Inflatable vs Rigid: Which Stand-up Paddleboard is Right for You?

 When it comes to buying a stand-up paddleboard, you are faced with some crucial choices. What length should your new board be? What shape should you choose? Do you need two, three, or four fins? How wide should it be? How thick should it be?

The answers to these questions depend on a host of factors, including your experience, height, weight, and what you are going to use your paddleboard for. For example, racing paddleboards are very different from cruising or yoga boards.

However, the biggest decision you need to make is whether to buy an inflatable SUP or a rigid paddleboard.

What To Consider: Inflatable vs Rigid Paddle Boards

To make this decision easier, we are going to explore the pros and cons of both types of board. After reading this, you should feel much happier about choosing between an inflatable and a rigid paddleboard.

Here are the five factors you need to consider:

  1. Portability
  2. Storage space
  3. Durability
  4. Performance
  5. Cost
It’s really easy to travel with an inflatable board.

Portability Of The Board

Inflatable boards are the easiest boards to transport. Most roll up to about the size of a large sleeping bag and usually come complete with a handy backpack for easy carrying. That means you don’t need a truck, large SUV, or even a roof rack to take your board to the water; it will fit in the back of even a compact car. You can also carry an inflatable board on your back, making them ideal for hiking to out-of-reach paddling spots.

Inflatable SUP board weigh in at less than 20 kg/45 lbs., so they can also be transported by air. This is useful if you want to take your board on vacation.

On the downside, you will need to spend time pumping up your board before using but, with a decent two or three-chambered pump, this should take no more than ten minutes. You can also buy electric pumps that run off your car’s auxiliary power supply.

If you choose a rigid board, you’ll need to resign yourself to carrying it on a roof rack or trailer, and you’ll have to pay a surcharge if you want to take it on a plane. Also, you won’t be able to carry it far by hand. However, on the plus side, you won’t need to spend time pumping it up before heading out on the water.

Winner: Inflatable boards

Storage space

If you have a rigid board, you will need to find space to store it, preferably so that it is not resting on the ground. That’s no problem if you have a spacious garage, but could be an issue if you live in a small apartment. Just getting a rigid board into your house could prove impossible. However, if you do have a garage, all you need to do is carry your board from your roof rack to your board storage rack – after washing it down with fresh water, that is!

Once deflated, an inflatable stand-up paddleboard can be rolled or folded down into a compact bundle and stored just about anywhere you have a little space. It will probably fit into a wardrobe. However, some manufacturers recommend that inflatable boards are stored unrolled and slightly inflated if they are to be left unused for several weeks.

Winner: Inflatable boards

Durability Of The Board

Inflatable paddleboard technology has come a long way in the last few years. Most are now made with several layers of military-grade PVC, making them very strong and durable. Seams are reinforced, and the boards themselves can take 20-30 pounds of air pressure, despite only needing 12-15 pounds to work. Most manufacturers offer a 1 to 2-year warranty against material failure.

This doesn’t mean that inflatable boards are indestructible, but they are durable enough to survive some rough handling, such as hitting a rock, submerged log, or the shore. However, while inflatable boards can be repaired if damaged, it’s not always easy, and a badly damaged board will need to be replaced.

In contrast, rigid boards are more easily damaged. Hitting a rock on a fiberglass, epoxy, or wooden board will result in a crack or a hole. Damaged rigid boards can be repaired but will need the services of an experienced board shaper. These repairs can be expensive. If you anticipate riding your board on rivers or rocky white water, a rigid board will be something of a liability.

However, remember that a damaged inflatable board will deflate and could sink. Even a badly damaged rigid board should still remain afloat.

Winner: Inflatable Boards

Performance: Better Hard or Inflatable?

If you are serious about things like speed, handling, glide, and efficiency, a rigid board is your best choice. They are made for racing, surfing, and other high-performance stand-up paddleboarding activities. They have a lower profile, offering less drag, and that means they move through the water more efficiently. They are also more rigid, and less board flex means a more efficient ride.

That said, as inflatable board technology improves, the performance gap between inflatable and rigid SUP boards is closing. The best inflatables use an internal drop-stitch construction, which means they can be pumped up to high pressures without bending or distorting. Some also have carbon fiber reinforcements to make them even more rigid. They aren’t quite as stiff as a rigid board, but the best inflatable paddleboards come close.

Winner: Rigid Boards

Board Cost Difference

Rigid boards are invariably more expensive than inflatable boards. Of course, there are expensive inflatables and cheap rigid boards, but, on average, hard boards cost more. However, rigid boards tend to last longer than inflatables. Inflating, deflating, and rolling an inflatable board increases wear and tear. Eventually, all that extra stress will take its toll.

If you buy an inflatable stand-up paddleboard, expect to replace it in 3-5 years. However, a well looked after rigid board could last much longer. 

Winner: Inflatable Boards

Conclusion: Hard or Inflatable Paddle Boards?

So, does this mean that inflatable paddleboards are better than rigid boards? Absolute not! For some people, a rigid board is actually the better choice. It all depends on what you need from your board and your personal circumstances.

If you want a portable stand-up paddleboard that’s easy to store, durable, and won’t break the bank, you should probably choose an inflatable board.

But, if you are more interested in performance than easy transportation, have enough room for proper storage, and don’t mind paying out a little more money, a rigid board is probably your best choice.

Still not sure which is right for you? Hire or borrow an inflatable board and a rigid board and compare them before making your final decision. That way, you’ll know from firsthand experience which is right for you.

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