Hard SUP vs Inflatable Paddle Board
So you're ready to get a paddle board for yourself. Do you want a hard SUP or an inflatable paddle board? We cover every aspect of both types of board construction.
Hard SUP vs Inflatable Paddle Board
Maybe you are starting your paddle board journey or just looking to up your stand up paddle board game. Either way, we'll give you enough information about all the paddle boarding disciplines, stand up paddle board construction, and the various shapes and sizes that SUP boards come in so that you to make an informed decision.
Origins of paddle boards
Paddle boarding is no flash in the pan. Variations of paddle boards have been around for millenia.
It is known that the ancient Egyptians used to stand in boats with long paddles as they travelled the Nile. These early precursors to stand up paddle boards were the primary main means by which the Egyptian gods traversed the heavens and the underworld, while on earth their images were carried from to and from the various temples in such vessels.
Stand up paddling came to Europe in the form of gondoliers in Venice in the 1400's. Since Venice as built entirely on water, gondolas were the primary form of transportation. At one point there were an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 gondoliers standing and paddling what could be considered an early SUP paddle on the canals of Venice.
The Beach Boys that taught surfing on Waikiki Beach in Hawaii created their own version of the paddle board back in the 1940's and 50's by giving a nod to the Polynesians of the 18th Century who used a paddle board variation to travel between islands.
By combining paddles from surf canoes and kayaks that were the vessels they used on days when the surf was small with the long boards of the day they were easily able to watch and take pictures of their surf students as they would catch waves. The SUP board became extinct in the 1960's as small, light weight fiberglass and epoxy surfboards came to dominate the surf industry.
The modern SUP board revival
Big wave surfers Dave Kalama, Brian Keaulana, Rick Thomas, Archie Kalepa and Laird Hamilton are credited with reviving the sport of paddle boarding in the early 2000's as they would paddle long boards on small wave days in Hawaii.
SUP boards were confined to the Hawaiian Islands until Vietnam Vet Rick Thomas brought a paddle board to Southern California where the sport immediately caught on. Within a few years, stand up paddle boards could be found in every state of the U.S. and throughout the globe.
In the early years of SUP, paddle boards were solid boards made with a foam core that was surrounded by fiberglass and epoxy. Within a few short years, however, inflatable paddle boards using technology from whitewater rafts started showing up at various beaches.
Hard paddle board construction
Much like surfboards, the original paddle boards were rigid boards. Most people are unaware of the various layers that go into a finely crafted stand up paddle board.
A paddle board starts out as a large block of EPS foam. Using a CDC machine that block is cut into 4 to 5 shapes that vaguely resemble solid boards. We call these shapes "blanks".
The SUP board blank is then "shaped". The shaping process involves using a an electric sander so that all of the edges of the board are rounded.
Once the board has been shaped, one side of it is covered with a large piece of fiberglass. Resin is then poured over the fiberglass and is spread out evenly using a squeegee.
After the resin dries for a day, the same process is applied to the other side of the board. An extra layer of fiberglass is usually added to the solid boards at this point to give it more strength.
Then a router is used to carve out spots for the fins and handle. Depending on the fin set up there might just be one fin box routed out or it could be three.
Once the epoxy has dried, it's time to lightly stand the board from top to bottom. Once completed, a hole for the leash can be drilled out. On the top of the board, it's time to drill out holes for the attachment points that bungess will be secured to.
At this point, most paddle board brands have a board that is ready to sell. At Glide, it's the next step that makes our paddle boards nearly bomb-proof.
Durable construction is introduced
The problem with epoxy paddle boards is that they aren't terribly durable. The only reason that Glide came to be as a company is that our founder who was a professional whitewater kayaker had broken his back going off a fifty foot waterfall in a kayak.
Sitting in the cockpit of a kayak was too uncomfortable for him after the accident but he still wanted the challenge of navigating whitewater rapids. Paddle boards were the logical answer for him but on his first couple of runs, he broke his epoxy paddle board in half.
He set out on a quest to find a durable material that would let his paddle boards absorb rock hits as he barrelled down rivers. There was a lot of trial and error in those early days. Many paddle boards were broken along the way and the ones that didn't tended to weigh about 70 pounds.
From this exploration came Glide Surface Shield - also known as GSS. This polymer that the U.S. Navy uses on its submarines to help the subs break the surface tension of the water allowed our paddle boards to handle 600 times the abuse that an epoxy board can take and only increase the weight limit of the boards by about one pound.
The new ultra durable SUP boards became wildly popular with the whitewater SUP crowd and even those who only paddled slow moving rivers. It wasn't long before companies that rented paddle boards were calling us to place orders. Over the past decade plus many competitive SUP brands have tried to duplicate the technology but so far none have succeeded.
The technology in inflatable paddle boards
Stand up paddle boards were initially only available as rigid boards. The biggest challenge to the growth of the industry that these boards were usually a minimum of 10 feet long and if you didn't live in a dwelling with a private garage, storage was going to be a challenge.
Inflatable kayaks had been around for a while, why not an inflatable paddle board? So, using the technology that whitewater rafts had perfected through the years, inflatable SUP boards hit the market.
It turned out that the devil was truly in the details when it came to inflatable paddle boards as cheaper boards used quite a different technology which was difficult to discover just by looking at them.
How much PVC?
The inflatable SUP board has an outer layer which is constructed from PVC. Cheaper boards that are more like pool toys will use one or two layers of PVC while a great board will use up to 4 layers of military grade PVC.
The old school method of manufacturing inflatable paddle boards was to glue the PVC layers to each other. The problem with this was that the glue would tend to cause unsightly bubbles and it would make for a heavier board.
With fusion technology, SUP manufacturers were able to fuse the layers together using heat rather than glue. Fusion not only made for a stronger stand up paddle board with a better fit and finish but also one that was more light weight.
You are less likely to need to use your repair kit with a fusion paddle board. They also are more likely to have a higher weight capacity (or weight limit).
Drop stitch in inflatables
Most people think that their inflatable paddle board just has air making up the core of it. Nothing could be farther from the truth as there are actually thousands of thin strings known as "drop stitch" that are securing the top layer of the paddle board to the bottom later.
Because these strings are so thin, you would have no way of knowing that they are there because the board will be perfectly flat when deflated. However, there are two types of drop stitch fabric which make a huge difference in the quality of your inflatable paddle board.
Legacy inflatable SUP boards use "knitted drop stitch" as the core for their boards. These paddle boards tend to ride lower in the water because they are more prone to "taco" which means that the nose and tail rise above the water while the middle sinks. If you see pictures that show the middle of the board lower than the ends, you can be sure that they cut some corners on construction.
Woven drop stitch construction makes for an inflatable SUP board with a more stable feel. The weave of the drop stitch is much tighter than the knitted version and the thin strands aren't all linear as some are at angles which adds the extra stability.
Inflatable paddle boards that utilize both woven drop stitch and fusion technology allow brands to construct a thicker board which means a more rigid inflatable SUP when properly inflated. The more rigid your inflatable paddle board is, the higher the board volume will be which means the board performs at a higher level.
It also means that the board can be inflated to a higher PSI (pounds per square inch). Inflatable SUPs aren't pool toys, they are serious pieces of recreational equipment so you want a board with a PSI of 20 or over.
Any expert advice will tell you that a properly inflated board isn't usually blown up to the highest PSI that the manufacturer offers. However, it you had one paddle board with a max PSI of 25 and another with a max of 15 and you pumped them both up to 12 PSI, the board with the PSI max of 25 will feel far more stable than the one with the max of 15.
Railing about Rails
The rails on an inflatable stand up paddle board don't garner a lot of attention typically. Well, this is a mistake considering that the rails are the nexus for the top and bottom layers of inflatable SUP and therefore a potential weak link in the board make up. There are 3 types of rail on and inflatable paddle board that you should be aware of.
The Woosung Rail is the weakest of the rail options. In this case the top layer of PVC is about 3 to 4 inches short from meeting the bottom layer of PVC. To close this gap, a 4 t0 5 inch strip of PVC is added to the sides of the paddle board and then is taped to the top layer and then a second strip of tape is added to the bottom layer, so you now have two seams on the sides of your paddle board which could potentially burst.
The Leeward Rail is a better option than the Woosung but not by much. Leeward Rails start out exactly like the Woosung Rail but have a second layer of PVC which is glued over the rails so even though you still have two seams which could possibly fail, you now have added a second layer of PVC for additional strength.
The reason that cheaper brands go with the Woosung or Leeward Rails is that less expensive PVC comes in 29 inch pieces which means that those pieces are too short to meet. With two seams, you are truly tempting fate everytime you inflate your paddle board.
The Infla Rail is far superior to both of the methods noted above. In this instance both pieces of PVC material from the top and bottom of the inflatable SUP board are long enough to meet and are then taped together so there is only one seam. Another piece of PVC is then taped and laminated so the board essentially has 4 layers of PVC holding the rails together.
Inflatable SUPs are under tremendous pressure once they are inflated over 12 PSI. Having two seams on the side of the board as you do with the Woosung and Leeward Rails increases the weakness of the board exponentially compared to the one seam solution that the Insta Rail provides.
Inflatable stand up paddle board weight
Because the paddle board industry initially was built around solid boards, light weight boards were celebrated as being preferable to those that were heavier. Many SUP race boards are made with lighter materials like carbon fiber which gives racers an advantage over other competitors.
Inflatable stand up paddle boards are a bit of a different animal when it comes to weight, however. An inflatable SUP that is too light may indicate that only one layer of PVC was used. They probably also used knitted drop stitch which offers fewer of the thin strands that help maintain the shape of the SUP board.
The weight capacity of the SUP board can be an excellent indicator of the stiffness that you can expect from it. The right board will be a combination of lightness and high weight capacity.
If an inflatable SUP uses fusion technology to weld 3 to 4 layers of PVC together, it will be lighter and stronger than a board that glues 3 to 4 layers together. A lighter board with higher board volume and/or a higher weight limit, is a pretty good indication that the SUP board was constructed with superior technology even if it's the lighter board.
Don't skimp on the deck pad
Most people don't spend a lot of time thinking about the deck pad on their paddle board. This is a huge miscalculation as the deck pad can be the difference between a great SUP board experience and a painful one.
A smooth deck pad that is about a half inch thick and made from EVA foam is what you want to seek out. Some SUP brands use thinner pads or pads with ridges and bumps that supposedly help your feet grip the paddle board.
The problem with a "gripper" type deck pad is that most people do their paddle boarding barefoot and your feet don't move around that much on the deck pad so those little nodules become like a pebble in your shoe on a long hike. This is especially true for those that paddle long distances.
Ideally, your deck pad is the same length of your paddle board. This will ensure that any dogs or kids that you maybe transporting are able to enjoy the ride in comfort.
A full length deck pad is fairly costly for the brand to provide so it's usually a good indication that the SUP board manufacturers didn't cut corners when building their paddle boards. Cheaper boards will claim that a deck pad that is the same length as the SUP board adds extra weight but the weight it adds is negligible compared to the value it brings the paddler.
Another indication that the deck pad is a quality product is that the design of it is die cut rather than silkscreened on. What this means is that each piece of the design is cut out of a specific color of deck pad so the color of that piece runs all the way through each piece of the design. Keep in mind that the deck area of your board absorbs quite a bit of UV rays from the sun and that your feet (and possibly your pets) spend a lot of time on top of the pad so an image that is just printed on the deck pad will fade away quickly.
Stiffness and the inflatable SUP
Stiffness is the name of the game with inflatable SUPs, while it's a non issue for solid boards for obvious reasons. A floppy board will ride lower than a stiffer one and no one wants their board lower than the waterline! There are a multitude of reasons for stiffness in an inflatable stand up paddle board.
Pounds per square inch
The law of diminishing returns applies once you have pumped a board up over 25 psi but the delta between 10 and 20 PSI is striking. Don't waste your time with inflatable paddle boards that can't be inflated to at least 20 PSI.
A thicker inflatable board wins the stiffness sweepstakes everytime. A 6 inch SUP board will be 60% to 80% stiffer than 6 inch board.
Wider board: a wider board will be stiffer than a narrower board. However, you need to balance out the positives with the negatives here. A wider board is ideal for SUP yoga, but it will hamstring your paddling a bit because you have to reach out further sideways with the SUP paddle to complete a paddle stroke.
Drop stitch fabric
As noted above, woven drop stitch takes out a lot of the sponginess that comes with knitted drop stitch. Some manufacturers try to compensate for their squishy core by adding materials like carbon fiber to the rails of the board. In our humble opinion, this is akin to putting lipstick on a pig as nothing can compensate for having a tight core.
Keep in mind that that longevity of the inflatable SUP also depends on the quality of the drop stitch fabric. Each one of those strands is holding the top of the board to the bottom of a SUP that is under a lot of air pressure.
The stand up paddle board comes in various shapes and sizes
Paddle boards come in a variety of lengths and sizes. The attributes of the board you choose will depend on your weight (combined with any gear you may bring with you) as well as the way you plan to use the board.
To make an informed decision a SUP buyer should understand the nuances of board hulls, tails and rocker. We explore all of these facets below.
The nose of the paddle board is also referred to as the hull. The two main types of hulls that paddle boards have are the displacement and the planing hull.
A planing hull rides on top of the water and is used in paddle board disciplines like surfing because it's more versatile than a displacement hull. There are some race SUP boards that utilize a planing hull but it takes more work to get them up to speed until they plane over the water. A planing hull tends to be the better option in choppy water.
A displacement hull sheds the water away from the paddle board as it cuts through the water. The boards that utilize a displacement hull tend to have a pointed nose and a V-shape to them. They sacrifice a bit of stability for speed. Displacement hulls are best for flat water paddling.
There are some SUP boards that have a hybrid of these two hulls. A modified prow like this is used in some yoga and fishing paddle boards.
The trick of the tail
Since the tail of the paddle board is behind you it is typically overlooked by paddlers. It actually plays quite an important role in paddle boarding.
The tail is where all aspects of the board come together: the rails, deck and bottom of the board. When we talk about the shape of the tail, we are talking about the shape we see when we are looking down at the top of the SUP board.
The pin tail comes to either a point at the end of the board so it's almost difficult to differentiate from the nose. It is essentially a speed tail which is meant to allow for maximum water flow along the sides of the board in flat water.
Stand up paddle boards with a pin tail track very well but have a less stable feel and are more challenging to turn. You typically will find a pin tail on long distance touring or race boards. They are also popular for big wave surf guns. Suffice it to say, this tail is for more advanced paddlers with a high skill level.
The square tail will give your board a much more stable feel than the pin tail because it offers more board volume in the tail. Since it's a shorter tail, it also makes the paddle board much easier to maneuver.
The square tail is typically seen on all around race boards that are used on more technical courses where a lot of buoys need to be navigated. It's also a staple on most race SUP boards where the particular needs of the paddler are stability and storage.
The round tail is a combination of the pin tail and square tail. It offers the stability of the square tail with the straight tracking of the pin tail.
Most surf and all around SUP boards use the round tail because it offers the maneuverability that one needs to turn while in a wave or heading down whitewater rapids. The increased width of the round tail gives it a little lift which helps push the board through slow spots in a wave.
Rocker profile explained
If you look at a stand up paddle board from the side, you will notice a bend in the nose and the tail. This is called the rocker of the board and it effects both the speed and maneuverability of paddle boards.
Rocker comes from the surfing world. The reason that it was built into surfboards is if you were dropping down a wave on a board with a perfectly flat board, you would nosedive. By adding more rocker, the nose of the board would stay up and that little bit of lift in the tail allowed the surfer to turn the board quickly by stomping on the tail.
With stand up paddle boards, rocker is important in all around SUP boards as well as whitewater and surf SUP boards. For touring and race SUP boards, the less rocker, the better because a flat board bottom is faster than a curved one.
Lack of rocker is part of the reason that these flat water boards are more difficult to turn. The fact that a touring or race SUP board is a longer board plays a role as well.
Creating rocker in inflatable SUPs is a bit more challenging than it is in hard boards. When creating a rigid stand up paddle board you can program the CDC machine to cut as much rocker as you want into your board. That luxury doesn't exist with inflatable paddle boards.
Cheaper inflatable paddle boards will simply cut the drop stitch strings in the nose and tail of the board to a shorter length so that they force both ends to curve. This puts additional stress on the drop stitch fabric so it's far from ideal.
Because of the simplicity of the technique, it gives you a paddle board with a flat bottom and both ends turned up kind of like the slippers you would see in a Turkish bathhouse. In hard paddle boards, the rocker is progressive from nose to tail so the middle of the board is not completely flat.
The higher tech method of creating rocker in inflatable paddle boards uses a Progressive Pressure Laminating Process whereby the SUP board is shaped using the fusion process that was detailed above. By situating high pressure rollers on the board, the manufacturer can essentially weld as much rocker into the shape of the board that they need to.
Rocker on inflatable paddle boards should be fairly subtle when you see one on a roof rack. One needs to account for the weight of the paddler which will naturally push up the nose and tail. If the rocker is too pronounced without a paddler on it, it will be akin to paddling a banana once the paddler gets on it.
What shapes are the paddle boards for various disciplines?
Now that you have a general understanding of the various hull and tail shapes and of what kinds of rockers are used in paddle boards, we'll explore how these various shapes translate into specific types of SUP boards.
It’s easy to pick a SUP based on the eye-popping graphics on it. However, understand the functionality of SUP shapes will make the paddle boarding experience far more enjoyable for you.
All around paddle boards
All around boards are a great choice for those that are looking for a paddle board that will let them participate in all of the various SUP disciplines: SUP yoga, SUP surfing, flat water paddling, whitewater paddle boarding and SUP fishing. The paddle boards usually have a rounded nose and tail which makes them stable boards with a lot of versatility.
With a shape that is reminiscent of the long surf boards that surfers used in the 1950's and 60's, all around boards are usually in the 10-12 foot length range with a board thickness of 1 1/2 to 2 inches for hard boards and 5 to 6 inches for inflatable stand up paddle boards. The longer the board, the higher the weight capacity.
The width of the board is usually in the 31-34 inches range which makes it a wider board than a typical touring board. The wider the SUP board, the more stable it will be but keep in mind that if it's too wide it will be more difficult to paddle.
All around boards have a planing hull in most cases so that they can be used for surfing and whitewater paddling. You want your nose to plane through the water when catching a wave or speeding through whitewater rapids.
The tail is rounded which aids in the quick turns that are necessary for some of the faster moving SUP activities. The round tail also gives the board the extra lift that is needed should your SUP slow down in a wave or whitewater rapid.
Most all around SUP boards have more rocker than a board that was just designed for flat water paddling. Some other key features are a generous amount of attachment points to stow gear in dry packs, fishing rods, etc.
The fin setup of all around boards can either be a tri fin setup or a single center fin. A tri fin setup can be a nice feature if you are doing a lot of ocean or river surfing as the extra two side fins will help with turning as you push down on the side rails with your feet.
An all around stand up paddle board is a nice starting point for those that are new to SUP as it gives them the flexibility to try the many fun aspects of paddle boarding without having to specialize. It's not a bad choice for practicing yoga although it is a little narrower than a SUP yoga specific board.
It can also be used for paddling long distances, it just won't get you there as fast as a touring board. All around boards are built more for maneuverability so they won't track as well as touring paddle boards which means you will need to switch paddle sides more often which can make them less efficient for covering a long distance.
Touring paddle boards have a very different look and feel compared to the original all around boards. In fact, many touring boards look like they are descended from kayaks rather than surfboards.
They were designed to travel long distances with better tracking so that more paddling can be done on each side of the board before it becomes necessary to switch sides because the board is starting to turn. They also usually come with quite a few attachment points so that you can strap your gear down for long SUP excursions.
Most touring SUP boards, including inflatable SUP versions are in the 12 to 14 foot length range. Having a longer board helps with glide and speed but maneuverability suffers a bit as the added length slows the turning process. Many boards are the same length as racing SUPs.
Touring paddle boards have a width between 28 and 32 inches. The narrow width helps them get up to speed faster and stay there. It also makes them easier to paddle as the paddler doesn't need to reach out too far to the side on the paddle stroke.
Flat water distance paddle boards tend to be thicker than all around SUP boards. They are typically 5 to 6 inches thick which helps with the weight capacity that is lost due do the narrowness of the stand up paddle boards. Because most quality inflatable SUPs are already 6 inches thick, there isn't a huge difference between the inflatable and the rigid boards.
High end touring boards, including inflatable SUP boards usually have a displacement hull which is the main reason for the thickness of the SUPs. That way the pointed nose of the board can part the water in front of you without nose diving.
Most touring paddle boards, including inflatable SUPs, have a square tail to improve board volume and add stability which helps with either paddling an alpine lake or the ocean beyond the breakers. A pin tail would make the touring SUP a bit faster but stability and maneuverability are prized over speed when touring.
SUP yoga board
Yoga stand up paddle boards have become extremely popular over the last decade as SUP yoga and yoga in general have blown up. These boards can also be used for general fitness and calisthenics due to the stability of the platform.
SUP yoga boards look a lot like all around boards but the SUPs that were designed by actual yogis have some interesting tweaks. They aren't quite as versatile as all around SUPs but they are pretty close.
A typical SUP yoga board is 10 feet long which makes for easy carrying. This is important because more yoga board sales are to women who appreciate this feature.
The yoga SUP board is usually 35 inches in width so that the deck pad is roughly the same size as a yoga mat. The width helps with stability but does make paddling a bit more challenging because you will need to reach out further to the sides with your SUP paddle.
The noses of the yoga SUP hard boards are usually rounded like the all around SUPs, however, on hard boards, some of the more clever brands have created a “modified prow” which is a cross between a displacement hull and a planing hull. The reason for this is to make it easier to paddle through choppy water on your way to the area where you will be practicing yoga. This kind of modified hull can’t be replicated on an inflatable SUP so a standard rounded nose/planing hull is used on those SUPs.
Most yoga SUPs have a rounded tail. This allows the board to be more maneuverable but it also helps increase the deck area and gives the SUP more board volume which helps with weight capacity and gives the yogi more room for their poses.
Whitewater SUP boards
Whitewater SUP takes paddle boarding to a whole new level both from a skill set and the safety gear required. At Glide, we became a paddle board brand because of our love for taking SUPs through whitewater.
Whitewater paddle boards need to be extremely maneuverable because if they aren't you are going to find yourself bashing into rock formations. For this reason, most river paddle boards are in the 8-9 foot length range.
River stand up paddle boards also need to be as stable as possible to make up for the fact that they are shorter in length. They are typically also a wider board. Most whitewater SUPs are 35 to 36 inches wide.
The aeration that whitewater churns up means that boards will be less buoyant in the rapids. Solid boards for the river tend to be thicker, usually in the 5- to 6-inch-thick range. Inflatable SUPs have become the dominant SUP boards in this space and since most are 6 inches thick already, they stay buoyant.
The nose whitewater inflatable paddle boards is usually a combination of a pointed and a rounded nose which helps it cut through rough water. It’s strictly a planing hull so that your nose isn’t heading straight down on river drops.
The tail of whitewater inflatable paddle boards is typically squared off. This is done for the sake of stability as it helps compensate for the short stature of the boards.
Surfing Paddle boards
Surfing SUPs goes back to the origins of Hawaiian stand up paddle boarding as we mentioned earlier in this article. The beautiful thing about surfing a paddle board is that the learning curve is quite small because you are already standing on your board, you don’t need to master the whole “stand up from a prone position” part of the equation.
It’s also easy to learn to surf a SUP because the boards are so buoyant, they allow you to catch small waves to hone your skills. The SUP paddle also comes in handy if you fall too far behind the wave you can paddle to catch back up with it or if you get too far ahead of it, you can use your paddle as a brake to slow you down until the wave catches up to you.
Surf SUPs tend to be between 7 to 10 feet long depending on the skill level of the surfer. You want to be able to cut across the wave so it doesn’t crash into you so you need to have a pretty maneuverable SUP.
The width of the typical surf SUP is similar to an all around paddle board. They are usually 30 to 33 inches wide for easier turning.
The nose of the surf SUP can be rounded or pointed. Usually more advanced surfers go with the pointy nose variety but either way these paddle boards utilize a planing hull to keep you from face planting during a nosedive.
The tail of surfing specific paddle boards is usually rounded and only slightly squared off. The idea here is that you get a little stability from the slight square and a SUP that turns more easily thanks to the rounded aspect of the tail.
For those anglers who are moving from kayaks to paddle boards, stability, weight capacity and multiple attachments are the name of the fishing SUP game. Inflatable SUPs have come to dominate this space as they can be thrown in a backpack and hiked into an alpine lake or river.
Most fishing inflatable SUP boards are 11 to 12 feet in length. Part of this is for stability but it is mainly so that you can fit your fishing rods, cooler, net, depth finder, kayak seats, etc. onboard.
These are typically wider stand up paddle boards as well for the sake of stability. Most are in the 35 to 36 inch width range so that you can feel secure when you are standing and casting.
Since these are typically used on flat water, a displacement hull is used although it may be slightly rounded to keep it make it less tippy. The pointy nose helps cut through chop on the way to the fishing hole.
The tail is often squared to keep the back of the board stable. The tail also has multiple attachment points for bungees to store gear and hopefully fish.
Race boards are still the domain of solid boards. Inflatable SUP boards haven’t been able to match the traditional hard boards when it comes to pure speed.
Most race paddle boards are 12’6 or if the racer is competing in the unlimited category, they can be 14 feet or longer. These SUPs are built to go in a straight line at high speeds and it takes quite a bit of skill to turn them around race buoys.
The width of these boards is as narrow as the brand can get away with. Most race boards are in the 26 to 29 inch width category. Weight capacity definitely is something to check before purchasing a race SUP as the narrowness of the board lowers the weight limit considerably.
The boards are usually quite thick – typically 6-9 inches as the width helps them displace the water in front of them. The deck is often recessed, however, to give the racer a bit more stability.
The nose of the racing SUP is very pointy and narrow. Some brands go with a planing hull that skims along the top of the water but it’s more typical to use a displacement hull that cuts through the water in front of it.
Tails of racing paddle boards vary by brands. Some brands go with a pin tail for speed but the downside is that the board can be quite unstable. Some brands have a very narrow tail but square it off at the end to make it slightly less tippy.
Storage requirements for paddle boards
This is the area where inflatable paddle boards truly shine. Let’s face facts, solid boards are bulky and take up a fair amount of real estate.
For hard paddle boards, we suggest that you build or buy a rack that allows you to store your board on an unused wall or in the garage. Devising a pulley storage setup that allows the board to be stored on the ceiling of the garage, above your cars.
For years, apartment dwellers dreamed of getting into SUP but couldn’t figure out how they were going to fit an 11 foot long board in there elevator. Once the inflatable SUP came to be they were able to deflate the board and put it in a backpack that easily fit in a closet.
Inflatable paddle boards can be stored while inflated if you have the room. We get asked this question a lot. So inflatable paddle boards can be a great board option for those that have the room to store the board during the warmer months but don't want to deal with it during the inclimate months.
There are several accessories to consider if you are new to paddle boarding. There is quite a bit of crossover between inflatable paddle boards and hard SUPs although the inflatables have some other accessories that are irrelevant if you’ve settled on a rigid board.
Typically paddles that come with paddle boards are not of the highest quality. Usually, they have an aluminum or carbon fiber shaft and the blade will be made out of ABS plastic.
A paddle that comes with an inflatable SUP is typically a 3-piece paddle which fits neatly in the backpack that comes with the board. If you are hiking your inflatable SUP into the backcountry, you will want to stick with this SUP paddle.
There are quite a few companies out there that specifically make paddles like Werner, Sawyer and Kialoa. These brands will give you quite a few paddle options including full carbon fiber paddles from handle to blade.
The paddle that comes with your hard or inflatable SUP is adjustable so that it can be adjusted by the user to their height. It is possible to buy a non-adjustable paddle which is built to your specific height. It can be a good option if water is seeping into your adjustable paddle.
Sizing your paddle
In order to set either your adjustable SUP paddle to your height or to order one that is customized for you, there is a protocol for measuring yourself that is specific to paddle boarding. As part of the measurement process, you will want to make sure that you are measuring your reach as well as your height as many people have arms that are either longer or shorter than the average person.
The easiest way to measure the SUP paddle length that is right for you is to start with an adjustable paddle. The general rule of thumb is to put the blade of the paddle on flat ground in front of you.
Now reach your arm to the handle of the paddle until it is perfectly straight. Then adjust the length down a bit so that your arm is slightly bent but less of a bend than 45 degrees.
Two things to consider when you are measuring for a SUP paddle are the width of your board and the type of paddling you will be doing. If you are mainly paddling on flat water, you will want your paddle to be longer than if you are surfing waves where you want it shorter so that you can move it around quickly.
If your paddle board thickness is in the 1-to-2-inch range, the method outlined above should work fine for you. If you have 6 inch thick board which is common for touring boards and inflatable paddle boards, you will want to add 3 or 4 inches to the protocol above.
Something else to consider when ordering a SUP paddle is the offset of the paddle blade. The offset refers to the degree of angle that the blade is set at.
If you are looking to do whitewater paddling or SUP surfing, you will want a paddle blade with a 7 degree offset which is the least amount of offset available. The reason for this is that less offset is better for the short quick strokes that are necessary for catching a wave or heading through whitewater river rapids.
For the paddle boarder that is more interested in all around paddling, a 10 degree offset is recommended. This is a nice compromise between the 7 degree and 12 degree offsets and will help you keep you paddle stroke more vertical which will give your stroke more power.
A 12 degree offset is for the serious SUP racer. The idea here is that it keeps the blade more vertical through the entire power phase of the paddle stroke which will propel the race SUP through the water more efficiently.
There are quite a few other accessories that are needed for both the hard board and inflatable SUP. Let's start with two of the most important safety items: the ankle leash and the personal flotation device or PFD. Stand up paddle boards are considered to be vessels by the U.S. Coast Guard which means that they’re safety regulations are the same as boats. This means that you need to either wear a PFD while paddling or at the very least be carrying one on your paddle board under the bungees on the nose of your boards.
The only time this rule doesn’t apply is when you are 100 feet from the shore. Which means that SUP surfers are exempt in most cases.
There are various types of PFDs that meet the Coast Guard’s safety requirement. The key is to make certain that the PFD has been Coast Guard approved.
If someone is just looking to not get ticketed, you will typically see one of those “old school” orange colored life preservers strapped to the front of their paddle board. A better option if you are worried about your paddle stroke being encumbered by a vest type of PFD is to buy a version that you wear as a belt around your waist. This PFD is deflated to fit in the belt and is inflated by a CO2 canister that is also in the belt and is activated when the rip cord on the outside is pulled.
If you are whitewater paddling, it would be lunacy not to wear a full PFD vest as well as a helmet. The waist version of the PFD wouldn’t make sense here as there is the potential to be knocked unconscious (even with a helmet on) by a river rock in which case you wouldn’t be able to pull the ripcord on the belt.
An ankle leash cord is also a critical piece of equipment that you should wear at all times. The exception to this would be if you are whitewater paddling in which case you would want to wear the leash around your waist and also have a quick release button on it in case your SUP or your foot were to get pinned by a rock.
Wearing an ankle leash is a no-brainer when you are surfing so that your paddle board doesn’t go barreling into another surfer or a swimmer who is closer to shore. It also makes sense if you are paddling a flat body of water like a lake because if the wind kicks up on you and you fall in the water, your paddle board could be blown away from you, especially if it’s an inflatable SUP.
If you have your PFD strapped to the front of your inflatable paddle board, you could find yourself in the middle of that large body of water with nothing to float on. Swimming becomes your only option at that point and it’s difficult to swim with a paddle!
Accessories specifically for inflatable paddle boards
Inflatable paddle boards tend to come with more accessories than solid boards do. As a prudent buyer, make sure to check on everything that is included with your inflatable SUP before you buy.
As mentioned in the section above on paddles, be sure that your inflatable stand up paddle board comes with a 3 piece paddle. If it doesn’t you will need to hike your SUP in via the backpack while you are holding your paddle. It’s much more efficient to just carry the SUP paddle in the backpack.
A repair kit is pretty standard with an inflatable paddle board purchase. Assuming that you have done your due diligence and purchased a multi layer board with fusion and woven drop stitch, it’s unlikely that you will never need to use the kit for patching the board but make sure that it includes a device for tightening the air valve because even the best inflatable SUPs get loose valves that leak air now and again.
Cheaper brands will include a single action pump with their inflatable SUPs while better quality brands include a dual action pump. The difference between the two is that the dual action pump inflates both on the up stroke and down stroke while pumping while the single action pump only inflates on the down stroke so you need to work twice as hard to inflate your SUP.
To really make your inflatable paddle board enjoyable, invest in an electric SUP pump. With an electric pump, you simply select the PSI level that you want your inflatable SUP pumped up to and the pump will stop when it hits that PSI.
Depending on the fin setup of your inflatable SUP, either one center fin will be included or a center fin and two side fins will be. Make sure that the inflatable paddle board brand has a US fin box on their SUPs so that if you need to replace the fin it comes with for a smaller fin for river paddling or a larger fin for more stability, you can do so easily.
If they have a proprietary fin box and fin setup, you will have to purchase all of your future fins from that SUP manufacturer. This makes no sense when there are loads of manufacturers that specialize in SUP fins.
A carrying strap is an accessory that only one or two inflatable SUP brands include with their boards. Other brands usually sell them for $30 or so. The strap clips on to the D-Rings on the side of the inflatable paddle board and lets you wear it over your shoulder for easy carrying.
Kayak seats are another really cool accessory that only one or two brands include with their inflatable stand up paddle boards. Most brands charge over $100 for kayak seats. Kayak seats clip onto the D-Rings on the top of inflatable SUPs so that you can sit and paddle your SUP comfortably. A kayak paddle is recommended for this or it is possible to get a kayak paddle conversion kit for your SUP paddle.
Caring for your rigid SUP
With proper care, you should be able to get many years of enjoyment from your stand up board. We have some general care recommendations for both solid boards and inflatable paddle boards.
For your rigid SUP, you will want to clean the board itself from time to time, especially if you have been using it in the ocean. A high pressure sprayer with after a light cleaning with dishwashing soap or Simple Green will have your board nice and new looking.
Try not to store your board in the direct sunlight. If your only option is to keep in the sun or if you are going to be on the beach for a while, turn the board with the pad side facing down. The deck pad can fade if it’s left in the sun too long.
The EPS foam core of hard paddle boards will emit gas if they are left in high heat for too long which is why most SUP brands add a vent plug that acts as an automatic relief valve. It is located either on the deck of the board or in the handle. Make sure that you keep the vent plug clean if you have been in dirty water because that gas will look for other areas to escape if the vent becomes clogged and it could delaminate the board.
For the pad that covers your board’s deck, something like Onit.Pro Deckpad Cleaner or ReviveX Procleaner will do a good job for you. If you have a very stubborn stain, you can use a light grit sandpaper or very light steel brush to remove them.
Every year or so, use WD-40 or some standard household oil to lubricate all the metal pieces on your SUP. This should include the fin hardware in the fin box and any other pieces you find on your SUP.
The metal components on paddle boards are marine grade stainless steel in most cases (typically SAE 304 or SAE 316) and shouldn’t rust, the oil treatment makes certain that the harsh marine environments don’t cause any undue harm to the metal components on the SUP. Should non-stainless-steel metals touch the stainless-steel components there can be a possibility for galvanic corrosion.
Inflatable paddle board maintenance
For inflatable paddle boards, you will definitely want to clean the board every time you are in the ocean. Saltwater will stiffen up the PVC layer on inflatable SUPs over time.
Make sure that you thoroughly dry your inflatable SUP before storing it or when you pull it out in the spring you are going to have a mildewy board. It’s recommended that you air dry it in the shade but if you do need to keep it out in the sun, lower the PSI to 10 as the heat will expand the air inside the board.
It is recommended that you use 303 Aerospace Protectant twice a year on your inflatable SUP. Even though the PVC outer lining of the SUP has been coated with a UV resistant treatment, this protectant acts like an additional layer of sunscreen.
Another best practice for maintaining inflatable paddle boards is to check the air valve from time to time. Most leaks that inflatables get are traced back to a loose valve.
If the valve does become loose, there is an easy fix. Inside your repair kit you will find a plastic device that has what looks like a scoop at the end.
Simply put this over the valve and turn clockwise. Don’t give it too much elbow grease and over tighten the valve or it will break.
When storing your iSUP, it is recommended that you don’t stack other items on top of it. Even light items can cause pressure dings on inflatable paddle boards that can affect performance.
Transporting paddle boards
Getting paddle boards from your home to the water can be an opportunity to inflict damage on the board if you aren’t careful. These tips will help keep your board scuff and ding free.
Hard paddle boards are more challenging to transport than inflatable SUPs as there is no possibility of deflating them and tossing them in the trunk of your vehicle. The two main options that most people utilize for transporting rigid paddle boards are on the roof of a vehicle or the bed of a pick up truck.
Consider a SUP travel bag for hard boards. SUP travel bags are slightly padded which will help prevent dings and scratches and will mitigate any strap pressure when you tie the boards to your vehicle.
Any good quality SUP travel bag will have a metallic, reflective side to it. The benefit to this is that if you are traveling a long ways in high heat, the reflective side will help keep your board cool.
If your vehicle already has a roof rack, it’s fairly easy to strap your paddle boards to it. We suggest heavy duty straps that can cinch tight and hold well. Adding some padding to the straps is recommended to protect your SUP.
Make sure to strap your board with the pad side facing down. Put the fin side of the SUP facing the front of the vehicle.
To get your board up to the roof rack, it’s recommended that you hold it with both hands and lift it above your head before resting it on your head so you you don't strain your back. Also, make sure that your straps aren’t twisted or the wind will cause the strap to make a horrible racket.
A time saving option is to purchase an adjunct rack for your roof rack that is designed specifically for paddle boards. The Thule SUP Taxi is a great option as all you have to do is throw the front and back strap over the board and cinch it down.
You can stack more than one SUP to the roof rack, although we don’t recommend more than 3 at a time. Put the largest board at the bottom of the stack and if you are leaving the fins on, stagger the next two paddle boards slightly behind each one that is below it.
Inflatable paddle boards can be transported in the same manner if you keep your board inflated for the season. Just be careful not to cinch them down too tightly to prevent pressure dings.
Transporting paddle boards via pick up truck
When transporting a SUP by pickup truck make sure that you have padding to protect the tailgate. Put the nose of board pad side down at the bottom of the bed against the cab with the lower third of the board leaning on the closed tailgate and put your straps around the tie downs in the bed of the truck.
A truck bed extender is also a great option. The extender hooks into the truck’s hitch and can extend the bed up to 53 inches so your paddle boards don’t have to be at an awkward angle.
Hard SUPs and inflatable paddle boards share many of the same characteristics and you can participate in many of the same paddle boarding disciplines with either one. Which type of SUP construction that you choose will often depend on your storage and transportation constraints rather than how you to choose to use your board.