Inflatable Paddle Board vs Solid Board The Complete Comparison

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Paddle boards are an increasingly popular tool for heading out and enjoying the water, but in the inflatable paddle board vs solid option debate, which one is right for you? Inflatable boards are lighter and easier to store, while solid boards are more consistent and have better performance.

I’ve spent a lot of time out on the water, so I have plenty of experience with both types. Below, I’ll explain the anatomy of each board, how hard paddle boards compare to inflatables in different categories, and answer some questions people often ask me.

Are Inflatable Paddle Boards Any Good? How do they compare to hardboards?

Lets answer these questions and more below.

Inflatable Paddle Board Anatomy

While the exact designs depend on the manufacturer, most inflatable paddle boards have fundamentally similar shapes for All Around Boards. Click the link here to see our what are paddle boards made of guide

The very top of the board is the deck, which might have places to tie or attach things when you’re out on the water. There is also a deck pad that is thermo sealed onto the External layer of the board. 

Just below the deck is the main external layer, which is usually durable PVC. This provides attractive coloring and some damage resistance.

Many boards have another layer of PVC just below the external one. The most common types of layering for inflatable paddle boards are:

  • Single Layer (Serenelife, Roc, Many Amazon Brands)
  • Fusion Layer (Nixy, Red Paddle, Earth River SUP, Gili)
  • Dual Layer (Atoll, Bluefin)
  • Triple Layer (iRocker, Blackfin)

These are typically a laminate that helps keep water out of the interior. They also help keep the board more rigid.

Below that is a drop stitch layer that holds the top and bottom decks together. This layer is flexible enough to bend with the paddle board when you’re inflating and deflating it but keeps things sturdy when the interior is full.

The deepest part of an inflatable paddle board is the air bladder. This is what keeps things airtight and usable.

Most inflatable paddle boards have several other external parts, including rails along the side that offer durability and several fins along the tail, which is at least 8-9 inches on most boards.

The difference in most inflatable paddle boards is in the details. Things like different shapes along the nose or the tail can impact its performance and how well it works.

Top Inflatable Paddle Board Brands

Notable inflatable paddle board brands include Nixy, iRocker, Red Paddle, and Atoll to name a few. Be careful about buying from lesser-known brands because products like those may be vulnerable to leaking, construction issues, or other problems.

Solid Paddle Board Anatomy

Like inflatable boards, solid paddle boards vary somewhat depending on the manufacturer but follow a similar basic structure.

The inside of a solid board is either foam or wood, both of which have natural buoyancy. For foam, this is essentially the same technology as life jackets and makes the boards stay on the surface in almost any water.

The outside of a solid board may be plastic, carbon fiber, or a mix of fiberglass and epoxy resin. Plastic is the cheapest material, so it’s usually better to avoid that if you can, but fiberglass and carbon fiber offer excellent durability and performance.

Top Hardboard Brands

Notable solid paddle board brands include Isle, Naish, Bic, and Boardworks. Just like inflatable boards, it’s better to buy from a well-known and reputable brand if possible.

The Head to Head Comparison

Here’s how the inflatable SUP vs. rigid board comparison goes when we look at each feature category.

Which SUP is Less Expensive?

Advantage: Inflatable Paddle Board

Inflatable SUPs are more affordable than solid boards.  On the budget side this is because inflatable boards are mostly PVC and drop stitch, which doesn’t cost manufacturers as much. Of course there are always exceptions to every rule. 

 Foam isn’t expensive, either, but the exteriors of fiberglass and epoxy or carbon fiber, and wood interiors, where relevant, cost much more than inflatable boards do on a general scale. 

Prices vary depending on the manufacturer, but an inflatable board usually costs anywhere from $200 to $1500. Anything below $400 here is probably a low-quality product and won’t last as long. If something costs twice as much but lasts five times as long, it’s a better choice for most people.

Solid boards usually cost anywhere from $700 to $2000 +. High-quality carbon fiber boards may exceed this range, but you don’t need to worry about those unless you want to compete in events professionally.

Outside of All Around Boards. Something important to remember about rigid boards is that they’re often specialized for specific types of paddle boarding. They’ll work great in one area, but you can’t take them to other events and expect the same results.

Paddle boarding has demonstrated positive effects for overall fitness, so if you’re focused on exercise instead of performance, inflatable boards are an easier way to get into this sport.

Stability of the Paddle Board

Advantage: Solid Boards

Solid boards are on the whole more stable than inflatable boards. Now, a high-quality inflatable board will be impressively rigid in its own right, and it may even be hard to tell that it’s not solid. 

However, what usually gets inflatable boards is the fact that they are a few inches above the water. While solid boards are more submerged giving you a greater feeling of stability. 

Material isn’t the only thing that affects stability, though. Size also has a big impact, with longer boards offering significantly more stability than shorter ones. Wide boards also provide more stability, but usually at the cost of speed and performance. 

Serious riders need to decide how to balance stability and performance.

On Water Performance

Advantage: Solid Boards

Solid boards also perform better on the water than inflatable boards. Professionals almost exclusively use hard boards, especially at the upper end of competitions where every small bit matters.

Solid boards also offer more consistent performance than inflatable boards. Inflatable SUPs will act slightly differently depending on how much you inflate them, which can throw off competitors in tight matches. Solid boards always behave the same way, which means users can adapt to their characteristics and bring out their full potential every time.

Equipment quality matters, but in the end, solid boards offer consistently better performance out on the water. Although These days Inflatable boards are inching closer as their technology improves.

Which Paddle Board is More Safe?

Advantage: Inflatable Paddle Boards

Safety is another important consideration, and the answer to this question often surprises the people I talk to. Solid boards are more rigid and offer better performance, but this also makes them slightly less safe than an inflatable board.

The reason inflatable boards are safer is that even a fully-inflated board is fundamentally an air bladder with a tough exterior, and it’s hard to get hurt when you hit one of those. Any sufficient force will ultimately end up pushing the board a little.

Solid boards are more likely to injure you if you fall on them or if one of them hits you while you’re in the water. Aquatic safety is always important, so get an inflatable board if you’re worried about this.

Which Paddle Board is More Durable?

Advantage: Inflatable Paddle Boards

Here’s another answer that often surprises people. For most products, inflatable options are less durable than solid options.

Paddle boards break from expectations because solid boards are more vulnerable to dents and cracking that can ultimately compromise their structure. They’re not fundamentally weak products if you buy something good, but you can ruin a board if you use it incorrectly. Epoxy paddle board options are especially easy to damage this way.

When looking at an inflatable vs. solid SUP, the inflatable is more durable because it has enough give and bounciness to push away from most things that might hurt it. I wouldn’t drag the board over rough rocks, but you probably won’t hurt anything if you drop the board or bounce off of something out in the water.

Customer surveys support this, with buyers reporting that inflatable boards are highly durable and reliable.

Which Board has more Onboard Storage

Advantage: Tie

Onboard storage is always limited on paddle boards. The actual amount you get depends on the model and type of board you buy, with better boards often having several places to tie or attach things. Interior storage is rare, especially on high-quality boards.

To a lesser extent, larger boards have more space to put things on top, but it’s hard for me to say that this truly counts as storage.

In short, this is a tie because there’s no good way to pick a winner.

Paddle Board Portability and Storage

Advantage: Inflatable Paddle Boards

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that inflatable boards win when it comes to SUP transportation and storage when they’re not in use. Many people store inflatable boards either partially inflated or rolled up and put away. Either option requires significantly less space than storing a solid board.

One other consideration for the inflatable paddle boards vs. fiberglass boards debate regarding storage is how easy it is for one person to get them on or off of a car. Inflatable boards can be put inside most vehicles when deflated, while solid boards usually go on a roof rail rack. This can be inconvenient for some buyers.

SUP Setup Time

Advantage: Solid Boards

Solid boards win for setup time because they functionally don’t have a setup time. Put them in the water and they’re ready to go. Inflatable boards usually require at least 5- 10 minutes with a motorized inflater. If you manually pump it up using the 3 stage manual pump you may be able to shave time off. But I’ll tell you from experience it takes significantly more effort!

The same goes for dealing with paddle boards when you’re getting out of the water. Solid boards only need to dry and they’re done, while wet boards require deflating and rolling before you can leave. If you’re short on time, the difference can feel significant.

Maintenance of the Paddle Board

Advantage: Solid Boards

Solid boards require less maintenance than inflatable boards. Most inflatable boards require special cleaning and occasional patches if they generate a leak, while solid boards require effectively no maintenance other than storing them properly.

FAQ’s

Here are some common questions people have about paddle boards.

Are Inflatable Paddle Boards Slower?

The speed of a paddle board depends on several factors, including its size, fin style, and shape. That said, in the inflatable paddle board vs. solid board comparison, an inflatable board is usually slower than a solid board of the same size. 

This is why professionals and competitive paddle boarders almost always buy solid boards. Inflatable boards however, are starting to catch up. Even in the racing and touring classes. So watch out for this space in the next few years!

Are Inflatable Paddle Boards Better for Beginners?

Yes, inflatable boards are better for beginners. They’re cheaper, safer, and not as limited to specific scenarios as high-quality solid boards are. 

Inflatable boards are also much easier to store, which is helpful if you’re not sure whether you want to rearrange things to accommodate storing a full-size solid board.

How Long do Inflatable Paddle Boards Last?

It depends on the make and the price point you buy them at. Budget inflatable boards usually last 3-5 years of regular use. More expensive mid-tier boards can last well over 10 years if taken care of properly. It depends on how often you use them and how much wear and tear you get out of them.

For context, minimal use for a paddle board is less than ten times per year, moderate use is ten to thirty, and heavy use is more than thirty times per year.

Solid Paddle Boards can last more than a decade with proper care. They’ll wear out faster if you keep smacking them into the ground or storing them improperly, but a good board is naturally buoyant and tough enough to withstand extended use.

We go more indepth on this topic on our how long do inflatable paddle boards last blog post.

What We’ve Learned

What we see above is that in the inflatable paddle board vs. solid board debate, there’s no obvious winner. Both board types won four of the nine categories above, and they tied for the last point.

I’m quite pleased with this result because it demonstrates something I’ve believed for a long time: The type of board matters less than what you need. I normally recommend that beginners invest about $500 in an inflatable board and use that for two or three years, then switch to a decent solid board if they still like paddle boarding after that test period.

In the end, though, only you can decide what features matter most.

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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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