Buyers looking for a good inflatable SUP board to buy are faced with the unenviable task of slogging through pages of online search results to sort through an unending list of self-serving articles and review lists hawking whichever brands are paying them the highest advertising dollar to recommend their products. The result is mass confusion and uncertainty that can lead to making a purchase you’ll later regret. We've seen it all, and enough is enough.
Rather than presuming to tell you which of the many available boards to buy or a specific brand of board to buy, this article aims to provide some background information necessary to help you understand paddle board pricing and what you can expect to get for your money.
We suggest reading this article in it's entirety for context and a complete understanding of the subject, but if you want a quick answer to your question use the following navigation tool.
A good inflatable paddle board from a reputable brand will generally cost between $900 for a solidly performing all-around board with a durable construction to $1200 and up for higher-end boards with additional material layering and unique design features for specialty uses. Advanced features such as configurable fin setups, specialty shapes for specific uses, and high end materials are available to buyers who are willing to spend a little more for the highest performing recreation equipment. There are many boards available at much lower prices, but due to the realities of production and distribution, manufacturers generally need to cut a lot of corners in materials and production to be able to sell an inflatable paddle board that retails for $800 or less.
Inflatable paddle boards are just one of several types of SUP boards you can buy.
Paddle boards are expensive because making a SUP board that is durable, lightweight, and performs well requires the use of expensive materials and labor intensive manufacturing techniques. Almost all paddle boards, regardless of their quality level, are made in China, so there are also significant transport and logistics costs involved, especially with epoxy, molded plastic, and soft top SUPs, which can’t be rolled or folded.
We’ll get to why good inflatable paddle boards are so expensive in a bit, but first let’s revisit the other three main types of paddle board and what goes into their cost.
Epoxy SUP boards are made from an inner core shaped from foam that is covered by a fiberglass shell. The quality of the inner foam is essential to the weight and strength of the board, as are the type of glass fibers and epoxy resin used to form the shell of the board. While the inner foam of a hard paddle board is shaped by machine, there is considerable manual labor required to finish the outside of the board, which requires multiple coatings that need to be applied in a controlled setting. Epoxy boards cost a lot to ship from the overseas factory, to warehouse, and to ship to the store or customer. As a result, a much greater percentage of a fiberglass board’s price is due to its bulk and the cost involved in moving it around before it gets to you.
Soft top paddle boards are made from a molded piece of polystyrene foam and coated with a rubbery foam to add some strength and a surface for standing. Soft top SUPs tend to be a cheaper option, but their durability leaves a lot to be desired.
Molded plastic SUP boards are mass produced in a plastic molding operation. This is among the least expensive options, the primary cost being the raw plastic used to make the board. However, plastic boards are very heavy to lift and carry and performance is not the greatest.
Inflatable SUP boards, at least good ones, are expensive because producing them involves expensive material and a lot of skilled hand craft to make them properly without cutting corners.
Inflatable paddle boards utilize special materials that allow them to maintain a board shape when inflated, rather than blowing up like a ball. It is called drop stitch which involves two sheets of material that are connected to each other with thousands of small fiber that maintain a fixed distance between the sheets when inflated. Producing this material is expensive, especially when quality base materials are used. In cheaper boards, the fibers used to connect the sheets are weaker and less securely attached to the outer sheets. Also, the outer sheets of material are thinner and more stretch, resulting in an overly flexible and bouncy board.
This has the effect of cheaper boards trying to compensate poor construction with impressive sounding marketing spiel, unrelated pay for play product videos by youtube / instagram 'influencers' and and gimmick concepts. Standing on boards between saw horses, hitting boards with mallets, throwing them off buildings or driving over them with vehicles has absolutely nothing to do with paddling a board on water.
A good inflatable SUP will have little or no noticeable flex and will not feel bouncy, but the price will be higher because of the expensive material required to make a board with ideal physical properties. It's important to make this distinction because a lot of false information and innuendo circles the internet ad nauseam where all inflatable paddle boards are painted with the same brush. There are levels to this and understanding this core concept can be difficult for most people looking to buy and inflatable SUP under the tidal wave of misinformation.
Manufacturing an inflatable paddle board is an elaborate operation that requires various panels to be joined with adhesive with great precision. Some manufacturers have automated parts of the process to meet the needs of mass production, but sacrifices in quality are required for a board to be made primarily by machine.
Cheap paddle boards are cheap for a reason. Cheap inflatable SUPs are made from thin single-layer material which results in a board with inferior rigidity and durability. Cheap hard boards seem okay at first use, but can quickly delaminate and get water inside the outer shell. Beware of marketing claims, because the low end of the market is rife with false advertising regarding how the boards are constructed.
If you are inclined to pick up a cheap paddle board while you are stocking up on paper goods and groceries, you can certainly get that done at Costco. The boards you’ll find in warehouse stores such as Costco and Sam’s Club are designed to sell at very low prices, which necessitates the use of thin materials and tradeoffs in how the boards are constructed. These boards can be okay as something to play around on with the kids, but if you want to purchase a board that lets you get the most from your time on the water and will last for many seasons, you should invest in a higher quality board that will last many times longer and can be selected to meet your specific needs and paddling aspirations.
An easy rule to follow is to stick to buying groceries at stores that sell groceries. If you want a good inflatable stand up paddle board buy one from a specialist who really understands the technology. Pumped Up SUP doesn't sell milk or bread. There is a reason for that.
Kayaks are generally made of molded plastic, using a manufacturing process that does not involve much labor. The molds used to form a kayak are a one-time investment, so once the mold has been paid for, there is not a lot of production cost aside from the plastic material. Paddle boards are made with much more complex and labor intensive manufacturing processes.
Hard paddle boards are generally made in a multi-step process involving a contoured foam core that is coated with an epoxy resin. Inflatable paddle boards are made using special drop-stitch fabrics which are expensive and require great precision in assembly to maintain an accurate board shape. High quality inflatable paddle boards are completely hand-made, so labor costs are high. Some lower cost inflatable SUPs are assembled in a more automated mass production process, which keeps the cost down but results in lower quality and performance.
For buyers wanting a high performing board that they can take anywhere in a car or airplane, doesn’t require a large amount of storage space, and is not susceptible to dings or cracking, a quality inflatable SUP is a great recreational investment that is worth the money spent. The price range of inflatable paddle boards is similar to that of fiberglass or epoxy SUP boards, so the added benefits of a quality inflatable paddle board do not come with added cost. Inflatable and hard SUP boards each have specific performance advantages, so the approach we recommend is to decide which type of board will work best for you, identify the models that best meet your needs, and buy the highest quality board within those parameters that fits your budget.
Explore our range of SUP boards by activity / use in Inflatable SUP Type or focus on Inflatable SUP Brands to find the right board for you. For more information, news, reviews and articles see The Pumped Up SUP Paddleblog
Pumped Up SUP is an online store specializing in high-performance inflatable stand up paddle boards and accessories. We're always happy to answer your questions - just give us a call at 1-877-777-1769.