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Inflatable paddleboards, sometimes called iSUPs, have become all the rage for recreational paddleboarders. They seem like a no-brainer. They are easy to transport and store, they are lightweight, and many of them are inexpensive. But as with most things, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
In recent years inflatable paddleboards, sometimes called iSUPs, have become all the rage for recreational paddleboarders. They seem like a no-brainer. They are easy to transport and store, they are lightweight, and many of them are inexpensive. But as with most things, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
The explosion of inexpensive inflatables flooding the market has been both good and bad for paddleboarding in general. They are a gateway to get into the sport, and that is a good thing. However, their performance leaves much to be desired and some of the conveniences really aren’t so convenient. So, for some people, they actually become a barrier to paddling.
There are definite reasons why you would want an inflatable paddleboard rather than one made with epoxy and fiberglass or a plastic coating, generally referred to as a hardboard. The ease of storage, transport, and price are the three main reasons to choose an inflatable. But here are six reasons why you should think twice before ordering that $300 iSUP. Price is not the only factor that will determine whether an inflatable board is good or not, but again, if it seems too good to be true…
You often get what you pay for. An inexpensive inflatable paddleboard will lack rigidity. Picture trying to paddle a pool raft around. The board can actually fold up around you or “taco” where the board is the shell, and you are the filling.
Inflating iSUPs is not fun, regardless of their price point. Most come with pumps that are only moderately successful in getting you to the proper pressure, and it is tiring trying. There are electric pumps on the market, and while they are getting better, some still struggle to get up to the required pressure without burning out or taking 30 minutes.
Returning it to the bag when you are finished paddling can pose another challenge. Some fit with room to spare, others are more of a battle. You should make sure it’s dry before you store it. Storing it wet can lead to a smelly, moldy mess.
Only a few factories make most of the inexpensive iSUPs and slap different logos on the same boards. This generic design leaves you with a board that plows water, making the actual paddling experience less than ideal. If you get caught in wind or rough water you will get tossed all over the place.
Inferior materials and manufacturing methods make inexpensive boards more prone to seam failure. Over-inflating and leaving boards inflated in the sun are two of the leading ways to blow a seam. Seam repairs are difficult and unreliable, often rendering the board useless.
They can be harder to balance on because you get so much feedback from the water and because of the lack of rigidity, they react to everything going on under you.
You can generally inflate them to higher pressure giving you a more solid platform thus reducing tacoing. Elements like battens and stiffening rods can also make the boards more rigid.
They are generally constructed better. With reinforced seams, and better methods and materials there is less chance of catastrophic failure.
Board shapes tend to be better designed and sometimes even include shaping elements laminated into the board for a much better paddling experience.
If you have the means to store and transport a hardboard, you will likely have a much better paddling experience. While hard paddleboards are generally more expensive than their inflatable counterparts, there are fewer surprises with them. Hardboards provide a more consistent paddling experience. They tend to move through or on top of the water much more efficiently than inflatable paddleboards and do not plow water like the noses of inflatables tend to. They are very low maintenance and some hardboards can even tolerate a measure of roughness. There is a huge variety of shapes, sizes, and price points to choose from.
It is always a good idea to visit your local paddleboard shop to speak with an expert about what options will work best for your paddling goals. Inflatables definitely have their place in the world. But the explosion of them onto the paddling scene has not always led to the best paddling experiences. Even the best inflatable paddleboard will not be mistaken for a hardboard when you paddle it.