Buying the best inflatable paddle board for you can be pretty confusing. I bought one a few months ago, for my summer adventures, and feel I could now write an entire essay on buying an inflatable SUP board, so I have.
Well, this article.
I want to let you in on what you need to know about buying an inflatable stand up paddle board before you start your search.
It’s been so hot where I live, on the south coast of England in Southsea, Portsmouth. I’ve seen a huge growth in the amount of people with inflatable SUP boards down at the beach, the marina, and the lock. I’m in an absolute prime location for stand up paddle boarding where I live, and have found it’s a social way to get out there and get some exercise.
And to cool down.
Stand up paddle boards are the perfect compromise between chilling in refreshing water and actually engaging in healthy physical activity – if you’ve just discovered its brilliance too, you’ve come to the right place.
So, here’s a guide to buying the best inflatable paddle board for you! Let me go through it in simple, straight to the point terms.
Buying the best inflatable paddle board
Advantages of an inflatable SUP board
One of the strongest arguments for buying an inflatable SUP versus a solid one is the price point. The rule of thumb is that the more flexible and synthetic the material, the more affordable the product.
The biggest advantage however, is travel convenience.
You can easily pack your inflatable paddle board into a backpack (minimal storage!) for both nearby travels and overseas trips. They’re perfect for paddling locations inaccessible by car. I’ve been checking out my list of the best places for wild swimming in Hampshire, and doing it there. Having the backpack to hold it in makes it so much easier.
Board dimensions: length & width
To better understand the differences between the different board types, you need to first understand how the length and width of the paddle board affects its performance. You’re right that board size should be proportional to your body size, but dimensions are more nuanced than that.
Here are some basic principles to help you buy your stand up paddle board:
- The longer the board, the further and better the glide.
- Working off the same idea of aerodynamic design, a narrower board is faster than a wider one. Streamlined silhouettes cut through water more smoothly; there’s less resistance.
- On the other hand, a wider board is more stable. The wider the surface area, the easier it is for you to balance on it since there’s an even distribution in pressure.
- Boards with narrow tails turn quicker but wider tails offer more stability.
- The thickness of the board should be proportional to your weight.
Consider what activities you’re using it for.
While the main stand up paddle board styles have a general shape (for instance, surf-specific boards tend to be shorter and curved), they come in a range of sizing and customisations. Keep these basic principles in mind when choosing the most suitable type of inflatable SUP for you.
Basic types of inflatable SUP
SUPs can be categorised into three main types: surf, all-round and flatwater.
Inflatable surf SUP
An inflatable surf SUP is pretty straightforward in terms of usage; it’s for surfers.
You’ll notice that these boards are the shortest of the lot, curved along the side but narrowing in at the nose and tail. The tipped nose helps with quick adjustments when manoeuvring on waves but the tradeoff is that you’ll have a harder time balancing on flat water.
Find out the latest prices for SURF inflatable paddle boards on Amazon
All-round inflatable paddle board
The most symmetrical of the SUPs, all-round inflatable paddle boards are the thicker and wider cousin of the surf specific model. Its bottle-nose tip and tail ensure a decent glide while the width offers stability.
Definitely recommended for first-timers because it is so versatile.
Check out the latest prices for all round paddle boards on Amazon.
Some even offer a windsurf option; you can mount a windsurf sailing rig on boards that have a mast foot fitting. There’s just enough sidecut and rocking to ride on waves.
Flatwater inflatable paddle board
Flatwater boards or race boards are shaped very similarly, except the latter has a much sleeker build overall and a sharp nose. They’re one of the longest models, optimised for glide and straight tracking; the sides are rounded for increased speed.
Fortunately, flat water boards are also built wide for stability, which goes hand in hand with its open ocean paddling use. Beginners should stick to flatwater boards instead of the thin race boards.
Check out the latest prices for flatwater paddle boards on Amazon
If you’re not sure which one is for you, stick to the all-rounder.
Which inflatable paddle board did I get?
I spent a lot of time poring over inflatable SUP boards, trying to decide which one to get. In the end I went for this one from ManoMano, which unfortunately is out of stock now. I found that when I was buying my inflatable paddle board – so many places are all sold out. It’s a popular sport!
So mine is the Capital Sports Maliko Runner Inflatable Paddle Board, sold by electronic star UK. It’s showing as £319.99 down from £439.99. I actually got it for £267, so I hope I’ve got myself a bargain there!
Unfortunately for you I can’t find it for sale anywhere now, but here’s the breakdown so you know what to look for in your inflatable paddle board.
– It’s got a snap-lock fin
– It’s 305 x 10 x 77cm
– It came with a 55l transport backpack, a telescopic paddle, a leash, a repair kit and a high pressure pump.
– It’s for beginners and advanced and is definitely more easily manoeuvrable compared to others I’ve tried.
– It weighs just 6.8kg, which is so light.
– It’s a bit slimmer than other
Which Fin system is best?
Welcome to more rules of three!
Typically, your SUP will be equipped with one of three fin systems. Entry-level boards generally come with a permanent fin, built to be indestructible and suitable for steady performance. It’s the best choice for those who don’t want to think about fin systems at all.
Snap-lock fins are a good compromise for those who have some experience and prefer something removable. Easily locked and taken off, these boxes offer some level of customisation. They are however, less common than the US fin box system.
The US fin box (aka FCS fin box) is one of the most prevalent systems out there – and also more of a hassle since they feature a screw and plate fitting. Installation requires more effort and time but they offer the largest amount of customisation and fine-tuning. Paddlers who perform a range of manoeuvres would go with the US fin system for variety, especially as manufacturers improve on the traditional model.
If you’ve already tried using a range of fin systems and frequently paddle in various locations, you can opt for a configurable fin system. It allows you to interchange centre and side fins; keep the tall centre fin when you need speed, add smaller side fins for stability, or use only a short centre fin in shallow water.
Inflatable paddle board accessories
I won’t go into too much detail about SUP accessories but there are some essentials you’ll want to get.
- SUP paddle – Almost as important as the board itself, the paddle greatly affects performance. When shopping for one, consider the design of the handle, the length adjusting system, shaft construction and blade design, material and overall weight. My inflatable paddle board came as a pack, with the SUP paddle included.
- Pump or inflator – Choose between the manual single-cylinder pump or the dual-action pump. Again, this came in the pack. But, lucky for me, my housemate has a electronic pump which you plug into the car and it does it in 10-15 minutes. Honestly, it’s really hard to blow up a paddle board using a hand pump, and then go paddle boarding. Exhausting!
- Personal flotation device – Typically a lifejacket or inflatable belt pack, these floaters will keep you safe in all water locations. I personally don’t use one of these as I’ve gone in shallow water, with friends. If ever I was going on scarier water, or by myself, I would use one of these.
- SUP leash – You won’t want to get separated from your board after a fall! A SUP leash tethers you to the board; it’s both a safety and convenience measure.
- Dry bag – always helps to know your car keys and phone are safe and dry.
- How about one of these sails?! Maybe when you’ve been out a few times and know how to judge the wind hey?
Top tips for buying an inflatable paddle board
1. Consider what you’re using your inflatable SUP for
Seems obvious but it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of buying an inflatable paddle board and forget that different boards are geared towards different activities. Definitely don’t just buy the first one you see and like the look of!
2. Check the material
Of course, different manufacturers use different materials and construction methods but if you’re buying quality, you can expect a dual-layer build. This means reinforced PVC fabric is bonded to the main layer for extra durability and extra weight for better glide. Recent iterations are made with ‘fusion’ materials where the board is comprised of a single layer but are thick enough to hold against most paddling environments.
3. Deck pad and riggings should be quality
You’ll want to compare deck pad features in the browsing process because material thickness, density and grip really affect your comfort. The layout of D-rings and bungee tie downs shouldn’t impede your movement either; stick to a more basic system and question any extra accessories and attachments before purchase. They might just get in the way.
4. Select the appropriate board size
If you’re buying boards online, make sure to consult the SUP volume guide beforehand. You’ll want to estimate how much volume you need your paddle board to be. Use these formulas as a general guide:
Beginner: your weight (kg) x 2
Intermediate: your weight (kg) x 1.7
Advanced: your weight (kg) x 1.3
Pay attention to the length of your board as well. It should match up with your height and weight. My board is 305cm / 10 feet, and I’m 5ft 9.
There’s a really good chart for this here, and that’s what I used to work out what size to get for myself.
5. Compare the inflatable SUP brands
Every brand uses different materials and construction methods so do your research to find the right paddle board for your needs. This includes aesthetic purposes too – if appearance matters to you, seek out the brands that offers more customisation.
Two Bare Feet are a really popular brand for people buying their first inflatable paddle board. But I really like the look of these two…
Check the latest prices and availability on Amazon
6. Test the pumps
Similar with buying the board itself, you’ll want to test out any accompanying equipment. The pump in particular is something you’ll use a lot so test the pumping efficiency before shelling out the dollars.
7. Check the backpack
The point of an SUP is easy transportation so make sure the backpack is up to the job! Look for something with a padded back for comfort, and separate compartments for the paddle and other accessories. You’ll want it to last so the material should be durable as well.
8. Check the warranty
Usually, a new SUP comes with 1 year warranty. Find out who to contact if necessary.
9. Check for any imperfections
Last but not least, you should check for any imperfections on your board before using it. Inflatable boards aren’t exactly easy to manufacture so make sure to feel for board twists, reverse rocker lines, any seam leakage and so forth.
Know that you get what you pay for; cheaper inflatable SUPs have higher chances of imperfect make because of lowered quality control standards.
Either way, if your board isn’t perfect, you’ll want to exchange it in for another one or risk poor performance and higher injury risk.
Choosing your inflatable paddle board
Choosing an inflatable SUP is a big decision, especially at the prices of them. I hope this guide to buying an inflatable SUP has helped. Seriously, if you have any questions then just let me know in the comments below. I know it can be confusing, but you won’t regret it.
Buying a paddle board is your key to a great summer!