Are Inflatable Paddle Boards Any Good? What About for Beginners?

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But in this article we will be focusing in on the question “Are Inflatable Paddle Boards Any Good?” 

Inflatable Paddle Boards have really picked up a lot of steam over the past few years. Don’t believe me? Check out the below Google Trends graph that shows Inflatable Paddle Board vs Hard Paddle Board search terms. 

In terms of online searches, Inflatable Paddle Boards absolutely wipes the floor with hard boards. So is this true in real life? We have a full Inflatable Paddle Board Vs Solid Board comparison guide that details when to use which here.

In this review I will be looking at primarily my own experience with inflatable paddle boards. I have used inflatable paddle boards for well over 5 years now and have tried over 6 inflatable paddle boards as of my time of writing. I have also tried 3 hard paddle boards so I have a pretty good idea of where these inflatable boards excel and where they fall flat (Ohh hey pun!). 

Without further ado let’s get into it!

Table of Contents

Inflatable Paddle Board Pros and Cons

You may be looking at my website name and thinking “Ok this guy won’t be biassed at all (eye roll)”. The truth is there are areas where inflatable stand up paddle boards fall short. So in this section I’ll go through what’s great about them and what’s not so great.

Pros of Inflatable Paddle Boards

Here are some of the good things I’ve noticed about inflatable SUP’s. Some of which I’ve experienced, other things I’ve researched. Are inflatable SUPs any good? Lets dig in

Inflatable SUPs are the Best Option for Storage

Inflatable Stand Up Paddle Boards are without a doubt the best option if you are limited in storage space. Paddle Board packages range in size but most of them are about the size of a medium – large suitcase (or hockey bag for our Canadian friends) .

If you are like me and you live in an apartment complex inflatable is probably the only way to go. I personally store mine in the trunk of my car when it’s in the underground garage. But there are lots of other places you can store them:

  • Closet
  • Car Trunk
  • Storage Unit
  • Under the Bed (Make sure it’s properly cleaned!)
  • RV
  • Balcony (make sure it is away from elements like sun or extreme cold)

Easier to Transport and Travel With

The next most common thing you will find that’s listed as an advantage is transportation. Much like the Google Trends search terms inflatable SUP’s have a sizeable lead over their hard shelled counterparts in this category. 

Not only are they easier to throw into the car/ van but they are also significantly easier to travel with. Imagine trying to bring a hard board on a plane these days? You would be laughed off the runway! 

Modes of Transportation possible with an Inflatable Stand Up Paddle Board:

  • Car
  • Van
  • Truck
  • RV
  • Plane
  • Walking (Pro Tip: Look for a Bag with Wheels) 
  • Bus
  • Train

The Technology is Constantly Improving

If you were to compare a SUP from 10 years ago to now there would be a lot of differences. Especially with some of the respectable lines of paddle boards. 

iRocker Comparison

While the shape of the board may be only slightly modified, the real difference would be how the boards are manufactured. Before companies like Tower or iRocker came along, SUP’s were made of single layer PVC. 

Single Layer PVC is all fine and dandy for short paddle trips and some fun in the sun but they severely lacked in performance compared to hardshell paddle boards. This was because they lacked the rigidity of the hardshell paddle boards. Meaning when you paddled the board would sag slightly where you stood. 

Today things are much different. SUP manufacturers have now come up with stronger materials.  Double and triple layer PVC as well as fusion layered PVC which makes the boards not only stronger and more rigid but also more lightweight in the cases of fusion layered SUP’s.

As a result of this technology Inflatable SUPs are getting closer and closer to hardboard performance

On a Whole; Inflatable SUPs are Very Durable

When you think of the words inflatable, you don’t think of words like tough and durable. This is because you are thinking of the wrong kinds of inflatables! What do you think of when you think of when you see Zodiac boats? Those look much more durable right?!

It’s time to liken your thinking to Inflatable SUPs being similar to Zodiac boats in terms of the abuse they can take

While Hard boards can take some dings as well, they do tend to dent. In some severe cases if you crack the outer epoxy shell, water can get inside and ruin the board.

The truth is most inflatable SUPs can take their fair share of abuse and dings. Most respectable to semi-respectable paddle boards will last you a few seasons (More on this below).

Inflatable SUPs are Easier and Cheaper to Repair

At some point in an inflatable paddle board’s lifetime there will be the inevitable leak. This could be after a few seasons to 20 years away depending on the quality of board you get and how you take care of it

The best way to prolong the life of your SUP is to avoid scraping it against objects, cleaning it after each use and storing it in a safe place. 

Should a leak actually spring up, most SUP manufacturers have warranties against defective materials and repair kits to combat this. But nothing will beat proper SUP care!

Incase of a puncture we also have a Paddle Board Repair Guide here.

It’s Better to Fall on an Inflatable SUP

What makes inflatable paddle boards some of the best boards to learn on? They don’t hurt as much if you fall on them! Because the composition of the inflatable board is one of a more springy nature, if you fall on it you won’t have nearly as big of a bruise as if you fell on a hard board!

This also makes them ideal for kids and dogs alike who are just learning the art of paddle boarding. 

Inflatable Paddle Boards are LightWeight

Compare carrying an inflatable paddle board to the shoreline compared to a hardboard,. 

 you will see a noticeable difference in weight

When carrying a hard paddle board, a lot of the times you are counting down how long until your arm falls off your body. With an inflatable it’s not nearly as bad.

inflatable SUP lift
Doesn’t seem too heavy to me!

This is because hardboards are made of more heavy weight materials like fibreglass/ epoxy layers covering wood or foam cores. Inflatable Paddle Boards are made of drop stitch materials, layer or layers of PVC and air. 

This combination allows Inflatable SUP’s to weigh as little as 18 – 30 pounds. While hardboards start at about 28 to sometimes over 40 pounds in weight. 

Inflatable Paddle Boards are Easier on Your Feet, Knees and Bum

A lot of paddle boarding snobs will say true paddle boarding is only when you are standing. I don’t agree with this sentiment though. 

As a former kayaker/ canoer one of the things that instantly drew me to paddle boarding was the fact you can sit, stand, kneel or even lie down on the paddle board!

No matter how squishy the deck pad is on a hard paddle board I can tell you it is much easier on your body to stand, kneel or sit on an inflatable paddle board. This is because you are essentially standing on air and PVC as compared to the harder Epoxy materials. 

This means you can paddle for a longer time period without getting a numb-bum.

Inflatable Boards are Safer for Kids and Pets

I would pick falling on an inflatable paddle board 10/10 times over a hard board. Kids like to jump off, jump onto, run onto, climb on and fall off things that have to do with water. 

With an inflatable paddle board you will significantly reduce the risk of injury compared to slipping on a hard board. Make sure you mind the objects around you though!

For Pets it’s easier for them to stay on inflatable boards because of the materials. Yes Solid paddle boards have deck pads too but let’s face it. Your pet will not be interested in just sitting in one area for a long period of time. They need to move! 

A lot of the deck pad takes up the middle of the board, while typically your pets or kids like to be perched at the front. Epoxy/ Fibreglass is a much more slippery material which does not bode well for claws. This increases the likelihood of slips into the water as well as scratches on the Epoxy.

Inflatable Paddle Boards are also significantly easier to climb onto because of this fact as well. 

The Cons of Inflatable SUPs

Think we at Inflatable SUP Authority just have good things to say about inflatable paddle boards? Think again! There are definitely a few issues with inflatables which I will outline below. 

Manually Pumping an Inflatable SUP is a Real B Word!

There’s a lot of things I love about inflatable paddle boards. But if there’s one thing I HATE, it’s pumping up these boards manually

It takes about 10-15 minutes of manually pumping to get the board to 15 PSI. The first half of pumping is ok because you are filling up the board but the last few to get it up to 15 are BRUTAL! 

Yes, having a 2 or a 3 stage pump helps with the process but I’ve decided I’ve had enough with manual pumps! I’M DONE, I’M OUT!!!! 

A moment of silence for my poor back

To lessen this burden I highly recommend you get an electric paddle board pump that hooks up to your car (cigarette lighter or battery).

I got myself the Outdoor Master Shark II Pump for Christmas and I can already hear my back thanking me. Electric Pump Videos incoming! 

Inflatable SUP On-Water Performance is Getting There, But Solid Boards are Still Better

In terms of manoeuvrability, speed, glide and tracking. Hard boards still reign supreme. But Inflatable Board manufacturers are getting closer and closer. 

According to Isle Surf and SUP Hard Boards are about 6% faster than Inflatable SUPs in both relaxed and intense paddle strokes. 

If Performance is very important to you then either a hard board or a specialist inflatable SUP will probably be your best bet. Just keep in mind both of these will probably run you over the $1,000 range. 

Inflatable SUP’s Can Get Bullied by the Wind

Remember those bullies in highschool who were unrelenting and just plain mean! Well wind is the equivalent to that bully for your inflatable board (and ultimately you).

A big reason as to why is because of the fact that inflatable boards sit on top of the water while solid boards are partially submerged. It’s a lot easier to push something on top of the water compared to if it’s submerged (you know hydrodynamics and stuff). 

paddle board tides
The red circles are my friends who got swept by the wind/ tide

As a result when its super windy out and you are standing on the board. You act as a make-shift sail. Which could be good if the wind is with you. But if it’s not then its bad. 

To lessen this kneel on your board. You will take up less mass (air space) and therefore have less force pressed upon you and your board. 

Inflatable SUPs are Not The Best for Surfing

Now don’t get me wrong.. You CAN surf on an inflatable SUP but you are extremely limited in terms of turns and tricks you can do on one. 

This is because Inflatable SUP’s do not have ridgid side rails that can cut into the water as easily. They are more rounded which does not allow them to edge as responsively in the water. 

There are some inflatable SUP’s that you can surf on .but Hardboards still have a big advantage when it comes to SUP surfing.

Inflatable Stand Up Paddle Boards Take Longer to Set-Up

Transportation, Storage.. Check.. Check. Set-Up Time… Hmmmm. It’s true, inflatable SUP’s are more convenient with transportation and storage but many people looking for inflatable SUPs underestimate the set-up time. 

With Inflatable SUP’s You need to:

  1. Open the Bag
  2. Set Out the Accessories
  3. Take the Board out of the Bag
  4. Inflate the Board
  5. Attach the Accessories (Fins, Leash, any extras you want to bring)
  6. Put Bag back in Vehicle
  7. Walk with Board to the Shoreline

With Solid Paddle Boards You Need to:

  1. Take Board off Roof Rack
  2. Attach Accessories
  3. Walk with Board to the Shoreline

For a Newbies it will probably take you 20 – 25 minutes to figure everything out and get on the water. But you can get that down to 15 minutes after multiple set-ups. 

iRocker Set-Up
Setting Up the iRocker All Around 11 Board

As mentioned in my first Con, inflating the board takes almost more effort than a few hours of casual  paddling. Or at least it certainly feels that way.

Inflatable SUP’s Must Be Properly Inflated to Work Properly

The less air pressure (PSI) you put in the board the more of a performance drop off you will get. Read that again.

I know it can be a real pain to get that board to 10 PSI and above but you gotta do it! Otherwise your board will not perform as well in the water as you would like. The longer you are out on the water the more PSI you should have in your board. 

Are Inflatable Paddle Boards Any Good For Beginners?

I would say yes BUT… The learning curve is more difficult initially on an inflatable SUP. 

If you were to take 1 person who has never been paddle boarding before. You place them on an inflatable paddle board and then a hard paddle board. Chances are they will have an easier time initially standing on the solid board. Why is that?

Hard Paddle Boards sit in the water partially submerged which means that they absorb more of the impact of waves and ripples

Inflatable Paddle Boards sit on top of the water. So when a wave or ripple hits the board it moves the board more. Which is why people who have never paddle boarded before may have a few falls before getting the hang of it.

Does this mean that beginners should stay away from inflatable paddle boards? Not at all. Inflatable paddle boards will open up your world in terms of accessibility more than a hardboard ever could. You can travel with them, store them in your apartment, or even walk to the beach with them. 

So while the initial stability may be more favourable with a hard board. You just gotta put in a few paddles to get on top of that initial unsteady feeling. Like anything practice makes perfect! 

Worse case scenario you just sit or kneel on the board until you are comfortable to try standing

What is the Best Inflatable Paddle Board for Beginners?

There are A LOT of good inflatable paddle boards for beginners out there! How you choose will depend on your budget, where you paddle and other factors. I go into an INSANE amount of detail on How to Choose the Best Inflatable Paddle Boards Here. 

To summarise from what I’ve tested, and what makes most sense budget wise. 

My Budget Pick: Serene Life Free Flow Paddle Board on Amazon

My All Around Pick:  iRocker 11 All Around Paddle Board

FAQ’s About Inflatable Paddle Boards

Below are some common questions people ask me that relate to inflatable paddle boards. If you have any more questions shoot me a post or message on my Facebook!

Are Inflatable Paddle Boards Safe?

Are inflatable paddle boards safe to use?Yes, They are as safe as the precautions you take. So wear your PFD please!

Inflatable Paddle Boards are softer to land on and will reduce the risk of injury. Most reputable manufacturers have durable boards that will last you for years so you don’t need to worry too much about leaks. 

Do Inflatable Paddle Boards Puncture Easily?

No they do not. The risk of a puncture is directly correlated with how much wear and tear and how old the board is

Yes, sometimes there are manufacturing defects that happen (A lot less than what you would think if you saw some Amazon reviews!). But most of the time if you buy from a reputable manufacturer the warranty should cover it for the first year and beyond. 

Look at warranties and terms of warranties before purchasing!

How Long Do Inflatable Paddle Boards Last? 

Most SUP’s from reputable manufacturers can last 5 years and beyond. But there are reasons why some last longer than others. You can Read More about How Long Paddle Boards Last Here. 

Are Inflatable Paddle Boards Stable?

Some inflatable SUPs are more stable than others. One that really impressed me was the Serene Life Free Flow. In fact I did an On-Water Performance video on it that you can watch below!

Why Are Some Inflatable Paddle Boards More Expensive Than Others?

This has to do with the craftsmanship and quality that goes into each SUP. Usually the difference comes down to materials. 

Cheaper SUPs are made of:

  • Single Layer PVC

Higher Quality SUP’s are made of:

  • Fusion Layer PVC
  • Double Layer PVC
  • Triple Layer PVC

A lot of this also comes down to the hours put in by staff crafting and designing the board as well. Boards that have attachable accessories like mounts also are usually more expensive.

Can I Use an Inflatable Paddle Board in the Ocean? 

Yes! In Fact I do it all the time in the summer! Mind the conditions though. If it’s windy, wavey or the tide is coming out you will be fighting against these external forces more so on an inflatable SUP. 

This would be considered a good ocean paddle boarding day!

As a beginner paddler, limit yourself to calm days and learn how to read a local tide table.

I’ve made this mistake before trying out my new Nixy Paddle Board and I felt like Robinson Crusoe paddling back to my launching point. 

What Size Paddle Board Do I Need?

A general rule of thumb is to get a paddle board that is at the very least 9” taller than you. Some of it comes down to preference a lot of it comes down to Maximum Capacity of the paddle board. 

We answer this question with more than you need to know in the What Size Inflatable Paddle Board Should I Get post.

Are Inflatable Paddle Boards Worth It?

A resounding yes from me! Yes they may have a few drawbacks but the pros far outweigh the cons. 

Pros of Inflatable Paddle Boards:

  • Best Option for Storage
  • Easier to Transport and Travel With
  • SUP Board Technology is Getting Better
  • Inflatable SUP Boards Are Durable as the Dickens
  • Easier to Repair
  • More Safe and Child/ Pet Friendly
  • Lighter to Carry to the Shoreline
  • Easier on Your Limbs

Cons of Inflatable SUPs

  • You Will Probably Hate Manually Pumping it Up
  • 6% Slower and not as Responsive as Solid Boards
  • More Sensitive to Wind
  • Not the Best Choice for Surfing
  • Need at Least 10 PSI for performance

If I were to recommend two paddle boards for beginners it would be the SereneLife Free Flow as the Budget Pick. And the iRocker 11 as the All Around pick. 

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Author:
Hey, My name is Derek and I'm the owner of Inflatable SUP Authority. I've had over 20 years experience with watersports. My new-found passion is learning about and testing SUP's. I love teaching people what to look for.

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