March 06, 2021 9 min read

Inflatable vs. Solid paddle boards

If you’re in the market for buying a new SUP, then you’re probably facing the question of inflatable paddle board vs solid paddle boards — which is better? 

Unfortunately, there’s no simple answer. 

However, there are some key differences that we can help guide you through. 

We will outline how to choose the right paddle board for you, considering your height, weight, and where you will be exploring. And then, we’ll go through the varying factors that differentiate hard boards and inflatables.

From travel and storage to durability and repair costs. Learn the difference between the stand up paddle board types and get one step closer to determining which one is right for you.

What are inflatable paddle boards?

What is inflatable paddle board?

Before we start, let’s clear up a few things about iSUPs — there are plenty of myths floating around regarding the quality of inflatables. Some people think an inflatable SUP board is cheap and flimsy, and lacks in performance. However, this isn’t the case. 

Modern iSUPs are built using high-quality materials and construction methods that are used to create premium products. The military-grade PVC is lightweight, and the drop-stitch seams give maximum durability. This makes them a perfect choice for beginners learning the ropes and also adventurers discovering new locations. 

Inflating and deflating a paddle board couldn’t be easier. Easy travel and storage are the main highlights of inflatables. When fully inflated to the recommended PSI level, the board is super rigid and stable — in fact, they almost feel like you’re standing on top of a traditional paddle board.

And as for performance? 

Most all-around iSUPs are versatile across all types of paddle boarding, including Yoga SUPs, and will not inhibit any adventures.

What are hard paddle boards?

What is hard paddle board?

Hard paddle boards are often considered the traditional board, also commonly referred to as epoxy boards. These are made using an EPS foam core wrapped in multiple layers of fiberglass and resin. 

While you can just grab your board and hit the water straight away (no inflating time), handling a hard SUP on land and in storage is trickier. Ideally, you would live close to the water to avoid transporting a hard board as they can be awkward to travel with.

However, epoxy boards are renowned for speed and being agile in the water. The fiberglass shape cuts through the water seamlessly. So, they’re best suited for SUP surfing, long-distance paddling, and race performance.

Beginner paddle boarders should be cautious on hard boards as they can ding easily, and if you fall on them, you are more likely to hurt yourself.

Choosing the right SUP for you

Choosing the best paddle board

Now you know what inflatable SUP boards and epoxy paddle boards are, how do you choose the right one for you? And what are the differences between the two? 

Before we look into the main points of comparison, there are some key features you need to consider to help you choose the right SUP:

  • Weight capacity - every board has a recommended weight capacity. When looking at this, you need to consider any additional weight you may be taking on board with you, such as a cool box, fishing gear, dog, buddy, or family member.
  • Height of the rider - height and weight go hand in hand. Generally, taller people weigh more. While the rider’s height doesn’t directly affect the board size, it does affect the length of paddle that you need. Make sure all of your gear is suitable for you, so you don’t sacrifice your form while out on the water.
  • Paddle boarding locations - ocean, river, or flat water? Specific locations can play a massive part in what paddle board you should be using. We always recommend inflatables for lake and mangrove exploration as they have outstanding durability against roots and rough patches underwater.
  • Experience level - are you a beginner or a well-seasoned paddle boarder? The experience level is significant to choosing a paddle board. However, beginner or pro-rider, there are suitable options available in both epoxy and inflatable designs.

Portability

Easy to carry paddle board portability

Imagine traveling all over the country and discovering new and adventurous paddle boarding locations. You could take on the Great Lakes in Michigan or explore the mangroves in Florida. This freedom of movement comes down to the portability of the paddle board. 

Inflatables are in their absolute element when it comes to portability. A deflated paddle board can easily be packed away into an iSUP backpack, along with the paddle, leash, pump, and fins.

Hard boards are more cumbersome. Transporting an epoxy SUP requires protective board socks or travel bags, roof racks, and the space needed for the board. Damages and dings are more likely to happen in transit to the water than actually when in use. 

Where portability is concerned, inflatable boards are the ultimate choice. They’re easy to move around, and you’re less likely to damage your gear in the process. 

Storage

paddle board storage

Similar to portability and travel, storage is a major differing point between inflatable SUPs and epoxy ones. Whether you have an extra-large double garage with ample space or only limited access to an understairs cupboard, storage solutions are a must for any paddle board owner. This will provide safe keeping for all of your equipment.

Inflatable SUPs could not be easier to store. Again, you simply need to deflate the board and stow everything away into the backpack. It’s super important that you ensure the inflatable board is completely dry before rolling it up and keep it out of direct sunlight. This will avoid any mold build-up and damages. Once in the backpack, you can store it anywhere — behind the sofa, under the bed, in the garage, just take your pick. 

We recommend that you don’t store an inflatable SUP at the maximum PSI level; this can damage the seams over time. If you don’t want to deflate your board fully, then it’s best to let out a little air and top it back up when you want to hit the water again.

Storing a hard paddle board is easy enough, as long as you have enough space. There are numerous paddle board wall racks that can carry multiple boards. They’re discrete and great for saving space. Make sure you check how secure the board is in the wall mounts before leaving it. 

Pro Tip: use bungee cords for extra security to ensure your SUP doesn’t fall.

The difference here comes down to available storage space. If you have limited room, then an inflatable SUP will be a preferable option.

Performance

paddle board performance

How a paddle board performs in the water is mainly focused on how it feels to the rider. This is influenced by the shape, design, and materials in the construction of the SUP. 

Speed, maneuverability, and stability are all things you should be thinking about in relation to performance. 

An inflatable SUP does not lack performance. High-grade materials result in a rock-solid deck and a rigid board that is perfect for yoga, fishing, and taking passengers on board. This stability is a major plus-point for inflatable boards.

A hard SUP generally gives a greater performance in speed and maneuverability. The water-cutting qualities make them great for SUP surfing and racing.  

While the performance of hard paddle boards and inflatables are different, that doesn’t mean one is better than the other — it’s a personal preference as to what style of paddling boarding you want to do.

Durability 

paddle board durability

The durability of a paddle board should be one of your first thoughts. When you’re out on a watery adventure, you don’t want to be worrying about how fragile your board is.

Inflatable SUPs are excellent. A military-grade PVC material provides maximum durability ideal for taking on any adventure. You won’t have to worry about riverbeds creeping into the shallow waters or accidentally knocking it when setting up for a paddle. 

Whereas a hard paddle board is extremely delicate. Sure, they can handle you standing on top of them. But if you drop them from the car roof, bang into a mangrove root, or topple off and land awkwardly on the deck, you’re likely to come away with a ding as a memory. 

It’s no wonder that rental stores and group lessons are moving over to inflatable SUPs. The durability of an inflatable is far superior to any hard board.

Maintenance

Paddle Board Maintenance

The maintenance and repair process may not be one of the first things people think about. However, it pays off to consider how you will keep on top of any damage. At the end of the day, the board will get scuffed and banged from time to time.

If an inflatable SUP gets a tear or puncture in the PVC, you have to get vinyl repair glue and fix a patch in place. This can be difficult, and many people get it wrong if they don’t know what they’re doing.

Hard paddle boards are far easier to repair. Compression dings and scratches are only superficial and you can continue to use the board. If there’s a crack through the fiberglass, you need to repair it with resin — a much easier process than inflatable puncture repairs.

Both board types degrade over time with sun exposure, so it’s essential to store them out of direct sunlight. Inflatables get issues with the seams, while epoxy boards discolor and weaken. 

Remember to always wash off saltwater from both inflatable and hard paddle boards for good maintenance practice.

Cost 

Are non-inflatable paddle boards more expensive? Generally yes; however, it depends how specialized you go. The price of a SUP can be the deciding factor for many people. Most retailers bundle everything together so you get a board, paddle, leash, fins, and pump (if you’re going for an inflatable).

A good, high-end inflatable stand up paddle board can cost anything between $500 and $1,600. We always recommend you shoot for this price range for an iSUP to ensure you get the best durability and lifespan out of the board.

High-quality epoxy boards can cost anywhere from $1,300 to $2,000 or even more. This is because the materials are more expensive, it’s a longer process for manufacturing, and shipping and handling costs are higher. 

Final thoughts on inflatable Paddle Board vs Solid Paddle Boards

As you can see, there are pros and cons to both hard board and inflatable SUP boards. It’s a good idea to work out which will suit you better by thinking about your skill level, where you will be paddling, and what your budget is. 

Inflatables are highly versatile and can handle whatever adventure you throw at them. They’re more durable than epoxy boards, but just hope you don’t get a tear as they are much harder to repair if you’ve never repaired a puncture before. 

Many paddle boarding schools and rental stores are making the change to good-quality inflatable SUPs for their durable and versatile qualities. 

Why don’t you join them in the change?

FAQ’S

🏆 Are inflatable or hard paddle boards better?

Modern materials and construction methods have significantly improved inflatables. Their rigid decks and versatile performance makes them fantastic SUPs. For the average person, an iSUP is a better option. However, epoxy boards are better for surfing and speed.


👍 Are inflatable paddle boards good for beginners?

The best beginner paddle boards are inflatables. This is because they are safe and softer when you inevitably fall off. iSUP’s also sit higher out of the water, making paddling in all conditions easier. 

Beginners should look for an all-around style paddle board, with a round nose and wide deck for maximum stability.


🏝️ Are inflatable paddle boards harder?

Inflatables are often easier to paddle because they sit higher out of the water, giving the rider greater control and stability. Once fully inflated, an iSUP is rigid and hard underfoot. They feel just like epoxy, but if you fall on them, it’s a softer landing.


❓ Are most paddle boards inflatable?

There is a large number of inflatable SUP boards available on the market now. However, there is still a great number of hard boards as well. As paddle boarding has become more popular, there is a greater range of board types, styles, and designs available.


📦 What are the best inflatable paddle board?

The best inflatables use military-grade PVC and have reinforced seams using drop-stitch construction. All of the paddle boards from GILI Sports are made from the best quality materials, with careful attention to detail. We also bundle everything together in a great value package, meaning you get all the essential accessories for no additional cost.


📦 How long do inflatable paddle boards last?

As long as you look after the board correctly, there is no reason why your iSUP won’t last you for as long as five years or even longer! High-quality PVC is durable and can withstand years of adventures. Most manufacturers will provide a guarantee and warranty in case anything does go wrong.


🏝️ Can inflatable paddle boards be repaired?

Inflatable paddle boards can be repaired, but it is a tricky process. First, the board needs to be clean and completely dry, as with any repair job. You need to place a measured piece of PVC over the hole/tear and glue it in place over the top of the patch. You must allow 24-hours for the glue to fully dry before use.


❓ Are non inflatable stand up paddle boards more expensive?

In general, a hardboard is more expensive than iSUPs. This is because the fiberglass and resin materials are more expensive, there’s more time manufacturing them, and transportation costs are higher.


📦 What should I look for in an inflatable paddle board?

Make sure you get an inflatable made from premium quality materials. This will give you outstanding durability and ensure the board is lightweight.


📦 Inflatable paddle board vs solid paddle boards - what should I get?

For general, all-around paddle boarding, an inflatable SUP is highly recommended. These are versatile boards that will be suitable for most adventures and water conditions. You should get a hard board if you want to dedicate your time to SUP surfing.

Abi Leach
Abi Leach

Surfer, paddle boarder, and ocean lover. She loves traveling and discovering new destinations all across the world. When she's not writing, she's exploring the outdoors and enjoying fresh air.


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