What To Look For In An iSUP

Not everyone knows what to ask when buying an inflatable paddle board, but we sure do.

We'll go over what you need to know about inflatable paddle boards to see what quality you're paying for before you buy them.

So, you’ve decided that you want to get into stand up paddle boarding and you figure that an inflatable standup paddle board (iSUP) will fit your lifestyle better than a hard SUP. 

Where do you start? Do you go to your local Big Box store or favorite online e-tailer?  There is a whole lot more than meets the eye when it comes to iSUP technology.  Here are a few things to consider.


what you should know before buying a SUP


This is where things get really interesting because no one can see what is going on inside their iSUP but this is where the magic happens.  Choose poorly here and you may end up with a board that “tacos” when someone over 120 lbs stands on it.  

Inflatable paddle boards are generally made from military-grade PVC layers covering a drop stitch core.

Picture sheets of fabric on the top and bottom of the board that are interconnected by thousands of short strings. The fabric sheets then expand away from each other as air is pumped into the core of the board. When the strings become taught the board’s shape is maintained. 

what to know before buying a paddle board

Legacy inflatable technology has always used a “knitted dropstitch” which tends to leave extra space between the knit links and therefore can make the board feel springier and bouncier which is less than ideal.

A newer technology that a few iSUP manufacturers have adopted is “woven dropstitch” which dramatically tightens up the dropstitch weave which translates to a firmer, more stable board.

The weave dropstitch is also a lighter technology so SUP manufacturers can shave roughly 3.5 lbs. off the weight of the board.

Due to the density of woven dropstitch, the core is stiffer at lower PSI (pounds per square inch) brands using knitted dropstitch. This premium core allows woven boards to be inflated to a max of 25 PSI, although 12-15 PSI is typically recommended for maximum performance.

A dropstitch core is quite durable by itself but then layers of PVC are applied as an outer shell that offers additional protection, firmness, and weight support. The most basic boards offer a single layer of PVC, while the higher end, more durable boards use up to 4 layers.

shop inflatable paddle board

Fusion technology is the other piece of the equation that you want to look for in a well-crafted iSUP.  Fusion is only used in multi-layer PVC boards as a single layer board doesn’t utilize the extra layers and the rigidity of the board suffers for that.

Fusion removes the legacy process of coating the inner thread section with liquified PVC or glue which can be messy and leave bumpy sections on the board.  With Fusion, the thread structure is coated in a layer of adhesive that has been specially formulated to create both a seal and a bonding layer.

The next step is to machine laminate a layer of high-density structural PVC to this adhesive layer under controlled conditions that completely remove the human factor involved in a traditional double layer application.

The result is a board that is much stiffer than a single layer board and lighter and more attractive than a traditionally glued double layer board.


Deck Pads

It is best to look for an EVA deck pad that covers the entire deck of the board because one of the joys of SUP is to have another person or a pet with you.  EVA feels wonderful on the feet and doesn’t have the traction bumps that some pads offer which can become quite painful on the feet and knees.  

Any design on the deck pad should not be silk screened as those designs tend to wear off after about a month of usage. 

The best deck pads create their designs using a “die-cut” procedure whereby different colors of EVA pad are cut out and put in the design so that the color of each die cut piece runs all the way through that section of pad.


Board Rails

The rails of the board will give you an indication of the quality of the board because the rails tend to take a ton of abuse. The more reinforcement in this area, the better. 

A line of tape at the top and the bottom of the rail is a dead giveaway that the manufacturer has merely slapped a side panel on. This is an inexpensive way to reinforce the rails and typically will not hold up to high air pressure.

Boards that have brought the top and bottom layer together to create a nicely rounded rail and have added multiple extra layers of reinforcement will be a whole lot more durable.  


Fin Box

Many iSUP manufacturers use a proprietary fin box so that the paddler is at their mercy when they need replacement fins. 

Choosing a board with a USA fin box which is used in most hard boards will allow the user to utilize just about anyone’s fins. This can be important too if you are changing out fins for different SUP disciplines like running rivers, surfing, or flat-water paddling.

 important key factors in an inflatable paddle board 


Paddle boarding offers a variety of disciplines that can be practiced on many different types of waterways.  The board that you use for fishing, probably won’t be the same one that a yogi would use. 

If you are mainly interested in running rivers, you will want to stay away from a flatwater cruiser type board that has a pointier nose.

If you are brand new to the sport, you may want to go with an “all-rounder” type board that is more of a “jack of all trades, master of none” type of board but will give you a feel for all of the various fun things you can do on a SUP.

Inflatable paddle board shapes


These days, most iSUP manufacturers include quite a few accessories while some still charge extra for basic accessories like a backpack to carry your iSUP.

A well-appointed inflatable stand up paddle board will include: fin, dual-chamber pump, backpack with wheels, leash, 3 piece paddle, D-Rings for mounting items, kayak seat and carrying strap. If all of that isn’t included, keep shopping!


what comes with an inflatable paddle board


Make sure that the manufacturer of the iSUP has a track record in the stand up paddle board business. Preferably find one that also offers hard boards, as that is usually a tell that they’ve been in the business for quite a while and understand all the nuances involved in creating a high-performance paddle board.  

Many “manufacturers” are just individuals who bought a container of boards from an offshore factory and won’t be around to support any warranty issues that you might have.



As you can see, investing in an inflatable paddle board is a bit more complicated than one might initially imagine, however, once you know what to look for, you can be a much more effective consumer and a much happier paddler!


Related Topics

SUP Gear for River Paddleboarding

SUP Boarding with Kids

Paddleboarding Tips to Follow on a Windy Day

Why Paddleboards are Superior to Kayak