Are Inflatable Paddleboards Worth Your Time?

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Expert: Cameron – I have been active in all water-based adventures since 2014. In my youth I would stay with my uncle in Florida who introduced me to paddleboarding and have enjoyed SUP ever since. While traveling I frequently rent paddleboards to explore coastlines of tropical areas such as Hawaii and Guam to include my shoreline at home on the Emerald Coast.


In recent years, the water sports scene has witnessed a remarkable surge in interest surrounding inflatable paddle boards, commonly referred to as iSUPs (inflatable stand up paddleboard).

These versatile and portable alternatives to traditional hard boards have gained traction among paddle enthusiasts and outdoor adventurers alike.

In this comprehensive exploration, we’ll delve into the pros and cons of opting for an inflatable paddle board, shedding light on whether these boards truly live up to the hype.

However, are inflatable paddleboards good?

Yes, inflatable paddleboards are great for their portability, versatility, and affordability. However, they may have performance limitations and require maintenance, depending how frequently you will be using your iSUP. When selecting an inflatable paddleboard consider your travel needs and activities that you are interested in participating in.

Given this, what are the benefits and the downsides to inflatable paddleboards?

Weighing the Pros and Cons

As with any product, there are both advantages and potential drawbacks associated with inflatable paddle boards.

To make an informed decision, it’s essential to weigh these factors carefully.

Let’s embark on a journey through the pros and cons of iSUPs to determine whether they are indeed a good choice for your paddling endeavors.

Related: What is Paddleboarding?

Pros of Inflatable Paddle Boards

Portability and Storage

Group Walking with paddleboards
#1
Portability Benefits

One of the standout advantages of inflatable paddle boards is their compact design, which offers unparalleled ease of transportation.

Unlike their rigid counterparts, iSUPs can be deflated and rolled up into a conveniently sized backpack.

This allows you to take your paddling adventures to new and remote locations without the need for roof racks or oversized storage spaces.

A huge advantage of this is being able to travel with your iSUP while flying to your destination.

While there are usually paddleboard rentals in many beach destinations, you are not likely able to take them to more remote hikes down the shoreline.

Easy Storage

Moreover, when deflated, these boards can be stored in small spaces, making them an ideal option for those with limited storage capacity.

This will save you some time having to hang up a rack in your garage like I had to do.

My first attempt at this landed my paddleboard slamming down one night scaring everyone in the house and leaving a hole in my drywall, all good now though.

Versatility and All-Around Performance

Inflatable paddle boards excel in their adaptability to various water conditions.

Whether you’re gliding along tranquil lakes, navigating winding rivers, or riding gentle ocean waves, iSUPs prove to be versatile companions.

Their stability and balanced design make them suitable for paddlers of all skill levels, including beginners who are just dipping their toes into the world of paddleboarding.

This adaptability ensures that you can confidently embark on diverse aquatic escapades, knowing that your board can handle the challenge.

And yes, this includes surfing and fishing; although with the utmost caution to not rip a hole in your iSUP.

I take my iSUP out to the Emerald Coast on calmer days to go fishing away from the competition.

Durability and Construction

Modern inflatable paddle boards are constructed using high-quality materials that prioritize longevity and durability.

Typically, they are made with a high quality PVC along with drop stitching to ensure a sealed air core.

According to NRS, drop stitching is a new technology where you get hard-shell performance along with the easy transportation and storage of an inflatable.

This is made possible with tens of thousands of fine threads that have also been used to make floating docks, high-pressure rescue lifting bags and airplane wings.

While concerns about potential punctures and leaks may arise, advancements in technology like mentioned above have led to the creation of rugged materials that can withstand minor impacts and abrasions.

This durability ensures that your iSUP will accompany you on numerous adventures without compromising its structural integrity.

Cost-Effectiveness

For those mindful of their budget, inflatable paddle boards often present a more affordable alternative to traditional solid boards.

The initial cost of acquiring an iSUP is generally lower, allowing you to enter the world of paddleboarding without breaking the bank.

Additionally, the lower maintenance costs associated with iSUPs contribute to their cost-effectiveness, making them an attractive option for those seeking a fulfilling water sport experience without a hefty investment.

The price range can very greatly, but iSUPs can go as low as $100 and high end models over $4500; so there are plenty of options to go through.

Easy Learning Curve

Child Paddling on Paddleboard
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Inflatable paddle boards provide a stable platform that greatly facilitates the learning process for newcomers to the sport.

The balanced design and wide surface area enhance your stability on the water.

This enables you to build confidence and practice your paddling technique without constant concerns about tipping over.

This beginner-friendly attribute of iSUPs promotes a quicker adaptation to the sport, encouraging novice paddlers to embark on their journeys with enthusiasm.

Softer Surface Area

It is inevitable that while enjoying your paddleboard, you will fall.

The softer surface gives more of a cushion when taking your fall.

This is also a good surface area for your dog since it has a better grip than its fiberglass counterpart.

Cons of Inflatable Paddle Boards

Girl Paddleboarding with Paddle
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Performance Limitations

While inflatable paddle boards offer a plethora of benefits, it’s important to acknowledge that they may not match the performance capabilities of traditional hard boards.

Due to their inflatable nature, iSUPs tend to have less speed and glide, which could impact your overall paddling experience.

Traditional paddleboards sink lower in the water, which gives them a speed boost when compared to the inflatable.

Consequently, if you’re primarily interested in competitive or performance-oriented paddling, a solid board might be a more suitable choice.

While I did mention you can surf and fish with an inflatable paddleboard before, it is much less than ideal.

While fishing on my iSUP I am incredible careful and keep an emergency puncture kit handy.

Surfing is possible with iSUPs only in small wakes and I do not recommend it in the slightest with high waves.

Inflation and Setup

One notable drawback of inflatable paddle boards is the time-consuming process of inflating and deflating them before and after use.

There is a proper and improper way to inflate your iSUP and if you do it incorrectly it could damage the integrity of your paddleboard shortening its lifespan.

While modern pumps have streamlined this procedure, it still requires a degree of patience and effort.

Additionally, the dependency on pumping equipment means that forgetting or misplacing your pump could put a damper on your planned paddleboarding session.

I have arrived at the beach only for my pump to break and left my hand pump at home, this ruined our entire plans.

Unless you are ok with changing all your plans for the day, be mindful of equipment like this.

Flexing

I have added this as a subpoint because it is quite a common issue people have.

This flex limits your paddleboards performance and can be incredibly frustrating.

In my experience however, the issue was a result of not inflating the iSUP properly leading it the flex down in the middle of the board.

Maintenance and Repair

Inflatable paddle boards are more susceptible to punctures and leaks than their solid counterparts.

Although advancements in material technology have mitigated this concern to a considerable extent, the risk remains.

Regular inspection, proper storage, and prompt patching of any damages are crucial to ensure the longevity of your iSUP.

While maintenance is relatively straightforward, it’s an additional aspect that requires attention and care.

Weight Capacity

Inflatable paddle boards tend to have a lower weight limitation compared to solid boards.

This limitation could affect heavier paddlers or those who intend to have multiple riders on the same board.

Exceeding the recommended weight capacity can compromise stability and maneuverability, impacting your overall paddling experience.

Resale Value

It’s worth noting that inflatable paddle boards generally have a lower resale value compared to their solid counterparts.

The perceived depreciation in value, coupled with potential wear and tear over time, might result in limited demand within the secondhand market.

If you foresee the possibility of reselling your board in the future, this aspect is worth considering.

I have bought both iSUPs and inflatable kayaks secondhand and have regretted it both times, unfortunately (they both had unmentioned leaks I had to find).

Less Protection Against Marine Predators and Environment

Shark Swimming Under Surfers
#4

While it does not happen often, there are attacks on paddleboarders as well as accidents with currents.

An inflatable paddleboard offers much less protection in a shark attack than a solid board would.

You will also have the ability to stay afloat if the creature punctures the SUP vs an inflatable one.

That brings us to accidents where your iSUP breaks and you have nothing to keep you afloat in a strong current.

This may seem unreasonable, but there have been people in my city that were using iSUPs and went missing then found a week later washed up on the beach.

Apparently they hit a rip tide that ended up colliding with something that punctured their boards and took them under.

Stay safe and always have an emergency PFD!

Summary

In the ever-evolving landscape of paddleboarding, inflatable paddle boards have carved a niche for themselves by offering a range of benefits that cater to various preferences and lifestyles.

By thoroughly examining the pros and cons outlined above, you’re better equipped to make an educated decision based on your individual priorities.

While iSUPs excel in portability, versatility, and affordability, their performance limitations and maintenance requirements warrant careful consideration.

Ultimately, whether inflatable paddle boards are a good choice depends on your specific needs and the kind of paddling experience you seek.

As you embark on your paddleboarding journey, may this comprehensive exploration guide you toward a decision that aligns with your passion for the water and your desire for an unforgettable adventure.


[Sources and References]

“What Is Drop Stitch?” NRS, 20 June 2011, www.nrs.com/learn/what-is-drop-stitch.

[Image Attribution and Licensing]

Featured Image by Lars Nissen
#1 Image by ivabalk
#2 Image by Pexels
#3 Image by Dimitris Vetsikas
#4 Image by Elias