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.
In 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.
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 SHUBU 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.
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 open 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 there, 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.
- 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.
- 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.