Inflatable Paddle Boards vs. Hard Paddle Boards (What Is Better)?

The better paddle board is the one best suited for your type of activity. Paddle boards are now so specialized that there is no correct answer as to which is the “best” one. In this article, we will discuss some of the features of inflatable and non-inflatable paddle boards and what it means for your paddle boarding.
Inflatable Paddle Boards vs. Hard Paddle Boards

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Inflatable paddle boards have characteristics that make them better suited for a particular activity. But, on the other hand, hard paddle boards have advantages when it comes to some other activity, particularly in racing. And then there are the different variants of the boards based on the style of paddle boarding you are doing, whether it’s an inflatable type or not. So, it’s not just a choice between a hard or inflatable board but also a choice in the activity you are doing.

Are All Paddle Boards Inflatable?

The first paddle boards were actually hard boards, so, no, not all paddle boards are inflatables, although they have gained popularity by leaps and bounds. The inflatables have gained a following among the recreational crowd due to their versatility.

Why Are Paddle Boards Inflatable?

The inflatable paddle boards have advantages over the hard boards in several counts. Let’s describe those features.

  • Portable and easy to transport: It’s the size of a large backpack when deflated. You can carry it to hard-to-access places where cars can’t easily go.
  • Needs a small storage space: It can be easily stored on a shelf without the need for special racks. Just make sure it’s completely dry when you store it so molds won’t grow on it.
  • Made of military-grade materials for toughness and durability: It is even more durable than hard boards.
  • Safer for beginners: If you fall on it, the softer material won’t injure you as a hard board could.
  • Excellent price point: Generally, they have a lower price than specialty boards.
  • Easier for beginners to learn on: Need I say more?
  • More comfortable to stand on due to its softer material: Think turf against concrete when running.
  • Great for your furry friend: If you take your dog on a ride, it gives the dog a better footing on it than on a hard board.

What Is a Non-Inflatable Paddle Board Called?

Non-inflatables are either called hard board, hardshell board, epoxy board, rigid board, fiberglass board, or solid board. All terms are correct. As the name suggests, the boards are rigid in construction.

The hard board comes in different versions, the soft-top or the hard-top. The soft-tops have an outer layer of foam that covers the hard surface of the board. This is popular among beginners as they are less slippery. It is also generally wider for more stability. The hard-top is the choice for those who are more experienced and serious about the sport. The hard-top is the choice for racing and touring as they are the most responsive boards.

What Is the Difference Between Inflatable and Non-Inflatable Paddle Boards?

Aside from the obvious, there are distinct differences between the inflatables and the solid boards. Each type has its advantages and disadvantages. Let’s go over the differences, advantages, and disadvantages between them.

Inflatable Hard Shell
More durable than the solid board. You can bump it into rocks or drop it on concrete without any effect on it. Less durable. Easily damaged and scuffed. Will suffer damage when dropped.
Less pricey generally. More expensive generally.
Easily stored and transported. Deflate, roll, and pack into a small backpack Needs a special car roof rack to transport. Needs a big space to store.
Stability is comparable to the hard board. Stability is similar to the inflatable.
Slower than a comparable hard board. Faster than a similar inflatable.
Flexibility can be an issue if the board is under-inflated. This will affect paddling in surf and rough water. Flexibility is not an issue. Maintains its shape and form under all conditions.

How Well Do Inflatable Paddle Boards Work?

Performance-wise, there’s little to separate between the hard boards and the inflatables. The inflatables work as well as the hardshell except when it comes to racing. The hardshell will easily beat the inflatable board in a race.

All types of paddle boards are available in inflatable versions. The all-around inflatable paddle board is a good choice for beginners. Its stability helps the newbie focus on learning the basics of paddle boarding instead of focusing on keeping their balance. The other types like surfing, touring, fishing, and yoga inflatables were specifically designed for those activities and met the standards for those interests.

Are Inflatable Paddle Boards Harder?

The inflatable board is softer than the hardshell board. That is why it is the preferred type for beginners to learn on. However, if a learner falls (and all learners fall), they could hurt themselves on the hard board. The softer inflatable board will cushion the fall. However, learners are taught not to fall on the board but fall into the water (but that is a topic for another day).

The inflatable boards are made of tough but soft materials. When inflated, the board will be rigid as it should be, but the materials will remain pliable.

Are Inflatable Paddle Boards Sturdy?

Inflatables are as sturdy as the hard boards, if not sturdier. The military-grade material ensures its toughness and durability. Running it into rocks, floating logs, and the like will hardly damage it. But, of course, you would be unwise to put your inflatable through such things deliberately.

However, manufacturers will gladly do it for you and more. They subject their inflatable boards to tests such as having a truck or even a crane run it over. They have dropped it from a considerable height to no lasting damage to it. So yes, an inflatable paddle board is sturdy.

Are Inflatable Paddle Boards Stable?

One of the main reasons why the inflatable paddle boards are the beginners’ choice is their stability. Inflatables also perform better than hard paddle boards in fast-moving river whitewater. All-around recreational paddlers will find an inflatable to more than suit their needs and style.

However, when the wind picks up, inflatables are more challenging to handle than hard boards. Take care that your inflatable is not under-inflated. This will cause the paddleboard to flex, and it will negatively affect its performance.

How Long Will Inflatable Paddle Board Last?

A high-quality inflatable paddle board that is well-taken care of will last for 5-10 years. Depending on the manufacturer, warranties run anywhere from 3-5 years. Some tips to make sure your paddle board is maintained correctly:

  • Don’t over-inflate it: Always follow the manufacturer’s recommended pressure. For example, the pressure inside an inflatable board that is exposed to the sun will increase, and this increase in pressure can cause the seams to rupture.
  • Avoid the sun: Leaving the inflatable board in the sun will also break down the PVC and the glue that holds it together. In addition, the UV rays will cause imperceptible damage over time. Apply UV coating on your inflatable regularly.
  • Avoid the heat: Keep it well away from your campfire if you are on one of those camping trips. The heat will not do it any favors. An ember may fly off and land on your board and damage it.
  • Steer clear of pointy objects: Be careful when carrying sharp objects around your inflatable. They are tough, but a direct hit from a sharp object may puncture them. And if you are on a camping trip when that happens, good luck hitching a ride back.
  • Clean thoroughly: Wash it with fresh water and completely dry it before storing it for a long time. You don’t want it mildewed when you take it out the next time you use it.
  • Carry properly: Although the material is very tough, there’s no logic in dragging it around. This is a very easy way for the board to collect scratches and damages.
  • Use with care: Obviously, the more you use it, the shorter its useful life will be. But you bought it so you can enjoy using it, so it does not make sense for you to keep it in storage.

How Much Do Inflatable Paddle Boards Weigh?

Inflatable paddleboards can weigh as little as 7.7kg (17 lbs.) up to 10 kg (22 lbs.). Of course, this depends on the size and type of the paddleboard. The weight of the inflatable paddle board makes it easy to transport. You can literally carry it like a backpack if your favorite body of water can only be accessed via a trail.

The lighter paddle board will accelerate faster than a heavier one. However, the heavier board tracks better. The heavier board also glides a little farther with each stroke. Aside from these differences, there are no significant differences in the performance of a lighter or heavier board given the same length.

Are inflatable Paddle Boards Good for Beginners?

Actually, the inflatable paddle board is the best choice for beginners. Let us count the ways why it is so.

  • Stability: The novice paddle boarder will not find it hard to keep his/her balance on this.
  • Comfortable deck: The material offers a better grip for the feet.
  • Soft is best: Safer due to its soft material.
  • Price affordability: Cheaper than a hard board.
  • Lightweight: Can be carried like a backpack when deflated.
  • Portable: No need for a car roof rack to transport. It will fit into a car’s trunk with room to spare.
  • Durable: No need to worry in case you drop it or run into rocks.
  • It can be used for yoga, touring, fishing, etc. We’ll leave the racing to the hardshell boards.
  • Great for your children.
  • Great for your dog.

How Much Weight Can an Inflatable Paddle Board Hold?

The typical inflatable paddle board can easily carry 200-300 pounds (90-135 kg). Inflatables that can carry up to 500 pounds (220 kg) are widely available. The manufacturers recommend the weight limits for their paddle boards. When we say weight limit, it means the maximum weight the paddle board can hold before it sinks or capsizes. It does not mean you should load your inflatable to its maximum capacity. Loading it to the limit will make it perform poorly, become unstable, and ultimately unsafe.

As a rule of thumb, the weight your board can carry safely is around 75% of its weight limit.  This is called the practical limit. The performance of your panel board will not be affected if you adhere to this rule. This will make your paddle boarding experience safer and more enjoyable.

How Are Inflatable Paddle Boards Made?

Single- or multi-layer inflatable paddle boards are made following the same basic steps as follows:

  • First, “drop stitch” 2 layers of polyester fabric together with thousands of polyester threads.
  • An air-tight PVC coating goes over the outside surfaces of both sides of the polyester fabric.
  • A double-layer inflatable has another coating PVC placed on top of the first layer material.
  • Finally, a wide-seam tape is glued over each seam to make an air-tight board.

Fusion-construction type of inflatable is made as follows:

  • A fusion-type inflatable is made by bonding a “drop-stitch” fabric to a woven fabric on the outside. Basically, two layers of fabric are used.
  • Then a PVC coating is applied to this core.
  • The rail, or edge, of an inflatable SUP is then formed by joining the top and bottom sheets of the board with strips of reinforced PVC coated materials to seal it and render is air- and watertight.

Dual-layer construction of an inflatable is made as follows:

  • The first layer is the inner “drop-stitch” fabric covered with a PVC coating and then overlaid with a secondary PVC coating. In effect, two layers of PVC coating are applied.
  • Then a woven fabric is bonded on top of the second PVC layer.
  • Another PVC coating is applied to the second layer of the woven fabric.
  • The rail or edge is then used to seal off the edges to make it watertight.

What Are Inflatable Paddle Boards Made Out of?

Inflatable paddle boards are made of several materials. The inner core is made of 2 layers of polyester fabric “drop-stitched” together to form the inflatable bladder. A coating of PVC is applied onto the fabric to complete the process. This is the basic process for single later boards. A more complicated process is followed to construct a multi-layer inflatable board.

In multi-layer inflatables, aside from the polyester fabric inner core, a woven fabric is used to strengthen the bladder. This is bonded to the polyester fabric, and then it is again overlaid with a PVC coating. Other materials like polyester strips are used for the rail or edges of the board to make it water- and air-tight.

Where Are Inflatable Paddle Boards Made?

Being one of the most popular water sports, it’s not surprising that many manufacturers went all in with inflatable paddle boards. Manufacturing factories for inflatable paddle boards are found all over the world. They can be found in the United States, Europe, and Asia Pacific region.

In the United States, manufacturers can be from the East Coast to the West Coast. But, to no one’s surprise, the biggest ones are in California. There is also a manufacturer in Canada. In Europe, manufacturers can be found in Spain, Germany, Italy, United Kingdom, and France. China, New Zealand, and Australia also have factories turning out inflatable paddle boards.

How Do I Choose an Inflatable Paddle Board?

In choosing your inflatable paddle board, you must first know what type of paddle boarding you are after. There are specific models of paddle boards for all kinds of paddle boarding activities that you might enjoy. Whether you are a competitive racer or a leisurely paddler, there is paddle board suited to your style. Let’s go through the selection of paddle boards available to you.

  • The all-around: This type caters from the beginner paddler to the more advanced ones. They are stable enough for beginners and versatile enough to be good at everything but not exceptional at any one thing. Perfect for leisurely paddling.
  • The fishing paddle board: Great for paddling to all those hard-to-reach fishing holes where all those fishes are waiting for you. Stable so you stay in one place with no extra effort, with an extra weight capacity to carry your fishing gear and, of course, all the (legal) fish you know you will catch. And a tie-down system to hold it all in place.
  • The yoga paddle board: Wide-bodied so you have ample room to go through all your yoga routines. They are stable and have higher elevation above the water. Some models are provided with a full-deck pad similar to a yoga mat.
  • The touring paddle board. Can efficiently cut through the water, maintain speed, and tracks straighter. Touring boards are for paddlers who are into long trips, cruises, or simply want a performance board.
  • The racing paddle board: A growing segment of the inflatable paddle board community. Due to the prohibitive cost of transporting hardshell paddleboards, the inflatables are gaining a foothold in the racing sector.

What Should I Look for in an Inflatable Paddle Board?

With all the different models and manufacturers to choose from, choosing an inflatable paddle board could be bewildering. However, you can narrow down your choices based on some common features. Let’s take a look at the full picture in choosing your board.

  • First, determine what type of paddle boarding you will do: You will need a different board if you are doing leisurely paddling if you are going fishing. But if you will be doing yoga on your board, then you will need a different board if you are touring.
  • Next is to find out what size of board you will need: Depending on your weight plus any additional stuff you might bring with you, calculate the size of the paddle board you need.
  • What paddle type do you need? Are you a beginner? Will you share your board and paddle with another paddler? If so, an adjustable paddle would be best for you and your co-paddler. On the other hand, if you are an advanced paddler, a more specialized paddle might be more suitable.
  • Check out the reviews of the boards you are considering: They might look good on the manufacturer’s website, but they may not be as good as advertised. The reviews will give an insight into any issues with the board, if any.
  • Price and warranty: By and large, the axiom that you get what you pay for is true. But it doesn’t mean that the more expensive one is best suited for you. It might not be what you need. All things being equal, the more expensive one should be the better-quality board. The warranty also says something about the manufacturer’s confidence in their product. The more extended the warranty, you would expect it to of better quality.

Much Does an Inflatable Paddle Board Cost?

An inflatable paddle board could cost anywhere from US$ 200 to US$ 2000. Obviously, the cheaper ones have sacrificed the quality to save on the materials. However, that may not always be the case. Some manufacturers offer the complete package, including any accessories you might need, so it’s essential to know exactly what is offered.

A quick rundown of the inflatable SUP’s prices is as follows. Please note that these are typical ranges. Quality all-around paddle boards cost around US$ 600-800. Premium boards will cost US$ 800-1500. However, there are always some great deals to be had. If you are new to paddle boarding, a great option would be to buy a second-hand board. You can get this at a steep discount from a brand-new iSUP. This is actually a good option if you are just trying out the sport.

Another way to get a good deal is to purchase it at the end of the season. Dealers are trying to clear their inventories and will provide good discounts at this time.

Why Are Inflatable Paddle Boards So Expensive?

They are actually cheaper than a comparable solid board, sometimes by several hundred dollars. Still, some might find an US$ 800 all-around paddle board to be expensive. But an excellent high-quality board will last longer than a cheap one. This is because many costly materials and labor go into making an inflatable as well as the technology to produce it.

Other factors to consider are supply and demand. Summer season, see the price of the boards go up since everybody is buying one. Savvy buyers wait until the end of the season to score great deals. Inflatable paddle boarding accessories cost money. Good quality carry bags, carbon paddles and high-quality leashes increase the price. But, again, expensive is relative. If you are happy with your board, then that is all that matters.

Are Inflatable Paddle Boards Worth the Money?

Yes, a good quality board will always be worth it. A cheap board might be attractive, but it will more costly in the long (or short) run as it will last that long. A good paddle board is very durable and robust. Should you decide you need an upgrade, the cheaper board will not have a good resale value and will be harder to sell as compared to the more expensive but better-quality one.

The advantages of the inflatables have been discussed all throughout this article and bear no repeating. All those advantages add up and definitely makes the inflatable a good buy. Go for the best quality board you can afford, and you won’t go wrong with that decision. Buy well, buy once.

How Much Should I Spend on an Inflatable Paddle Board?

It’s not a question of dollars and cents, but it’s a question of how much you are willing to spend on a good-quality board. There’s also the question of the type of paddle board you want. High-performance boards and accessories will cost more than a beginner’s board.

Good quality boards would always cost more than lower quality ones. So, it’s a matter of you choosing quality over price or the other way around.

Who Makes the Best Inflatable Paddle Boards?

Some inflatable paddle board manufacturers have made a name for themselves as one of the best brands. They have consistently produced reasonably-priced boards without compromising their quality. Below are some of these brands that have turned out well-constructed, durable iSUPs.

The first two names on this list are considered as top-of-the-line for inflatables. The midrange-priced paddle boards are listed in no particular order, but they are deemed to be included in the better-known brands for quality iSUPs.

  • Red Paddle Co.
  • Starboard
  • Blackfin
  • Nixy
  • Atoll
  • Sea Eagle
  • Thurso Surf
  • Atoll
  • iRocker

What Is the Best Inflatable Paddle Board?

A lot of manufacturers turn out high-quality inflatable paddle boards. The best inflatable paddle board for you is the one best suited to your type of paddle boarding, your budget, and value. For what it’s worth, several paddle boards were reviewed and graded. But it has to be noted that the grades are a bit subjective and according to the reviewers’ preference.

  • iROCKER Inflatable Stand Up Paddle Board
  • SereneLife Inflatable Stand Up Paddle Board
  • ROC Inflatable Stand Up Paddle Board
  • NIXY Newport All Around Inflatable Paddle Board
  • ISLE Pioneer Inflatable Stand Up Paddle Board
  • GILI Adventure Inflatable Paddle Board
  • Murtisol Pro Inflatable Paddle Board

Should I Get an Inflatable Paddle Board or Solid Paddle Board?

It’s not unusual for paddle boarders to have more than one board, depending on which one to use for the day’s activity. If you can afford to buy an all-around inflatable paddle board just for relaxing and a high-end solid board for your need-for-speed days, do so by all means. Each type has its advantages and disadvantages.

There is also the fit for a particular activity, which paddle to use. At the end of the day, the choice comes down to whatever paddle board suits your need at that specific activity.