You may be thinking about picking up a paddleboard and you may be thinking, which is the best type for me? Well, this is a good question. Also, if you are asking this question, it means that you are a beginner, which is fine.
An experienced rider already knows what style of board they need or want, so they don’t have to ask this. But we all start as beginners and the sport of stand up paddleboarding is great because it is so easy to pick up in terms of skill and therefor it is very beginner friendly.
There are two different types of paddleboards, and then there are smaller categories within the two big categories.
The first category is an inflatable paddleboard. Inflatable SUPs were invented long after traditional SUPs. They were originally made out of the same materials that a white water raft is manufactured from, tough and durable plastics and adhesives.
Inflatable SUPs are now the most popular style of board because they take up so much less space and are way easier to transport. You do not need any special roof racks with an inflatable because you can just deflate the thing and compact it into your bag and throw it in the trunk of your car. All in a matter of five minutes or so. Also, inflatables are often, but not always, a cheaper option compared to the other style.
What is the other type of style of SUP?
That is the originals, traditional non inflatable paddleboard. Technically, the very first stand up paddleboard were canoe shaped vessels made out of reeds that indigenous people would stand up in and use the paddle to navigate the waters.
But realistically, the first stand up paddleboards were large surfboards or longboards that a paddle was used on. Eventually these boards were designed specifically for the SUP rider instead of just using a longboard. These first few years of SUP were on boards that were made in the traditional style of surfboards which means they had a foam core and were then wrapped in layers of fiberglass to strengthen the board and to make it hard.
You can read more about the history of the sport here.
Traditional SUP boards work better in the water for maneuverability, they are more responsive and faster also. The major drawback of these boards is that they are (generally) more expensive than inflatables and they are also WAY harder to transport.
An average size paddlboard may be up to 12 feet long and almost 3 feet wide. An object like this is not easy to carry and if you want to take it on a trip to the beach, you need to buy specific roof rack equipment to strap it to the roof of your car. And even then it’s kind of sketchy because the large surface area of the board acts like a sail in the wind.
So basically, in the water a traditional non inflatable paddleboard is more fun and just better to use. But when you factor in everything else, it’s usually a better idea to buy an inflatable SUP.
And the sales numbers bear this out as well with inflatables outselling hardboards 10 to 1. It’s not saying that one is necessarily better than the other for beginners. It’s just saying that the market, by far, prefers inflatables. And that is fine. Either one is ok. Whichever is best for you and gets you active and out on the water is the best one.
Ok so let’s go over some of the reasons why inflatables are a really good choice for beginners. The first reason is price. You can get a cheap inflatable SUP for as low as $300 dollars. Now remember, like anything else you pay for what you get. A lot of cheap SUP will get the job done, but they won’t last long. If you get a $300 inflatable SUP and it only lasts you one summer or one year, well do not be shocked.
While $300 is a very beginner friendly price point, you can pick up better quality inflatables for $600 that can last several seasons, and some high end inflatables, like the Red brand are often $1,000 or more. For an inflatable! That’s a lot. I’m not saying that they are not worth it, I’m just saying that they are like the Porsche of stand up paddleboards. Porsche makes great cars but they are not cheap.
Aside from the budget, inflatables are just easy. Ok not everything is easy about inflatables. Depending on which board you get and the pump that comes with it, pumping up an inflatable can be a real pain in the ass and often an entire workout in its own right. And deflating a SUP and placing everything back in the bag can be annoying and get everything sandy and dirty. But this comes with the territory.
Non inflatable SUPs on the other hand win in these categories. There is nothing to pump up or put together, you just grab your board and go.
ISUPs are also very forgiving.
As a beginner you often don’t have full control over yourself or your board. This can lead to two bad situations. The first is that you can bump into something you didn’t mean to and cause damage. You can hit another paddler, a boat dock, or a boat. But if you are on an inflatable, no damage can occur because it’s a soft surface and will give if it comes in contact with a hard surface like a boat. Whereas with a hardboard, it is possible to slightly damage a boat.
And when it comes to falling, inflatables are also a better choice. Why? Think about it. If you are falling, would you rather land on a firm surface? Or a soft surface that is like the side of a whitewater raft that is designed to give way if it encounters something firm like a rock or a boulder? Well you’d prefer the soft surface of course.
Ultimately, the best paddleboard is the one that you like the most. The best SUP is one that gets you off your couch and outside and on the water.