Inflatable SUP’s–Are they worth it?
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    *****Update******

    Since I originally wrote this story back in June of 2011, several things have changed.  Aside from the overall selection of boards and vendors going up substantially, there have been two really cool developments that are worth considering.  1, there are now boards available that are substantially thicker and more stable than what was available to me when I wrote this story.  There are even quite a few race/touring style shapes to consider.  If you are looking at an Inflatable Raceboard, I would highly suggest getting one that is 6″ thick, instead of the Standard 4″ thick.  There are also other techniques that a few of these manufacturers have added to improve rigidity.  Red Paddle Boards is one of the vendors who have found some new techniques to stiffen up their boards, and are probably worth a look.

    Voyager Fin in Red Paddle BoardIn addition to the improvements in stability, a few of the smarter companies have decided to start adding U.S. Fin boxes.  This will allow you to add in legitimate aftermarket fins that significantly improve tracking.  We recently launched a fin called the Gladiator Voyager that works really well for this application.  It is made from a high density fiber based composite, and its really rigid.  This will be appreciated by river paddlers.  We also make this fin standard with our “Click it” mounting system, so you can pop it in and pop it out in just a couple of seconds, with no tools required.  Its a great fin for the money, but if you are going to be going through the process of inflating and deflating/packing the board a lot, this convenience is a must have in my book.

     


    ***Original Post***

     

    I recently went through the process of buying an inflatable SUP and thought Cruise June 2011 054I would share some thoughts with you on what is out there, what to expect, pros and cons of inflatables, and so on.

    To start off with, my justification for wanting to purchase an inflatable, is because I travel a lot for my company.  I wanted the opportunity to Paddle in the evenings sometimes when I am on the road.  In addition, there are multiple rivers around Austin Texas where I live, and the inflatables seem to be the ticket for running them.  In what would seem to be a bit of irony to some, inflatable SUP’s are more durable than Fiberglass/Epoxy SUP’s, when it comes to river conditions.  If you hit a rock or log with your epoxy board, you are likely to come away with a large ding or puncture.  With an inflatable, you bounce right off.

    Before buying, I looked into ULI, C4, Surftech, Boardworks, Sevylor, and Hobie, as these seem to be the leading companies producing inflatables.  I did my research by looking at the price points of each model, looking at user reviews where available (amazon.com), talking to people I know who have demoed and/or purchased boards, and just reading the marketing material from each manufacturers website.  In the end, I decided to go with the Cruise June 2011 059SHUBU do to its overall price/performance.  I will be doing a separate review on the SHUBU in the coming days for those interested in hearing more about how they stack up.

    One thing I would like to do up front, is properly set expectations on what to expect from an Inflatable SUP, should you decide to buy one.  They work well for what they are, but they don’t perform anywhere near as good as a fiberglass board.  From my experience so far, they catch waves as good or better than any of my other boards, but the overall maneuverability and responsiveness of these boards do not compare with their foam+fiberglass counterparts.  Some of this is due to rigidity and the rest of due to the shape.  When I look down the rails of my PSH board, the thickness and overall shape changes from tip to middle, to tail.  With the inflatables, the thickness seems to be consistent from tip to tail, which means it’s a lot thicker in some places than you would like it to be.  This (in my opinion) is contributing to the lack of responsiveness on an inflatable.Cruise 2011 june 256

    Another complaint I often hear when people talk about inflatables is that they are too flimsy.  This is typically due to under-inflation more than anything else.  I have seen several people on inflatables where the board is sinking in the center, and the nose and tail were out of the water, because the person riding it didn’t take the time to inflate it to the proper level.  For my board, they recommend around 12-14lbs, depending on how heavy you are.  When I take the time to get it to that level, the stiffness is pretty good.  It won’t compare to a fiberglass board, but its good enough.

    Now that you have heard some of the cons about inflatables, let me now give you some of the pros.  For one thing, you can easily store and transport inflatables.  You sure can’t say that about a traditional board.  On top of that they Cruise 2011 june 273open up a whole new world of possibilities for SUP’ing in waters you wouldn’t otherwise be able to paddle on.  I just got back from a cruise through the Bahamas, and took my board on the cruise ship with us.  There is no way I would have ever been able to take any of my other boards with me, as they are too big to store and navigate the hallways and elevators on a cruise ship.  Plus, I am not sure they would even allow me to bring it onboard, due to its size.  With an inflatable, this isn’t a problem.  It packs down into what is basically a large backpack.  I even got a little roller board for mine, which is what we all used for our suitcases, before they started coming with the built-in telescoping handles, and roller blade wheels.  All I do now is throw the backpack/dufflebag on to the roller board and strap it down.  Super easy to transport at that point.  If you don’t want to fuss with that though, you can always just where it like a backpack.

    Getting back to the cruise, one of the coolest things that happened on our trip, was we got to be the first people ever to Stand Up Paddle on the Grand Bahama Island (according to countless locals, beach merchants, and water toy rental guys, who had never heard of or seen a SUP before).

    In addition to knowing we were the first to SUP therCruise 2011 june 285e, it was just awesome having the board.  I caught several waves, which I wasn’t expecting from a trip to the Bahamas.  They were mostly knee to waist high, so nothing to brag about, but I still had a smile on my face.

    I also snorkeled from the board, which allowed me to travel to some more remote reefs than I would have otherwise had access to.  I saw some beautiful fish and found two amazing looking starfish.  All in all, it was a great experience, and I owe it all to my SHUBU inflatable SUP.  If you have the means to purchase an inflatable SUP, I would highly recommend it.  It is great for river running, traveling, and even having an additional SUP around, for when you have guests you want to take paddling.

    Summary

    Pros:
    • Small and Compact when deflated.
    • Travels much more easily than a traditional board.
    • Don’t have to pay the airlines astronomical fees for transporting a 10’6 SUP Board.
    • More durable and better suited for rivers, and beaches with rocky shores.
    • Can store it just about anywhere.  Can even leave it in your trunk for the unexpected opportunities.
    • Most importantly, they give you an opportunity to SUP in places you wouldn’t otherwise be able to.
    Cons:
    • A little bit more hassle than a normal board, as you have to inflate and deflate it.
    • From a surfing perspective, they don’t perform anywhere near as good as a standard board would.
    • They don’t seem to track all that well either.
    • They aren’t cheap.  In many cases they are as much or more than a decent Fiberglass board.
    • They are more flexible than a glass board, which means more work balancing.  Your feet and legs fatigue quicker.

     

    SUPG_helmet2


    July 5th, 2011 | Casey Gotcher | 20 Comments | Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

About The Author

Casey Gotcher

20 Responses and Counting...

  • Ketan 07.05.2011

    Great review again Casey! I wish you reviewed Cars too! 🙂

  • Excellent write up. Thinking about getting an all-around board for guests and slow cruising. An inflatable might be the way to go. Probably do the Craigs list route though.

  • Thanks Remick. Let me know what you end up doing.

  • Thank you for this review. I am researching an inflatable myself with a goal to have one next summer. I want it for a ride (motorcycle) and paddle tour for next summer vacation. Plan to take month to tour some back roads and paddle back waters of Florida.

  • Ruth, that sounds amazing. An inflatable would be the perfect ticket for what you are looking to do. If you do end up going this route, I would love to see the photos.

    Casey

  • I Have just spent the last 10 days on two 10’6” C4 Watermans, made only different by the inflation valve positioning. Owning a Surftech Randy French11’6” Board aswell, I found that the C4 tracked well only when proper/added weight was applied to the Paddling side. Turning was obviously a breeze since I found that my feet made huge depressions on the bottom of the board adding to drag and sluggish paddle speeds. C4 recommends that you inflate the board to 17psi for added regiditiy, even though its Max is reportedly 15psi. I gave myself the additional workout by inflating the boards to 20psi, and it greatly improved the rigidity to where the board had no bend at all. It performed a lot better then, so prepare for the workout. Surftech iSup performs better with less of a workout to inflate, but the Airis from 2009 was by far the most rigid.
    Enjoy

  • Kay

    Thanks for the review! I too am considering my options for a travel SUP, looking at both inflatable and split boards. Any chance you’re familiar with bisect or trisect split boards and how they measure up on the water compared to an inflatable?

  • I have seen them online, but have never had a chance to try one. If you end up going that route, I would love to hear about it. I would think that might have a slight advantage in performance, and the inflatable would have an advantage in durability. I also plan to do some river running occassionaly, so the inflatable made most sense for me.

  • I’m 5′ 11” 170 lbs. and I was interested in the SHUBU and you’re review helped convince me. Would you think the 10′ or the 10′ 7” would be better?

  • Unless you are primarily buying it for surfing, I would go with the longer one. I have the 10’7XW. I didn’t really want the extra wide, but that’s what they had in stock at the time. For lakes and flatwater paddling, the XW is over kill for me, but in the ocean, I must admit the extra stability is nice.

  • Yo, Casey! I had no idea you were so into SUP. Cool!

    Thanks for this write-up. Really opened my eyes to the possibilities since I have a small car with no roof rack and thought I would never be able to get a board. My only question is what do you do regarding the paddle? Do you have a collapsible one, or what would you recommend for someone who’ll probably mostly use it in town but occasionally will want to travel with it.

  • Great to hear from you Ricardo. We should go catch some water time before it gets cold. Give me a shout.

  • […] *Check out this site, SUP Gladiator, for a cool recent post that talks in detail about the pros and cons of inflatable SUP boards.  […]

  • Great article thank you! My wife and I are on an extended RV trip and have been toting two C4 classics with us for paddling oceans, lakes and rivers. We love the boards but carrying them in the RV is a real hassle, as they compete for space with other toys like mountain bikes and a motorcycle. We’ve been looking at the inflatable SUPs and recently talked to a C4 rep about a new model they are soon to have in stores. Hopefully we can find one to demo. Another I have found via web search is the inflatable Coreban. Seems their boards are particularly rigid. Have you heard anything about this inflatable SUP?

  • I haven’t heard anything one way or the other on Coreban inflatables. I have heard the Uli’s are probably the best overall inflatables. They tend to be on the higher end price wise though. You might want to check them out.

  • My wife and I just moved to Dubai! This place only has swell December to February with occasional knee to waist high throughout the year. I might be going with your suggestion. Have you heard of Red Paddle Co? They have a dealer here and seem to be pretty solid.

    Cheers,
    David

  • That is a good review.

    I am working in an inflatable SUPs manufacturer in China.
    The board is quite cheap for me as I only spend 300.00 USD to have my own one.
    Most of the inflatable SUP in the world was produced in my town.
    Now I am opening my own business start to sell inflatable SUPs. It is not difficult to success if I find a proper way to sell.
    I will appreciate if any one can give me some suggestion on this.
    Alan XU

  • Iflatable sounds good to me as I travel on car a lot. But I get this feeling that most end up buying both 🙂

  • Hi, you have written a great reviews on inflatable SUP, actually i was looking for a nice board within $500 and manufactured from a branded company. can you suggest me an inflatable board within my budget ?

  • RLW

    I am in the market for an inflatable SUP. Thank you for sharing your buying and experience with the boards. As of now, 2016, I have been researching and find that a company called Red Paddle Co out of the UK seems to be the leader in SUP as that is the only kind of board they make and do quite a bit of R&D. I have been looking at several brands. I know that the Reds are pricey.

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