Inflatable Paddle Boards vs Hard Paddle Boards

Whether you are new to SUP or hitting the open water like an old pro, you know that your most important investment will be your stand up paddle board.

Your biggest decision will probably be choosing between an inflatable paddle board vs hard paddle board. Both boards have their advantages and disadvantages, so let’s take a deeper look.

Inflatable SUP vs Solid SUP: Basic Info

 

Hard Paddle Board (Rigid Board)

 

Referred to as epoxy, fiberglass, or traditional boards, hard paddle boards come in two varieties.

 

An example of a hard paddle boards1. Soft-Top

 

The soft top paddle board features a foam covering that is considered more durable than the surfaces of a harder board. These boards are light-weight and generally more affordable than a traditional hard board.

The soft foam and fiberglass surface of a soft top paddle board provides a softer landing surface in case of falls.

These boards also tend to be a bit wider for stability, making it a good choice for beginners. Soft top boards are also a good choice for those who choose to do SUP Yoga, or are looking to make SUP a family sport.

People who paddle with pets prefer the surface of the soft top board because it gives their pets a better, less slippery surface to stand on.

 

2. Hard-Top

 

Hard top paddle boards are sleek, strong, and generally a good choice for those who have experience in SUP, and want to seriously pursue the sport.

They are a great choice for any competitive paddle boarding or long distance touring because they feature precision handling in the water.

 

Hard paddle boards are made with Extruded Polystyrene cores (EPS), covered with fiberglass and epoxy. Resulting in a relatively lightweight board. Other options include much heavier boards made of plastic, and the lighter weight carbon fiber which is generally more expensive.

A hard paddle board is a good option for those looking for precision in their sport, such as competing or racing, surfing, or for long distance paddling. They also offer a bit more stability than an inflatable board, and hard paddle boards offer a little more variety in size, length and shape for a more custom fit.

However, these boards fall a bit short in the hard paddle board vs inflatable paddle board debate. This is because they are more prone to damage if dropped or if they strike a rock.

Hard boards also require a special car rack to transport them, and are heavier to carry any distance to water such as across a beach or down a trail.

Airlines charge fees to transport paddle boards, and if you are renting a car at your destination, you will need to pay extra for a vehicle that can transport your board.

Hard boards are prone to breakage, so transporting them safely is always a concern.

Additionally, the average length of a hard paddle board can be between nine and twelve feet, so storing them in your home or garage can be problematic.

Finally, hard paddle boards are generally higher priced than their inflatable counterparts.

Inflatable Paddle Boards (iSUP)

 

An inflatable paddle board is designed with a PVC outer covering and drop stitch construction that creates a core of air. These boards are inflated with a pump to a standard 12 to 15 PSI and become extremely rigid when filled.

inflatable paddle board with a large deck padInflatable paddle boards are highly versatile, and can be used in any way that a hard board can be used.

Additionally, they are more durable than hard boards, and can withstand more abuse, such as bumps and drops without becoming damaged or scratched.

Inflatable boards are the best choice for white water boarding or navigating rocky water-ways, since they can stand up to the collisions much better than a hard board.

The difference in performance with an inflatable board vs hard board is only marginal at best when used casually. However, inflatable SUP’s seem to be the more popular choice. For instance, water yoga enthusiasts prefer inflatables over their hard-board counterparts.

The price tag of inflatables is a big draw for the casual boarder.  These boards tend to have the same high quality and usefulness as a hard board, but usually at a lower price. Your total purchase price usually includes an air pump and a carry bag.

These boards will retain their value for resale as they are less likely to be damaged, dinged or scratched by normal usage.

 

The number one attraction of inflatable boards, though, is portability.

And, when comparing inflatable vs rigid boards, there’s no competition. The inflatable paddle board blows the hard version out the water when it comes to ease of transport.

You don’t need a specialized, expensive roof rack addition to your car or truck; inflatable rafts can be rolled up to the size of a sleeping bag and carried in the back seat or trunk of any car when deflated.

These can be transported in your luggage and some can even be transported in a back pack.

Avid SUP enthusiasts love the ease of carrying their inflatable boards down trails to lakes and rivers, or across the beach to the water. Most of the inflatable board carrying cases feature back pack straps to make carrying it even easier.

Additionally, when deflated and stored in their carrying cases, inflatable boards can travel with you to any worldwide destination.

 

When it comes to inflatable paddle board vs rigid board storage, the inflatable SUP is the clear winner.

When deflated, these boards can be stored away safely in the attic, garage, closet, or even under the bed or in a drawer.  This makes them an especially attractive choice to those who live in apartments or small houses without much storage space.

 

The downside to owning an inflatable paddle board vs hard board is that you do need to take the time to inflate the board before paddling, whereas the hard board is a load and go option.

With an electric pump, inflating the board will take anywhere between thirty seconds to about one minute to fully inflate, and a hand pump may take as long as five to twenty-five minutes.

The inflatable board may be more durable than a hard board because it is made of military grade materials, but it can be punctured by sharp nails.

They also need to be stored away from sunlight and heat, as these can compromise the integrity of the material.

Some users have also reported that their iSUP became slightly less rigid when used in extreme cold or icy waters due to a loss in air pressure, but this is a complication that is rare and only occurring in extreme temperatures.

Inflatable vs Hard SUP: The Verdict?

Inflatable paddle board vs hard blog post image

In the argument of choosing an inflatable paddle board vs non-inflatable… both sides have great features.

For the average, casual or beginner SUP enthusiast, an inflatable board may be a great option that features affordability, durability, and versatility.

For those who are looking for more performance features in their SUP, the hard board offers a little better precision, handling and can easily slice through water. Making them a great choice in racing, surfing or long distance trekking.

An inflatable vs hard SUP, is a big decision. Now that we’ve broken down the main differences between inflatable and hard paddle boards for you, here’s what we suggest:

If you’re looking to get into a competitive paddle boarding activity that requires speed and agility, then look at getting a hard paddle board. However, for beginners, casuals, and most other activities, an inflatable board will be perfect for your needs. As well as being more cost-effective too.