What's Up With iSUP?

Are Inflatable Paddleboards really as Good as Traditional SUPs?

3 Inflatable iSUP Boards
iSUPs by Ten Toes Board Emporium. Ten Toes, used by permission

What’s Up with iSUP?

As the paddling sports continue to grow, adapt, evolve, and appeal to broader audiences, lots of innovations are introduced to the market.  One of the greatest needs in this area is paddling options for those with space constraints.  So manufacturers are on the search for the perfect solution to storing your kayak, canoe, or paddleboard when space is an issue.  The Modular Kayak by Point 65n is one such crack at this.  Recently in the world of standup paddleboarding (SUP) the market has been flooded with inflatable paddleboards that pack down into a bag.  Of course, anything inflatable has a juvenile connotation.  However, so-called iSUPs (inflatable standup paddleboards) are a serious paddleboarding option that shouldn’t be so easily discounted.

The Concerns with iSUPs

The concerns surrounding inflatable paddleboards are based more on assumptions than on reality.  People are suspicious that something that is blown up can actually be firm enough to support 200 pounds of weight standing up.  Think pool toys.  There are also questions of drag in the water as they don’t appear as hydro-dynamic as epoxy/fiberglass/foam constructed boards that taper down to a razor thin tip.  Another major concern is with regard to the question of durability.  Again, think pool floats and toys.  It is interesting that none of these concerns rear their heads when discussing whitewater rafting life-threatening  Class V rivers where inflatable rafts carry thousands of pounds while smashing up against sharp rocky banks at neck snapping speeds. 

The Performance of iSUPs

Rest assured, inflatable paddleboards get rock hard when pumped up to optimal pressure.  There is no problem holding the weight of paddlers or even of any noticeable deflection of the board surface.  While they are often thicker than traditional paddleboards, the drag experienced by the paddler is comparable to traditional boards of similar length.  The truth is there is no noticeable difference between paddling an iSUP with a traditional board.  While it is true that high end paddleboards that cost well upward of a thousand dollars will perform better than an inflatable, the average paddle boarder will not notice a performance difference. 

The Benefits of iSUPs

Inflatable paddleboards have many benefits.  First and foremost is obviously the size they pack down to. iSUPs will fit inside of large duffel bags.  They weigh less than 30 pounds.  So they are light and pack down small.  This means they fit virtually anywhere which isn’t only a benefit for storage. It is also a huge plus for transportation.  You don’t need a roof rack.  Simply put in your trunk or even on a car seat and your off.  They’re also great for not getting injured.  While they inflate hard, they don’t impact that way.  So if beginners fall and bang their head on them, particularly on the tip they won’t break skin nor cause serious injury.  The same can’t be said for traditional SUPs.

The Downside of iSUPs

Every sporting good product is a tradeoff.  So, while iSUPs do pack down small nor need a roof rack to transport them, there is a cost to that.  Setting them up isn’t as easy as untying and hitting the water.  There is a bit of setup involved in the unpacking, unrolling, inflating, and installing the fins. The whole process is less than 10 minutes. The truth is it can be about 5 minutes.  So, while it’s not a time commitment to complain about, there is some exertion required in the pumping up of the board that when done in the heat is a bit tiring.    Of course there are other potential watch-outs such as over-inflating them, the possibility of puncture, and valve going bad.  But if cared for properly the likelihood of those occurring are probably less than damaging an epoxy/fiberglass board in transport or use.