There are a lot of advantages to inflatable sups; they’re light weight, more comfortable on your feet, they take up very little space to store, they are EXTREMELY DURABLE, and you don’t need any fancy roof rack carriers to transport them.
Now the disadvantage, Flex! That’s it, unless you’re into absolute performance like sup surfing or racing, board flex is the biggest difference. All inflatable sup’s will have flex even the best will have some, the question is how much. We have looked at and tested a lot of inflatables and we were surprised at the difference between brands. Some boards were so soft they felt like you were paddling on a wet noodle while other were so stiff the only time you could tell it was an inflatable sup was if you jumped up and down on it. The more weight the board carries the more critical stiffness becomes.
What makes one board stiffer than another? Construction method, the number of drop stitches used, quality of the materials used to make it, all are factors in board rigidity, but we find the single biggest factor is maximum air pressure. Most well known inflatable sups can be inflated to 12-15 psi, some only inflate to 10 psi, but if you want rigid board performance on your inflatable, look for boards that inflate to 20 psi. or more.
After doing countless hours of investigating we found three brands that really are top shelf and one more that is just slightly less in performance but way less in price. RRD, Red Paddle Co. and Fanatic are the best brands we were able to find. They all make boards that inflate over 20 psi and are really stiff. Unfortunately even knowing which brands are best you still have to be careful because RRD and Fanatic make both top shelf boards and cheaper light weight versions which only inflate to 15 psi. All Red Paddle Co boards are built to be ultra stiff. Not only do their boards inflate to the industry max but many of their boards also have RSS, which is an additional stiffing, fiberglass batten which is slid in side pockets along the boards rails to make their boards even stiff yet. At over 225 lbs board flex is a big issue, that’s why the Red boards are my favorite. They are the stiffest inflatable I’ve ever paddled. Red only makes inflatables, it’s what they do. They also have more models than anyone else, it doesn’t matter if you want to surf, race, do yoga, camp or just want an all around recreational board, Red makes a board for you.
That brings me to one more brand, Jobe. Not everyone is as heavy as I am, lighter paddlers might not need such a premium board as us big guys do. Jobe boards inflate to 18-20 psi which is much stiffer than the industry average but they are about 30% less expensive than the top shelf boards. I really like Jobe inflatables for paddlers 185 lbs or less. Jobe rates their inflatable sups for paddlers up to 265 lbs and they are fine for heavier paddlers as long as you know the boards flex much more than with a lighter paddler.They are a great value and all their boards include a paddle and a really nice board leash.
To sum this up, I am a huge fan of inflatables, I greatly prefer them to hard boards as long as it’s a quality board.