Choosing the Best Inflatable Paddle Board | 2021 Buying Guide
Stand up paddle boarding is one of the fastest-growing water sports. Anyone can enjoy paddle boarding in surf zones, canals, rivers, and even flat oceans. The arrival of inflatable stand up paddle boards made the sport even more accessible. Now you can roll and fit an adventure in your backpack.
With all the amusement and health benefits the sport could offer, it is essential to choose the best inflatable paddle board to truly maximize the sport. One must consider factors such as weight, height, capacity, size, and most of all – budget.
The market may feed you an overwhelming number of mediocre paddle boards. So in this article, we will show you only the best and essential factors you need to know. We will start with the basic information on board types and uses. Heading to technical factors that will assist you in making an informed purchasing decision. We will discuss fin systems, deck riggings, board construction, accessories, pumps, and paddles.
Brand Selection For Your Inflatable Stand Up Paddle Boarding
Choosing a brand for your inflatable SUP can be tricky since there are dozens of brands to choose from. Brands speak of promises and false hopes, claiming to have the best boards to offer in the market.
So, how do we make a smart purchasing decision?
Most brands specialize in a specific category of inflatable SUP boards. In this case, it is crucial to recognize the qualities that make the best out of your inflatable board – integrity, design, and quality. We will only focus on a selection of brands that produce these three qualities.
- Earth River SUP – the eye on quality and design has made Earth River SUP stand up paddle boards some of the best inflatables on the market. ERS boards excel in stability and agility.
- Red Paddle Co – The Red Paddle Co covers most categories of inflatable paddle boards, including race boards, touring boards, surfing boards, windsurfing boards, all-around boards, and some specialty items.
- NRS and Hala SUP – specialize in whitewater-specific models. The NRS varies mainly by size for paddlers of different sizes, weight, and stability needs. The NRS offers every category, from touring models to all-around boards to river specialty boards.
- Starboard SUP – Starboard SUP shines in terms of stability. They offer a variety of rigid and inflatable boards ideal for racing and surfing.
- Naish – Naish offers a selection for racing and surfing options.
Materials and Construction for Your Stand Up Paddle Board
Various materials are used for inflatable boards. Innovative construction methods are used in creating boards for different paddling environments. Below are the essential construction elements that one must understand when choosing an SUP board:
- Boards made with single-layer material are usually light and cheap. These kinds of boards are built to be thicker to compromise the low rigidity of the materials used.
- Other lightweight boards are built from fusion construction with extra reinforcement to the materials used to keep the weight low but maintain durability. Be aware of manufacturers that claim the use of fusion construction/materials.
- The most expensive build is a dual-layer. Dual layers have a second layer of PVC fabric that connects to the main layer. The extra layer adds to the overall durability and performance of the board. However, dual layers are becoming less popular due to the costs and the general preference of paddlers to lighter boards.
Deck Pad and Riggings
A quality deck pad makes all the difference when paddling, keeping you out in the water and under the sun. Deck pads vary in density and thickness. They are also made from various materials that affect the grip and how paddlers feel underfoot. Be sure that you include deck pads and riggings when choosing your SUP board. Below are some qualities of deck pads to keep in mind when comparing boards:
- Higher-end boards may have an arch bar and a kick tail for your back foot when doing surfing stance.
- Consider D-rings and Bungie tie-downs when choosing your SUP board. Ensure enough riggings to secure items that you carry on the board with you.
- One of the most effective configurations to consider is a single crisscross bungee system and a D-ring at the nose for towing and attaching a leash.
Before buying extra accessories and attachments, ask yourself if they are more of an asset than a baggage to you.
The Fin System Choice for Your Stand Up Paddle Board
Fins play a vital role in the performance of an SUP board. Fortunately, you can modify an SUP board’s performance by going for a configurable fin system. A configurable fin system means you can remove and change the fins found on the center and side positions.
Configurable fins open many possibilities to your board. When speed is the priority, you can opt for a tall center fin. For stability, you may use a large center fin with two smaller side fins. When going out in shallow water, you may put on shorter fins or use only two side fins for clearing out obstacles along the water.
However, a fully configurable system may add some extra cost when buying an SUP board. If performance and versatility is your priority, a fin configurable system will surely do the job.
Permanent Fin System
If you are the kind of paddler that values simplicity to your gear, you may opt for a permanent tri-fin system. The Tri-fin system has three equally sized fins attached to the board.
Entry Level Basic Fin System
The entry-level basic fin system is the most typical setup with a single large removable fin in the center and two shallow permanent fins on the sides. This setup is best for non-challenging conditions, making it best for beginners. However, this setup may fall short when you wish to explore rough and shallow waters.
Accessories for Your Stand Up Paddle Board
The SUP Paddle
Without a doubt, the paddle will play the most crucial role next to your board in your paddling experience. The amount of time you put into searching for the best board must correlate to the energy you invest for when searching for a paddle.
Here are the factors you must consider when buying a paddle; design, length, construction, blade design, and overall weight.
Choosing an Inflator for Your Stand Up Paddle Board
Inflatable paddle boards will come with a manual pump. Most manual pump has a single cylinder and moves the air into the board through pushing down on the handle. However, pulling the handle does not aid the inflating of the board. A much better manual pump has a “dual action” that moves air into the board, both upstroke, and downstroke. Also, dual-action pumps minimize the inflation time almost in half.
Some pumps have two cylinders that move more air. However, one of the cylinders must be disabled as soon as the pressure increases during the pumping. Two-cylinder pumps are heavy and may defeat the purpose of your inflatable SUP gear.
In terms of manual pumping, you may opt for a single-cylinder dual-action pump.
With this kind of pump, you may inflate the SUP board as much as a two-cylinder pump but without the extra weight. Choosing an inflator that works for you and your SUP board plays an essential role since you won’t be able to select the pump that comes with the board you’re buying.
If you wish to save more time and energy, you can always choose an electric pump to get your board inflated. Make sure that you choose an electric pump that has a good record of reliability.
Personal Flotation Device (PFD) for Your Stand Up Paddle Board
A personal flotation device is an essential element of your SUP gear. PFD ensures your safety as you paddle along waterways and lakes. PFD has two main types – inflatable belt pack and life jacket. Lifejackets are always the safest option, but some paddlers may see it as a nuisance from genuinely enjoying the water sport.
On the other hand, an inflatable belt pack is worn around the waist. It has a CO2 cylinder that you switch on by pulling a string and inflates for flotation during an emergency situation.
Although the inflatable belt back seems like the most comfortable option, life jackets still can be the safest choice for kids and beginners.
Leash for Your Stand Up Paddle Board
When falling off in open water, a leash will play a vital role in keeping you together with your SUP board. Leashes are straightforward, but there are elements you need to know when buying one:
- Cords – leash cords may be coiled, straight, or both. Cords stay out of the way when paddling and don’t drag in the water.
- Straight leash – straight leashes are preferred for surfing. On the other hand, coiled leashes have a spring-back effect that can take your board back to you after a fall.
- Hybrid leashes with cords – both have a straight and coiled section and have a minimal spring-back effect.
The most common cord length for paddle boarding is around 10 feet. Short cords are preferred for shorter boards when surfing. Leashes must have a quick-release mechanism for paddlers if the cord gets stuck on a branch or rock.
Choosing the Perfect Stand Up Paddle Board
The tips above will help you weigh in the elements you need when choosing a paddle board. From brands to sizes, materials, leashes, deck pads, fin systems, down to the accessories – indeed, choosing the perfect ride can be fun. Remember that learning about the basics will make a huge difference while helping you make an informed purchasing decision.