Are you one of those who hears the call of the water? Does the mere mention of “summer” bring up images of turquoise waves lapping against the shore, and warm sand between your toes?
For many beachcombers and adventure-seekers, these tranquil visions are swiftly followed by the silhouette of a paddle boarder, gliding smoothly over the water. And why not? Paddle boarding is a perfect blend of leisure and exercise, solitude and socializing, relaxation and adrenaline.
But here’s the rub: When it comes to gear, there’s a sea of choices. Paddle boards come in all shapes, sizes, and materials, with the latest wave (pun fully intended!) being inflatable paddle boards. Now, we’ve got to ask – are inflatable paddle boards worth the buy? Or are they just hot air?
We are here to paddle through the facts and fictions, the myths and realities about inflatable paddle boards. Ready to ride the wave? Then let’s get our feet wet!
What is an Inflatable Paddle Board?
There are two types of paddle boards, the inflatable and hard paddle board. The latter is your traditional paddle board which uses fiberglass as its outer material. Inside the hard paddle board is a hard foam that fills the interior. It’s a lot like styrofoam but it’s a more compact and denser version of it.
The other type of paddleboard is the inflatable. Even as a beginner, you’ll be hearing this a lot because it’s a favorite among a lot of paddlers.
An inflatable paddle board uses PVC as its outer material. Since it’s inflatable, all you need to do is pump some air into it up to its required PSI and then you’re off to the water. The only problem with this kind of paddle board is that you have to deflate and inflate it every once in a while.
Inflatable paddle boards are known to be versatile and durable. They’re often the kinds of paddle boards you’ll find in rental companies. They’re also more affordable than an epoxy paddle board.
Pros and Cons of an Inflatable Paddle Board
There are many advantages to owning an inflatable paddle board. Likewise, there are also its disadvantages. To know if an inflatable paddle board is the right kind of board for you, here are its pros and cons.
- More durable than the hard paddle board
Believe it or not, a high-quality inflatable paddle board is a lot more durable than a hard paddle board. Even if fiberglass is definitely harder and stronger than PVC, a fiberglass paddle board doesn’t come close to an inflatable paddle board’s durability.
The main reason for this is that a hard paddle board easily gets dinged or dented. Notice how you can make a dent just by hitting a wall or another paddle board. Sometimes, these boards get dented so easily you have to repair them to avoid having any water seep through the foam.
On the other hand, an inflatable paddle board doesn’t have these kinds of problems. It doesn’t get punctured so easily. Plus, it doesn’t get any dents and dings.
- It reduces fatigue
One of the lesser-known advantages of having an inflatable paddle board is that it reduces fatigue. You won’t notice it that much when you only spend a few minutes paddling, but paddle for almost an hour, and you will feel the difference.
How does this work? This is due to the material used. Since an inflatable paddle board is not rigid, then your feet become more comfortable standing on it. There is less contact pressure even when you kneel down while you paddle.
- Lighter to carry
For obvious reasons, an inflatable paddle board is a lot lighter to carry. Even when it’s fully inflated, it’s still going to be lighter than a traditional paddle board. This makes it easy to carry around especially when you’re already in the water and there’s a lot of resistance.
- Easily portable
Not only is an inflatable paddle board so easy to carry around, it’s also portable! The perk of having an inflatable board is that you can always deflate and roll it up so that you can carry it wherever you go.
Don’t have a car? No problem! An inflatable paddle board will just be brought from a bag. There’s no need to have to strap in on a car. It’s just less hassle overall in terms of transporting this board from your home to the beach.
- More affordable
Paddle boards can be expensive but if you’re looking for a board that isn’t going to burn a hole in your wallet, go for an inflatable paddle board. An affordable board only costs $200. Of course, these boards are just single-stitched. They’re not of the highest quality either.
Don’t worry, a high-quality inflatable paddle board doesn’t cost that much either. At most you’ll spend $1,100. That’s the highest you can go. For comparison, a hard paddle board at the cheaper end will already cost you $700, so it’s not bad to go for the inflatable paddle board.
- Best for different kinds of SUP styles
Want to experiment with other SUP styles but don’t want to actually buy a different paddle board for each? That’s okay. When you have an inflatable paddle board, you can try different styles. This is mainly because this board is a lot more versatile than its hard paddle board counterpart.
- Perfect for beginners
An inflatable paddle board is not just great for different SUP styles, it’s also perfect for beginners! This beginner-friendly paddle board is ideal if you want to slowly ease into paddleboarding. It has a softer surface and it’s easy on the knees and the feet. As a beginner, you might be intimidated carrying a hard paddle board, so it’s a good thing that inflatable ones aren’t like that at all.
- Doesn’t hurt that much when you get hit
There are times when you’ll just get hit by your own board. It can be a wrong step on the board or a wave that you didn’t quite catch. Getting hit by a paddle board is painful. It can leave a mark on your face or on your limbs.
Fortunately, an inflatable paddle board is not that painful when it hits you. Sure, it’s going to be a surprise to get hit but you won’t get any bruises or marks.
- You have to inflate and deflate it
The most obvious disadvantage of an inflatable paddle board is the fact that it has to be inflated and deflated. You can’t just grab it and go. You have to check if the air inside meets the required PSI. After every session, you should also depressurize the board a little.
- Not best for SUP racing
While you can still race using an inflatable paddle board, it’s not ideal if you’re going for competitions. A hard paddle board is still your best option since it’s 5% faster than your regular inflatable paddle board.
- Not recommended for SUP surfing
When you go SUP surfing, you have to have a board that has a smooth glide and an easy turn. Unfortunately, inflatable paddle boards still need a lot of work in that department. If you prefer catching the waves smoothly, then you should go for a hard paddle board.
- Cheaper models are flimsy and have lousy performance
Compared to cheaper models of hard paddle boards, low-quality inflatable paddle boards are really bad. That’s not even an overstatement. Low-quality boards are so lousy and flimsy that even if you fill it with air, it still feels like you’re going to topple over. In the end, you won’t be able to go so far before you lose your patience.
Should You Buy an Inflatable Paddle Board?
At the end of the day, what you really want to know is whether or not you should buy an inflatable paddle board. For you to find the answer, you have to take into account your skill, your riding style, your budget, and your willingness to deflate and inflate a paddle board.
First, what is your skill? As a beginner, you’ll want to go for an inflatable paddle board first. It’s simply the most user-friendly type of board there is. It’s light and soft (just relative to a hard paddle board), so there’s nothing to worry about when it comes to managing it.
Second, what is your preferred style? Most beginners won’t know until they’ve tried all the different styles. If you relate to that, then you’ll want to have an inflatable paddle board. It’s very versatile so whether you enjoy SUP surfing or SUP yoga, then you can use this board to your liking.
Another point to consider is your budget. In general, inflatable paddle boards are affordable starting at $200. But then, you don’t want to use a lousy paddle board as well. If that’s the case, be prepared to shell out around $500-$700 for a mid-range inflatable paddle board.
Lastly, you have to consider your willingness to inflate and deflate your paddle board. As mentioned earlier, this is the most inconvenient thing about these paddle boards. You really have no choice but to deflate it once a month and inflate it again in time for your next paddling session. If you’re willing to do that, then an inflatable paddle board is just perfect.
Our Final Thoughts!
We’ve surfed through the pros and cons of inflatable paddle boards, dived into their cost implications, and waded through their performance characteristics. So, are inflatable paddle boards worth the buy?
The answer, like most things in life, depends on your individual circumstances and preferences. If portability, versatility, and durability top your list of priorities, an inflatable paddle board might be just the ticket. However, if speed, performance, and instant readiness are your holy grail, you might be better off sticking with a traditional hard-shell board.
Ultimately, the value of an inflatable paddle board, much like the fun of paddle boarding itself, lies in the eye (or in this case, the feet) of the beholder. So weigh your options, consider your needs, and make a choice that best suits your lifestyle. After all, the sea awaits, and there’s a whole world of waves out there to conquer!