board
Since the floatation of a non-inflatable paddle board doesn’t depend on pressurized air – you don’t have to worry about punctures that can drown the board.
Rigid Paddle Board CONs
Have to buy a paddle as an extra
While iSUP packages come with a paddle included – that’s not often the case with rigid SUPs. The benefit of that is you can choose between many high-quality paddles for the upcoming years.
Need a pair of roof racks & crossbars
Another downside is that you’ll have to get a specific SUP carrier with roof racks. That can cost up to $300 – $500 extra in total.
The board prices for rigid SUPs generally start from $700 and go up to $1,500. That’s pretty much as double you’d pay for an iSUP bundle.
Harder to repair
Non-inflatable paddleboards are not as easy to repair with a simple repair kit. If you don’t want any water to enter the core of your board – you’ll have to take it to a professional.
Rigid SUPs are basically small watercraft which means they need extra care when handling.
Difficult to store & transport
Handling such an oversized item like the rigid SUP needs some time to get used to. You’ll also have to figure out a way to store on.
Both of the board constructions have their equal pros and cons while the joy of paddleboarding remains the same. For recreational users who’d like to explore what paddleboarding is all about – an iSUP is the perfect alternative to solid SUPs.
Are inflatable paddle boards worth the money?
Inflatable paddleboards are a great choice for beginner, intermediate or recreational users who’d want to get into paddleboarding without sacrificing any extra space. They are indeed worth the money since many experienced and life-long paddleboarders are surprised by their indistinguishable feel and the whole concept of portability.
Are inflatable paddle boards safe against punctures?
The same goes for bicycle tires – if you inflate the board to a recommended pressure and avoid riding in sketchy places – you are minimizing the chance of puncturing the tire.
While the risk remains, it is still very unlikely to damage the board as easily one would think. As this is the main concern among new paddleboarders, manufacturers have thought about that problem and solved it to a reasonable degree.
Which paddle board is easier to paddle – rigid or iSUP?
Rigid boards are slightly heavier which means they are physically harder to paddle – but they’ll benefit from the momentum it offers. Inflatable paddleboards are lighter but don’t glide like a rigid board, especially in messy conditions.
I created Nulltuul to share my experience, research and analysis with other surf enthusiasts out there. If I'm not surfing on my travels - I like to photograph waves, surfers, and the surf lifestyle in general.