Getting a new paddle board is a straightforward job, right? You simply go online, check what the reviews say – and get the most popular, best-rated one; end of story.
Sure, it can be that simple in theory – but it probably helps to know a thing or two about the actual SUP boards. I’m referring to the fact that you’ll run into the inflatable and solid ones – and you wouldn’t believe how much people are polarized about such a seemingly simple choice.
I can’t tell you which one would be the better option for you. But I know a thing – or two – about SUPs, and I think that a quick crash course might help you make that decision yourself.
And with that said, let the “inflatable paddle board vs solid ones” battle begin!
Inflatable Paddle Boards 101
As always, I’m starting this whole “inflatable vs hard paddle board” comparison with the basics:
What exactly are inflatable paddle boards?
They look almost identical to their rigid counterparts – and yet, they’re different in so many ways.
These SUPs feature an inflatable core, drop-stitch construction, and a PVC exterior. And since they are inflated and deflated after each use, they can also be transported in a large backpack.
Sounds pretty neat, doesn’t it?
I know that, just as with inflatable kayaks, air-filled boards seem a bit sketchy. You don’t want to see your SUP board pop like a balloon at a mere sight of a sharp rock.
These are A LOT more durable than most beginners give them credit for, though. Yeah, I say “beginners” because most experienced paddlers already know how tough these boards are:
Inflatable boards – also known as iSUP boards – are usually made out of one (or more) layers of military-grade PVC. The additional layers add to the SUP’s durability, while the drop-stitch fabric ensures rigidity.
In short, it will take a lot more than a sharp rock to make it pop.
And even if you do manage to damage it, repairs are cheap and easy, which makes the average lifespan of an iSUP a lot longer than you might think.
Hard Paddle Boards 101
Hard or rigid paddle boards typically start with a high-density foam core, with several layers of fiberglass and epoxy resin on top.
Does that make rigid paddle boards the superior choice, though? You might assume that if you wanted to go paddle boarding in shallow waters with lots of obstacles and strong currents, rigid boards would be the only viable option.
Shockingly enough, you’d be wrong.
There’s a time and a place for hard paddle boards – long-distance paddling, SUP surfing, and racing – but they’re difficult to store, transport, and maintain. They’re not that easy to damage – the higher-quality ones, at least – but you’ll be looking at an expensive repair job if it happens.
Still, many people feel more confident on a rigid SUP board. And if that’s what you’re used to, it can be hard to make the switch. Not that you’d have to make a switch, anyway; a high-quality rigid paddle board will last you a lifetime – if you take good care of it.
Now, let’s take this inflatable SUP vs rigid SUP debate to the next level and discuss what makes them different!
Inflatable Vs Solid SUPs: 11 Differences To Keep In Mind
#1 Intended Use, Purpose & Types Of Water Conditions
You, unfortunately, can’t just ask, “Inflatable vs hard paddle board, which one should I get?” It’s not how this works because – well, the answer depends.
Both inflatable and rigid paddle boards perform well enough in the same conditions. Inflatables have an edge on flat water such as rivers or lakes, though – yet hard boards still outperform them when it comes to surfing.
So, if you expect to run into larger waves and hope to still have a board once you get to shore, go with a hard board. That said, inflatables are pretty much suitable for all other environments and uses.
On a related note, are inflatable paddle boards good for beginners?
Generally speaking, yes, inflatable boards tend to be a bit more beginner-friendly.
They’re easier to start out on, easier to transport – and easier to store. Plus, if you don’t want to spend too much on your first SUP, an inflatable board is a no-brainer – but we’ll get to that later.
#2 Inflatable Paddle Boards Vs Solid – Materials & Construction
Construction – and the materials used – is probably the most obvious difference between rigid and inflatable SUPs and the one that comes to mind first.
With hard boards, the most common materials would be composite materials, such as fiberglass and epoxy resin layers covering a hollow high-density foam – or wooden – core. That said, there are rotomolded plastic boards available, as well.
As for inflatable boards, they all pretty much share the same simple design – multiple layers of PVC on the outside which acts as a skin that protects the air-filled core, with some drop-stitch fabric for rigidity. That’s pretty much it.
#3 Weight – Which Weighs More?
Sure, modern rigid boards may have come a long way in terms of weight distribution, and many paddle board designers have managed to trim the weight down as much as possible. They are still big and bulky at the end of the day, especially compared to their inflatable counterparts.
So, while the answer is obvious, which type of board weighs more?
Rigid SUPs are heavier – there’s no doubt about it. While both are hollow on the inside, the hard “shells” weigh more than the PVC found on inflatable boards.
The difference in weight is mind-blowing:
Hard boards weigh between 20 to 30 pounds on average. For comparison, the inflatable ones typically clock in at around 15 pounds. Plus, the latter can fit into a backpack.
#4 Weight Capacity – How Much Can They Hold?
But, why do inflatables have a higher maximum weight limit?
It has to do with volume, which is determined by the length, width and thickness of a board. Unlike solid paddle boards, inflatable ones usually have thicker rails and a more consistent thickness from nose to tail – meaning their volume tends to be bigger – and, the greater the volume, the higher the weight limit.
#5 Speed, Performance & Maneuverability
You might have noticed that the inflatable boards were kind of killing it in this comparison, but I’m afraid that they’re a bit out of their league when it comes to matters of performance and speed.
Solid paddle boards are definitely more agile, nimble, and easier to maneuver. I mean, there’s a reason why professionals use them for surfing, SUP racing, and long-distance paddle boarding – although they do require a higher skill level to master.
Inflatable paddle boards, on the other hand, are not as speedy or agile – but they make up for it in terms of stability. In fact, they’re often chosen by beginners precisely because they provide an extra layer of safety and security.
But are inflatable SUPs hard to paddle?
That’s a fair question. The answer is – not necessarily.
In general, inflatable SUPs are a bit harder to paddle than solid boards. This is because they are less maneuverable and lack the speed of their hard counterparts. But they’re easier to handle than you might assume – and don’t lag too far behind rigid boards in that area.
And since we’re on the subject, are inflatable paddle boards slower?
Well, you might want to forget what I said earlier. It turns out that inflatable SUPs DO lag behind. On average, tests have shown that inflatable paddleboards are a little over 5% slower than their hard counterparts.
There’s one more question I’d like to answer here:
Are inflatable paddle boards more or less stable than rigid ones?
As it turns out, yes – inflatable SUPs are much more stable than people may think, primarily due to their higher volume.
#6 Living With A Paddle Board – Storage & Transportation
Using your paddle board and living with it are two very different experiences. You may even find the things you love about your rigid board on the water you hate at home.
Where am I going with this?
Storage and transportation should be essential when deciding between the two types of boards.
If you don’t have enough room in or around your home – like a garage or any other spare space where you could park a full-sized hard paddle board – go with an inflatable one. Rigid SUPs take up A LOT of space – and there’s not much you can do about it.
Well, not unless you plan to cut it in half for storage purposes, I guess. Joking aside, if you want a hard-board, be prepared to invest in a good storage solution as well.
And that brings me inflatable SUPs:
You can just throw your inflatable board in a backpack (you will need a backpack with a capacity of no more than 100 liters for that), which makes transportation a lot easier.
On the flip side, rigid boards have to be strapped to the roof of your SUV; you’re not putting that thing on the top of a small city car.
And let’s not forget that your backpack could also come with you on a plane ride if needed. Trust me, that’s a lifesaver when you’re traveling with your SUP.
#7 Comfort & Ease Of Use
As I mentioned earlier, inflatable paddle boards are good for beginners.
And no, I’m not just talking about learning how to paddle. I’m also referring to actually living with one, getting used to the art of standing up on it, guiding it through the water, and falling off – and getting back on.
You get the point.
Considering all that, yes – they are beginner-friendly.
First of all, Inflatable boards hurt less when you fall – and trust me, I have the bruises to prove it. Plus, you have a softer deck to stand on, meaning you’re less likely to get fatigued.
Sure, rigid SUP boards track better and glide through the water with less drag – but if comfort is a priority (and it often is), you should look into inflatable boards.
#8 Inflatable SUP Vs Rigid – Stability
I did tell you to choose hard boards for racing, surfing, and other hard-to-master activities just moments ago. Still, if you’re looking for actual stability while on the board, you have to pick an inflatable SUP.
Well, you don’t HAVE to per se. Allow me to explain:
Inflatable boards have a higher volume, they’re lighter – and they can hold a lot more weight. So, what does that all mean? Well, it means that they are more stable on the water, too. And sure, a rigid board tracks better – but that’s not the point here.
Do inflatable paddle boards flip easily?
Well, no, they don’t. I mean, they can be flipped – let’s not get that wrong – but they are generally more stable than their rigid counterparts.
#9 Inflatable Vs Solid SUPS – Maintenance
Maintenance is another essential part of living with your paddle board. So, can inflatable paddle boards be repaired?
I mentioned earlier that iSUPs are generally cheaper to maintain and less likely to get damaged in the first place. Here’s some more good news:
PVC can be repaired pretty easily in case it gets damaged. Besides, most inflatable SUP boards come with a repair kit.
On the other hand epoxy boards require a bit more know-how and effort to fix if they get damaged. In other words, you might need to take yours to the nearest surf shop and have someone do it for you – which can cost you quite a bit of money.
As for maintenance, both types of boards will require some effort on your part.
Treat them right, though – clean them as needed, keep them out of direct sunlight or heat, use a board bag for storage, and don’t toss them around in transport – and you’ll get years of fun out of these boards.
So, what’s the verdict? Inflatable paddle boards are easier (and cheaper) to maintain than rigid ones.
On a related note, can you leave an inflatable paddle board inflated?
Yes you can leave inflatable paddles boards inflated. As long as you don’t leave it in direct sunlight, reduce the PSI to 50-60% of the maximum, and have a place to store it properly, you can keep it inflated with no adverse effects.
As you may have expected, this whole “inflatable paddle boards vs hard” debate has a “financial aspect,” as well.
So, which is best for your wallet?
I mentioned this initially, but let’s take a closer look at the prices of the two types of SUPs before reaching a verdict.
Low-end inflatable boards – the ones constructed of a single layer of PVC – will always cost less than the cheapest rigid boards; no doubt about that. Inflatable SUPs will typically set you back a few hundred dollars, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find rigid SUPs for less than $600 to $700
That’s not to say that there aren’t more or less expensive models out there, of course. However, they tend to be more affordable – and their general price range is not so “all over the place” as it is with rigid paddle boards.
There’s one more thing you might be wondering about:
Are inflatable paddle boards worth the money? Or should you just suck it up, spend a bit more – and get a hard board?
Well, in my honest opinion – no, you shouldn’t. Inflatable SUPs are durable, cheap, and cost less to maintain. You are free to decide for yourself (and your budget), but that sounds like a winning combination to me.
#11 Lifespan & Durability
A high-quality rigid SUP could actually last you for many, MANY years to come – and with proper maintenance, it may even last a lifetime.
How long an iSUP will last might just be the toughest question to answer. The average number – one you’ll commonly find online – is five or more years. However, it all depends on a multitude of factors.
Speaking of durability, can inflatable paddle boards pop?
That’s a good question!
Knowing the average lifespan won’t do you much good if you poke a hole in your board. But I’m happy to report that they’re more durable than you’d assume. An inflatable SUP board “popping” out of the blue isn’t a realistic scenario you should worry about here.
Let me ask you a few things:
How often do you use your board? Do you often leave it in direct sunlight? Can you address any damages on time?
These are all factors that should be taken into account. Realistically, if you take good care of it, you can get more than five years out of an inflatable SUP board – but for the sake of this comparison, let’s say that the average span is about three to five years.
The quality of inflatable boards went up in recent years – and there genuinely isn’t much of a difference between rigid and inflatable SUPs in that regard.
Inflatable Vs Hard Paddle Boards – Weighing Up The Pros And Cons
Everyone’s entitled to their personal preferences – but I genuinely tried to remain as objective as possible throughout this guide.
And in the spirit of not letting my personal preferences dictate the outcome of this comparison – let alone your own choice of SUPs – let’s go over everything again and highlight some notable advantages and disadvantages of inflatable and rigid boards.
I feel like that’s the best way to summarize this whole inflatable SUP vs rigid SUP discussion.
Inflatable Paddle Boards: Advantages
- Inflatable paddle boards are cheaper… or, rather, the price range starts at a lower point. Both inflatable and rigid SUPs have some top-end, expensive models, though.
- Inflatable boards are significantly lighter than their rigid counterparts – some weigh up to 50% less than rigid SUPs.
- They’re compact and deflate down to a much smaller size, so they’re easier to store and transport.
- High-quality inflatable boards are much more durable than fiberglass boards and will withstand most paddleboarding accidents with little to no damage.
- Inflatable SUPs typically have a higher weight capacity than pretty much all rigid boards out there.
- They’re usually comfortable and more stable on the water, which is a plus for beginners.
Inflatable Paddle Boards: Disadvantages
- Due to their design, inflatable stand up paddle boards inherently require more time to set up. Plus, inflating an iSUP manually takes some serious effort.
- They take longer to pack up because they must be dried, deflated, and packed correctly after each use.
- Inflatable SUPs are generally more limited in terms of board design.
- While their on-the-water performance is comparable, the taller side rail of iSUPs catches the wind more easily and can cause weather cocking.
Hard Paddle Boards: Advantages
- A solid SUP leaves more room to fine-tune the board’s shape, mainly the rails and nose and tail areas, for a broader range of conditions, weight, and skill levels.
- These boards are more rigid, meaning there’s less flex, which gives them a more secure feel.
- Rigid boards handle better and offer higher performance, especially in choppy water and strong wind.
- These SUPs glide better, feel more agile, and create less drag, which makes them better for racing, touring, and surfing.
- You don’t have to deal with the hassle of setting it up; there are no inflation and deflation required here.
Hard Paddle Boards: Disadvantages
- If you compare two same-sized boards, the rigid one will always weigh more than the inflatable one.
- You’ll typically need a rack – or a full-blown trailer – to transport a rigid SUP, which can be annoying. Plus, you’ll need dedicated storage space.
- Non-inflatable paddle boards are generally more expensive, and fixing any damages can be pretty pricey, as well.
Which Is Better, Inflatable Or Solid Paddle Boards?
Deciding between an inflatable paddle board vs solid one comes down to what you expect to get from it. An inflatable SUP is a better choice for beginners and anyone who needs a board that’s easy to transport and store. But suppose you expect top-notch speed, maneuverability, and handling, or you’re into any form of racing or long-distance paddle boarding – well. In that case, a hard SUP will be a superior choice.
And that’s why your search for a new SUP board should always begin with one simple question:
What do I need?
Figure that out, and the rest of this inflatable vs solid SUPs debate will sort itself out.