Paddle Boards: Inflatable vs Hard Sup

Paddle boarding is versatile to say the least, especially when the whole world is stuck at home or is under restrictions to travel, paddle boarding provides one with tons of options. You can go for a slow ride on the lake or sea with your friends, have a session of SUP yoga or burn out some fat from an intense work session upon it. There is something for everyone when SUPing, however, not every broad supports all these activities. In order to fulfill your requirement, you need to know what kind of board will complement your plans.

In order to buy the perfect board, you need to consider your body weight and the kind of activity you would most be using the board for. These will determine the shape of the board; its volume, capacity, thickness, accessories etc. Here is a guide to the various kinds of SUP boards that would meet your requirements:

SUP Hull Types: The body which determines how the board will perform in water, it can either be a displacement hull or a planning hull. There are a few with a hybrid design too, which combine the best attributes of the two designs.

Although both types can suit beginners, there are a few activities that suit one board than others.

Planing Hulls: A planing hull is flat and wide, similar to a surfboard. It is designed to ride on top of the water and be very maneuverable. Boards with planing hulls are a good choice for leisure paddling, surfing, SUP yoga and whitewater.

Displacement Hulls: These have a pointed nose or bow (front end) similar to that of a kayak or canoe. The hull slices through water, pushing the water around the nose to the sides of the SUP to improve efficiency and create a fast, smooth ride. The efficiency of a displacement hull requires less effort than a planing hull to paddle, allowing you to go longer distances at faster speeds. They also track nice and straight but are generally a bit less maneuverable than planing hulls.

These are chosen by peddlers who lean towards efficiency and speed for fitness paddling, racing and SUP touring/camping.

Solid vs Inflatable SUPs

Solid Boards

Most solid boards have an EPS foam core that is wrapped with fiberglass and epoxy, which is a fairly lightweight, durable and affordable construction. Other than this, carbon fiber is a lighter and stiffer option, but is more expensive. Plastic SUPs are definitely more affordable, but they are very heavy and lack the performance of other materials. Some SUPs even incorporate lightweight wood for beautiful appearance.

Why should you choose Solid over Inflatable SUP?

  • Performance: These travel faster, smoother and with less effort than an inflatable. You should definitely choose them if you wish to paddle fast and far.
  • Perfect Fit: Solid SUPs are available in a larger variety of sizes and finely tuned shapes than inflatable SUPs, thus, it is much more likely that you will find the perfect fit.
  • Stability: A solid board is a tad more rigid than an inflatable board, which can provide a more stable feel, especially when riding waves. Solid boards also tend to ride lower in the water, making you feel more stable.
  • Have a Place to Store: These need a lot of space, so go for this option if you have room in the garage and a vehicle to transport it from home to the beach. 

Inflatable Boards

Inflatable SUPs feature PVC exteriors with drop-stitch construction that create an air core. They come with a pump for inflating the board and a storage bag for when it’s not in use. A quality inflatable SUP is designed to be inflated to 12–15 pounds per square inch and should feel very rigid when fully inflated.

Why choose Inflatables over Rigid Boards?

  • Limited Space: If you have a small house, apartment or condo then this is the option for you. Inflatable SUPs are compact when deflated and can easily be stowed in small spaces, like a closet or the trunk of a car.
  • Traveling: If you want to paddle at a vacay destination then this is the option to settle for. These are not cumbersome and can be packed away in its storage bag. An inflatable can be checked on an airplane or stowed in a train, bus or car. Most storage bags have backpack straps for easy carrying.
  • Hiking for a lake: If you have to scale a trail or a muddy track, an inflatable is the preferable option.
  • Paddling whitewater: Like a raft or inflatable kayak, an inflatable SUP is better suited to handle bumps up against rocks and logs than a solid board.
  • SUP yoga: This is not essential but they are softer and suit yoga better than the solid boards.

SUP Volume vs Weight Capacity

Volume: Like a raft or inflatable kayak, an inflatable SUP is better suited to handle bumps up against rocks and logs than a solid board. This can be found listed in the specs on REI.com.

Weight Capacity: Each paddle board has a rider weight capacity, which is listed in pounds in the specs on REI.com. Knowing weight capacity is important because if you’re too heavy for a board, it will ride lower in the water and be inefficient to paddle. When thinking about weight capacity, consider the total amount of weight you will put on the board, including your body weight and the weight of any gear, food and drinking water that you’ll be taking with you.

In relation to Hull types: Most planing-hull boards are very forgiving, so as long as you’re below the weight capacity, the board will perform well for you. However, with displacement-hull SUPs, volume and weight capacity are more significant. SUP makers spend a lot of time determining the most efficient position for displacement boards to be in the water. If you overweight a displacement board and cause it to sink too low, it will drag and feel slow. If you’re too light for a board, you won’t sink it enough and the board will feel heavy and difficult to control.

Lengths

Short Boards (under 10’) for surfing and kids: These boards almost always have a planing hull. Short boards are more maneuverable than long boards, making them great for surfing waves. Boards designed specifically for kids are typically around 8’ long.

Medium Boards (10-12’) for all round use and yoga: Most of these boards have planing hulls, but sometime you’ll find a displacement-hull SUP at this length.

Long Boards (12’6’’ and above) for fast paddling and long distance touring: The majority of boards in this size range are displacement-hull SUPs. They’re faster than short and medium boards and they tend to track straighter. If you’re interested in paddling fast or touring long distances, you’ll want a long board.

When choosing a length, it’s helpful to understand how it relates to volume and weight capacity. A longer board can increase the volume and capacity, which can make it feel more stable and allow you to carry more on the board. Keep type of car, home storage situation and length of walk to the beach or shore in mind too.

Width

The wider the board the more stable it will be, however, a skinnier board will be faster as it cuts through water much more easily. SUPs are made in widths ranging from about 25 inches up to 36 inches to accommodate a variety of needs.

Things to keep in mind when deciding the width of the board:

  • Type of paddling: If you’re going on long tours that require you to carry extra gear, like a cooler of food and a tent, choose a wider board in order to have more storage space. The same is true if you’re doing SUP yoga; a board that is 31 inches wide or more will give you space and stability for doing poses. Narrower boards, on the other hand, are faster and more maneuverable, making them the choice among racers and surfers.
  • Body Type: Try to match the width of the SUP to your body type. In general, if you are a small person, go with a narrower board and if you are a big person, go with a wider board. This is because a smaller person can generally find their balance on a narrow board, whereas a bigger person may struggle to do so. Also, if you put a smaller person on a board that is too big for them, they have to awkwardly reach out to the side to get their paddle in the water, resulting in an inefficient stroke.
  • Ability Level: If you’ve paddled a lot, you may be comfortable on a narrower, faster SUP. However, someone brand new to SUP, might prefer a little extra width to help them feel more secure.

SUP Thickness: Thickness is important only because it affects the volume and overall weight capacity. If you’re looking at two boards of the same length and width but different thicknesses, the thicker board has more volume than the thinner one and the higher the volume, the more weight it can support.

Using thickness: A small person with a thin board will keep the overall volume of the board lower so that he is properly weighting the board for the most efficient performance.

SUP Fins: Fins add tracking and stability to a paddle board. In general, larger fins with wider bases and longer front edges will track straighter and provide more stability than smaller fins. On the other hand, a smaller fin provides better maneuverability. Most fins are removable, so you can swap out fins and take them off for storage.

Some popular configurations are:

Single Fin: Many SUPs include a single fin placed in a fin box and secured with a nut and screw. The fin box has a channel for the fin to slide back and forth in. The single fin provides good tracking and minimal drag, making it a good choice for flat water paddling.

3-fin setup: Also called a thruster, this setup promotes straight tracking on flat water and offers good control in surf. All three fins are usually about the same size.

2+1 setupThis configuration includes a larger center fin with a smaller fin on each side of it. This is a common setup on SUPs designed for surfing.

Fins for inflatable SUPs: Inflatable SUPs can have any of the fin configurations already listed. What sets them apart is that they feature either flexible rubber fins attached to the board or detachable semi-rigid fins.

SUP Extras and accessories

Extra Features:

  • Bungee straps/tie-down: Sometimes located on the front and/or rear of the board, these stretchy straps or tie-down spots are great for securing dry bags, clothing and coolers.
  • Attachment points/mounts: Some boards have specific attachment points for fishing-rod holders, seats, cameras and more. These accessories are typically sold separately.

Key equipment needed to enjoy paddle boarding:

  • Paddle: A SUP paddle looks a bit like a stretched-out canoe paddle with a tear-drop-shaped blade that angles forward for maximum paddling efficiency. The correct length paddle will reach up to your wrist when you stand the paddle up in front of you and raise your arm above your head.
  • PFD (Personal Flotation Device): The U.S. Coast Guard classifies stand up paddle boards as vessels (when used outside the narrow limits of swimming or surfing areas), so it is required that you wear a PFD. Note that the regulations also require you to always carry a safety whistle and have a light available if you are paddling after sunset.
  • Proper clothing: For cool conditions where hypothermia is a concern, wear a wetsuit or dry suit. In milder conditions, wear shorts and a T-shirt or bathing suit—something that moves with you and can get wet and dries quickly.
  • Leash: Typically sold separately, a leash tethers your SUP to you, keeping it close by if you fall off. Your SUP is a large flotation device, so being attached to it can be important for your safety. There are leashes designed specifically for surf, flat water and rivers; be sure to purchase the correct one for your intended use.
  • Car rack: Unless you have an inflatable SUP, you need a way to transport your board on your vehicle. There are specific SUP racks designed to go on the crossbars of your roof rack, or you can use padding, such as foam blocks, and utility straps to secure the board to the roof of your vehicle.
Written by William Lester