In recent years, SUPs (stand up paddle boards) have exploded in popularity. And it’s easy to see why: they offer the experience of a surfboard with the versatility of a kayak. They are great for lakes, oceans and even rivers.
Like their sit-in counterparts, sups require minimal equipment; just a paddle and whatever supplies are needed for your trip. Still, there are a few important considerations. So, here’s your guide to finding the best inflatable sup.
At first glance, SUP boards may seem a little risky. After all, it’s just a thin board made top heavy by you, right? However, they are carefully constructed to maintain proper balance for a variety of activities, from flat water to river rapids.
Benefits of An Inflatable SUP
So, why choose an inflatable over a hardtop paddle board?
Here are a few advantages:
- Compact: Once emptied of air, inflatable paddle boards can be easily compacted down into a smaller size. This facilitates a very convenient way to transport the board as it can easily fit into any vehicle. You won’t have to tie it on the roof of your car and then worry about whether or not it’s up there securely.
- Weight: Inflatable boards tend to be lighter, allowing beginners to flow more smoothly. This can actually be a good or bad attribute, but is generally desirable for beginners.
- Durable: Surprisingly, inflatable SUP boards actually tend to be more durable than their hardtop counterparts. They’re less rigid, allowing them to more easily float across obstacles.
- Cost: Generally (with some notable exceptions), inflatable SUPs tend to cost less.
Some aspects of iSUPs are actually a little surprising. They may look similar to surfboards at a glance, but are certainly more versatile. Here are a few features to consider:
- Fins: Much of the efficacy of a SUP’s stability and control stem from the fins. Most feature a large removable fin situated in the center near the board’s tail. Some also feature two smaller fins.
Not all main fins are detachable, which is an important aspect to consider if you plan to do any river running.
- Pads: The top center of a SUP features a pad for standing. These pads are specially designed to provide increased traction and comfort. Of course, some are more effective than others and everyone’s personal preference will ultimately determine the best choice.
- Color Scheme: Even with leashes, there’s always a chance of the paddler and board becoming separated. For this reason, it’s important to consider an iSUP’s color scheme.
It should be easy to spot in calm or moving water. A blend of bright colors typically works best.
- Storage: Surprisingly, iSUPs tend to offer great storage for their size. D-Rings and bungee systems are common storage options. Some feature connections for additional options, such as dry bags and even koozies.
- Rocker: the rocker is an important concept for paddle boards. It essentially refers to the board’s curvature as measured across the board front to back. This impacts such aspects as control, stability and tracking. For calm lake and ocean paddling, it’s usually best to get the flattest rocker possible.
Once you become an experienced paddler, you may seek additional options specific to your preferred activities. But for now, these concepts are a great start for beginners.
While not necessary, you may find some gear to be convenient for your trip. Some options may be more important depending upon the length of time you plan to paddle.
Here are some options to get started:
- Life Jacket: It’s always a good idea to wear a lifejacket, even for experienced swimmers. While paddle boards float surprisingly well, something could always go wrong.
For example, a piece of debris could puncture a hole in the board, rendering it useless. In many states, lifejackets are actually required, though some only mandate that they be present on the vessel rather than the person.
This still presents a risk, since an ocean or river current could sweep away a board and its PFD before the paddler has a chance to put it on. Fortunately, many manufacturers bundle PFDs that perfect compliment the aesthetics of their boards. Some even include hydration packs with a small nozzle for easy access.
- Dry Bag: A popular choice for canoes and kayaks, dry bags are easily sealed to protect food, keys, electronics and other items from moisture. Some boards may even feature an attachment to hold these, though you should take care to ensure that it does not compromise your balance.
- Seat: If you really have to have it, some paddle boards do include seat attachments. These seats tend to be a bit flimsy and can be raised or lowered with relative ease. Obviously, moving a paddle board with a seat is a little more like paddling a flat kayak.
- Transparent Base: Some boards actually feature a full- or partially-transparent base. These are a great way to explore the aquatic life below. However, they also pose a potential safety hazard.
Time spent looking down is time not spent paying attention to what lies ahead. This option is probably better for more experienced paddlers.
- Carrying Bag: Between each use, inflatable paddle boards can be rolled up for convenience. A carrying bag will offer protection and convenience when carrying the SUP.
- Air Pump: Honestly, there really isn’t a reason to not own an air pump. They’re small, affordable and will inflate your SUP board much faster.
- Leash: Losing a SUP board is as easy as falling off of it. If the board isn’t attached to you somehow, you’ll likely watch it float away in the current. As with surfboards, leashes attach your wrist or ankle to the board.
In the event that you do fall off, simply pull it back and climb back on.
- Protection: As with any watersport, sunscreen and sunglasses are important. Paddling can be done in cooler weather as long as the proper clothing (think neoprene as a base layer) is worn.
Developing Your Paddle Boarding Technique
It goes without saying that your first experience with paddle boarding should be done in a shallow, fairly small body of water (or along a shoreline).
It doesn’t take long to learn the proper technique for a paddle board, but unpredictable water conditions could hinder your progress.
It’s also a little harder (at first) to climb on top of one if your feet can’t reach the bottom. Here are some pointers for your first paddle board experience:
- Don’t be afraid of falling. It’s bound to happen, and at least you’ll be landing in water. If you’re worried about your friends laughing, challenge them to try it without falling.
If they succeed, they’re probably lying about this being their first time.
- Start by sitting or kneeling on the board. It’s usually easier for beginners to step or sit on in water that is about knee deep, then slide on from the front or back rather than the sides.
Of course, everyone is different, so sit may take a moment to find your preferred method. Once you’re able to have the board float evenly across its surface – as in, neither the front nor back are sticking up or dipping below – it’s time to practice standing.
- Take a moment to simply stand on the board to see how it moves with the water. Then, don’t be afraid to rock it lightly from side to side. Again, it’s okay to fall if the water is deep enough (think jumping into a pool).
The most important part of this step is to get a feel for the board.
- Keep your body, head to toe, pointing ahead. Your feet should be apart from each other, near (not on) their respective edge of the board.
- As with rafting, one arm should cover the paddle’s handle, while the other should be placed about halfway down.
- Strokes should be executed in one fluid motion and should stretch just shy of the board’s length. If the paddle remains in one spot for too long, it may impact balance or direction.
- Be patient as you develop your own technique.
Best Uses for Paddle Boards
The best inflatable paddle board may well match the versatility of a recreational kayak. As such, they are perfect for a variety of activities. Here are a few.
- Lakes and Oceans: These are probably the most common places to find paddle boards. It makes for a very relaxing day on the water. Experienced paddle boarders will often use them as surfboards.
- Rivers: For a more thrilling experience, try paddling your sup down a river. You’ll find that the current requires less effort to move, though you will be spending more time maneuvering around obstacles.
At times, it may be helpful to sit or kneel for better support. Some even use paddle boards to navigate whitewater rapids, though this is quite risky and should only be left to the most experienced paddlers.
The fin should be removed when paddling on the river, which will compromise stability.
- Team Sports: Many paddle boarders have adopted water polo “fields” for their own use. The board’s stability, coupled with your paddle, make it perfect for the sport. Many setups now include goals and even a wireless scoreboard.
Choosing A Stand Up Paddle Board
By now, we’ve covered the most pertinent information. So, it’s time to help you find best inflatable stand up paddle board on the market. Below, we’ll quickly review several top choices for both beginners and seasoned paddlers.
Isle Explorer 11
Weight: 19.1 lbs.
Dimensions: 11’ x 32” x 6”
Specific Features: Spacious gear storage, durable to military standards, 14 D-Rings, lightweight
Best Use: Heavy Paddlers, Long Trips, Oceans, Lakes, Calm Rivers
Description: The Isle Explorer 11 has been crafted with adventure in mind. It features more storage than most could expect with an iSUP board, even offering the capacity for a cooler. Its numerous D-Rings can secure supply-filled dry bags across the front or back.
Its durable PVC construction will protect the board during extended excursions. It’s also the perfect solution for heavier paddlers as it can hold up to 275 lbs. Its color scheme is both aesthetically pleasing and easy to spot on the water. It comes bundled with a paddle, pump and backpack.
Jobe 11.6 Aero SUP Package
Weight: 32.56 lbs.
Dimensions: 11 x 17 x 36 inches
Specific Features: Foam grip pad, Dropstitch Reinforcement, Leash, single 8” fin, PVC Construction
Best Use: Lakes, oceans, deep rivers
Description: The Jobe 11.6 Aero features a durable PVC construction enhanced by dropstitch reinforcement. In other words, it offers surprising durability for an iSUP. An 8” fin offers superb stability, though it is not removable.
It supports riders weighing up to 265 lbs. and features a multicolor design that makes it easy to spot on the water. D-Rings are included on the front and back for gear storage.
Its foam grip pad offers great protection from slips, especially when wearing warmer shoes during cooler water. The 11.6 Aero also comes bundled with a leash, pump, paddle and storage bag large enough to carry it all.
Boardworks SHUBU Raven 12-6
Weight: 47 lbs.
Dimensions: 12’ 6” x 30” x 6”
Specific Features: Drop-stitch construction, Air7 Fin, koozy, enhanced rocker
Best Uses: Racing, touring, river running
Description: Thrillseekers will love the Shubu Raven 12-6! This iSUP is specially designed for racers and adventurers alike.
An enhanced rocker offers smooth channeling over calm and rough waters, while its advanced grooved pad offers superior traction and comfort. An Air7 fin offers superb traction but can be removed for river running.
An arch bar offers enhanced stability when traversing rapids without the fin. Bungee cords and deck ties offer storage for essential supplies. The Raven 12-6 comes bundled with a premium air pump, pressure gauge, flap style storage back and even a patch kit for emergency repairs.
Boardwalks even through in a detachable koozy. And, of course, it comes with the conveniently simple transportation of an iSUP. For professional paddlers, the Raven can hold paddlers up to 300 lbs.
Tower Paddle Boards iRace 12’6″ Inflatable SUP Package
Weight: 27 lbs.
Dimensions: 12.6” x 30” x 6”
Specific Features: Military standard construction, portability, 4 inch nose rocker, carrying handle, D-Ring storage
Best Use: White water, ocean, heavy paddlers
Description: One of the most durable iSUPs on the market, the Tower iRace offers military-grade durability rigorously tested. It features a simple, yet stylish, design, though one that may make it a little harder to see in rough water.
This is a slight detriment, as one of its selling points is its ability to handle rapids with relative ease. To this end, it also offers a detachable fin. The iRace also offers an unprecedented paddler weight limit of 350 lbs.
A leash attachment is conveniently included on the tail, though the leash is sold separately. The iRace does come with a carbon fiber paddle and pump. Although it can be folded into a compact 1’ x 33” size, it does not include a travel bag.
NRS Baron 6 Inflatable Stand Up Paddleboard
Weight: 30 lbs.
Dimensions: 11’ 4” x 36” x 6”
Specific Features: Inflatable to 15 psi, 6 D-Rings, 3 handles, PVC material, diamond foam pad, removable fins
Best Use: Flat water, calm rivers, touring, yoga
Description: A proven name in watersports, NRS offers the Baron 6 as an option for the cargo-heavy paddler. It offers plenty of on-deck room for gear, pets and even yoga.
However, this one isn’t quite as stable as the others and will take some practice to effectively prevent flipping on more than the calmest of waters. However, those that do master their technique will love the extra room offered on the board.
Its design features multiple colors and can be easily spotted if it gets separated from the paddler. The Baron is built to glide easily and will support paddlers weighing up to 275 lbs.
ISLE Airtech 10′ Inflatable Stand Up Paddle Board
Weight: 17.5 lbs.
Dimensions: 10’ x 31” x 6”
Specific Features: Military Grade PVC Construction, three fins, lightweight, carry handles, Steel D-Rings, Diamond Groove Pad
Best Use: Flatwater with minimal waves
Description: The Airtech is ISLE’s solution for the budget-conscious consumer. It’s not as long as many comparable options, but it still offers excellent stability. Its PVC construction ensures an extended lifespan when used as recommended (on flatwater).
Its lightweight and compactable size make the Airtech very easy to transport. It features two small fins on each side of the main removable fin for enhanced stability and tracking. It also comes bundled with a pump, paddle and travel bag.
GT150 – Grand Touring
Weight: 28 lbs.
Dimensions: 12.5’ x 32” x 6”
Special Features: Bright color scheme, denier dropstitch construction, EVA pad, D-Ring storage, 3 fins, up to 20 PSI
Best Use: Flatwater
Description: Another budget-friendly option, the GT150 – Grand Touring offers an excellent blend of features and performance for its price range. Three fins enhance overall stability and control. Its bright, nearly fluorescent colors are very easy to spot on the water if the board manages to get away from you.
The GT-150 features 1000 denier construction, which is a bit overkill for its recommended flat water use. It can be filled to 20 psi, though actually getting it to this pressure can be a workout in itself. It can also fit paddlers weighing up to 300 lbs.
In the end, the choice you start with should match the skill set you hope to develop, whether that means traversing flat water, ocean waves or rapids. Virtually all iSUP boards are beginner friendly, as the mechanics remain largely the same.
Granted, some may take longer to develop a technique for than others, but that ties into the desired uses that we just discussed. Also, some of the more versatile options (such as those designed to handle rapids), closely match the prices of less capable models.
Of course, there are exceptions, as there are a few budget-friendly options that are ideal for calm flat water. Once you have an idea of what you’d like to do, allow that to guide your decision.