Inflatable vs Hard Paddleboards. Which is Right for you?
As a self-proclaimed SUP (Stand Up Paddleboard) enthusiast and advocate for the sport, I have consulted and advised numerous individuals over the years who were interested in purchasing. A common question is: Should I buy a hard SUP or go for one of those inflatable boards? This article will hopefully answer your question.
While selecting a paddleboard, you should consider asking yourself the following questions:
Where will I store it?
Do you have room in your house/apartment to store a 9-12 foot object?
Do not store your board on a balcony (whether you choose hard or inflatable). The sun is very bad for it in the long-run.
Can I lift a hard paddleboard?
These can be very heavy. Consider if you can lift one on your own and walk with it for a relatively long distance.
How can I transport it to a beach or body of water?
Do you have a roof rack?
If no, is a roof rack in your budget? They can be expensive.
Remember, you need to take time to inflate and deflate your inflatable board.
What is your skill level?
From novice to expert, this should play a big role in your decision.
What will I use it for?
Do you plan on surfing?
Will you use it for strictly flat water paddle?
Do you want to use it in a race?
What length & width do I need?
Consider your own height and weight. Refer to charts online which help determine what size you should get. Inflatables typically carry heavier people than hard boards because they have more thickness and volume.
What's my budget?
When all is said and done, a good inflatable will always be less expensive than a good hard SUP of the same size. Inflatable SUPs usually come bundled with other things as well, including a paddle. You really won't find an inflatable for more than $1,500 and hard SUPs can cost as much as $5,000.
Believe it or not, inflatables are far more durable than hard boards. Inflatables won't pop. They're built very well and there are even boards which undergo tests in which trucks drive over them while they're inflated. Needless to say, those boards passed the test. Inflatables are used for white water paddling through tough rapids and sharp rocks. There's no chance a hard board will survive that without cracking. I've had to repair my epoxy boards many times after all of the meaningless dings they've sustained. Yes, you can repair your inflatable if it gets hurt.
Portability & Storage
Inflatables take the cake here. They're lighter, they can be rolled up, they can be packed away into a bag, and they can be transported comfortably on your back. One drawback to consider is the time and strength it takes to inflate and deflate your board. Most boards come with manual pumps. Electric pumps aren't very common.
I've surfed on inflatables and hard SUPs and it's not even a competition. Hard SUPs win this contest due to their construction. Inflatables can also ripple a bit when you make sudden changes in your footwork and can make it feel like you're bouncing and less stable.
Hard SUPs are always faster than inflatables due to their construction and rail technology. Inflatables can also have textures (which are necessary for durability and construction) which can slow things down a bit.
Although inflatable SUPs can hold more weight, you'll find better stability standing on a hard board. This is almost entirely due to the thickness. The closer you are to the water, the more stability you'll have.
When it comes to comparable board length, hard SUPs are always heavier than inflatables unless you're buying a carbon fiber board. If you're buying a carbon, you already know that you shouldn't be reading this :). Most inflatables will come with a backpack or a roll-a-board which makes it easy to transport. Hard SUPs are heavier and require arm and shoulder strength to transport from your car to a beach, lake, or river.
The benefit of being lightweight also hurts the inflatable in this category. Naturally, the lighter something is the more susceptible it is to wind. Inflatables also have higher rails and more thickness which means you're higher off the water than you are in a hard SUP. Wind resistance is important when paddling in the ocean, a bay, or a large lake.
This is vague and open-ended. It all depends on your budget and what's best for you. If I could pick a winner, it's going to be inflatable. The longevity and lack of repairs will serve you very well in the long-run. Inflatables don't suit my needs since I prefer to surf, but everyone is different.
Which board type is right for you? Consider the aforementioned questions and factors and come up with that answer on your own. Happy shopping!