Is it worth getting an inflatable paddle board?
Short Answer: Yes inflatable paddle boards are 100% wth getting. They offer many benefits over hard paddle boards, and with the newest technology, they offer almost identical performance to rigid boards. Inflatable SUPs offer a lot of great benefits, they are easy to transport and store, and they are versatile and extremely durable. Just make sure you get a quality inflatable paddle board, or it will not be worth the money. If you are looking for a paddle board for during, or racing, that is when it would be more beneficial to look at a hard paddle board.
Back in the primordial soup age of paddle boarding around 12 years ago, inflatable paddle boards started to crawl out of the ocean and tried to evolve into replacements for hard paddle boards. And while it was cool to see this brand new technology come onto the market, they basically sucked. Sorry, there is no reason to sugarcoat it. Back in the old days, some inflatable paddle boards did not even use drop stitch for the core. Drop stitch is what makes an inflatable paddle board rigid, we will get way more into this later, but like I said the early boards were hot garbage. These early boards were also only 4 inches thick which is just not enough volume for sup, and it definitely is not enough thickness to make rigid inflatable paddle boards.
After a few years, the inflatable paddle board did make a large evolutionary jump, and the double-layer board was born, or at least much more common. In broad strokes, there are currently 3 ways to produce inflatable sup boards, single layer, double layer, and fusion.
The single layer, just as it sounds is just a single layer of PVC that the drop stitch is attached to. This is the most common way to manufacture inflatable paddle boards and this is typically what you find in big box stores and Amazon for the low low price of $200-$450. And yes I can hear you saying right now, but the marketing says it is double, triple, or quad-layer. This is usually that put an extra layer on the rail, or a line down the middle of the board. These boards are not worth your hard-earned money and you will be much better off renting than purchasing a board in this price range. If the board is under 20lbs and in this price range it is a single-layer board. Cheap inflatable paddle boards will get you through a summer season, maybe, and then they will mostly likely fail :(
Double-layer boards are single-layer board, that has a second layer of PVC glued onto the board to make it more rigid, and more durable. These were the cream of the crop in the middle ages of SUP, and still, stand the test of time today. Adding another layer increases the stiffness by almost 40% over a single-layer board, and the durability of the product goes up exponentially. These boards are built to last a lifetime, and if you are looking for cheap paddle boards this is the tier of boards that are worth spending money on. How can you tell you are getting a double-layer board? Well, that is hard with all the marketing companies do, but it will have a maximum inflation of 15-20psi and weigh between 24-28lbs.
And that brings us to fusion technology. Fusion is a double-layer board that instead of glue is ultrasonically welded together. This fused layer eliminates the issues that can arise from gluing the layers together and improves the stiffness over a double-layer board by about 20%. Additionally, inflatable boards made with fusion technology are lighter boards vs double-layer boards. Fusion boards have been around for about 5 years and is still the premium way to build a paddle board. And then combine that with woven drop stitch, which is the best inflatable paddle board you can buy. All of Glides inflatable paddle boards are made with fusion and woven dropstich and the latest manufacturing technology. The simple way to tell if a board is built with the best materials is what the max PSI high pressures it can be inflated, Glide inflatable paddle boards all go to 25psi. When shopping for a paddle board look for the maximum inflation, that will tell you if the paddle board you are looking at is with your funds.
And quick side note, max PSI is exactly that, the maximum you should not exceed. This is not the same as recommended PSI. While our inflatable paddle boards have a max psi of 25, our recommended is 12psi. At 12psi a woven drop stitch core, with a fusion shell will feel as close to a hard paddle board as you can currently get. 12psi is the magic number, after that, you get such a small return on stiffness that is not worth going past 12-14 psi.
Here is a quick list of some of my favorite benefits of inflatable paddle boards.
They are so portable! The entire paddleboard package fits into the travel bag. Seriously everything you need to get on the water fits in a large backpack. The board, paddle, leash, fin, and pump. Try that with a hard board. And unlike a hard board, you will not need a roof rack to transport your board.
Easy to store. Building on number 1, an inflatable board is easy to store. If you do not have room to keep it inflated, yes you can leave your board inflatable paddle boards inflated. A hard board takes up quite a bit of storage space and ideally, you want to store your hard boards inside away from direct sunlight which can be a challenge. Inflatable SUPs just need a small space in a closet, or in your garage for storage space.
Inflatable paddleboards are very durable. Traditional hard boards are very fragile, and that is why our hard boards are made ultra-durable with our patent pending GSS finish, but over traditional epoxy boards an inflatable paddle board is exponentially more durable. Most inflatable paddle boards can withstand being dropped in the parking lot, running into rocks, being dragged across the beach etc. If you are a person who does not want to baby your paddle board a good inflatable paddle board is the way to go.
Inflatable SUP boards can be checked on airlines. Right now its snowing here in Utah, its cold, I don't like the cold. I would love to hop on a plane someplace warm and go paddle boarding. I would love it even more if my inflatable sup boards could come with me, and they can! You can check your paddle boards with you on the airline as luggage. This opens up so many possible places to travel and paddle. And the best part is you know you have your personal board with you and will not have to find a rental place when you arrive.
Inflatable paddle boards are more stable. As a general rule of thumb, a wider paddle board is more stable than a narrow paddle board. And since inflatable paddle boards have the same thickness throughout the board this makes them more stable than their hard board counterparts. For example the O2 Retro all-around inflatable paddle board vs the hard board version of the Retro they are the same length and width, but the inflatable is thicker. And this thickness is carried all the way from the center to the rails, this extra volume makes the inflatable version more stable. The downside to this is that for surfing the rails are too thick on the inflatable version, and the hard version will give you much more performance surfing small waves and large waves. But for all-around paddling on flat water, fishing, or touring the inflatable paddle boards will have almost identical performance.
White water paddling. Inflatable paddle boards are ideal for white water paddling, they have the advantage of being durable, and have the extra volume to keep you floating in white water. The multiple layers of PVC keep the board safe when hitting rocks, or sharp object in the water. Just don't take a cheap isup on the river, it could be potentially dangerous and is not worth the risk of injury. Only high-quality materials on the river please!
Ok so far it's all been unicorns and kittens and inflatable paddle boards are the best thing since sliced bread! Well that is almost true, but they do have a few downsides, so let's talk about the dark side of inflatable boards.
Surfing. I can almost guarantee that if you get on any of our competitor's chats, or call them up and ask how good are inflatable paddle boards for surfing they will say great! Or really good, but not as good as a hard board, and do everything in their power to sell you the inflatable and convince you it will be fine. And to some extent, they will be correct. If you are just learning how to surf a sup board then an inflatable will totally work. Inflatables are great and learning how to catch a wave and then surf it into shore, and they are super fun in small waves. That said when you are ready to start making turns and going down the line your inflatable sup will not be doing you any favors. That same thick rail we talked about earlier will not hold on the face of a wave. A hard board will have the advantage over inflatable paddle boards for surfing.
Racing. If you plan to race at an elite level then a hard paddle board will have the advantage over inflatable boards. Advanced paddlers who are into racing will want an ultra light weight carbon fiber race board. These boards are very specialized and are good for one thing, going fast in a straight line. An inflatable touring board like the O2 Quest is a great board for recreational racing and for training for racing. So spoiler alert if you are looking for a sup racing board to race at an advanced level a hard race-specific solid boards will be better for you thank an inflatable paddle board.
Addicting. Most paddlers will be happy with one board like the O2 retro as an all around do everything board, but with all the different inflatable models on the market it is hard to just have one paddle board. You will eventually want a board for touring, white water, yoga and fishing. Many paddlers end up collecting inflatable paddle boards like Pokemon. you have been warned.
So yes it is very much worth it to have to buy an inflatable paddle board, and just keep in mind that there is a big difference between the quality of cheap inflatable boards vs a premium Glide inflatable boards.
If you have any questions at all please reach out over chat, email or give us a call! We are more than happy to talk shop about boards.