Inflatable SUP- Honest Look at iSUP’s vs. hard boards

Aloha its Robert with Blue Planet this
video is an honest look at inflatable boards and the pros and cons compared to
hard boards of inflatables. I’m also going to talk about a survey that we’ve
done and the results of the survey as well as different construction options
for inflatables and some of my recommendations. You know there’s a lot
of videos out there on inflatables what I found though is most of them are
basically marketing videos for inflatables, so it doesn’t really give you a good
neutral look at the pros and cons so let’s start with the pros of inflatable
boards. So to me the biggest advantage of having an inflatable boards clearly is
the portability like being able to just deflate it roll it up, pack it up in a
small backpack, take it on your back, take it on an airplane,
ship it easily, so you can order it online and have it shipped to you. You
know there’s a lot of advantages of having a smaller package to take with
you, to put it in your trunk, to store it for the winter, things like that. So for
someone that has limited space, or doesn’t have roof racks and so on, that
portability is a big plus. The other thing that iSUP’s are very good for are
durability, especially impact resistance, so if you’re paddling in a river with
rocks or a rocky shoreline or you know you have to launch somewhere where
there’s rocks or a dock or things like that,
the inflatable board is just a rubber surface that bounces off anything like
that. So a hard board with epoxy fiberglass is much more likely to get
chipped or scratched, so for durability in terms of impact resistance iSUP’s are
much better than hard boards. they’re also soft, so they’re kind of
forgiving if you fall onto your board, a lot of beginners tend to fall
onto their board instead of into the water for that a iSUP is definitely
safer because it’s soft, there’s less chance of hurting yourself on impact if
you hit the board, so also for kids and parents wanting their
kids to be safe, that makes a lot of sense to have a board that’s soft and forgiving if you fall on it so it doesn’t
hurt you. Just in case you’re wondering how much I know about
inflatables you know to tell you the truth, 99% of the time I use hard
boards whenever I’m here in Hawaii, I have a lot of choices to use, obviously
we have our whole demo fleet from our shop plus my personal boards for racing,
surfing, foiling, all those sports I definitely prefer hard boards that
performance is just much better, but I have used inflatable boards extensively,
we’ve been building inflatable boards for the last eight years or so and I’ve
gone through the whole Grand Canyon on an inflatable board for 16 days through
all the rapids and everything, there is a video link below if you’re interested in
looking at that. I’ve also taken an inflatable board with me to Iceland on a
trip, so you know and when I’m traveling I do like to use inflatable boards for
that kind of use but I know that the performance is not going to be the same
as my hard board and I don’t expect it to be, but for certain uses, the
inflatable boards are the right tool for the job. Ok, so next let’s look a little
bit at the cons of negative sides of inflatable boards and you know other
than just the performance difference, I would say the biggest negative downside
of using an inflatable board is having to pump it up, it’s just kind of a drag
when you get to the beach you can’t just grab the board, throw it in the water and
start stand-up surfing or paddling. You do have to pump it up first
and you know if you have a good pump it’s not that bad, some of the cheap
inflatable boards unfortunately come with really junky pumps and it can be a
pretty tough job to get it up to full pressure. You should really use it at
least 15 psi or more to get it to be rigid enough where it where you can
paddle it and have decent performance on it, so the pumping it up can take a while. We do have options we have an electric pump with a internal battery
that’s a great tool but it’s not cheap either, but once you have it
inflated, you can actually use it as a fully inflated board and you don’t have
to deflate it and inflate it every time and actually from our survey we found
that almost half of the people keep their board inflated and stored inflated
and which is also better for the board because every time you roll it up it
kind of creates creases and so on and can the can cause issues with the fins
peeling off and things like that. Okay, so another big difference when comparing
inflatables to hard boards is the stiffness. So there’s big differences
between inflatables in terms of stiffness and I’m gonna get into that
later with the construction but even the stiffest inflatable boards is going
to be quite a bit softer more flexible than a hard board you know especially
carbon-fiber hard hard boards are very rigid very responsive and you can feel
that difference in the water, especially in high-performance kind of conditions
in waves or when you’re racing or the waters kind of choppy, you can definitely feel the inflatable flexing. Even the stiffest inflatables
you’re going to notice that flexibility and especially in
high-performance kind of conditions like racing or if you’re surfing on a wave if
you step back on an inflatable, what happens is the rocker kind of flattens out
which is kind of the opposite of what you want, so it makes it not as
easy to turn it’s just not as responsive as a hard board so in choppy conditions
the board can feel a little bit wobbly to some people, it doesn’t feel as
stable as a hard boards in some conditions. But, that said, in flat water
conditions a good inflatable board can be very close in performance to a hard
board if you’re cruising or racing in flat water you know it actually can be
very hard to tell the performance wise the difference between a hard board and
an inflatable board. Okay, so another big downside of inflatable boards in my
opinion, is the shape of the rails and the shape from nose to tail, so and then
favorable boards are made with dropships drop stitch construction, right now
that’s basically the only technology available, and the drop stitch is
basically has these fibers running from the top to the bottom, so you can make it
in different thicknesses, but the thickness is all the way through from nose to tail it’s the same thickness and the rails are rounded rails connecting
the top to the bottom basically they can’t be shaped it’s just a round rail
and it’s the same shape and then those are
same-same shape on the tail and and so as a shaper really the only thing you
can influence is the outline of the board and the rocker line of the board,
When they build it, they can kind of build in the rocker they can you
know cut the outline out but the rest of the board like you can’t taper it nose
to tail you can’t shape the rails. So for surfing,
having a big fat rounded rail in the surf, just doesn’t work that well. So you know having that rounded rail in the tail is definitely not a great thing
for surfing you want to have a thinner, sharper rail that can carve
into a turn, having a thinned out, sharp rail helps a lot, it lets the water
release easily off the bottom surface and some some brands put a sharper
edge kind of glued onto the rail of the board and that does help with the water
release but you still have that high volume rail that’s just harder to push
through the turn so for surfing I think there’s no question that no inflatable
board gets close to performance of a hard board yeah so if you’re gonna surf
you know unless you’re traveling and you need a small travel board just surfing
is it’s you know you can get close maybe to performance-wise
of a big fat board but if you want a thinner shape reel it just doesn’t work
well on an inflatable board. So there now are some options for inflatable boards for
foiling as well, which I think is kind of a cool concept because the foil packs
are pretty small, if you can pack up the board pretty small too, then again you
have a nice package that you can take with you on trips but same thing, that
flex is doesn’t really help, because you do have to push down on your
front foot push the foil down and if you have flex I haven’t really tried it, to
be honest, on an inflatable foilboard, but to me, foil
boards are fairly small, so if I’m traveling, I could take a foil board with
me and I would take a hard board. So once again performance wise in flat water for
cruising and so on, inflatables can be a great choice, very similar in performance,
some beginners probably won’t even notice the difference very much, but if
you’re surfing, then definitely you give up some
performance with an inflatable board. You know, another downside can be the the
risk of deflation, basically inflatables are very tough for
blunt-force impacts, rounded rocks and so on won’t damage it at all, but there is a
risk of the board getting punctured. Very sharp rocks or
sharp objects can puncture the skin and then, if you have a puncture in the
board, obviously the board will deflate and some boards now have like a double
chamber technology which is helpful for that, because you don’t sink, but if you are out on the ocean and something punctures your board, there’s
actually a video I’ll link to it below, where a guy in Alaska, he’s
filling up his water bottle under a rock and somehow bumps into a sharp rock and
this board starts deflating and you can see him kind of panicking and his friend
on a kayak tows him back and he’s like holding on to the puncture so the board
won’t deflate, and then he had to fix it. So that is a risk and
if the water is freezing cold, you don’t really want to have your board deflate
out in the ocean or in the water. So the longevity is kind of a question
mark and that brings us kind of to this survey. The reason I started that survey
is because in our shop we see first hand, people coming in with
inflatable boards from various brands, some of them big name brands, some of
them cheap, inexpensive brands, but we’ve seen people bringing their boards in and
once the seam kind of comes apart or the board leaks at the seam it’s pretty much
impossible to fix it. The boards come with a repair kit and those
PVC patches, if you put it on well, they can seal a puncture very easily and and
it’s fairly simple to fix a board that has a puncture but if the seam splits
and the air is leaking out of the seam that’s a whole different story and it’s
very technical to repair. We’re not able to repair that, we don’t even know anybody
that’s willing to repair seams, so if you have a board and the other thing is if
you repair a seam that’s popped and usually the it’s kind of weakened
everywhere so then it’ll just pop somewhere else the next time you use it
so it’s I don’t know if it’s really worth it to fix a
seam that’s leaking. So, if you buy the board from a reputable company they
will usually replace it for you if something like that happens, so that’s
why it’s important not just to go for the cheapest board you can find.
The other thing I would say that’s a Con is the environmental impact,
obviously. If you have a board that you don’t use much or you know and
it it gets damaged and leaks air and you can’t use it anymore, the
whole thing ends up in the trash and it’s a lot of petrochemical stuff that
you end up having to throw away, so take that into consideration too
and buy a quality board over just a cheap board that you can find
online. Most people are quite happy with their inflatable boards, so overall I
would say don’t hesitate to buy an inflatable board. I think
especially if the type of use you’re using it for, if it’s a good use for
you, then inflatable boards are great. One thing I would say is that if
you’re in the hot climate then the inflatable boards will deteriorate
more quickly, so you should be aware of that, especially don’t leave the
inflatable board out in the Sun, if the heat expands the air inside and
that can damage the board, make the seams pop and so on. Rolling it up also over
time can damage the board so keep those kind of things in mind, but
overall most people are happy with their inflatable boards, the big
bands are good about replacing boards that have issues, so other things in our
survey where that almost half of the people keep their
board inflated, stored inflated, so that means they don’t really take
advantage of that portability, unless they do have to put it away for the
winter or they go on a trip then it’s great to have that portability but a lot
of times it end up storing it and and keeping it fully inflated which makes it
a lot easier to use. I have a link below to the survey
results, so check out the survey and and if you if you own an inflatable,
please fill out the survey as well, the more results we get, the more owners
answer that survey, the more useful it is to people looking at it, so please go
ahead and check out the survey and answer it, if
you haven’t done that already. Next I’m going to go into
the different construction options available there’s some some brands like
for example Red Paddle Company specializes in inflatable boards, that’s
all they do, they’ve put a lot of thought into the engineering of the boards and
the construction and so on and also marketing and everything else and
they’re concerned about their brand image and so on, so they will back up
their boards, just as like other big brands like Starboards and other brands
that care about their reputation. So if you buy a board from a band like that,
just being able to get servicing, Blue Planet, obviously I would
include in that list as well. We take care of customers. If there’s an issue,
we’ll take care of it, even if it’s past the warranty a date. If it’s
something that’s manufacturing related if you’re working with a good brand
they should be able to take care of it. That’s something you don’t get when
you buy a cheap board that only comes with like a 30-day return guarantee or
something like that. Let’s talk a little bit about the different
construction options. There are a lot of ways that companies have tried to make
the board’s more rigid, stiffer, and actually I talked to Todd Bradley from
C4 Waterman. C4 was one of the first brands to have inflatables on
the market and they actually were the first to try the battens in the rails to
stiffen the rails and and they found that didn’t really help much, it wasn’t
really worth the effort to put those in there because it didn’t make much of a
difference but Red Paddle company does use those battens and they say it
makes the boards up to 40 percent stiffer. You might want to check that for yourself and see how much of a
difference it really makes. I guess it does make a difference and maybe a
noticeable difference but it still doesn’t make the board as rigid as a
hard board. obviously. There’s also other options for stiffening the boards like
battens on the top or bottom the materials used on top and bottom
stringer kind of roll up stringers used Starboards also has a string that
you can tighten around the bottom of the board which is supposed to keep the rocker line stiffer. So there’s a lot of things
Starboards also has a double chamber now,
which is kind of like an I-beam chamber inside the board supposed to make it
more rigid and also, one one thing I like about that is the safety
factor of having the two chamber construction if one deflates you still have the other chamber to get you back to the beach if you need it. The other thing is
the quality of the construction itself the really cheap boards that are made
with a single layer. It’s just the drop stitch fabric with one layer of
PVC. Those boards are quite light and inexpensive to make, but the downside is
they have a lot of flex and they also can’t handle a lot of pressure, so when
you pump them up to a higher pressure or in the Sun they warm up, those two
layers can actually separate and your board blows up. So single layer
construction I don’t recommend, unless you want something, just that toy
for playing around in the water a little bit. The better construction is a two
layer construction, where there’s two layers of PVC which makes the board much more
rigid, much more durable. It does add weight. Some of the newer technology is
the fusion where they basically fuse the two layers together, saves on weight and
you have the same strength as a double layer construction. So look at the
construction, also the way the seams are glued and on the rails. They
have the high temperature sealed rails now which supposedly hold
up better over time. The construction makes a difference and that’s why some
boards are more expensive than others. Okay, so to summarize it,
inflatable boards are more durable for blunt impact. They are transportable, compact, portable, those are great advantages. The
disadvantages are more flex, the shape isn’t as good, less performance, and for
certain things. In terms of the quality of the board, there’s differences, buy from a reputable brand. We actually decided that our strength is
hard boards so we’re actually discontinuing our inflatable boards. The
remaining stock we have, we’re selling right now for $599, which is a
great deal, so check it out if you can one of those but we decided to phase out
our inflatable boards and just focus on our strengths for now which is hard
board. Maybe in the future, when the technology improves, we will look at it
again, maybe making inflatable boards, but for now we are focused on hard boards
at Blue Planet. I do like inflatable boards for certain uses I’m not saying that inflatable boards are no good. Especially for
cruising on flat water it’s a great option and I definitely wouldn’t
write it off and it’s a great technology. I think we’ll see a
lot of additional development in the future. For
surfing if you want performance, if you want a board that’s fast and
performs well and is responsive, stiff, for those kind of things, really
your only option is a hard board, in my opinion. Ok, so I appreciate you
watching this whole thing, it’s kind of long. Please subscribe down below, give us thumbs up if you liked the video. I always appreciate it and see you on the water, Aloha!

30 thoughts on “Inflatable SUP- Honest Look at iSUP’s vs. hard boards”

  1. This is a really good comparison. Here at SUP Hire Thailand, we operate 99% of the time on rivers and teach beginners. The durability, especially bouncing off rocks and during transportation is a major factor for our choice of using inflatables. Similarly, when someone falls onto the board, it hurts a lot less than falling onto a hard board. Good quality boards, such as Red Paddle and some of the fused NSPs are stiff enough to not make a big difference and we don't race them. One additional thing that we would like to add. When storing the boards, we agree that they should be stored inflated, BUT at around half pressure (8psi). We spoke to manufacturers about this and it means that they are not under maximum stress, but do retain their shape. Totally agree with the comment about seams. The boards that use fusion technology rather than glue, seem to last much better. Also, agree with not leaving them in the sun; keep them in the shade; if you have to put them in the sun, dowse them with water every ten minutes – it stops them going bang! Thank you for making the video. Please check out our channel: Sup Hire Thailand

  2. I have moved from inflatable rentals to hard boards. Seam failure was my most common failure, I believe the heat down here in Belize destroys the glue over time because a couple failed in storage.

  3. Excellent review. I think you covered the subject well. One thing that I find is that inflatables due tend to leak some over time and this is a pain because you need to maintain high pressure in order to get any decent performance. Just having to check the pressure and then pump it up to pressure takes time. If you are looking for hardboard like performance, they simply aren't there yet, but they have their place for general recreation and maybe travel .

  4. One point I forgot to put in the video: Thinner iSUP's are better for surfing as the thinner rails work better for carving on the wave but the downside is more flex. Thin boards flex a lot even if inflated over 20 psi, the thicker the dropstich material is, the less the board flexes. The difference in flex between 4" thick and 6" thick iSUP's is dramatic.
    So for flat water, get a thick iSUP but for surfing thinner is better if you can deal with the flexing. Just don't expect an iSUP to get anywhere close to the performance of a good surf SUP hardboard. Tripstix, a new German business, is working on an inflatable board with tapered rails, and nose/ tail as well as vacuum chamber granule stringers, it looks promising but I think they will run into several issues with this construction as well:

    For now we are focused on hard boards and possibly two part hard boards for airline travel as we feel that the inflatable technology is just not there yet (for performance boards).
    Please visit this blog post for more details:

  5. Great analysis — I appreciate your efforts to help those just getting into the SUP world! Two thoughts (sorry if these were mentioned):
    1. Some boards are quite heavy. (This goes for both iSUP and hard SUPs) and If you even THINK you might portage, get a lighter board. (Having said that, don't get a 4" board, your feet will usually be wet, but on a 6" board, you'll be able to keep them dry, especially if you're good at keeping paddle drip off the board.) I far prefer a lighter board, mostly because I do keep my iSUPs almost fully inflated (unless I'm traveling, obviously) and I always have a walk to the water. If you're shopping, go to a real store to look at boards. Lay the board on the floor and attempt to pick it up one handed with the center handle. That'll give you an idea how difficult it might be to get your board out of the water. I try very hard to keep my iSUPS from rubbing on anything; this is less important for my hard boards as those you can just yank an end and not worry about scuffing it too badly.
    2. NEWBIES!! If you're not learning from a pro, PLEASE take the time to watch some how to videos here on YouTube. They tell you things that aren't second nature to most folks, and once you're out on the water, you'll appreciate the time you spent educating yourself. And obviously, wait for perfect conditions to go out the first time . . . . poor conditions aren't fun if you don't know how to handle yourself and your board.
    Thanks again for the video — keep up the good work!

  6. I'm more into inflatables due to the ease of use. Car topping gets old and dealing with the hassles of a trailer are even older.
    I guess I'm lucky as I use my inflatables for fishing and don't surf.
    I do agree that you get what you pay for. I have had a great experience with Seaeagle brand.

  7. Great overview Robert. I get approached often with the inevitable "is that hard" but they usually have more questions. I have a number of hard boards and an inflatable. There are many factors to look at when getting a board and I think this is the best detailed explanation on here as well as a good summary. Will surely help in answering those questions or simply pointing them to this video. Anything to get more people on a board and on the water.

  8. Terrific straightforward information for newbies and not so newbies. The comparison of rails was really informative as you can see how rail shape impacts performance.

  9. I bought one from ROI SUPsandKayaks, it is excellent!!! Highest quality, beautiful design and not so expensive as the other wood-like options in the market. Highly recommended, I bought directly from their internet shop and arrived fast to the USA.

  10. We have high ceilings in our garage. I had my wife's board strapped up there. It fell to the concrete floor and shattered causing $650 worth of damage. We're going to transition to inflatable boards (Red Paddle Co) for durability

  11. What part of Hawaii do you live in now keep in mind I don't know anything about Hawaii just curious thought about moving there a few years ago still made me do it

  12. May I ask, so are there some special hard boards for paddling available or you mean it is a surf board that you can use for paddling? Could not find the answer right away on Google. Could you please point me to some exact model, reasonably high quality one?

  13. The fact that there is no variation in thickness of isups and lack of tapered rails was a disappointment for me with inflatables. They are great for whitewater where you hit rocks but a hard board performs better in surf and whitewater. That said, the portability of an isup makes them nice for traveling, and quality makes a big difference. Like hard boards the sun will eventually break down the material and If you get a seam leak, then you buy a new board. Great informative review.

  14. Been looking into a SUP for fishing…Thought about the isup but, is it stable enough to fish on?

    One of the best review btw. as you mentioned, a lot of other videos I watched are promotional which is useless for me. thanks!

  15. I have been riding a Jimmy isup and had no issues. Really like the videos here with Blueplanet. Sup surf really calls for a hard board. All points here are on point.

  16. Thanks for a great review. My strategy for learning to SUP was to purchase an inflatable for a number of reasons – 1. I have two locations to use it and did not have a good transportation plan for a hard board, 2. I am not a previous surfer so I didn't know how much I would like it or how well I would do, so I opted to spend a little less on an iSUP, and 3. I was concerned about properly caring for a hard board (dings, etc) and liked the durability. Also won't object when guests, friends, family want to try it. Sooooo – I love it, and have been on the ocean. Have not caught a wave yet, but am getting better at riding over swells, and paddling in more challenging conditions than the bay I started on. So is it reasonable to think I can get some basis with this iSUP and then hopefully have a very pleasant improvement in performance that I'll actually appreciate if/when I buy a hard board next year? Any input/suggestions are welcome, thanks.

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