There. We said it. We love non-inflatable stand up paddle boards, and we don’t really care for inflatable paddle boards. Put similar rigid boards (also called hard, regular, or epoxy) beside inflatable boards on a the beach and we will chose to paddle the regular paddle board every time.
There are times where an inflatable sup board is the best, (or only choice). If you absolutely don’t have storage space for a rigid paddle board (ie you live in an apartment with no storage) and the decision is inflatable, or no stand up paddle board, then inflatable is always better than no paddle board. However, rigid paddle boards are just so much more convenient, safer, and higher performance than inflatable sups, that we can say rigid boards are better. Here are just a few of our many reasons why.
Ever wonder why nearly every promotional video from iSUP companies only show a few seconds pumping the board by hand? Smiling and laughing, like it is much fun.
They never show the reality of using a hand pump to fully inflate a SUP with the hand pump. Why? First, it takes forever. From unrolled to fully inflated, you are looking at 15 minutes (for those people capable of inflating to 18psi). It is a difficult, hot and tiring 15 minutes of pumping. Depending on your inflatable board sizing, you are looking between 200 and 400 pumps, and those pumps get progressively harder, as the board gets more air pressure. You will be a hot, sweaty and tired mess - before you ever get on the water to paddle.
The very nature of inflatable SUP design is the main reason we prefer rigid boards. Rigid boards are always ready to paddle - just grab your paddle board, paddle and leash, then go. Inflatables are “grab, unroll and struggle getting air into them for 15 minutes” (unless built like an athlete). So, you are hot, tired, and frustrated - before you have taken a single paddle stroke. We have seen both men and women, who have gotten to 10psi (inflatables need 18psi at least) and given up out of exhaustion and frustration. A board with ½ the recommended air pressure is super soft, folds up in the middle, looks like a banana and has zero performance. They plow through the water and feel like a glorified air mattress.
We sell a lot of rigid paddle boards to customers that purchased an inflatable initially, took it back and are looking to upgrade to the feel, convenience, safety and performance of a regular paddle board. Roughly 0% of the time, we sell an inflatable board to a customer that already has a rigid board, unless they will be flying to a vacation destination.
Rigid Boards Are More Convenient
As we just mentioned, rigid paddle boards are always ready to go. Like your car, just put the key in and go. Imagine how irritating it would be if you had to inflate the car tires, by hand, each time you wanted to drive your car.
Often people think that an inflatable board will be easier or more convenient than putting a paddle board on the the roof of the car. There is nothing difficult, or tedious about putting a paddleboard on the roof of a car that has a factory roof rack installed or use a portable and removable soft roof rack. Lift up the board, put it on the roof rack and strap it down. It takes two minutes at most. We have seen people of all sizes and strengths easily put boards on roof racks. So long as your rigid board isn’t a 50lb plastic monster, from a big box store, you can put in on the roof rack yourself. If you can lift and carry a couple bags of groceries, you can put a paddle board on a roof rack. Roof rack transport has been at the core of the surfing and windsurfing for decades. It is easy, quick, and convenient.
Sure, you can store an inflatable in a super small space. We will concede that inflatables are more convenient from the small storage aspect. But after that, they are a nightmare. There is nothing convenient about having to spend 15 hot and sweaty minutes pumping up your board when you get to the lake, even before you use it. If you don’t put enough air in your board, it will be too soft and won’t perform well. There are electric pumps that can speed up that process, but the ones that actually get the boards to high pressures are loud, expensive and unreliable. They usually require you connect the electric pump to the car battery. Not fun.
If you can only store an inflatable, then yes, they are more convenient – like an air mattress for camping. The pumping is going to have to be a trade-off for having that small storage foot print. However, that is where the convenience ends and rigid boards are 100% the more convenient option – and much more enjoyable to paddle.
Rigid Boards Are Safer
We have covered inflatable vs rigid board safety in another blog post, with much more depth than this article. However, here is a quick summary of something that most paddle board shoppers overlook when it comes to SUP safety.
Inflatable boards are full of air., to get their shape and buoyancy. One single chamber of air for most paddle boards offered in the U.S. What happens in the case of a sudden loss of air pressure, due to a leak, puncture, or blown seam? What happens is, your board loses all its air, becomes useless to you as a paddle board or flotation device, and you are stranded in the water. If a car gets a flat tire, at least you can still drive a few hundred yards to get off the road, change your tire or call a tow truck. If you blow a seam on your iSUP, the air is instantly out of the board, and the board is useless. 0 PSI of air pressure instantly. Now it is up to you to swim back to shore. Being far from shore, the water is cold, it is windy, or you are a weak swimmer, are all factors that can make a sudden loss of air pressure, a potentially life threatening situation.
A rigid paddle board is never going to lose air and always going to support your body weight. Even if you managed to somehow break a rigid board clean in half, each half still floats perfectly. The potential for an emergency situation on an inflatable that has lost air is huge, to the point that many areas of the world are considering regulations to mandate that inflatables must be dual or multi chamber instead of single chamber just for this reason. This has the potential to make single chamber boards not legal for use, meaning the single chamber iSUP you are considering may not be legal to use in your area if the safety rules change in the future!
Rigid Boards Perform Better
I can think of no situation where two similar shapes and designs of paddle boards are tested back to back, and the inflatable version performs better than the rigid board. Rigid boards have extensive product development, related to their precise shaping (CNC machines and molds). The design process optimizes board rocker, deck, bottom and rail shapes for the best glide, tracking, cruising, stability and performance.
Effort goes into many higher end inflatables as well, but there is no way to consistently manufacturer inflatables boards with consistent and precise shapes. There is a wild variation in tip to tail rocker (as much a 4”), width (due to expansion) and outline, which dictates how a board glides and tracks. Proper inflation also affects these parameters.
Rigid boards actually sit in the water slightly, so the rail and bottom shape of the board engages, whereas inflatables sit on top of the water (picture a 6” thick air mattress), subjecting them more to the effects of the wind. Lighter paddlers in particular are dangerously blown out of control, in breezy conditions, when paddling an inflatable.
The sleek, smooth, precise materials of a rigid board glide effortlessly though the water, while the rougher texture of the drop stitch material and totally flat bottom of an iSUP (no concave or bottom V), has a sticky and sluggish feel.
Give me an inflatable and rigid board of similar specs, stop watch, and a 500 yard course. I guarantee 100%, that my speed on the rigid board will always be best (by a wide margin). This is due to the better shaping, glide and tracking that rigid paddle board offers over an inflatable paddle board.
Rigid Boards Are Easier To Paddle
Remove the fact, that even before you get on the water with an inflatable, you are tired from pumping. Rigid boards are still easier to paddle due to the differences in stability between a regular board and inflatable paddle board.
Inflatables may have a really thick 6” design and more volume or flotation than a similar length rigid board. However, the inflatables are less stable due to very fact that they are filled with air (picture paddling an air mattress).
Both rigid and inflatables can take some getting used to and balance. They both may feel a little tippy side to side until you get used to things. Caution: ensure that you purchase your board after consulting with experienced paddle board staff (we have been in the board business for 25 years), rather than just going by literature on a web site or in a store. Caution: many stores and web sites exaggerate the buoyancy or weight capacity of their boards. Few 10’6 or smaller boards can carry someone over 250 pounds. The general rule of neutral buoyancy is that the volume displacement of rigid boards is equal to the weight of the paddlers.
Inflatables add different dimensions of balance issues, in that they are also flexing in the middle and front to back. If you have your inflatable fully pressured to 18psi (and it is extremely difficult for women to inflatable over 12psi), it will be pretty stiff feeling. However, it won’t be anywhere near as stiff as an rigid board. In anything other than glass calm waters, this starts to become a pretty big factor. As your inflatable board passes over small (or large) waves it will flex from the tip to tail of the board. The stiff design on a rigid board doesn’t have this flex. On an inflatable you are not only balancing side to side, but also front to back as your board bends and flexes over each little piece of chop. Think of an air mattress on a rough lake. If your board is not fully inflated to 18psi, or is a cheaper iSUP that can only inflate to 15psi or less, this flex gets worse and worse.
Rigid Boards Are Better Than Inflatable Paddle Boards
These are only 5 of the reasons that we say rigid boards are better. In a separate article coming shortly, we will cover things like durability, environmental impact, performance in surf, and a list of other factors.
Spoiler Alert. We spend tons of hours each year, testing and evaluating boards with both constructions. As well, we stock both and if you really want an inflatable we will gladly sell you one. However, if you ask our opinion (and our customers), rigid paddle boards are better in many more aspects than inflatables. Call them regular, rigid, hard, epoxy, or non inflatables, we just call them better.
Did we miss something? Agree or Disagree? Just comment below or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Author
Glenn Morton is Customer Experience Manager at Paddleboard Direct, as well as chief content creator. Glenn has been stand up paddle boarding and windsurfing over 20 years, and has been with Paddleboard Direct for over 15 years. When not on the water, Glenn can be found on his road bike, a ski hill, or raising his 12 year old daughter Nora. Glenn is an expert in all things paddle boarding including paddle board technique, SUP safety, and all paddle board products. Customers rely on Glenn's expertise to help guide them in their purchase of the best stand up paddle boards for their needs. Glenn helps equip thousands of paddle boarders each year, and is ready and waiting to help you!