QUESTIONS TO ASK BEFORE BUYING AN ALL-AROUND INFLATABLE SUP

Stand up paddle boarding can open doors to many fun and healthy ways of enjoying the water. SUP boards can be used for touring, racing, surfing, running rivers, yoga, fishing, or just paddling around and enjoying the outdoors. The variety of things you can do on a stand-up paddle board is reflected in the various shapes and sizes of boards that are designed for different purposes. A SUP board designed for racing or touring will be extra-long, a board for running river rapids will often be wider than usual, and a board for surfing ocean or river waves will be shorter than average.

The factors that make a board ideal for a very specific purpose can also be limiting for other types of paddling. A board that is very long will be harder to turn, and a board that is extremely wide or short will have less glide and will be slower than other boards on the water. If you are just getting into the sport, you will likely want to explore various paddling activities and not restrict yourself to one way of using the board. For this reason, most people shopping for their first paddle board should be looking in the all-around category, where boards are designed to do a lot of things well but not overly focused a specific paddling type. Here are the questions you should ask yourself before buying an all-around inflatable paddle board.

A) IS THE BOARD SHAPE VERSATILE ENOUGH FOR ALL KINDS OF PADDLING?
The key factors to consider are Length, Width, Thickness, and outline shape. Length: All around boards for paddlers in the average weight range are usually in the 9”6-11” range which is long enough to paddle fast and track well but short enough to turn easily. The most popular boards in the category are 10’6” – 10’7” in length but in general a paddler should look at going up or down from that, dependent on their height and weight. Width and Thickness: 32” inches are the sweet spot for an all around board to feel stable but still fast and responsive. However, board thickness has to be considered in relation to the thickness and length of the board. While many mass-market manufacturers have trended toward 6-inch thick boards, a properly designed 5-inch board has a lower center of gravity, so it will feel more stable and will be easier to climb back onto after falling off, and generally just being more pleasant to paddle. The 6-inch thickness that many manufacturers use can be a shortcut to making a poorly designed board more rigid, but it’s a fact that a more stable 5-inch board can be produced with superior rigidity and a more balanced feel with some attention to construction techniques and materials. 6-inch thick boards have their place, but the thickness should be chosen based on board performance characteristics and must work with the width and board outline. An all around board can be 6 inches thick but then the sweet spot for width moves to 33 inches, as a little more width is needed to counteract the higher center of gravity and prevent the board from feeling tippy.

When you hear claims of “hard board-like performance” from 6-inch thick boards, purportedly based on their rigidity, keep in mind that hard boards do not ride several inches above the water line, so increasing the thickness of an inflatable actually makes it feel less like a hardboard. More importantly, we would question any manufacturer who doesn’t realize that the paradigm has shifted and inflatables are preferred by an increasingly large swath of the SUP market, with inherent performance advantages over hard boards. Outline Shape: A board designed for all-around use should avoid extremes in the outline contours. The tail is one area in particular where the outline shape makes a big difference. An all around board with a widely rounded tail, or with a flat tail with slightly rounded corners will provide the best balance and performance. A board with an excessively narrow tail will feel less stable than boards with more volume in the rear. Beware of boards with extremely long and narrow noses, as they can be less than ideal when you want to ride with a pet or child on board or stretch out for relaxation or yoga and see no speed benefit in real-world use. Sadly, some manufacturers shape their boards in ways that lower their cost of materials, which can result in outlines that are less than ideal for paddlers

B) DOES THE DECK PAD HAVE THE FEATURES I NEED?

The quality and texture of the deck pad makes a big difference in how the board feels under foot, especially important on longer outings. In general, a thicker and longer deck pad that covers more board surface will enhance your enjoyment of the board and expand the usefulness of the board to activities such as yoga, stretching warm-ups, and relaxing on the water

C) SHOULD MY ALL-AROUND BOARD BE INFLATABLE OR EPOXY? While epoxy hard boards can have technical advantages in certain situations, such as surfing or racing, a well designed and solidly built inflatable is often the best choice for an all-around board. Inflatable SUP boards are generally more stable than hardboards of equal size and shape. This is due to the fact that inflatables have a uniform thickness across the width and length of the board, while hardboards tend to be thickest in the center and get thinner toward the sides, nose, and tail. A hardboard with the same uniform thickness profile as an inflatable would be very heavy, so most hardboards tend to have reduced volume at outer edges of the board outline. While some care must be taken with inflatables to avoid blades and other sharp objects, epoxy boards are much more sensitive to dings, holes, and even board breakage, which will not happen with a quality inflatable paddle board. Inflatable SUP boards are softer and more comfortable on the feet when paddling and easier on the body when relaxing or doing yoga. An inflatable paddle board can be rolled up and taken on airplanes, which make them suitable for travel situations where hardboards would not be practical. We recommend that you embrace the inherent advantages of inflatables while understanding that hard boards still have their place for those who want them. The differences in performance, except in a few niche areas such as SUP racing and surfing, are negligible, and the hardboard is no longer considered a standard to aspire to. The concept that an inflatable SUP should strive for “hardboard like performance” is an outdated idea that has been superseded by advances in inflatable technology and design.

D) HOW DO I CHOOSE WHEN THERE ARE SO MANY OPTIONS?

There are many choices when it comes to all-around SUP boards, so you’ll need to narrow down the field to make your best choice. Knowing what features to look for will help guide your thinking. Start with a basic shape and volume that works for your height and weight. Generally starting with a 5”-6’’ thick board, being the optimal all round board thickness for most paddlers, and then features of the deck and tail pad. The quality of the included accessories such as travel bag and pump add to the value, so be sure to consider the price in relation to everything you are getting in the package.It takes some extra time to do the research, but you’ll be rewarded with an all-around performing board that you’ll be happy with for years to come.