Inflatable Paddle Board vs Hard Paddle Board: What to Pick?
Inflatable Paddle Board vs. Hard Board
In a sport that has millions of users worldwide, you will have tons of equipment and gear on the market, but you’ll also have thousands of opinions on that gear and what you should buy. Surely it’s no big deal when you can’t decide on the paddle or which floating sunglasses to buy for paddling, but when it comes to inflatable paddle board vs hard, and you have no idea what to go with, then my friend, we have a problem!
But worry no more, because in this article I’ll be objectively comparing both inflatable paddle board vs hard boards, based on certain factors so that you can make an informed decision.
Inflatable paddle board vs hard: What to buy?
If this is your first time buying a paddle board, you will undoubtedly be faced with a series of questions all necessary to provide you with the best experience on your new SUP board.
How long should your board be? The shape. The number of fins. The width and thickness… the list goes on and on.
However, before any of these questions matter, firstly, you need to pick between the two main categories—inflatable vs. hard sup.
Then, the rest of the questions will depend on your experience, height, weight, and type of paddle boarding you’ll do. And whether you’ll use your board for yoga, fishing, or touring or surfing, and so on.
As you can see, SUPing is versatile and provides you with a million options you can do on your board. But, to pick the most important thing, inflatable paddle board vs. rigid, you will need to take 5 factors into account:
In each of these categories, I will be assigning the pros and cons to each type of board, so by the end of this article, you will know which board dominates in the factors that matter to you the most. Then, you will have a much easier time choosing inflatable vs. hard sup.
How Portable Is the SUP
The portability of the board matters to almost anyone who has to travel even a little bit to get to a body of water and paddle away. You will need to get your board on your car, unload it and carry it to the water. So, unless you are living a couple of feet from the water, here, the inflatable board has an advantage.
You see, inflatable boards roll up to the size of a larger backpack, and they have a bag specifically designed to store them inside.
So, with an inflatable board, you don’t need to carry a full-size hardboard on the top of your car and then take it to the water. You can simply carry it on your back, which gives you the chance to explore waters that are harder to reach, and you have to walk or hike to get to.
Another plus for the inflatable boards is that they weigh about 20 kilos tops or 45 pounds, and with their compact size, they can be easily transported even on a plane if you want to take your board on your holiday.
One thing that’s not in favor of the inflatable boards is the extra time you’ll spend pumping once you get to the beach. With hard boards, you are ready to go the minute you arrive. But with the inflatable board, you have to set the pump and wait about 10 minutes until it is fully inflated.
So, in this category, I can safely say the winner is the inflatable board.
While stand up paddling is fantastic, you do have a lot to plan and organize in the off season. One of the major components is the proper storage of your SUP. While here inflatable boards dominate again, I advise you to check out this piece I wrote on paddle board storage so that you can find more about all the ways in which you can safely store your hard or inflatable board.
So, unless you have plenty of garage space, you will have a hard time finding a suitable place for your rigid board.
On the other hand, what’s great about inflatable boards is that you can wash it, deflate it and then roll it into the backpack and store it safely in your closet. And that’s it. You are done.
You don’t have to worry about your board being stolen or damaged from the high temperatures or the sunlight. Your inflatable board will simply fit just about anywhere.
However, as per the instruction of some of the manufacturers, I would advise that you store your inflatable board slightly inflated if it is to be left unused for several weeks.
So, in this category, again, the winner is the inflatable board.
In the last few years, both hard boards and inflatable boards have been significantly upgraded since the technology has come a long way.
First off, the solid board can be found constructed of various materials like epoxy, plastic, fiberglass, bamboo, wood, carbon, Kevlar, Innegra, while the core is made from a shaped foam.
While they come in different sizes, constructions, and price ranges, the most common ones are the plastic ones, which are considered the heaviest and the cheapest, then the epoxy with fiberglass which is mid-range priced and the carbon fiber which is the lightest and some of the most expensive ones.
However, inflatable boards are also excellent when it comes to durability since, nowadays, they are constructed of several layers of military-grade PVC. This makes them extra-rigid once inflated and super-durable. Their seams are reinforced and will surely survive some rough handling, such as hitting a rock, submerged log, or the shore.
One thing you should pay utmost attention to is the amount of air pressure an inflatable board can hold. I would recommend a board of 15psi to 17psi and nothing lower than that because it will have excessive flex and poor performance.
Keep in mind that no matter what the manufacturer says about the durability, you still need to watch out for your board, regardless if it’s inflatable or hard. Frequently the inflatable boards can be repaired and glued together, but sometimes the damage can be too bad that you will simply need to replace your entire board.
Additionally, the hard boards, although it may seem like they are harder to damage, they too can be irreversibly damaged if you hit a rock too hard. The fiberglass, epoxy, or wooden board will end up with a hole or a crack that’s impossible to repair even by experienced board shapers. Not to mention expensive!
On the other hand, inflatable paddle board vs. hard react very differently once damaged in water. The damaged inflatable board will deflate and could sink, thus poses a danger if you’re far offshore and in deep while the damaged rigid board will still remain afloat.
So, in this category, I cannot really pick a winner. It will depend on your preference and judgment.
The Performance of the Board
When it comes to judging inflatable sup vs. solid by performance, you need to know that it will largely depend on your expertise and experience in the water.
If you already have some experience and want to move past the point of just paddling for fun and relaxation, then speed, handling, glide, and efficiency will matter to you.
So, with their low profile and low drag, a rigid board will be your best pick for efficient performance. Also, with the low board flex, you will have a smoother glide and increased stability over water.
On the other hand, with their multiple layers of PVC (at least 3 or 4), inflatable boards are becoming more and more rigid and can take more pumping of air to lose the flex and become more stable. Some also have carbon fiber reinforcements to make them even more rigid. They aren’t quite as stiff as a rigid board, but the best inflatable paddle boards come close.
So, in this category, I can safely say the winner is the hard board.
When it comes to comparing costs within (almost) the same range of features and functionality, hard boards are more expensive than inflatable boards.
This is because hard boards, on average, tend to last longer than inflatable boards, so thinking long-term, it is a wise decision.
I mean, even though they both can be constructed of extra-durable and high-quality materials, the constant inflation and deflation and rolling of the inflatable board will increase the wear and tear eventually.
So, if you have an inflatable board that you take care of well, you can expect it to last for about 5-7 years, while a rigid board could last much longer.
So, in this category, it all depends on how much you’re willing to spend and how often you’ll be using your board.
If you use your board many times each month, then getting a hard board may pay off more, but for those who are recreational paddlers and aren’t ready to make that big of an investment, then inflatable boards are a perfectly fine choice.
All in all, as I said, both types of boards have their pros and cons, and the final decision falls into your hands.
If you have a place for a suitable rack for your paddle board and enough space in your home and transport isn’t a problem, then, by all means, you can get yourself a hard board that offers better performance in water and case is closed.
But, if you want more versatility in the activities you do over water, and you want width and stability as well as a storage place and transport matter to you, then an inflatable board would be the best choice!
If by now you still think what the best choice for inflatable paddle board vs hard is for you, then go and rent both. One day take a hard board and try it out in the water and the next rent an inflatable board. Compare how you feel with both in water, and you will have a much easier time making your final decision.
Also, let me know in the comments below if you have any trouble deciding, and you need extra help or how you’ve made up your mind. And of course, don’t forget to visit my Facebook and Instagram account for more cool tips and recommendations on paddle boards and accessories.
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