This is a question we get asked often in the store. Which is better: a hard paddle board or an inflatable? Here we outline the pros and cons of each so you understand what suits your needs best.
Inflatable paddle boards
These have been exploding in popularity the last few years and for good reason. For one thing, they are easy to transport. The entire board including pump and repair kit fits into a large duffel bag (most of the brands make bags with harnesses so you can backpack your board). Pack it into your vehicle or fly with it as checked baggage.
Quality inflatable boards are made with a high dropstitch count - that's the number of threads per set area that attach the top layer to the bottom layer. It is this plus the amount of air pressure a board can handle that gives it its rigidity. A good inflatable with high dropstitch count that can be pumped up to 16 or higher psi will be extremely rigid, and therefore much nicer to paddle. Some newer paddlers can't tell these from hard boards.
Inflatables do require pumping. For the average person it takes about 10 minutes to pump up a board. The last few psi are the hardest to get and take some body weight on the pump, which may be difficult for smaller paddlers or those with less strength. In this case an electric pump comes in handy.
Some people believe inflatables to be less durable than hard boards but this is not the case. Being lightweight and made of flexible materials they bounce off things and are extremely difficult to damage. They are also easy to patch. Because of this durability inflatables are the number one choice for whitewater SUP paddlers. Perfect for kids and dogs, inflatables are your best bet if your board is going to get abused.
The biggest difference between an inflatable and a hard board is its feel on the water. Being less stiff, inflatables have a softer feel whereas a hard board will respond slightly faster and have a more nimble feeling. Generally speaking, hard boards will be slightly faster than a comparable inflatable.
Pros: easy to transport, lightweight, durable, simple to repair
Cons: require pumping, slightly slower
If you are looking for performance, you can't beat a hard board. Being stiffer than inflatables they are very responsive and hold their glide a little better on the water, giving them a lively, easy feeling.
Usually made of a foam core with a composite shell, hard boards can be quite tough (many have reinforced rails along the sides) but they are more likely to get cracks or crushes from impact than an inflatable. Some are made with bamboo or wood top sections and bright, glossy colours and finishes so you get some really gorgeous boards.
Pros: slightly better performance, aesthetics, no need to pump up
Cons: crack more easily
Things to watch for
It's easy to find cheap boards and the price tags are tempting. After all, what if you don't take to paddle boarding? Before you go this route, consider the following:
- Boards less than about $800 use cheaper, less durable materials. They may last a few seasons but their lifespan will be far shorter than a quality board.
- Check the psi on inflatables. The lower it is the softer the board will be, which means it will flex as you're paddling, which is frustrating (think: paddling a pool noodle). We only carry boards with a higher psi rating and good dropstitch count to ensure they are rigid enough to enjoy.
- Cheap construction materials are often difficult to repair. We have the products and expertise to help you repair a quality board purchased here if such a need ever arose.
- If by chance you don't take to paddle boarding, a quality board will sell better second hand than a big box special.
- Consider your after-purchase support. If you have any issues with your board make sure these can be appropriately addressed. We stand by our products and are invested in your enjoyment of them, so you can count on our ongoing support and service.