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How To Buy An Inflatable Paddle Board (2018 Buyers Guide)

How To Buy An Inflatable Paddle Board (2018 Buyers Guide)


Shopping for an inflatable SUP can seem like a daunting task at first.  The sheer number of brands, models, and price points that are available can appear bewildering and confusing.  Fortunately, there are steps you can take to narrow down your choices and make a confident decision on which inflatable SUP to buy.

The basic steps for choosing an inflatable SUP are:

  1. Determine the category of board you need
  2. Identify brands that make inflatable paddle boards in your chosen category
  3. Narrow down your choices by board shape and size based on your weight and intended usage
  4. Compare board materials and constructions across brands
  5. Understand the differences in deck pads and riggings
  6. Compare the fin systems on the boards you are considering
  7. Choose your inflatable paddle board confidently, knowing you have done your research to identify the board that will work best for you.

Although outside the scope of this article, the Pumped Up SUP Paddle & Gear buyers guide will cover in depth choosing the right paddle and let you know the  tricks some manufacturers use when marketing their paddles - and what to avoid!

It will also guide you through leashes, lifejackets & PFDs, and pumps so you are ready to make an informed choice as to what gear you take on the water with you. 


Red paddle sup jumping in the ocean

 


BOARD CATEGORIES


If you are just getting into paddleboarding, you will likely want to look for an all-around inflatable SUP that will do many things well and let you explore different venues and types of paddling.  

If you have some experience in SUP or other board sports and want to go fast, you may want to look in the sport/performance board.  

If avoiding falling and increasing your confidence as you learn is a priority, you’ll want to shop for an ultra-stable inflatable SUP board.

If you are purchasing for a specific type of paddleboarding, there are specific boards tailored to specific uses.  You can choose from boards designed for paddle surfing,  boards ideal for SUP Yoga, boards for whitewater SUP,  SUP touring boards, or even a racing SUP.  You may be looking for a SUP board for your kids, or a SUP board for specialized use, such as fishing, windsurfing, or group paddling.  Knowing the category of board you are looking for is the first step to narrowing down your choices.


Earth River SUP Cole

 


BRAND SELECTION


Brands often specialize in a particular category of inflatable SUP Board, so you can narrow down your choices right off the bat by limiting your search to brands that are strong in the category you have zeroed in on.  There are a plethora of brands to choose from, but in our store we always focus on a small selection of brands that stand out for build quality, design, and customer support.

Earth River SUP focuses on all-around inflatable paddle boards that multitask and perform well in multiple paddling environments, including lakes, rivers, and coastal waters.

Red Paddle Co runs the gamut of board types with a broad selection of boards, some of which are very specialized for particular uses such as racing or surfing. 

NRS and Hala SUP  specialize mostly in whitewater-specific models. 

Starboard SUP crosses over from its windsurfing background and has a SUP line with a variety of hard and inflatable boards oriented toward surfing and racing.

Brands will overlap in various categories, but this gives a good starting point for approaching their product lines.

 

Buyers on strict budgets don’t need to rule out quality brands.  Many paddleboarders like to be on the newest models and sell their quality inflatable SUP boards so they can buy a newer one for the next season.  A well maintained used board that meets all your criteria can be an attractive option to some cheaper single layer inflatable SUP boards sold at Costco or on Amazon.

You can also find great deals on high end boards if you buy them on clearance at the end of the season or after a model change in our SUP Deals and Clearance section. 


Earth River SUP wave riding

 


BOARD SIZE AND SHAPE CONSIDERATIONS


After you have chosen a board type category and narrowed down to a manageable list of brands, you will still need to decide which board are best for your unique needs.  In general terms, larger paddlers should paddle larger boards, but a lot depends on the skills and preferences of the individual. While there are many nuances to board shape and size considerations, here are some general principles to get you started on understanding how a board’s size and shape affect its performance:

  • A longer board will have more glide than a shorter one.  
  • A narrower board will be faster than a wider board
  • A wider board will be more stable than a narrower board.
  • Boards that are wider at the tail will be more stable than boards with a narrow tail.
  • Boards with a narrow tail will turn more quickly during surfing maneuvers
  • Thicker boards support more weight than thinner boards but often it's in excess. 
  • Thinner boards feel more stable than thicker boards when supporting the correct amount of weight.

There generalizations can help you narrow down your choices so you can focus on the detailed specifications of the boards that meet your basic criteria.


Yellow 10-0 with Greg Miller

 


MATERIALS AND CONSTRUCTION


There are vast differences in the materials and construction methods used in inflatable paddle boards.  It is important to understand some basic aspects of the construction of any board you are considering. Boards make with a single layer of material will tend to be light and inexpensive and are usually made thicker (6 inches typically) to compensate for the low inherent rigidity of the material.  Some lightweight boards are made with a “fusion” construction which has additional reinforcement in the material that keeps the weight low but still has good durability and stiffness for most paddling environments. Note that "fusion construction" has been thrown around a lot of late and be aware that there are different types of material claimed to be 'fusion' material. The brands we carry all use the highest grade fusion materials but the same can not be said for most cut price boards who are generally just using a single layer construction under the guise of 'fusion' material. 

The most rugged (and more expensive) build is dual layer, which has a second layer of reinforced PVC fabric bonded to the main layer.  Dual layer is becoming less common due to higher manufacturing cost and general consumer preference for lighter boards, but the extra layer adds much to a board’s durability and the extra 3-4 lb of weight that a second layer adds can improve performance in more demanding paddling conditions where you want the board to carry some momentum.


Inflatable SUP construction

 


DECK PAD AND RIGGINGS


A quality deck pad can make all the difference in your comfort while paddling, which in turn may keep you out on the water longer enjoying the outdoor experience.  Deck pads vary greatly in material thickness and density and are made with a variety of textures that affect the grippiness of the deck and how it feels underfoot. Higher end boards may have a kick tail with a raised back edge and an arch bar for locating your back foot while doing maneuvers in surfer stance.  Be sure to consider deck pad features when comparing boards.


Also consider the layout of D-rings and bungee tie downs on the board. You’ll want enough riggings to secure the basic items you will be bringing on the board with you, but watch out for unnecessary attachments that add weight and might get in the way of your footwork or snag on objects in the water.  The configuration that seems most time-tested and effective is a single crisscross bungee system near the nose of the board, a centered D-ring at the nose for towing, and another centered D-ring at the tail for attaching a leash. Beyond that, we urge you to question the usefulness of extra accessories and attachments and consider whether they will help you more than they will get in the way while you are paddling or transporting the board.


SUP Deck pad

 


THE ALL IMPORTANT FIN SYSTEM CHOICE


Fins have a profound impact on the performance and versatility of a SUP board and are an area where buyers are most likely to make a mistake if they don’t understand what they are buying.  

The “standard” fin setup on entry level paddle boards has two permanent shallow side fins and a single large removable fin in the center. Boards with this basic fin system can perform adequately in non-challenging conditions, such as on a lake with ample depth on a calm day, but fall short when you want to explore areas with shallow water, go out in currents or rougher waters, or alter the board’s performance to your liking.  


Paddlers who value simplicity and carefree use of their equipment will be best served by a permanent tri-fin system, which has three equally sized unbreakable fins that are permanently attached to the board.  The setup divides the fin area equally among the three fins and results in the total depth of the fins being much less than a tall center fin in the more typical setup. Having only 4 inches of fin depth comes in very handy when paddling over rocks or other objects in shallow water, where some of the most interesting exploring opportunities will be found.


Paddlers wanting the ability to modify and tune their board’s performance can opt for a fully configurable fin system with removable and interchangeable fins in the center and side positions.  Having all fins interchangeable opens a lot of possibilites. You can ride the board with only a center fin when speed is a priority. You can use a large center fin and two smaller side fins when you want additional lateral stability, for example in currents or windy conditions.   If you’re going out in shallow water, you can put in a shorter center fin. or you can take out the center fin entirely and use only the two side fins to clear obstacles and keep the board agile.


Earth River SUP Lake River Coast

 


FINDING YOUR PERFECT RIDE


Following these tips should help you narrow down the categories of boards, size and shape considerations, materials and constructions, deck pads, riggings, and fin systems to help guide your choice of an inflatable paddle board.   For more in-depth coverage on what to look for in an inflatable SUP within each category, we recommend you check out these category specific buyer’s guides:

5 Things To Look For When Buying An All-Around Inflatable SUP Board

How To Choose An Ultra-Stable Inflatable SUP Board Without Sacrificing Performance

The 4 Main Things To Look For  In A High Performance Inflatable Paddle Board

5 Questions You Need to Ask Before Buying A SUP Surfing Board

How To Choose A Paddle Board for SUP Yoga

How to Choose a SUP Board for Whitewater

Which Inflatable SUP Touring Board Is Right For You?

Buying An Inflatable SUP Race Board

What You Need To Know Before Buying a SUP Board For Kids and Teens

Specialty SUP Boards For Fishing, Windsurfing and Group Paddling

 

Use this guide to get you started on narrowing down your choices.  If you still have questions and need a specific recommendation, contact us at 1-877-777-1769 or email us to go over your needs in more detail and get a final recommendation.