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.
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 true 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:
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.
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. But it is rarely the best choice for an all-around SUP board.
If we look at boards in the following categories you will see instances where 6” boards serve a valid purpose:
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.
We have a number of 5-inch thickness boards in our collection of Best Inflatable SUP Boards For All-Around Use.
Want more expert advice on choosing an inflatable SUP board? Check out our 2019 Inflatable Paddle Board Buying Guide.
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.