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5 Inch SUP board showing stability

Why You Should Be Looking for a 5-Inch All Round Inflatable SUP

Most of the inflatable SUP boards being sold today - especially those highly promoted board packages being sold at big box stores and "recommended" by all those “top ten” blog articles which exist solely to earn commissions when you click on a product link - are 6 inches thick.

We ride a lot of inflatable paddle board models, spend a lot of time on the water with paddlers of all skill levels and work directly with serious SUP buyers every day, and this is what we have found: 6-inch board thickness has its place in certain types of boards built for specific purposes, but is not the ideal thickness for most paddlers looking for an all-around board that feels stable and “connected” in the water.  

5" SUP boards being paddled on a lake

A SUP board correctly sized to paddler height and weight will allow the board the glide across the water smoothly, instead of bobbling side to side. Featured Product - ERS Skylake 9-6 / 10-7 S3 

What Is Wrong With 6-Inch Thick SUP Board Options?

Nothing, when they are designed for a specific use and water environment. A 6-inch thick board will get you out on the water and you will learn to balance on it, but if you are looking for an ideally proportioned inflatable SUP board for all-around use that will give you the best paddling experience day after day, you’ll want to understand the advantages of a board that is no thicker than it should be for optimal performance.

An inflatable SUP needs to have a certain amount of thickness to make it rigid and to have enough volume to support a rider’s weight.  However, when a board is thicker than necessary, it can compromise the real paddling experience. 

Here are some differences you will experience when comparing a typical 6-inch board to a 5-inch thick performance all-around board with similar shape, length and width:

  • A 6-inch board rides higher on top of the water, which increases the side-to-side wobble of the board.  This can make beginners feel unstable on the board while learning and make the board more “tippy” in choppy conditions. A 5-inch board with the same width and length will be more stable and have less side to side “roll” due to its lower center of gravity. 
  • A 6-inch board has a very different "feel" than a 5-inch board.  It is hard to describe without experiencing it, but try to imagine the difference between floating on a raft vs. being propelled through the water in a vessel that cuts through the water.
  • When you fall off your board, it is a lot more difficult to climb back on a 6-inch board, because the deck is higher off the water than a 5-inch board and the extra buoyancy of a thicker board makes it more difficult to push the board down so you can easily climb on.
  • 6-inch boards are bulkier, harder to carry, and catch more wind from the side than 5-inch boards.
  • 6-inch boards take near 20% longer to inflate than 5-inch boards with the same outline shape.
Paddler on the coast with a 5" SUP board

A well designed and engineered 5" all-around inflatable will comfortably ride paddlers up to 200 lbs, providing a rigid platform for endless paddling opportunities. Featured Product - ERS Deck 10-7 S3 - Orange

Why Are So Many Boards Made With 6-Inch Thickness?

The technology exists to make boards with 5 inches of thickness that have more than enough rigidity to be comparable to hard boards, and a small number of brands are utilizing the most advanced materials and construction methods to produce rigid and high performing 5-inch thick boards that have all of the advantages over 6-inch boards listed above. 

Given the advantages of a 5-inch board, you may be wondering why so many inflatable SUPs are made 6 inches thick.

The main reason is about economics and profit.  Building a 5-inch thick board with excellent rigidity requires using stronger, more expensive materials and more labor-intensive construction methods.

Given the competitive pressures of mass retail, manufacturing cost is reduced by taking the easy way of achieving a minimum level of rigidity, which is simply making the board thicker while using cheaper (thinner and weaker) base material and avoiding reinforcing techniques that add to the cost.

The companies with more persistent marketing machines will follow up this subpar construction with absurd marketing videos showing the board being run over by a car or having a heavy guy jump up and down on the board supported on each end by saw horses, or some other stunt that has nothing to do with actually paddling the board on water.

The less aware SUP shopper may be convinced that they need a 6” board when they don’t and end up missing out on the indescribable feeling of stand up paddle boarding on a board that is properly proportioned and makes them feel integrally connected to the water.

While suppliers on the cheaper end of the market continue to crank out six-inch boards to be sold to the masses online or at big-box stores, a smaller number of performance-oriented manufacturers build their all-around boards in a properly engineered 5-inch thick construction.  Due to the materials and processes involved, high performing 5-inch boards tend to cost a bit more but provide a far more satisfying paddling experience. 

Related: How Much Do Inflatable Paddle Boards Cost?

Surfing on an ERS Inflatble

The lower profile of a 5-inch inflatable will enhance turning and maneuverability in waves. Featured Product - ERS Deck 10-7 S3 - Aqua 

Does 6-Inch Thickness Ever Make Sense On a Paddle Board?

It can make sense for a board to be 6 inches thick when there is a specific design purpose that relates to board shape and intended use. It is not commonly the best choice for an all-around SUP board, though there are situations where a well built 6" SUP will be a better design. 

If we look at boards in the following categories you will see instances where 6” boards serve a valid purpose:

  • Inflatable SUP boards that are 11'6" - 12' feet or longer designed for touring will need some extra thickness in proportion to their length to maintain rigidity, and 6” boards are a justifiable design choice in this class.  
  • Boards that are sold specifically for running whitewater rapids / river use can benefit from extra thickness, and boards intended for use in larger whitewater can be a legitimate application of a 6” thick design. For many whitewater applications a durable 5" thick board with the right design features will have specific pros and cons vs a 6-inch whitewater board. 
  • Boards designed to accommodate “Big and Tall” paddlers over 200-225 lb+ may benefit from additional buoyancy of a 6-inch thick board, but will need some extra board width to compensate for the higher center of gravity of a thicker board.
  • SUPs designed for surfing can be anywhere from 4-6 inches of thickness, as a variety of design factors come into play to determine the surfing performance of a board. Shaping can also be related to crossover potential and the skill of the paddler will play a big role in surfing suitability of any SUP regardless of board thickness. 

While 6-inch thickness can serve a valid functional purpose in specific instances like these, a well-constructed 5-inch board is what we recommend for most all-around inflatable paddle board purchases.

Paddler with 5" SUP board

A lightweight, compact length 5" Inflatable SUP that excels in flat water will often be constructed with the durability and features to crossover into surf or low flow whitewater. Featured Product - ERS Skylake 10-9 S3

Where Can I Find High Performing 5-Inch All Around Inflatable Paddle Boards?

We have a number of 5-inch thickness boards in our collection of Best Inflatable SUP Boards For All-Around Use.


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