Solstice Paddle Boards has created this guide to help navigate the different options when it comes to inflatable stand up paddle boards (ISUPs). There are some key factors to consider when looking for the right paddle board to hit the water with. Answering the following questions will help determine the right paddle board for you:
- Is an Inflatable Stand Up Paddle Board right for me?
- What board shape should I get?
- What paddle board dimensions should I get?
- What do I need to know about Volume?
- What type of ISUP construction is best?
- What features do I want?
Is an Inflatable Stand Up Paddle Board right for me?
There are many advantages to going with an inflatable board, it’s no wonder they’re an increasingly popular choice for paddle boarders. However there are also compromises to consider. We’ll start by covering some of the advantages to going with an inflatable stand up paddle board.Portable
A main advantage of inflatable over hard boards is their portability. Inflatable boards can be packed into a carry bag and taken with you just about anywhere. You can even check them onto an airplane and take them with you on your next vacation. If you’re looking to take full advantage of an inflatable paddle board's portability, be sure to grab one with a good quality carry bag. Look for premium carry bags that feature padded shoulder and hip belts to help maximise comfort while carrying your board. If portability is important to you, be sure to avoid boards that are only sold with storage bags.Storage
Going hand in hand with portability is ease of storage. Inflatable paddle boards can not only be deflated small enough to carry on your back, they can be packed down small for easy storage. The ability to store them in the trunk of a car as opposed to strapping them to a roof rack for transportation is also a nice plus.Durable
Another advantage of an inflatable board that might come as a surprise is durability. Due to the soft nature of an inflatable they are able to absorb impacts. Inflatable paddle boards are built tough and can withstand some harsh conditions. No need to worry about bumping into rocks or docks. Hardboards, on the other hand, can easily dent, chip or crack as they take the full brunt of an impact.Easy to Repair
Inflatable paddle boards are easier to repair in the event they have been punctured. Using the provided patch kit to seal any air leaks is straightforward and can even be done on the shoreline. Hardboards are much trickier to repair and require a repair shop that has specialized equipment in most cases.Compromises
A compromise for inflatable boards would be the need to inflate and deflate the board. Unlike hard boards where you are pretty much ready to get on the water as soon as you arrive, inflatable boards take a little extra time to pump up and get going. It is not recommended to leave your board inflated while transporting, especially if you plan on strapping it to the outside of a moving vehicle as it can damage the board. If you plan on visiting a lot of different bodies of water in a short period of time, all the inflating and deflating can be quite tiresome. Luckily there are electric pumps to help deal with that issue that can save a lot of time and energy. Most models of hand and electric pumps have an inflate and deflate function to help get the board up to pressure and back down flat for easy packing.
Secondly, inflatable boards are more limited in what they can offer in the way of performance enhancing features. Hardboards can be made to hold almost any shape and are less limited in choice of materials that can be used. Inflatable boards are more limited as the material has to be malleable enough to accommodate inflating and deflating. Due to this, it isn't as easy to force that material into certain shapes when inflated. However, the gaps in performance and durability have shrunk significantly due to advancements with inflatable boards such as drop stitching and layer fusion. This has allowed inflatable paddle boards to stack up very closely with hardboards in areas like performance and is no doubt a huge factor in their strong growth in popularity.
What board shape should I get?
Deciding on the best board shape to get is usually a fairly straightforward decision. All-Around and Touring are the two main shapes to consider when it comes to stand up paddle boards. Getting the right shape of board to suit your needs can have a big impact on the kind of experience you’ll have on the water. You want to make sure you get a board shape that fits the type of activities you would like to use it for, as well as your skill level.
Are you looking for maneuverability to cruise around on the water? Stability for balance and yoga? Want to get to the far end of the lake to set up camp? Haul fishing gear out to your favorite hot spot on the lake? These are all considerations that will help in deciding what shape of board works best for you.
- Recreational paddle boarding
- SUP Surfing
- SUP Yoga
- SUP Fishing
- Cruising lakes, rivers, bays, and coastal ocean waters
- Bringing a pet along
The all-around shape is easily determined by its rounded nose design. As the name suggests, its shape performs well in a wide range of activities. This shape is best suited for activities on lakes or rivers but is also used in boards made for SUP surfing. Along with the rounded shape, all-around boards incorporate a shape into the design referred to as rocker. This raises the tip of the board up out of the water and helps handle any waves or chop you may encounter along with improved maneuverability. All-around boards are also typically made wider than other boards giving them increased stability. This makes them a good choice for beginners and activities like yoga that require lots of balance. They are also great for beginners since they perform well at a wide rang of activities so you can try different things out to see what you like best. The drawback is these boards aren’t as streamlined and won’t be as fast or efficient for long distance paddling.
The Touring Shape
- Long expeditions
- Coastal treks
- SUP racing
- More advanced paddlers
The Touring paddle board shape has a pointed nose or a displacement hull, similar to that of a kayak. It is designed for longer or more fast-paced flat-water paddles. The pointed nose leads to higher efficiency and performance as its sleek design cuts through the water. These characteristics will allow you to track straighter and move more efficiently. The result is fewer strokes required to cover the same distance on the water as you would with other hull shapes. Touring boards are the best choice for long expedition type trips or speed and SUP racing The drawback is that these boards are less stable and maneuverable and are best saved for activities that involve getting from point A to B. Touring hull boards are best for intermediate to advanced paddlers due to their decreased stability.
What paddle board dimensions should I get?
The dimensions of the board you choose is perhaps the biggest decision you’ll have to make when picking a board. It can be a challenge to figure out how to pick the right size board. There is a wide range of options when it comes to board size and it can lead to a lot of confusion. Understanding the impact of the different sizes is important in ensuring you get the most out of the paddle boarding experiences.Width
The width of the board has the biggest impact on how stable the board will be. The wider the board is, the more stable and easy to balance on it will be. If you are looking to do activities such as ISUP yoga that require a nice stable platform, you want to go for a wider board. The most popular widths on this end range from between 32-36 inches. The trade off is the wider the board gets, the more water it has to push through when paddling or maneuvering around. This is why boards designed for touring or racing are made more narrow, usually 31 inches or less. They cut through the water efficiently allowing you to get the most distance out of every stroke. As mentioned, narrow boards are less stable and best for more experienced paddlers.Length
Next is to determine the best board length. The main thing to look for is what length is best suited to the activities you are looking to do. Do you want a board that is maneuverable for things like weaving in and out of boats and docks, or do you want one that is efficient for long distance paddling? Having an idea of the answer to these questions will help you narrow down what size board you should be looking for.
If you prefer activities that require maneuverability, you want to look for a shorter board (10’6” is a very popular size on the small end). A shorter board doesn’t have to push through as much water when turning and will be easier to weave in and out with. If you want to paddle longer distances, a longer board is better suited for that (11’6” and up). They track straight better since they have to push up against more water to make a turn. This is why touring boards made for getting from A to B are generally made longer.
These dimensions and especially the last dimension (thickness) are tied in closely with board volume which we look at next. In the case of of thickness, most paddle board companies have a consistent set thickness across their line of paddle boards. They choose a thickness they feel gives the boards the right mix of performance and stability verses volume and weight capacity.
What do I need to know about Volume?
Why volume matters when it comes to paddle boards is that it determines how much weight the board can carry and still perform the way you would like it to. Just like a canoe with nothing in it will sit on top of the water and can be moved around quite easily, a paddle board will react the same. The more weight you put in the canoe or on the paddle board, the more it will sink and have to push through the water to maneuver around. Of course there is also the point where there is too much weight and it will sink. The bigger (more volume) the paddle board, the more weight it will be able to carry.
Luckily for the most part paddle boards are designed to be very forgiving. There are lots of tables and formulas out there with volume to weight ratios you can spend hours studying. The reality is, as long as you stay under the maximum recommended weight capacity (including you and any gear you may want to take with you), the board should perform as designed. If you find you and your gear will potentially put you over a particular boards weight limits, you probably want to consider a board with more volume. Most of the time this means going for a longer board. On the flip side you can’t really be too light for a paddle board, so as long as you know you are going to remain under the limits, you are good to go.
What type of ISUP construction is best?
Not to be overlooked, board construction can make a big difference when it comes to picking the right board. How the board is made and with what materials is going to influence how the board performs as well as how durable it will be.
The construction process starts with drop stitching that makes up the heart of the board. Drop stitch is made up of thousands of threads that when inflated will pull tight. This is key to inflatable boards and is what allows them to become so rigid and hold their desired shape. From there soft PVC is added in order to make the board airtight. This is where we start to see differences in construction. The first variation is if the board uses a single or double layer of PVC. Single layer boards rely on one layer of PVC to wrap the drop stitching and keep the board air tight. This keeps the board lighter as less material is used but also makes it less durable. These boards will also have more flex to them and generally won’t perform as well as other boards. This type of construction is most commonly found in lower priced boards.
Dual layer construction as it suggests is where the manufacturer covers the board in yet another layer of more rigid PVC by gluing it on to the first layer. This results in the board being more rigid helping it to perform better. It is also more durable since there is an extra layer protecting the boards drop stitching and holding air in. The added material and adhesives however make the board heavier than single layer boards.
The third variation is the latest advancement called Monocoque Structural Laminate (MSL) fusion construction. This is a process where a layer of rigid PVC is machine laminated and fused to the board. The advantages to this method is that you get a board with comparable rigidity and durability to a dual layer board, but is also significantly lighter than dual layer boards. It's in a way the best of both worlds when looking at the two previous construction methods. You also get a nice smooth finish to the board without some of the cosmetic flaws that can develop during the traditional hand gluing processes. MSL fusion is the construction method used to make the most premium boards on the market and one proudly used in all Solstice Paddle Boards.
What features do I want?
Last but not least, it is important to consider some of the design features. There are a lot of extra features available on paddle boards these days and the list keeps growing as manufacturers look for ways to add new functionality. We’ll cover some of the big ones as a starting point in deciding what features you might want to look for in a paddle board.Fins
Fins can have a big impact on the performance of your board and are not something you want to overlook. A lot of paddleboards on the market come with a 3 fin setup as it hits the right mix between maneuverability and tracking. Many inflatable SUP manufacturers will include the ability to remove fins to help with packing the board up and reducing the risk of them becoming damaged. This also allows the user to purchase aftermarket fins that match that particular fin box. This allows for maximum customization and the ability to leave fins off or switch them out for a different style fin that better suits the type of paddle boarding planned.EVA deck Pad
Something else to consider is the EVA deck pad. It’s there to increase comfort and grip, help channel away water and protect the upper surface of the board. The style of grooving has an impact on how well the deck pad maintains grip when wet. Patterns like diamond grooves that provide plenty of channels for moisture to go will be most effective at providing consistently good grip. Another consideration when shopping for a board not often thought of is the colour of the pad. Darker colours can heat up quite quickly in the sun on those hot summer days and can become uncomfortable for bare feet or many other body parts during those SUP yoga sessions. Opting for a board with lighter colours of EVA decking will help keep things much more enjoyable.Cargo Tie Down Areas
The cargo areas are important to look at if you are planning to do a lot of activities that involve bringing gear along. Large cargo areas that can handle a cooler, all your gear for an overnight trip, or fishing can be handy when needed. Even for recreational use, cargo areas can be nice to have so you don’t have to worry about keeping an eye on personal items left behind on the beach.Other Accessories
If you are looking to get a bit more out of your paddle board and maximise your time on the water, there are some other features you may find useful. Action mounts are great for things like a go pro or camera holder, a fishing rod holder, or even a cup holder. There are plenty of accessories out there to help you get the most out of those long summer days on the water. Kayak seat attachment points are also great for converting your paddle board into a kayak if you are looking for a more leisurely way of getting around on the water or want to do some SUP fishing. Paddle holder straps are also a surprisingly handy feature and a game changer for ISUP yoga or fishing enthusiasts. Let the paddle straps keep that paddle nice and secure and out of the way on the side of your board so you can relax your mind or concentrate on reeling in that big catch without worrying about your paddle floating away on you.
We hope this guide has proven helpful and has clarified things when it comes to picking out the best Inflatable stand up paddle board for you. We hope to see you out on the water soon enjoying everything paddle boarding has to offer. Happy Paddling!