Welcome to Inflatable Paddle Boards

Welcome to Inflatable Paddle Boards

The inflatable paddle board concept makes a whole lot of sense. It’s easily portable, easily stored, and the good ones are extremely robust (much more so than solid boards), and offer extremely good performance. They’re also easier on the rider, and there’s less ‘collateral damage’, when the board bumps into boats, cars (getting on and off roofracks etc), other water users etc.

So if you are in the market for an inflatable paddle board, it is important to understand that – whilst they are all similar in that they have some sort of PVC dropstitch material inside – this is where the similarities end. There are many different factories producing inflatable SUPs, using a wide variety of materials, fittings and manufacturing techniques. It is very easy to make a cheaper board, and while they may not look much different in the shop the difference soon becomes apparent on the water (and the short lifespan becomes apparent not long after!). But without knowing what to look for, it’s not easy to know whether you are looking at a quality product or not.  Read Our Buyers Guide for advice on selecting the best board for you.

So many brands are now offering inflatable paddle boards. Most leading ‘solid board’ SUP brands such as Naish, Mistral, C4, Starboard, RRD, Fanatic, Hobie etc have inflatables in their range, there are specialist brands such as Uli and Red Paddle Co that only make inflatables, and there are also now a whole lot of other ‘brands’ where someone has basically ordered a few stock shapes from one of the Chinese factories and stuck their own logo on it.

There is also a wide variety of motivations for producing inflatable boards. Some brands do it because it looks like a quick and easy buck while inflatables are trendy. Some because they feel they have to have inflatable boards in their range, simply because everyone else does. However, they still really see it as a bit of a gimmick, almost a nuisance. Whereas some brands are genuinely motivated to see just how far they can go with the technology; looking to produce inflatables that are better than solid boards. (Although inevitably this is unlikely to be a motivation with the most successful solid-board brands, who are not going to want to undermine their existing solid-board market!). This motivation factor also results in major quality differences, between the brands looking to cut corners and keep prices low, and those committed to building the best possible product.

The differences may not be apparent in the shop, but are very noticeable when you’re on the water. Inferior quality boards can only be inflated to a relatively low internal pressure, are prone to puncturing and very easy to damage by chafing or any contact with rough rocks, beach etc. They are also extremely low in paddling performance as they sag in the middle, and generate a lot of drag, especially the narrower ones, which are also relatively unstable. In contrast, the best inflatable boards can be inflated to incredibly high pressures thanks to their sophisticated and accurate manufacturing, higher grades of dropstitch and multi-layer skins, which instantly gives them much greater performance. Add in the benefits of carefully calculated rocker lines, plan shapes and high quality fittings, and you get a near-indestructible package that can deliver performance as good as solid boards, and will last for years.

In other words, it’s a very false economy to go cheap, when for only a slight increase in price you can get yourself a top grade inflatable board that will perform vastly better and last many times longer.