Inflatable Paddle Board vs Hard Paddle Boards: Choosing the Right SUP

Inflatable Paddle Board vs Hard Paddle Boards: Choosing the Right SUP

Increasing popularity in stand up paddle boarding (SUP) sports means there are new gear innovations year after year. Both inflatable paddle boards and hard paddle boards have unique advantages and disadvantages.

When it comes to deciding what type of paddle board is best for you and your lifestyle, there are many things to consider. Each type of paddle board has its pros and cons depending on how you expect to use it, what types of bodies of water you will be paddling on (such as lakes, rivers, and oceans), as well as how much storage space you have at your home.

Choosing the right board for your lifestyle is easy with a bit of thought and research before racing out and buying your board.

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What are hard paddle boards?

Solid paddle boards, also known as fiberglass or epoxy boards are made using an Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) foam core that is wrapped in layers of fiberglass with an epoxy resin coating. Multiple layers of fiberglass are used and the more expensive hard paddle boards have carbon fiber laid over the rails to provide durability and strength. Carbon and fiberglass boards can also be much lighter than non-inflatable boards without carbon.

What are inflatable paddle boards?

Inflatable SUPs, which have been on the market for over a decade, have evolved to be the choice for most new and seasoned paddle board enthusiasts. An inflatable paddleboard is pumped up with air using a specific type of pump and is rigid enough for a rider of pretty much any weight to safely stand on. 

The higher quality, more durable inflatable SUP boards are made from a super lightweight and rigid, double layer Monocoque Structural Laminate (MSL) fusion construction. This type of construction is used in the manufacturing process and is usually reserved for premium inflatable stand up paddle board brands. Boards made with this advanced technology and manufacturing process have the best of both worlds when it comes to durability and performance as well as weight capacity.

A paddle board that uses the MSL technology has an inner bladder made of drop stitch fabric.  Drop stitch consists of two parallel sheets which are interconnected with thousands of threads. The more threads, the more solid the structure. When the top and bottom sheets are joined together by airtight materials, the board maintains its rigid shape when inflated. 

MSL Fusion construction also has two layers of fabric that are bonded together and a layer of durable, military-grade Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) material coating. Overall, this double-layer paddle board technology results in a more rigid inflatable SUP board and is extremely resistant to punctures. 

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Advantages of hard paddle boards

  • Faster transition time from car to water

  • Better for SUP Racing

  • Excellent for surfing

  • Increased glide and speed

Non-inflatable paddle boards have some distinct advantages over an inflatable SUP. First of all, when you take your hard paddle board to the water, the transition time between arriving and getting paddling on the water is very quick. Within 3-5 minutes you can have your leash and life jacket on and be out paddling quickly, without having to unfold your inflatable SUP board and get it pumped up.

Hard SUPs are super rigid and are excellent for high-performance activities such as SUP racing, long-distance paddle boarding,  surfing and generally attaining higher planning speeds than boards inflated with air. Epoxy SUPs have better overall performance due to hardboard design and their displacement hulls, which means they have better glide through the water and create less drag, which equals more speed.

Disadvantages of solid paddle boards

  • Heavier than inflatables

  • Easier to dent or crack fiberglass

  • Repairs usually need to be done by a professional

  • Transporting can be a hassle either on your car or when flying

A hard board has some disadvantages compared to inflatable SUPs. They are usually heavier which means for many people, getting them on top of your car or to the beach, more difficult. Especially if it is windy and the board is getting blown around.

EPS boards are also more fragile. Hitting a rock or tying it down too tight on your roof rack can crack or dent the board which can result in costly repairs, which should be done by a professional to ensure they stay watertight.

Another disadvantage is if you are planning on traveling with your hard board. Airlines will charge you a ‘board fee’ which is usually $200 each way which adds a lot to your travel expenses.

Advantages of inflatable SUPs

  • Easily transported

  • No need for a car roof rack

  • Save money on airline baggage fees

  • Extremely stable

  • Dog Friendly

The greatest advantage of inflatables is that they can be easily transported when compared with hard paddle boards. Most inflatable paddle boarding kits are about the size and weight of a medium-sized suitcase and are very easy to transport and load into your car. You don’t need a car roof rack or a lot of storage space at home.

If you are traveling to an exotic location and want to take your stand up paddle board, air travel is way easier than carrying and paying additional baggage fees for a hard paddle board.

SUP surfing, performance flat water racing, and stand up paddle board touring are also totally doable on an inflatable paddle board. In many cases, the top speed might not be at the same level as a hard SUP, but the differences are getting smaller each year, as manufacturers improve the board construction.

And finally, if your dog loves the water they just might like riding on a board where they sit and don’t slip around. 

Disadvantages of inflatable SUPs

  • Not as rigid as a hard board

  • If not pumped up correctly they can have a lot of flex

  • Less responsive and maneuverable

Compared to hard boards, an inflatable SUP is not as rigid, which means they are not performance focused. Being less rigid, also means that they are less responsive and maneuverable when trying to make quick turns.

Inflatable SUPs will also have more flex in them than hard boards. Pumping them up to the suggested PSI is one way to combat flex, but if you are a heavier rider, you may find you need to inflate to the high range of air pressure.

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What PSI (Pounds Per Square Inch) should I inflate my paddle board to?

Each paddle board manufacturer specifies the amount of PSI needed to get the best performance from your board. Some boards, depending on type and style, may need more air as there is more volume.  For example, a 10’6 all-round, inflatable paddle board might need less PSI than a 13’6 touring expedition board. Each manufacturer will state on the board how much air to put in, so you don’t have to remember each time you inflate. 

The pumps supplied with your inflatable will usually have a pressure gauge so you can be sure you are not over or under inflating. If you are unsure whether your gauge is working correctly, the best way is to stand on the board in shallow water and if there is significant flex or bow in the board, then it could probably use some more air.

Do inflatable paddle boards pop easily?

Generally speaking, most high-quality inflatable SUPs do not pop easily. The double-layer MSL Construction makes this board type extremely durable and most paddlers may never have to use the patch kits included with the board. If you do get a puncture, repairing your inflatable paddle board is quite straightforward. Just follow the instructions provided by the manufacturer or take it to a professional repair shop in your area.

Pro tip: Don’t leave your board sitting out in the sun on hot summer days. Excessive sun exposure creates a risk of the board popping due to the air inside the board expanding from the heat. When on the water this isn’t a concern as the water keeps the air inside the board cool. 

Can inflatable paddle boards be repaired?

Inflated SUPs may suffer a variety of damages, such as hitting sharp rocks, clam, oyster and mussel shells, as well as accidents that happen off the water.  But fortunately, compared to a rigid board, which can get cracks in the fiberglass and ultimately need an expensive, professional repair,  patching an inflatable SUP can be done at home with the supplied patch kit.

Are inflatable paddle boards more stable?

Stability is one of the many reasons why most people choose to paddle an inflatable. Regardless of the rider’s weight or board length, most boards have a weight capacity of 350 pounds. This is because inflatable boards usually have higher volume, which is the measure of the ability of a board to float with weight on it. Generally, the higher the volume, the more stable the board is.

Are inflatable paddle boards harder to stand on?

Compared to hard paddle board types, inflatable paddleboards are very easy to stand on due to their shape, width, and volume. This is why most SUP yoga instructors and enthusiasts use them. Their stability is unmatched compared to a hard SUP.

How long will an inflatable SUP last?

Your inflatable board, if treated properly, will last many, many years. This does depend on the number of days a year you get it on the water, as well as the types of conditions you enjoy. 

Saltwater is harder on every type of gear and inflatable board types are no exception. But as long as you rinse your board off after every session and dry it out of direct sunlight before storing it, you will get years of performance and enjoyment from your paddle board.

If you take your SUP surfing, even into small waves, then your board may take more of a beating. But overall these are solid boards built to withstand anything you can throw at them, no matter your skill level.

Is an inflatable SUP better than a hard board?

Both epoxy boards and inflatable SUP boards have their advantages and disadvantages, but the majority of people will be extremely happy with an inflatable paddleboard compared to a hard paddle board.

Inflatable paddle boards are:

  • Durable

  • Have more volume than a hard paddle board which makes them more stable

  • Paddle well and track fairly straight

  • Fun and safe when surfing small or medium-sized waves

  • Easily repairable by yourself or professionally

  • Usually less expensive than hard boards

  • Easy to transport to water

  • Don’t need much storage space

  • Less baggage fees and easier to transport when flying

  • High weight capacity (up to 350 pounds)

  • People of all skill levels can paddle them

  • Paddle in rivers and whitewater without the risk of damaging your SUP

  • Dog friendly

Inflatable boards for beginners

Deciding on what type of paddle board you should buy when starting out comes down to personal preference and how you will be using it. Inflatable boards are a great option for both beginners and advanced paddlers.

Once you have decided that an inflatable is the right choice for you, it’s time to find a board that is within your budget and built by a reputable company. Happy paddling!

Camille Brodeur

Driven by the intersection of lifestyle and fitness, Camille's mission is to inspire others to integrate elements of beauty and aesthetic into their outdoor activities. Her depth of experience in the paddle boarding world allows her to inform and motivate others to get out on the water in the safest and most fun ways possible. Whether it be through her work at Maddle or elsewhere, Camille continuously strives to expand the public consciousness surrounding SUPs.


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