Inflatable paddle boards were a revolutionary creation for paddle boarding that allowed it to explode in popularity over the last few years.
Now, instead of an expensive hard board that requires you to have a thick enough wallet to purchase, a place in the garage to store it, and a big enough vehicle to transport it, all you need is enough room in your trunk.
Even mini vehicles can transport an inflatable paddle board, and with the right board bag with straps or accessories, you could feasibly transport a paddle board entirely by hand or bicycle.
Furthermore, because of the inflatable nature of inflatable boards, they also came with more accessible price tags than hard boards.
Because of many iSUPs inflatable, all-purpose nature, they also opened the doors wider for complete beginners, as it meant you didn’t have to know everything up front.
So, here’s everything you need to know before purchasing an inflatable paddle board…
Not All Boards Are Created Equal
When you first start looking for an inflatable paddle board, it’s important to remember that not all boards are created equal.
Some inflatable paddle boards are thinner, making less able to hold weight. This means every individual on the paddle board, as well as the gear, has to weigh under the board’s maximum capacity.
The material of the board is important because it should be able to withstand some kind of abrasion or heavy-duty handling. If the material is too thin, it could pop with the slightest brush against the rocks.
Quality of the material doesn’t stop with the material itself, however; the board must also be stitched together correctly. Some manufacturers use drop stitch fabric with a plastic coating over the top, while others fuse a layer of woven fabric between these layers for more rigidity and stability.
Unfortunately, the better the material quality, the higher the price. Most beginner boards within an affordable just-trying-it-out hobbyist price range will be a simple two-layer construction with drop stitching.
This means that you shouldn’t get too attached to your beginner board. As long as you are careful about potential punctures and rips, and you take care of it when its in storage, your beginner board should still last you a few years at least.
(That isn’t to say you won’t want to upgrade once you’re hooked on paddle boarding and want to improve your paddling experience now that you have a feel for it.)
What is an Ideal Price for a Beginner iSUP?
Paddle board prices can range widely depending on what features you are looking for, and how good the quality of the board is. Most inflatable paddle boards come in a package kit with a hand compressor to inflate the board, as well as a repair kit, and sometimes a fin, paddle bag, and dry bag.
On the high end of the price range, inflatable paddle boards can cost as much as $2,000 or more for the top-name brand boards with the most durable construction.
For the budget-friendly beginner, however, that’s impractical to spend. On the lower end of the price range, inflatable paddle boards can cost as little as $140 or less. The drawback here is that you won’t get top-end construction in the board – which is fine for the casual paddle boarder anyway.
In this Paddle Outside review, we’ve curated a list of boards that won’t leave you with an empty wallet, but still gives you enough choices to make a comparison and make an informed decision.
We’ve selected boards that are under $1,000, giving you an option on both the higher and lower end of that scale. This not only allows you to try out paddle boarding on a budget that suits your lifestyle, dipping your toes into the water, but it also gives you a ‘wishlist paddle board’ that encourages you to get out on the water more.
Beginner VS Experienced SUP Features
When purchasing a stand up paddle board, it’s important to understand some of the basic features that can affect your experience on the water:
- Hull type (Planing VS. Displacement)
- Material (Inflatable VS. Hard)
- Length (Short, Medium, or Long)
There are two types of hulls, both of which are fine for beginners, but wider boards are typically more stable.
Planing hulls are wider and flatter which allows you to glide along the water better with more stability.
Planing hulls are the most popular choice for beginners, especially for inflatable paddle boards.
Displacement hulls are longer and pointed which is often chosen for touring, racing, and other specialty activities. It’s purpose is to ‘displace’ the water and push it aside, allowing the SUP to glide along in the water very quickly, cutting through any waves that it might face.
Inflatable boards are typically more stable and agile than hard boards, and are much more portable and affordable. This makes inflatable boards ideal for the beginner or casual paddler.
Length is also an important consideration. Short boards are best for surfing or shorter individuals, like children and dogs who might be joining you on the water. Short is considered anything under 10 ft.
Medium boards are perfect for leisure paddling and yoga. Medium is considered anything 10 – 12 ft.
Popularized by long-distance paddling and racing, long boards are anywhere from 12ft 6in to 14 ft.
Now, let’s talk about fins: you might be wondering what the purpose of a fin is, anyway. Inflatable paddle boards may come with detachable semi-rigid fins, or they may have a fin already attached. Boards can have a single fin, three fins of the same size, or a large central fin with two side fins.
A single fin board minimizes drag in the water, but makes the board a little more difficult to turn quickly or sharply.
A three-fin setup of the same size helps you control the board better in rough or choppy conditions, best for paddle surfing and open-water paddling.
A three-fin setup with one large central fin and two smaller side fins is great for all-around casual paddle boarding, as well as paddle surfing or open-water paddling; the big benefit here is that the smaller fins provide a little more agility to the board, allowing you to make tighter turns.
At Paddle Outside, we typically recommend a large central fin with two smaller side fins for beginners, though it’s really a matter of preference.
What Makes a iSUP “Good” or “Bad”?
A “good” or “bad” inflatable paddle board is all in the quality of the materials and how well it can withstand wear before it gives out.
Ultimately, a bad paddle board is constructed with lightweight materials that aren’t stitched together very well and will eventually rip or puncture. These boards’ individual layers tend to be thinner, and might not be as comfortable.
A good paddle board, on the other hand, is constructed supremely well with multiple layers of permanently bonded construction that holds up well in and out of the water. These boards’ individual layers tend to make up a thicker and more durable mat, and may be lighter to hold depending on the materials.
Inflatable Paddle Board FAQs
If you’ve never paddled on an inflatable paddle board, or you’re just getting started and the only experience you have with something inflatable are the kids’ tubes at beaches that constantly pop – chances are, you’re understandably worried.
Inflatable paddle boards are made from a hard layer of plastic stitched with a bottom layer of fabric, making it much more rigid than beach floaties you might be more familiar with.
This means that an above-average height and weight adult can still stand on these boards safely and learn how to paddle board on an inflatable SUP.
Of course, it is important to purchase an iSUP that corresponds to your height and weight in volume and size. For more information on paddle board sizing, see our size chart in the Guides section.
For all other questions, refer to the inflatable paddle board FAQ below; if you don’t see a question here that you’d like answered, let us know in the comments!
Are Inflatable Paddle Boards Better for Beginners?
Yes, inflatable paddle boards are much better for beginners than hard boards. The inflatable material is less expensive to produce, bringing the low-end cost down significantly and making it more accessible to those who aren’t sure if they want to invest in a better board before giving it a try.
That isn’t to say that inflatable paddle boards can’t cost more; for a high-quality long-lasting inflatable board, expect to pay as much as a hard board. Some people just prefer iSUPs!
Furthermore, inflatable paddle boards are often more comfortable for beginners to learn on and can help prevent injuries that might occur from beginners falling into the water and bumping the board.
Overall, however, inflatable paddle boards show their benefit to beginners in their portability. Most people struggle to find space to store large outdoor items like kayaks or paddle boards. Because the paddle board can be deflated and rolled up, it is better suited to placing in a small vehicle or storing on a garage shelf.
Are Inflatable Paddle Boards Harder to Stand On?
No, in fact, inflatable paddle boards are often easier to stand on, especially when you’re first starting out. The deck of the board is much softer, which reduces fatigue in the feet, ankles, and calves.
Between this and inflatable paddle board’s ability to stay more agile and versatile in the water, it’s no wonder that inflatables are beginning to take over the paddle boarding market as the top consumer choice.
Many paddle boarders claim that inflatables have a lot more stability than hard boards. This stability makes them a prime choice for the beginner, as well as the leisure or touring paddler who values a gentler ride.
Do Inflatable Paddle Boards Puncture Easily?
No, inflatable paddle boards do not puncture easily. That, however, doesn’t mean that punctures aren’t a risk. A lot of inflatable paddle boards will come with a spot-repair kit so you can quickly repair punctures and tears.
Inflatable paddle boards are durable, but that doesn’t mean they’re impervious to punctures. Hard boards have the advantage here, as they’re able to brush up against rocks and sharper objects without running the risk of puncture. iSUP users, on the other hand, have to always be aware of where rocks might be jutting just below the surface of the water.
What Is the Lifespan of an Inflatable Paddle Board?
With proper care, your inflatable paddle board can last for a long time. Many users report that their inflatable board lasts anywhere from 3-5 years with proper care. Others who use their board infrequently each year may find that their board lasts even longer than that, so long as it is stored in cool conditions out of sunlight.
Ultimately, the lifespan of your inflatable paddle board depends on three major factors: care, quality of materials, and frequency of use.
Care is how well you take care of it while you’re using it or it’s in storage.
Quality of materials reflects the base quality of the construction, how it was manufactured, and how well the materials are bonded.
Frequency of use depends on how often you inflate the board, how long it stays inflated, and how often it’s on the water and exposed to the elements. The more often and longer you use the board, the more wear it will accrue over the years (but the more use you get out of the board, so there’s no reason to keep it stowed away.)
Do Inflatable Paddle Boards Lose Air?
Inflatable paddle boards can lose air in the event that they are punctured or a seam comes loose. Often, this loss of air is a slow and gradual loss, rather than a sudden burst.
Seams may come apart for different reasons. One of which is being left inflated for too long, which can oxidize the glue that holds the stitching together. Another reason is extreme heat which may weaken the glue.
An inflatable paddle board that loses air is considered damaged; it’s not typical for these boards to lose air when they’re brand new and well maintained throughout the years. Typically, these boards also come with a repair kit.
If your board did not come with a repair kit, you can easily find one online that is compatible with your board. (Here’s one we recommend.) Repairing an inflatable paddle board doesn’t mean that you have to jump into the market for a brand new one; if repaired correctly and treated gently afterwards, the board can last for years after repair.
Is It Worth Getting an Inflatable Paddle Board?
Yes, it is worth getting an inflatable paddle board. The versatility and portability it affords both in and out of the water is excellent for beginner and advanced paddler alike. Even once you learn to ride lake surfaces like a professional, it never hurts to take things a little leisurely.
Inflatable paddle boards are quickly becoming one of the most popular ways to get out on the water, and these iSUP boards come in a range of shapes and sizes that can suit just about any purpose.
Furthermore, many people find that they prefer how an inflatable paddle board feels over hard boards. A lot of SUP manufacturers are currently dedicating research to improve their boards, making them more portable, lower material costs while retaining quality, and last longer.
Is an Inflatable Paddle Board Better Than a Hard Board?
There is some misconception here about one board being better than the other. It is true that the hard board is the original paddle board that many people were first introduced to. Good hard boards are incredibly light, but they come with a cost that a beginner might not be willing to pay.
In most general-use leisure paddling applications, inflatable paddle boards are better than a hard board. This isn’t because of any special quality to the board itself; the benefit comes in the accessibility it provides to users.
Inflatable paddle boards are more advantageous to the beginner or casual paddler for portability, weight, and versatility among other things.
iSUPs are extremely portable. Because it can be deflated, rolled up, and placed into the trunk of a small car or carried in a bag on a bicyclist’s back, these boards opened up paddle boarding to many people – especially in larger cities – who lacked the space but wanted to connect with the great outdoors.
Inflatable paddle boards are more versatile. Most hard boards are specialized pieces that are constructed from rigid foam or plastic. Most inflatables are made for all-around leisure paddling; something a hard board paddler might not want to invest in if they’re focused on touring or racing.
Have More Questions? Paddle Outside Answers
When it comes to inflatable paddle board reviews, guides, and tips, there is one place that you can count on: Paddle Outside.
No matter what questions you have, we are here to answer them – or find the answer – and help you learn more about the world of paddle boarding no matter where you are in that journey.
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Whether you’re a beginner paddle boarder or have advanced skills under your belt, there’s always something more to learn. We make that information accessible and easy to read, providing recommendations and links to other resources across the internet, all in the name of safer and more accessible paddle boarding.
No matter if you’re looking for SUP reviews or have a question about technique, you’ll find something here. As always, the goal is to get you back out on the water so you can paddle safely while respecting the great outdoors.