So you’ve decided you want to purchase your first stand up paddle board and now there’s another decision to make. Do you want to buy an inflatable SUP or a traditional ‘rigid’ board? Both have their benefits and depending on how you will be using the board, we can help you make the right decision. By the time this article is over, your choice should be crystal clear.
In a perfect world, each person would own one of each board. There will always be times when you think “I wish we would have bought…instead”. Inflatables are great for travel, rigid boards are ready to use and require less work. It all comes down to how YOU want to use the board.
Fiberglass SUP vs. Inflatable SUP Performance
One of the major differences between fiberglass SUP boards and inflatable SUP boards is the overall performance. Advancements in inflatable SUP boards have made strides over the years with technology that make inflatable SUPs more rigid and similar to fiberglass boards. However, they still depend on air pressure so the rigidity, overall feel and responsiveness of a fiberglass based board is typically nicer. The performance differences really depend on the style of riding you are doing.
- All-around or general cruising style riders might notice a smoother ride on a rigid board depending on the PSI of the inflatable. However, inflatable’s are often said to be more confortable to stand on for longer paddle sessions vs. fiberglass SUPs.
- Surfers will notice less response in turns on inflatable SUPs vs. fiberglass SUPs, plus an overall softer feel which may or may not suit the rider’s style.
- Race/Touring paddlers will notice added drag and overall slower speeds on an inflatable SUP.
Traditional Rigid/Fiberglass SUP Boards
Now that we have covered basic performance differences between fiberglass and inflatable SUPs, lets break down some specific aspects of each type of board and how they compare. Here are some key points to consider while shopping for a traditional fiberglass stand up paddle board.
Traditional paddle boards have a foam core. Around that, depending on the construction, they will have a few layers of fiberglass, wood or other materials like kevlar, carbon fiber or bamboo. Traditional SUP boards will always be more rigid than inflatable paddle boards and depending on the size, may also have a higher overall volume. More volume means they can float a heavier weight rider(s). Below is a basic diagram that shows what the inside of your stand up paddle board may look like. Keep in mind that there are many different types of construction available depending on the brand and type of performance you are looking for. The common theme is that they will have a foam core and various layers of fiberglass.
Traveling with your traditional stand up paddle board can be a challenge. Sure, driving to your local SUP spot? Piece of cake. Longer distance road trips or flying? Not quite as easy. As long as you have factory cross bars on your vehicle and a set of simple tie-down straps, you can toss the board on top, strap down and go. Keep in mind doing this solo can be trying if you are a smaller rider.
Longer distance trips require the same preparation but do require a little more attention to your cargo throughout your trip. You’ll want a bag on longer trips because the chance of a rock or debris damaging your board is pretty good. Most long distance trips require going through construction areas at some point, which are deadly to un-protected SUP boards.
When it comes to flying with your board, invest in a heavy duty “coffin” style travel bag and be prepared to pay extra oversize fees for the large cargo. Make sure to check with your airline that they will allow the size of the board and what the fee is before you get to the airport and can’t turn back.
Traditional paddle boards do take up more space so be sure to consider where you might be storing the board during both the SUP season and off season. Many customers think, I’ll just put it in my basement or garage! However, if you have to walk down stairs to get there, make sure you’ve got plenty of clearance and room to maneuver and store a board that is generally between 10 and 12 feet long. Take all the necessary measurements before you commit to the board so you don’t get home and realize you have nowhere to put the board. If you plan to keep the board in an elevated area (like shelves in a garage) be sure to consider the weight of your board. Some boards are lightweight (around 20 lbs) but others can easily be over 40 lbs. So a mount that is rated for 60+ lbs is ideal.
When you figure out where you will store your board, you may need to consider a board bag or “sleeve” (soft, thin cover) to keep your board protected from dings and dents. A down side of traditional SUP boards is they can ding easily. Small scratches and cosmetic blemishes are nothing to worry about but beware of “core shots” or deeper dents that can allow water to get inside the board and warp the fiberglass. If you plan to travel, we definitely recommend a protective cover of some kind to prevent damage from road debris.
When it comes to fiberglass boards, dings happen. Fiberglass is tough but when riding/handling large boards, bumps and scratches are inevitable. Small scratches and cosmetic blemishes may not be pretty to look at but they certainly don’t hurt the integrity of your board. Deeper dings, cracks and holes need to be addressed immediately. Any moisture getting into the core of the board can be a very bad and warp the board to the point it doesn’t ride well. So, be prepared to familiarize yourself with do-it-yourself ding repair kits or make friends with your local SUP shop. You will need them at some point.
Inflatable SUP Boards
People generally find it hard to believe that something that you blow up can actually be stable enough to float you out on the water. Since most higher end inflatable sup companies use what is called “drop stitch” technology, not only are they stable enough, they are about 80%-90% as rigid as traditional paddle boards depending on the construction and PSI rating.
As we mentioned above, the brands that we work with all use something called “drop stitch technology” for their inflatable boards. Small fibers are woven into the inside of the board so when it’s inflated, they stand up and almost interlock so you actually feel like you are standing on a hard surface. Most brands can hold anywhere from 14-18 psi. Our premier inflatable SUP brand, Red Paddle Co, makes boards that can hold up to 25 psi. The outer layer is generally a super durable hardened rubber material (think white water rafts), the top and bottom layers are molded together and the rail is wrapped again for extra support. This can vary from brand to brand so be sure to check out the specific construction of the brand that you are shopping. The diagram below will show you an example of what the inside of an inflatable stand up paddle board looks like.
The number 1 reason that people consider inflatable stand up paddle boards is the ease of travel. You can pack your board up and check it on a plane just like any luggage. The rolled up board inside the bag is around 30-40lbs, so generally you just pay the regular “checked bag” fee that applies to the airline you are traveling on. No more paying that resort rental facility a high daily rental fee, you can simply bring your own board on vacation with you! Inflatables are also ideal for around town travel as you can stash it in your trunk and don’t have to worry about driving around with a $1200 board on the top of your car.
The short answer, no problem! Storage is a breeze with inflatables. You let the air out, roll it up and store it in the handy bag that comes with it. They roll up small enough to fit in the trunk of your car, under a seat on your boat or even in a closet during the off season. It is comparable to the size of a large suitcase. There is very little maintenance when it comes to storing your inflatable. The only advice we would give is to make sure the board is completely dry before rolling it up and storing it. If you put your board away wet, it can lock in stinky water smells and be unpleasant when you go to unroll it and use it next time.
Every inflatable SUP brand that we work with includes a bag with the purchase of your board. Some bags are nicer than others. You’ll find simple backpack style bags and higher end quality wheelie bags that make travel a breeze. Keep in mind the bag quality is a factor when you see different prices of inflatables.
Every inflatable comes with a repair kit, but the chances of having to use this kit are slim. It’s a fairly easy process if you do get a small hole. The repairs can be done easily at home. Any holes that may appear on a seam of the board should be brought to the attention of the manufacturer as these types of issues may be covered by a warranty. Inflatable SUPs don’t show typical rail damage from paddle or dock bangs like a rigid SUP board would. So repairs are pretty much limited to larger impacts that don’t happen as often.
As you can see, both types of SUP boards have their benefits. It is up to you to decide which one is more realistic for your application, or if you can afford to get both. We hope this article has helped you understand the differences between inflatable and rigid SUP boards.