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Stand Up Paddleboards (SUP) come in both inflatable and rigid.

What should I consider when choosing between the two styles?

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Great question I would think through in your specific case the following steps:

  1. store it (at home or at a public boat ramp if available)
  2. transport it (if it’s not already at the launch point)—-to the car, into/onto the car, to the launch point
  3. prepare it for use
  4. paddle it
  5. transport it again
  6. prepare it for storage
  7. occasional repair and maintenance

If you live on the water or have an affordable convenient means of storing your board near the water you probably have no need of an inflatable.

If you live in a small urban apartment or lack access to a vehicle with a roof rack and don’t have a good storage by point of use option you probably have no possibility of a rigid board.

Inflating an SUP is a bit of a hassle and cleaning and drying it before it can go back in its bag is a chore. This is somewhat offset by not needing to take time to secure an object which would do incalculable damage if it came loose on a freeway.

Inflatable SUP’s are incredibly resistant to damage during handling (windy parking lots, submerged stones, rocky shores). Fiberglass SUP’s need to be treated with more care. Patching pinhole leaks require much less skill than repairing fiberglass.

The actual paddling performance of a rigid is categorically better, like an adult’s bicycle compared to a child’s. I owned a fairly high performance (for 2013) inflatable for the explicit purpose of surfing and while yes I could go catch waves and yes it was enormously better than not surfing and yes I’d rather be hit in the head with an inflatable, it was a bit like doing telemark turns in leather boots, fun for the fact that you’re out there and the challenge of doing it at all. The lack of stiffness (not just the rail—-the whole thing would fold up a bit on a steep wave) was significant. Meanwhile the adventure I imagined (mountain biking to remote beach breaks etc) fell apart in the face of the other gear (paddle, wetsuit, pump, drinking water, food and so on). Also if you are space constrained, none of these items are small in your closet either.

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  1. Are you surfing
  2. Are you competing
  3. Do you have a car with roofracks or a van

The key to the development of the inflatable boards was to make the experience more accessible. Red Paddle Co who (as far as I'm aware) developed the first of the modern inflatable boards have a simple principle of expanding the market as much as possible and making the sport as accessible as possible to the largest number of people.

However inflatable boards are fundamentally softer in control and handling, so they're not good for competition. They can be too buoyant making it difficult to get out through surf. A certain amount of power is lost in the flex in the board, so power is lost as you paddle. Energy of movement is also lost into flex rather than cutting cleanly through waves, meaning they don't carry momentum so well.

As a casual paddler the inflatables are really quite good, but once you're surfing, running rivers, racing, or long distance touring, anything where sharpness of response or efficiency of movement is an issue, you're going to be wanting to look at a hard board.

Then you just need a vehicle able to transport it.

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What will you be using your paddle board for? That's the number 1 factor in choosing a paddle board.

Secondly, do you have the storage at home and in your car for a hard board?

Generally, I would say inflatable boards are best for more people unless you're looking for extreme performance (paddle board racing, long-distance paddling, etc.

Also, many people think inflatable paddle boards cannot perform well and aren't durable. This just isn't true. Check this guide - it should help you with your decision.

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