Why Buy An Inflatable Paddle Board?
Inflatable paddle boards are durable, very portable, lightweight, can fit in any size of vehicle, and the most important of all, inflatable paddle boards are fun.
I started paddle boarding about 5 years ago and I don’t know why I didn’t start sooner. Sure the initial price of a paddle board can seem steep at first and it’s hard to know if it’s going to end up being just another thing that sits in the closet. I had been watching paddle boarders for years and I finally decided that I needed to try it out so I rented an inflatable paddle board from the local sporting goods store, threw it in my car, and headed to the lake.
The first thing I noticed is stand up paddle boarding is not as hard as it looks. Especially if you have the right size of SUP. It only took a day of paddling around and I was sold. I got online the next day and soon discovered that the world of stand up paddle boarding was large. There were so many styles of SUPs available and that was years ago. Today the market is even larger and there is an astounding number of inflatable paddle boards to choose from.
After a lot of research I ended up with the ISUP that fit my budget and I still have that paddle board today. But since then, my collection has grown and there are a few things I wish I knew before purchasing my first board. Today, my paddle board of choice is the iRocker All-Around 11′ Inflatable Stand Up Paddle Board, click to see it on Amazon.
I’ve created this list to help paddle boarders understand some of the things that are important to know before buying an inflatable paddle board. Hopefully, this will help when it comes time to buy your first or even second paddle board.
1. Inflating A Paddle Board Is A Workout
It’s true that once you are on the water and enjoying your inflatable paddle board all your worries disappear and the memory of the time spent pumping up the board is long gone. But before you get out on that water and you are faced with inflating your paddle board it can seem like a bit of a chore.
It can take anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes to inflate an SUP and a lot of the time depends on how good of shape you are in and what kind of a hand pump you have. My first inflatable paddle board came with a cheap single-action hand pump and took 20-30 minutes of hard work to inflate it to the standard 15 psi almost all inflatable paddle boards follow.
When you start it’s easy but when you reach high pressure, it gets way more difficult, by the time you are done your arms will feel like noodles. This can be a good thing if you are using a paddle board as a way to burn calories because pumping one up with a small hand pump is definitely a little cardio.
Buying an inflatable paddle board with at least a double-action hand pump can make life much easier. There are even triple-action hand pumps and electric SUP pumps that are powerful enough to inflate your paddle board from start to finish.
If you take into account how easy it is to pack up the inflatable paddle board it really ends up being the same amount of time as it takes to secure an epoxy board to your vehicle over and over again. And you don’t have to worry about the inflatable paddle board in the car like you do an epoxy board that is secured on top. And most of the time I just left mine in the trunk of the car so I always had it with me.
2. Some Are More Durable Than Others
One thing you will always hear or read about when shopping for an inflatable paddle board is the number of layers of PVC it has. More PVC layers mean more durability and a stiffer paddle board. You want the durability that comes from multiple layers to help stop punctures from things in the water. They also help when you are inflating and deflating your paddle board daily because there’s more material and the glued seams are stronger.
More layers of PVC also help keep the inflatable paddle boards stiffer and feeling more like a hard epoxy paddle board on the water. The more a paddle board gives under your weight the less stable it will be. That’s why for tall or heavy people I always suggest getting a board with at least 2 layers of PVC.
You may have noticed that the price of one brand of inflatable paddle board may seem way higher than the price of another brand that looks almost the same. This can be for several reasons one of them being the more expensive board most likely has more layers of PVC.
Depending on your budget and the places you will be paddling with your inflatable board will decide how many PVC layers you get. If you paddle in rivers and small lakes where it’s more likely for things to be in the water that can damage your board having as many PVC layers as you can get may just be what keeps your board puncture-free in the end. If you paddle in large lakes once or twice a week and aren’t worried about snagging on things a single-layered PVC paddle board will be just fine because they are still very durable and can take a beating.
3. The Accessories You Are Going To Need
Most inflatable paddle boards come in a kit that includes a hand pump, a backpack/storage bag, and a paddle. Some kits will also include coil ankle leashes, repair kits, and waterproof phone bags. Other higher-end or specialized inflatable paddle boards like the kind for paddle board surfing and multiple people won’t include a paddle or bag and sometimes only the board is what you get. That’s very rare and most of the time you will get at least the essentials with the purchase on an inflatable paddle board.
The essentials are important and there are a few things you absolutely need when paddle boarding.
SUP Pump – You have to have a way to inflate your paddle board and whether it’s by using the hand pump that was included with your board or you upgrade to a triple-action or even an electric SUP pump you have to have one that is capable of reaching high pressures of at least 15 psi. Most SUP pumps have a built-in pressure gauge which is also an important part of the pump because you don’t want to go over or too far below the recommended psi.
Paddle Board Paddle- So this is also one of the base accessories for paddle boarding. You have to have a paddle and the ones made specifically for paddle boarding are the best. The kind for inflatable paddle boards break down into two or three pieces and can fit in the bag with the paddle board. You could try and use a paddle that is for canoeing or even kayaking but you will end up either crouching over too much or you won’t get the power that comes from the proper length of paddle that allows for the proper hand placement.
That being said there are different levels of paddle board paddles and most kits included paddles that are aluminum with a plastic blade. You can upgrade to paddles made with carbon and better alloys of aluminum which are more durable and lightweight.
Life Jacket- The United States Coast Guard requires you to at least have a life jacket on your paddle board with you at all times. That means life jackets are also an essential accessory for paddle boarding. If you want to know more about the specific rules you can check out this article here.
I’ve yet to see an inflatable paddle board kit that comes with a life jacket so you are going to have to get that one your own before you head out onto the water. You can get traditional life jackets or there are even slim inflatable life jackets available that are perfect for paddle boarding and approved by the USGC.
A pump, a paddle, and a life jacket are the three main accessories you need to have to use an inflatable paddle board. But there are also some other things you can get that are not essential but great to have.
Backpack/Storage Bag- 90% of the inflatable paddleboards for sale will come with a storage bag that also acts as a backpack. They are great for keeping your board safe when out of the water and a lot of times they are large enough to fit all the essential accessories as well. Just make sure your inflatable paddle board is completely dried off before putting it in its bag. The backpack part is also very handy when you are carrying your board to a beach or even taking it on a hike to a distant mountain lake.
Ankle Leash- You’ve probably seen surfers using ankle leashes and they are very useful for paddle boarders as well. Coil ankle leashes are the most popular style because they keep the leash from dragging in the water while you paddle around. They are especially nice for beginner, ocean, or river paddlers because they keep the board connected to you when you fall off.
Dry Bag- Dry bags are a great way to keep your phone, keys, snacks, and extra clothing dry when paddle boarding. It’s very rare not to get a little water on the deck when paddle boarding and it’s always better to be safe than sorry. There is normally a bungee storage system on the front of all paddle boards. It is really easy to secure a dry bag with all your things under the bungees and out of the way.
Waterproof speaker- A waterproof speaker is not a necessity but music does make a day paddle boarding at the lake way more fun.
4. Different Paddle Board Shapes Mean Different Things
There are two main kinds of paddle boards: all-around and touring. All-around paddle boards are great for things like yoga, leisurely paddling, beginners and surfing. Touring paddle boards are better for people who want to paddle fast and a lot. If you want a paddle board for both then you are in luck because there are also hybrid paddle boards that are a perfect in between. The board in the picture above is a great example of a hybrid.
All-around paddle boards have a round planing hull (nose) that sits slightly curved up and above the water. It can easily bounce off of choppy water and waves. It’s made for maneuvering and stability. All-around inflatable paddle boards a perfect for beginner paddlers, bringing extra passengers like a dog, yoga, lake fishing, beginners, and surfing. They are between 10-12 feet long and are normally 30-34 inches wide.
Touring paddle boards have a pointed displacement hull (nose) which is designed to move water away from the tip of the paddle board making it easy to glide through the water. It’s sort of like a knife cutting through something. Touring boards are made for paddling long distances and speed paddling. A dedicated touring paddle board is 12-14 feet long and less than 30 inches wide. They are less stable than all-around boards and a better option for intermediate level paddlers and paddle board racing.
Hybrid paddle boards are great for the do it all kind of people who want a little more edge when paddling around a lake but still like the maneuverability and stability of a shorter, wider paddleboard. They are very popular and starting to become the norm for paddle boards.
Surfing paddle boards have a round planing hull but are 10 feet and shorter, unless you are a longboard surfer then you will use an all-around paddle board.
The tails of paddle boards are almost always flat. This gives the board more stability and helps with maneuvering and using your back leg to control the nose. The only time you will see a pointed tail on a paddle board is when it’s a dedicated racing or speed paddling board.
5. Some ISUP’s Work Better In Different Kinds Of Water
The type of paddle board design also makes a difference in the kind of water you will be paddling in. All ISUP’s work great in fresh and salt water because PVC is a very durable non-corrosive material, but different hull designs are better for different kinds of water. If you paddle board in salt water it’s especially important to clean your paddle board after using it because salt can slowly break down the seams and also the footpad, and you don’t want to even try replacing a footpad on an ISUP.
Pointed touring paddle boards are perfect for flatwater, calm rivers, and ocean beaches that don’t have a lot of waves. Rounded nosed all-around paddle boards are better for surfing, breaking through waves, and white water stand up paddleboarding. That being said you can use almost any kind of inflatable paddle board for any activity. You will sometimes see people surfing with a touring board or others speed paddling around a lake with a rounded all-around board. It all comes down to how specialized you want your paddle board experience to be.
6. D-Rings Matter
D-rings are on every inflatable paddle board and they play an important roll in storage and being able to attach a seat. Almost every paddle board you see will have a bungee system on the nose which can be anywhere from 4-8 D-rings long. This is a great place to store things like shoes, dry bags, and slip your paddle under to secure it to your board while you swim.
There is also almost always a D-ring on the tail of a paddle board by the air valve. This is to attach an ankle leash.
Some inflatable paddle board companies have started putting D-link bungee systems on the tail of the board or there will often be a few D-rings there to tie down a cooler or other gear. There can also be 2 D-rings on each side of a paddle board in the center making a square. These rings are used for securing a seat so you can turn your inflatable paddle board into a kayak.
D-rings are a fantastic way to customize an inflatable paddle board and you can even glue your own to the PVC parts of the deck. All you need is some inflatable paddle board D-ring patches and some PVC glue.
7. Storage & Transportation Is Easy
Probably the number one reason people decide to buy an inflatable paddleboard instead of an epoxy one is the easy transport and storage. Inflatable paddle boards can be deflated, rolled up, and placed in a bag/backpack that usually comes with the purchase of the board. Rolled paddle boards aren’t very large and usually range from around 30″ long to 12″ wide when rolled up. The fins are removable and you can normally fit everything you need for your paddle board like a pump and the paddle in the bag as well.
They are also way lighter than epoxy boards and can be carried long distances comfortably on your back, you can even take them as carry-ons on airplanes. I’ve made a list of the lightest inflatable paddle boards you can buy that you can check out here. Normally a paddleboard will weigh anywhere from 20-35 lbs. Even the giant multi-person paddle boards can be rolled up and don’t weigh more than 50 lbs.
An inflatable paddle board can fit in any size of vehicle and be stored in a closet or even under the bed. This removes the need for a garage with special arm mounts to hold your epoxy paddle board and you won’t need a rack on the roof of your car to transport it around.
8. Board Width, Length, Thickness & Fins Are A Big Deal
I talked a little bit about paddle board width and length in the board shape part of this list but there’s a little more to say about it. Board width is the biggest factor that will determine how stable a paddle board will be and even affects the weight capacity. A very wide board that is around 34 inches will be very stable and perfect for tall or large people or even two small people. But you want to be careful and not get a paddleboard that is too wide. Width creates more drag when paddling through water and can make your paddleboard slower, it can also be difficult for short people to paddle with an extra wide paddle board.
If you are getting an inflatable paddleboard for yoga you want to go as wide as possible so you have plenty of deck space to do poses and some extra stability.
The more narrow you go with a paddle board the faster it will be in the water but the more unstable it will be.
Length also affects the weight capacity of a paddle board and how easy it is to turn in the water. That’s why inflatable surfing paddle boards are around 8-10 feet long. All-around paddle boards are 10-12 feet long which is the most common length of paddle board you will find. Anything longer than 12 feet 6 inches is going to be a specialized touring or racing paddle board.
Once again shorter paddle boards are easier for shorter people to maneuver and longer ones are better for taller people. That being said you should try out a 10, 11, or 12 foot board no matter what your height is to find your preference. I’m fairly short and my favorite length of paddle board for everyday use is 11 feet.
Inflatable paddle boards use thickness to make the board stiffer and sit high up on the water. When they first came out 4″ was the standard thickness but it quickly became 6″ because it increases weight capacity and makes a better stiffer paddle board. The only time you want a thin board around 4″ is when you are going to be surfing.
Fins are another big part of paddle boarding and the trend right now is the 2+1 fin system which is a long center fin that is removable paired with two smaller non-removable stabilizer fins that are called “side bites.” This is a very good fin system for all-around paddle boards and even surfing paddle boards. It helps keep your board moving straight in the water and reduces any side to side wobbling that may occur when paddling.
Another very common fin system is just a single long center removable fin. This was the most common type of fin system found a few years ago and the single fin is better for fast paddling because it creates less drag in the water.
A less common type of fin system for ISUP’s is the 3 fins or thruster system. This is when there are 3 fins, all around the same length. This is great for heavy paddle boards or ones loaded down with a lot of gear because it helps keep the nose of the board going the direction you want it to so you don’t have to change paddle sides all the time. They do create a lot more drag and it can be a little more difficult to get good speed. This fin system is more common on epoxy paddle boards because they are much heavier than inflatable paddle boards.
When you put the fin on your inflated paddle board make sure you don’t get on the board until you are in deep enough water. SUP fins are made of brittle plastic and your body weight combined with a rocky lake bottom may brake it. You can buy different shapes of fins for different activities as well. Most people prefer a shorter fin for rivers and surfing like this one. There are all different kinds of fin boxes so make sure the fin you buy is compatible with the style of fin box your ISUP has.
9. You Can Bring Your Pet
It’s a common misconception that inflatable paddle boards pop easily and aren’t tough enough for a dog. This isn’t true at all and even single-layered PVC paddle boards are fine for dogs. The biggest thing is weight capacity and how big the paddle board is. You want enough length and width for you and your dog to be comfortable and stable on the paddle board. You can check out a list of the best paddle boards for dogs here.
It is recommended to clip your dog’s nails before taking them out on a paddle board and this will protect you as well as your paddle board because it’s easy to get scratched when swimming with a dog. Also if you do have less durable paddle board or want to give your dog something to stand on for grip there are extra foam footpads you can buy that are designed to go on the nose for a dog to stand on.
Most dogs are excellent swimmers but any time you leave the shore it’s a good idea to put your dog in a life jacket. This is especially important if your dog is not a good swimmer or if you plan on going far from shore.
10. The Genius Behind Inflatable Paddle Boards
We’ve talked a little bit about PVC layers which are a big part of what makes inflatable paddle boards so durable and puncture-proof. These layers are glued together either by hand or machine and a fusion process is used to make the layers fuse together. Check out this article by Red Paddle Board Co. on how they use MLS fusion to create the layers in their inflatable paddle boards.
You may be wondering how inflatable paddle boards hold the flat board shape instead of just inflating into balls like balloons. This is where the term “drop-stitch” comes into play. You will hear all about the different methods of drop stitching from different paddle board companies and how their version is better.
But what is drop-stitching? Inside every inflatable paddle board are hundreds and even thousands of threads that stretch from the top (deck) of the board to the bottom. These are what hold the paddleboards shape when it’s inflated. Without them, an inflated paddle board would look more like a hot dog. These strings are also what give the board a solid feel when you are standing on it and it also helps keep the board from bending under your weight.
The second main part of the build of an inflatable paddle board are the rails (sides). You may have noticed that some ISUPs look more puffy or rounded on the sides than others. That’s because the rails are made differently and serve different purposes. On all-around paddle boards, the rails will be rounded and look puffier. This is for stability. On narrow racing boards, the rail is more defined which makes the inflatable paddle board look more square. This reduced the drag of the board on the water.
We’ve talked about what the hull and the tail part means but I wanted to touch on how amazing the engineering behind inflatable paddle boards is. You can have this ultra-durable, lightweight, and stiff paddle board that is basically a heavy-duty balloon. They keep their shape so well and are better than epoxy boards when it comes to durability. As someone who loves to travel, I wouldn’t trade my inflatable paddle board for anything else.
Inflatable paddle boards are amazing and an affordable way to have your own watercraft. One of my favorite things about having a paddle board is being able to leave a crowed lake beach filled with people and find my own secluded area to swim and hang out in. I can spend a whole day on my paddle board as there’s a ton of storage space so I can have everything I need with me.
If you are on the fence about buying one I would suggest renting one or trying out a friend’s. If it’s difficult to stand at first just kneel or sit, it’s just as fun to paddle board that way and it gets you out on the water and exploring parts of lakes, rivers, and oceans you’ve never seen before. And don’t worry, if you practice standing on a paddle board it will get easier until it’s just as normal as standing on land.
If you’ve been debating between a few kinds of inflatable paddle boards and aren’t sure what style you want I hope this guide has helped you out. Remember to be safe out on the water and to enjoy the moments when you are out paddling about.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can inflatable paddle boards pop?
It’s not a good idea to leave a fully inflated paddle board out in the sun because there is a risk for the air inside to expand and possibly burst a seam. If one is punctured or the seam breaks it will most likely sound exactly like when you let the air out of the main valve. Which is loud for a second but the pressure drops very fast and then it’s just a steady stream of air.
What does PVC mean?
Do inflatable paddle boards lose air?
The psi can change a little bit depending on how cold the water is and how hot it is outside but they shouldn’t lose any air at all.
Can you leave inflatable paddle board inflated?
You can, just make sure you let out some air to take the pressure off the seams and also keep it from over inflating if it’s hot outside. Never leave inflated paddle boards in direct sunlight. For more information on how to care for and store and inflated paddle board check out this post here.
Can I repair and inflatable paddle board?
Yes, you can! That’s one of the coolest things about inflatable paddle boards, they are easy to patch. Some paddle boards even come with repair kits. All you need is a square of PVC and some PVC glue. You just find the hole and glue on the patch. For more detailed instructions check out this post here by the paddle board company NRS.
How to pack an inflatable paddle board.
The hardest part about packing an inflatable paddle board is finding a clean spot to deflate it and getting all the air out before you roll it up. You want to roll it up from the tail side first so you can properly fold around the fin boxes. Unfortunately, the tail is also where the air valve is usually located. I normally fold the board up from the nose end to get all the air out and then I start to roll it from the tail end. Make sure you close the valve before you are going to roll it up so no dirt can get inside the paddle board.
If you have an electric SUP pump with the ability to deflate then you can just use that to get all the air out before you start rolling.
The rolling is more like folding, you don’t want the area around the fin box to have too much pressure on it. The first few folds have to be about the size of the first large fin box. After getting the fin box folded away it’s just a matter of continuing to fold until the paddle board is completely rolled up. You don’t have to fold very tight because the bags that normally come with them are pretty spacious.
Next, you simply put the board in the bag. After the board is packed away I normally slide my 2 piece paddle and air pump next to the board in the bag. My dry bag and life jacket fit on top of everything and I can have all my gear in one place.
Side note: Make sure your paddle board and gear are clean and completely dry before putting them away. Sometimes I just fold up the board and set it in the trunk of my car so I can take it home and wash it, then I let it dry deflated overnight before putting it in the bag.
Are inflatable paddle boards worth it?
To me, inflatable paddle boards definitely are worth it. If you compare the cost of an inflatable paddle board to that of an epoxy board you may be surprised to find they are cheaper a lot of the time. You also don’t need to buy any kind of storage or transport equipment to haul them around, and you can use a small car that gets great gas mileage to transport it around.
Inflatable paddle boards are very durable, easy to use, great for beginners, can be transported by any size of a vehicle, and stored anywhere. They are totally worth it especially if you live near any kind of water.
How long do inflatable paddle boards last?
There’s a lot of factors that come into play when talking about the life of an inflatable paddle board. If you use it daily, in saltwater, and don’t ever wash it you may not have a like new paddle board for more than a few years. But if you take care of your inflatable paddle board and make sure it’s clean and dry before you put it away they will last for years and years. Even cheaper ones with just one layer of PVC can last for years even with weekly use. My first budget inflatable paddleboard is still going strong after 5 years of heavy summer use.
Have any more questions about inflatable paddle boards? Leave a comment below.