Benefits of Inflatable SUPs
I still have my first inflatable paddleboard. It was one of the first “isups” produced – by SurfTech. I found it in an REI garage sale, where it had been returned. I quickly discovered why – it was extremely difficult to inflate. After bit of research, I found an electric pump that I could power off my car battery – the kind of pump used to inflate kiteboarding kites – that made inflation a snap. Having a rugged and portable paddle board instantly broadened my paddling horizons. I could glide down shallow rivers or up narrow creeks on what I called bushwhacking paddles. And it saved my sanity when I had to spend the better part of the year in Arizona taking care of my ailing, aging parents. It was my one piece of checked baggage.
Since then, inflatable paddleboards have increased in both quality and performance. And inflation technology as well. If you travel by air a lot, want to paddle in places that could risk damaging a composite rigid board or want to get into the sport but don’t have storage space, then an inflatable is just the ticket. Even if you already have a great rigid board, adding an inflatable can increase your time on the water and your paddle fun factor.
Some quick points in favor of the Inflatable:
- Portability: No more excuses for not being able to paddle. Keep it in the car or check it as baggage on that business trip.
- Durability: Inflatables can go places your carbon or glass board can’t, thus owning one opens up a whole new world of exploration and fun.
- Storage: It won’t take up much space in a closet or garage.
What Kind of Inflatable?
There are almost as many shapes of inflatable boards as there are rigid. There are all-around recreational inflatables, touring inflatables, whitewater inflatables and even race inflatables. All of them are going to inflate to anywhere between 14 and 18 PSI, in general, which means they are going to be very rigid and stiff. Sure, there will be a bit of flex, but when inflated properly, the stiffness surprises most folks. Good, quality inflatables, made by major board manufacturers are NOT at all like cheap, discount store blow-up kayaks. Board makers like Hala are even integrating carbon stringers in some of their boards to increase that rigidity.
That said, a good inflatable might not be any less expensive than a composite board, especially if it comes from a major manufacturer or a speciality inflatable board maker like Red or Hala. That’s because there is a good amount of engineering and technology that goes into these board to make sure they are fun and efficient to paddle.
So, just as you would when you choose a composite board, consider where you want to paddle your inflatable and how you will paddle it. Will be be a river runner? Might you want to use it as your travel race board, or are you getting a family rec board that the kids can have a great time playing on?
Starboard even makes an inflatable SUP that can also be used as windsurfer, and it’s pretty darn sweet! Talk about multitasking! And Bark is making an inflatable prone board!!
Dual Action a Must
One thing you definitely want to have is a dual action pump. Most of the higher end boards now come with one of these. A dual action pump allows air to be injected into the board when the plunger is both pulled up and pushed down. This expedites the inflation process and pretty much negates the need for that electric pump I needed to blow up my early iSup.
Older model and less expensive inflatables might come with fixed fins, which can cause issues if they get damaged. They can be hard to replace or repair. Look for a board which has a more traditional style fin box so that you can replace broken fins or even install a flexible fin, like Hala’s Gummy or Flex fin. These are great for river paddling, when you might encounter shallow water or submerged rocks or logs.
Many inflatables come with adjustable paddles, so you can easily tuck the paddle in the travel bag. These paddles can be convenient but heavy.If you are touring or are racing with your inflatable, you might want to look at some of the three-piece premium carbon paddles that are available.
They are just as important with inflatables as they are with other boards – right along with PFDs. Perhaps even more so, since inflatables are lighter and can actually blow away from you a bit easier. If you are using your inflatable on rivers, where trees and rocks and rapids, along with other hazards can create problems, then you want to be sure to use a quick release leash like the Badfish Re-Leash.