Stand-up paddle boarding continues to grow in popularity throughout the world. What was once a niche watersport is now seen everywhere from the canals of Venice to the towering waves off the coast of Hawaiian Islands. Just as SUP boarding has grown in popularity, the options for those just getting into this hobby are also increasingly vast and varied. As you start looking for a new SUP board you might be overwhelmed with your choices, and left wondering whether you should choose a hard SUP board or an inflatable.
Hard SUP boards offer the advantage of rigidity, which provides great glide, speed, and control on the water. While faster and more stable than inflatables, hard boards are hard to transport and store. They can be much more expensive. Inflatable SUP boards are easier to transport and store, but they are slower and require inflating and deflating, which takes time and energy away from paddling.
There is a lot to think about when you are choosing between a hard board and an inflatable board. In the end, there is no one clear “winner.” Instead, the right board will depend on your own needs and desires. To get a clear understanding of which type of SUP board is right for you, there are several factors you should take into consideration.
6 Factors To Consider When Choosing Between A Hard Or Inflatable SUP Board
1. Your Budget
Budget is a factor in just about every purchasing decision, and deciding what type of SUP board to purchase will greatly depend on your budget. Sure, these days you can find very cheap hard boards made of styrofoam as well as inexpensive iSUPs, and both inflatable and hard boards can also cost thousands of dollars.
In general, however, quality hard boards are significantly more expensive than quality inflatable boards. The main reason for this is the materials involved. After all, inflatables are mostly air, while a hard board, to produce the right rigidity and lightweight nature, is likely to require expensive fiberglass and other materials.
2. Do You Already Own A SUP Board?
If you are purchasing your first SUP board then you may choose differently if you are adding another to your arsenal. If, for example, your primary board is a hardboard, then it is probably wise to purchase an inflatable board. This will give you the best of both worlds.
On the other hand, if you have an inflatable board and are starting to take SUP boarding more seriously, a well-made hard board might be a good investment.
3. The Types Of Paddling Trips You Like To Take
The type of paddling adventures you are looking to embark on will also impact the type of board you should buy. If you require portability, as you do a lot of walking to your paddling destinations, then an iSUP is the right choice. But if you want to do long-distance paddling, or paddling races that involve speed, then the clear choice will be a touring hard board built for speed. While you can’t predict the future, having an idea as to whether you want speed or portability is a good start.
4. The Climate And Conditions You Plan On Paddling In
The bodies of water you paddle in and the water conditions can also impact the board you should select. River paddling when there are some rapids and shallows is usually better off explored with an inflatable board where there is a more forgiving surface.
If, however, you plan on riding some serious waves, then a hardboard is the right choice. Hard boards are better at gliding on waves and have better turning and tracking abilities.
5. Your Method Of Transportation
If you have a pickup truck or an SUV with a roof rack, then you can choose freely between an iSUP or a hard board. If, however, you use a moped, small car, or public transportation, then an inflatable board is a much better option. You should also consider the distance you need to walk between parking lots and the water when factoring in transportation.
6. Storage Space In The Home
Where you put your paddle board when you aren’t using it should also be at the forefront of your mind when you are choosing if a hard or inflatable SUP is best. There are many creative ways to store a SUP board, but you might not have the space. If you live in an elevator building, or one with lots of stairs, an inflatable board has some clear advantages. If you have a larger home and want to display your SUP board on a wall, a hard board is a great choice.
Pros And Cons Of Hard Board SUPs
Pros Of Hard SUP Boards
Great For Long-Distance Touring
Hard boards are a superior choice for long-distance paddle boarders. They provide great glide, which makes going long distances a lot easier than if you have an iSUP. Sure, the are great inflatable SUP boards out there that are built for touring, but if your main objective is long-distance paddling, it is worth investing in a hard board made for touring.
They Are Faster
Hard boards are undoubtedly faster than inflatable boards. They are less bulky, and the materials and shape are designed for speed. After all, most iSUPs are about 6 inches thick, which slows you down significantly compared to just 2 to 3 inches. If you want to engage in paddling races or are simply looking for a board that can move quickly, then hard boards are superior.
Better Stability And Rigidity
Hard boards offer great stability and rigidity as well. This comes in handy when you are traveling with cargo, or with a passenger. It also helps with turns and makes it easier to balance in many cases.
Ideal For Surfing Waves
SUP boards can be used in all sorts of ways, from leisure paddling to intense surfing. If you plan on surfing waves with your board, a hard board is the clear winner. They provide great turning and tracking, which gives you control as you slice through waves and catch a ride.
Cons Of Hard SUP Boards
Much Heavier Than iSUPs
Hard boards are made of solid materials rather than filled with air. Because of this, they are also much heavier than inflatable boards. In some cases, this might not matter, but this weight can add up if you have a long way to carry your board from a vehicle or dwelling to the water. This heavy shlep might even keep you from venturing out as often as you may like. This is especially true on windy days when the board can take on a will of its own when you carry it.
More Difficult To Transport
Hard boards do not compact into a bag, or at all. These boards range anywhere from 8 feet to 16 feet in length (or even longer), which can make them quite challenging to transport. Unlike small surfboards that can fit in many cars, most hard SUP boards require a pickup truck, van, or car with reliable roof racks. So if you don’t have access to this type of vehicle, transporting a hard board might prove challenging.
Quality Boards Tend to be More Expensive
Hard boards are also much more expensive on average. Sure, you can find low-quality cheap hard boards, and also very expensive inflatable boards. In general, however, hard boards are much more expensive than iSUPs. This is because they are made of premium materials like fiberglass and epoxy resin. This means if you are on a tight budget, a hard board might not be for you.
Require more Space To Store
Hard boards also take up space in your home. There are many solutions to this SUP storage issue, including SUP storage racks, but they will still take up more space than an iSUP. If you live in a building with an elevator or narrow stairwell, or in a studio, a hard board might not be a wise purchase.
Pros And Cons Of Inflatable SUP Boards
Pros Of Inflatable SUP Boards
Easier To Transport
Perhaps the best benefit of inflatable SUP boards is their ease of transport. Most iSUPs come with a carrying case, which is usually designed like a hiking backpack or a wheeling carry-on suitcase. Either way, they are easy to bring almost anywhere.
Possible Kayak Hybrid Options
iSUPs also tend to be customizable. They usually have D-rings and attachment points that allow you to create additional storage. Some boards even make it easy to turn your iSUP into a kayak hybrid. This makes them more versatile as a vessel compared to hard boards.
Don’t Need A Car
Another huge benefit to inflatable paddle boards is that you don’t need a massive automobile to transport them. In fact, if you have an iSUP you don’t even need a car. You can travel with the board in its carrying case on your back on public transport, moped, or even walking. This is great for those without a car, and also those who like to paddle in hard-to-reach places where roads don’t go.
Require Very Little Storage Space
Inflatable SUP boards are also fantastic for those who have limited storage space. A full iSUP setup takes up the same space as a large backpack. This means you can store it on a closet shelf, or off to the side in a corner, or a storage trunk. This makes it possible for almost anyone to have an iSUP, no matter the living conditions.
Can Be Very Budget-Friendly
One huge perk to inflatable paddle boards is the price. They tend to cost a fraction of what quality hard boards cost. Sure, the design is different and so are the strengths, but these boards are budget-friendly. These days you can get a quality iSUP for under $200.
Cons Of Inflatable SUP Boards
Require Pumping And Deflating
One obvious downside to inflatable boards is the fact that you need to pump them up and deflate them. It is possible to store your iSUP inflated, but many people prefer to (or have to) deflate the board after each use. This takes time and energy that you would probably rather spend out on the water.
Glide And Tracking Is Inferior
The glide and tracking on an inflatable board are inferior due to their size and materials. This translates to inflatable boards being much slower, and often having inferior turning abilities. Some inflatable SUP boards have decent glide and tracking, and these boards tend to be more expensive. Still, if speed is the goal, hard boards are better.
Often Lack The Rigity And Stability Of Hard Boards
Inflatable boards also lack the rigidity and stability of a hard board After all, an inflated vessel can never be as hard as a solid one. This can impact balance and also makes them inferior when it comes to activities like surfing. For SUP surfing enthusiasts, a hard board is usually the better option.
In The End, Which SUP Board Should You Buy: Hard Or iSUP?
When you are contemplating whether you should buy a hard SUP board or an inflatable board, you need to ask yourself what you need from the board. Inflatable boards tend to be much cheaper than hard boards, they are also easy to transport and store, regardless of your living situation or mode of transportation. Hard boards, however, are superior for long-distance journeys as they have better glide and speed. They are also the superior choice for those who want to surf. So in the end, it all depends on what you are looking for - but if you love SUP boarding and can take the time to save some money, then why not purchase both?