The Inflatable Paddleboard Myth
It’s time to break the myth on inflatable Stand Up Paddleboards. I hear it time and time again, “I want to buy a SUP but I don’t want an inflatable, I want a real SUP”. There’s this notion out there that inflatable SUP’s are less of a board and more of a toy. It’s simply not true. I have used an inflatable SUP for many years and have had a blast doing so. I’d like to educate the masses on why an inflatable might be the right board for you and the pros and cons associated with a hard board compared to an inflatable. Here we go.
Before diving into the pros of an inflatable SUP I want to dispel the rumors I often hear concerning them. First and foremost it seems that people think of an inflatable as a lesser board. Let’s hit that one first. They’re not. End of story. An inflatable SUP will serve your paddling purposes as well as a hard board will. They’re sturdy, tough and are willing to go anywhere you are. Most inflatables are manufactured using PVC plastic. This stuff is strong. I’ve had mine in ice-cold waters to the point of ice forming all over my board as well as in 100+ degree temperatures. They hold up. I use an inflatable SUP to run whitewater and bang them into rocks and they bounce off with no damage. A hard board in this scenario would suffer from a crack or worse. I took an inflatable SUP on a 500-mile trip from the headwaters of the Mississippi down to Minneapolis with all of my gear strapped to the board. Not once during that trip did I have to pump more air into it or deal with any damages. It was the paddling trip of a lifetime. On top of that, every inflatable SUP is bound to be stable due to the lack of ability to design an inflatable displacement hull (more on this later).
Now let’s dive into the objective pros. The most obvious benefit of buying an inflatable is both storage and transportation. For the last three years, I have kept an inflatable SUP in the trunk of my two-door coupe. It’s always there, just in case. This speaks to both of these pros, you don’t need a large space in your house to store the board and you don’t need racks on your car to transport. Inflatable SUP’s roll up into a large backpack carry bag which, among being easy to store and transport, allows you to hike your SUP to lakes and other waterways that are otherwise inaccessible. Two years ago I brought my SUP to Glacier National Park to paddle remote alpine lakes. With my SUP on my back, I hiked up to these lakes and paddled them without another soul in sight. They have the ability to create magical experiences. I do this often here in Oregon as well.
Another gripe that I hear often concerns that of pumping up the board. Listen, it’s not that hard. I’ve averaged it out and it takes roughly 250 pumps to get your average inflatable up to par. Compare that to the number of strokes you’ll take while out on the water and you’re looking at a small amount of energy used to get yourself on the water. On top of that, the muscles you’ll use to pump up the board are the same muscles you’ll use while paddling your board. To me, this is a convenient and mandatory warm up. If it’s really a hindrance to you there are electronic pumps you can purchase.
Now for the objective differences between a hard board and an inflatable. For most, these differences will not matter. The truth is, an inflatable is limited on the hull designs of the board. This means an inflatable is not capable of creating a displacement hull (used for racing and fast-tracking through the water). It is also not capable of creating hard edges along the bottom of the board which will enable a paddler to cut hard across a wave. The plus side of this is that inflatable manufacturers are able to create a board that is stable with a large load capacity. The average inflatable will have a balanced hull that is perfect for paddling a plethora of water conditions. Specific paddling purposes only are what inflatables lack in. So, unless you really need a board that is designed for a specific purpose like racing or surfing you will be able to find exactly what you’re looking for in an inflatable.
The bottom line is get over it. Inflatables are awesome! When pumped up to the appropriate PSI an inflatable board feels like a hard board. And if the purpose of your purchase is to get outside and view the outdoors from a different perspective then an inflatable SUP will do you justice.