Are Inflatable Paddle Boards Better for Beginners?
Are inflatable paddle boards better for beginners? No.
Beginners of all sports should set themselves up for success. A larger part of success is to use the best equipment possible.
In the world of paddle boarding, that would be a hard paddle board. Inflatable paddle boards aspire to perform as well as hard boards. While performance might not sound important to a beginner, in reality the opposite is true.
The holy grail of every inflatable paddle board is to be as stiff as a hard paddle board. That’s why so many inflatable brands tout their products air pressure. It is the desire to be stiff. A good way to think of stiffness is to think of standing on a sidewalk versus standing on a mattress. A stiffer paddle board provides better stability.
For a beginner paddler, a board’s stiffness isn’t something they would think about, but it’s greatly appreciated on the water. Anyone who has experienced an underinflated iSUP understands the unbalanced feeling of standing on a mattress.
The key to early success for every new paddler is board stability. An underinflated paddle board will be less stable than a hard paddle board because it will be less stiff.
A paddle board’s shape also plays a role in its stability. Especially when the board is static in the water. All water craft are more stable as they traverse through the compared to being motionless. Often, paddler boarders may stand while the board isn’t moving. Especially when just learning. That’s why it’s important to have a board that will be stable when you’re just standing on the water and not paddling.
A hard paddle board will be more stable than its inflatable counterpart. Hard boards have a concave bottom which offers better stability on choppy water, swells, etc.…
Inflatable paddle boards have a flat bottom which offers a different benefit compared to the concave or bottoms of their hard board cousins.
Flat bottoms are actually very stable in calm waters and this can be beneficial for beginner paddle boards. In fact, in calm flat waters, these bottoms provide even more stability than the rockered concave bottoms of hard boards.
Unfortunately, the superior stability of the flat bottom ends once the paddle board leaves the idyllic conditions of calm, flat waters on a windless day. Once the wind picks up and water chop develops on, the superior stability of flat bottoms disappears.
Unlike the concave bottoms of hard paddle boards, the flat bottoms of inflatables do not provide any lift to help raise the board out of the water making it easier to skim over the top of the chop and maintain stability.
The lack of stability on anything but calm waters means that the vast majority of inflatable paddle boards should not go into the ocean on anything but calm days.
Glide can be viewed as a paddle boarding reward. It’s the feeling of movement and speed. It’s part of what makes paddle boarding so awesome.
Beginners may enjoy the glide experience better than most, since it is so hard to come by when starting out. The feeling of taking your first 10 good strokes without falling and feeling the speed you develop is a great one. It’s this feeling that helps develop the passion for SUP!
Because hard boards are stiffer, they have better glide than inflatables. Beginners deserve to reap the “glide rewards” for all their effort. Why lessen the joy with the experience an inflatable will provide?
From the practical benefits of stiffness and stability to the joy of glide, hard paddle boards are better than inflatables for beginners. It is easier to learn on a hard board and the feeling of glide is stronger on hard boards compared to inflatables. However, if you plan to only paddle on calm days on your small inland lake, the inflatable paddle board will probably be just fine.
Is a Hard Paddle Board Better Than an Inflatable?
Is a hard paddle board better than an inflatable? YES! There is no denying it. In virtually all areas, a hard paddle board outshines its inflatable counterpart. As a manufacturer of hard paddle boards, the reader might be skeptical of this answer. So, let examine the reasons for hard board superiority.
Every inflatable paddle board is held together by glue. That’s right… GLUE! Split seams are a major issue for inflatable paddle boards. To illustrate this, there are over a million Google results for repairing split seams for inflatable boards, and several repair options are available for sale on Amazon.
The simple fact of the matter is that hard paddle boards do not have seams. This issue simply doesn’t exist for hard boards.
Because inflatable paddle boards are held together by glue, there is a greater likelihood of drowning by people who use them. The seam glue may split at anytime causing the inflatable to suddenly sink, leaving the paddler with no support. If the paddler was to far from shore, there will be nothing buoyant to help the paddler swim to safety. Drowning may occur.
While this issue may be easily dismissed, the reality is that it is possible. The United Kingdom’s Office for Product Safety and Standard even issued two product recall for inflatable paddle boards for that very reason.
A hard paddle board will never suddenly deflate and sink under your feet. There simply aren’t any seams to break apart like an inflatable. In fact, if a hard board split in half, the paddler would still have a buoyant object to help support their weight as they worked their way to shore.
99% of all inflatable paddle boards perform worse on the water than their hard board counterpart. The one percent that performs as well cost as much or more than the hard board.
All inflatables strive to be as rigid as a hard board. That is their goal - to imitate the standard. Rigidity is a key aspect to a paddle board’s performance. A rigid board glides over the water better. In practical terms, that means it takes less energy to move the same distance on a board with better glide. Rigidity also aids in stability. It is much easier to stand on a rigid and solid surface than on a flexible surface. After all, it is much easier to walk on a sidewalk then it is a mattress.
Paddle board glide is also affected by a board’s bottom shape. All inflatable paddle boards have flat bottoms. On the other hand, the majority of hard boards have concave bottoms. Concave bottoms are designed to improve glide. These bottoms are shaped by machine or hand. It’s difficult to blow up a balloon with a concave in it. That’s why inflatables have flat bottoms. Inflatable SUPs can’t duplicate the improved performance supplied by concave bottoms.
EASE OF TRANSPORT/ SET UP
Owners of hard paddle boards often give a little giggle to themselves when they see inflatable paddlers at the beach.
Life as a hard board owner is simply easier. Let’s compare a hard board and inflatable SUP owners typical experience.
To transport a hard board to the beach, it takes about three minutes to strap the board to your vehicle’s roof rack and even less time to remove it from the rack. Yes, it takes even less time to throw an inflatable’s backpack into the rear of a vehicle, but that is where the inflatable’s advantage ends.
Once the paddlers arrive at the beach, the hard board owner simply has to remove the board from the roof rack, attach the leash to the board and his ankle and head straight into the water. The inflatable owner, has to unpack and unroll the inflatable. Pump it up. Ensure the proper pressure is obtained and attach the fins. After all that, the leash can finally be attached and the paddle session can begin.
At the end of the day, the hard board owner rinses his board to remove the sand from the beach and spends three minutes strapping the board to the rack and is gone. Meanwhile, the inflatable owner has to wait for his board to dry. Remove any debris. Deflate the board. Roll it up. Repack the backpack and then toss it into the back of the vehicle. That is certainly a lot more effort to go paddle boarding for the inflatable owner.
Yes, you will need a rack if you own a hard paddle board, but many inflatable owners end up buying racks and cargo boxes, because their inflatable’s pack takes up so much room in their vehicle, that they don’t have room to transport other beach essentials. Either way, you may end up purchasing a roof rack.
NO WEIGHT DIFFERENCE
A quality hard paddle board will weigh the same or even less than its inflatable counterpart. Many shoppers believe that inflatable are lighter and easier to carry. That simple isn’t true. Inflatable just have a handle at the nose so you can pull your board to the water. A quality paddle board is well balanced and easy to carry.
After examining the reasons for hard paddle board superiority, it is apparent that inflatable boards are inferior in every tangible way. Yes, they are less expensive than a hard board. In that case, the old saying is certainly applicable here, “you get what you pay for”.
What is the Widest Paddle Board?
If you’re asking “What is the widest paddle board?”, you’re probably shopping for your first board. We’re going to answer the question from that perspective. This won’t be an article in search of some gimmicky monstrosity that holds 10 people. There will be no Guinness Book of Records insights here. Just a simple answer for paddlers trying to get educated.
Paddle board width is an important design factor and it should be a consideration when purchasing a SUP. It’s especially important for first time buyers. Width plays a major role in board stability. Wider boards will be more stable than narrow boards, and width is determined by the board’s function. Racing boards are the narrowest style with some being less than 20” wide. All Around paddle boards have an average width of 32 inches.
When considering a paddle board’s width, it is important to remember the concept of drag. A wider paddle board has a larger footprint. That means, there is more surface area in contact with the water. The more contact, the more energy it takes to travel a certain distance compared to a narrower board. This is friction. That’s why racing paddle boards are so narrow. They have less drag and can travel further on less energy.
With the physics of friction in mind, there are practical limits as to how wide a paddle board can be. If it is too wide, the paddle board would become difficult to move forward, and that isn’t fun no matter how stable it is, or how much weight it can hold.
To get a paddle board that offers speed, maneuverability, and stability, the widest a paddle board can be made that offers those functions is 36” wide. Any wider, and the board becomes to slow and less maneuverable.
However, not all 36” wide paddle boards are the same. Inflatable paddle boards this wide need to be avoided. Inflatables have flat bottoms. This means a whole lot of surface area in contact with the water. All that water contact results in drag, which will make for a slow and unenjoyable paddling experience.
In order to have the same experience on a wide paddle board as you would on a standard 32” wide board, it is important to get a hard paddle board. Hard boards can be shaped to have concave bottoms. A concave bottom lets the water slide smoothly under the board with much less friction. Less friction means more speed with less effort. The best paddle boards like the Wappa Olas will have double concave bottoms which makes the flow of water even more efficient.
Wide paddle boards are a great option for heavier riders, or people with a naturally wide stance. A properly shaped 36” wide hard paddle board with a concave bottom can be as much fun on the water and in the surf as a narrower 32” board. It won’t be as fast as a touring or racing styles, but you can still do it all. The key to success with the widest paddle board will be its shape. Keep that in mind when shopping.
Are Inflatable Paddle Boards Safe? Maybe Not
Most inflatable paddle boards are purchased by first time owners with limited experience, and most tend to paddle no more than a hundred meters from shore. However, it doesn’t take long to gain experience, confidence and paddle sessions go further and further from the shoreline. Soon, paddle trips 1-2 KM from shore or out to “the middle” of the lake seem like fun.
If long paddles far from shore are appealing, then using an inflatable paddle board might not be a safe choice. Inflatable companies like to promote the strength of their boards and imply that they are safe. They talk about the board’s material and its resistance to punctures. This is a smokescreen. Punctures don’t happen on open water. Nothing sharp is sticking out of the water to puncture your board. The strength of the material is irrelevant to your safety on the open water.
What is important for your safety is the board’s seams. All inflatable paddle boards are held together by glue. Yes GLUE! If the glue fails, the board can instantly deflate leaving the paddler no choice but to swim to shore. That’s not a big deal if you’re 100 feet from shore, but most people would have difficulty swimming 1-2 km back to safety.
In July and August of 2022, The UK Government’s Office for Product Safety and Standard issued two recalls for inflatable paddle boards for defective seams. The August recall specifically states the risk of drowning due to faulty glue.
This safety issue does not exist with rigid paddle boards. Only the cheapest rigid boards have seams. The vast majority do not. There is zero chance of a rigid paddle board deflating in the water. No matter what happens while out paddling on a hard paddle board, you will always have the safety provided by a hard, solid surface to climb upon. A hard board will not sink. In fact, if it snapped in half, it would still be buoyant and provide a level of safety. This is something that an inflatable just can’t do.
Split and leaking seams is such an issue for inflatable paddle boards that a Google search on the topic “inflatable paddle board seam repair” yielded 750,000 results. Amazon has more than a dozen different repair kits for sale. Clearly, these results indicate that split seams on inflatable paddle boards are an issue.
Are inflatable paddle boards safe? If the paddler stays close to shore, then yes, an inflatable SUP can be considered safe provided that the rider is a capable swimmer or is wearing a PFD. Staying close enough to shore is the key metric. However, if the rider paddles far enough that swimming to shore would be very difficult, then it wouldn’t be safe to use an inflatable. Seam separation is an issue. If a seam splits while on the water, you may have no choice but to swim to shore or drown. If you’re not comfortable with that option, you should get a hard board and the safety it provides.
What is a Touring Paddle Board
Touring paddle boards are designed for people who enjoy speed and glide, and want to travel distance during a paddle session. They are shaped differently then All Around paddle boards which most people are familiar, and unlike All Around boards that are pretty good at doing just about all SUP activities, Touring paddle boards excel in a particular area. They are built to move quickly. They easily hold a straight line, get up to speed quicker and travel further with the same energy output.
Touring paddle boards have a displacement hull which is a much different shape than the common All-Around shape. In particular the nose of the board (bow) will not be rounded with a nose kick like an All Around. Rather, the nose will be like a C1 canoe or K1 kayak, where it is angled to make a razor-sharp bow that slices through the water.
This bow type causes a Touring paddle board’s hull shape to be more semi circular in cross section compared to the All-Around’s shape. As a result, the width of Touring boards are much narrower.
The shape and narrow width of displacement hulls improves the laminar flow of water as the board travels. This ensures that the drag coefficient is low, and as a result, Touring paddle boards glide through the water with little resistance. It’s in flat water where this design really stands out.
The bow with its sharp blade like point produces minimal bow wave. This means the water releases cleanly from the board creating minimal drag.
The stern (rear) of displacement hulls have hard edged tails to allow for rapid closure of the water behind the board. This too minimizes drag.
ADVANTAGES OF TOURING PADDLE BOARDS
The displacement hull requires less energy to get up to speed and travel distance compared to All Around shapes.
It travels in a straight line much easier than other shapes.
In flat water, this hull shape can’t be beat.
DISADVANTAGE OF TOURING PADDLE BOARDS
Less stable than other shapes at low speed or standing still.
Less maneuverable than other SUP shapes and they are not very good in the surf.
Touring paddle boards are great for people who wish to do exactly that. Take tours of their lake or ocean area. If you can visualize yourself paddling half a mile or one kilometer or more in a single direction, then this type of SUP may be right for you. If you want to be able to ride a few waves, or simply screw around on a board a few hundred feet off shore, then a Touring paddle board won’t be a good choice.
Is a Longer Paddle Board Better?
If you’re buying your first paddle board, you may have you ever asked yourself “Is a longer paddle board better?” Let’s answer the question.
A paddle board’s length is determined by two factors: Its volume and its function.
For first time buyers the paddle board’s volume will determine the length of the SUP you should purchase.
Volume or displacement is measured in Liters (L). An example of this would be 190L. The greater the volume/displacement a paddle board has, the more weight it can carry without sinking. Generally, longer paddle boards will have more volume.
Greater volume adds to a board’s stability. For first time riders’ the solution seems simple. Getting a long paddle board with lots of volume will be super stable and fun. Unfortunately, the trade off is if you get a paddle board that is too long and has too much volume, you will be paddling a board that is bigger then you need. Once your skill set develops, the extra balance provided by the additional length and volume will become unwanted.
No, a longer paddle board isn’t better for first time buyers. It is better for first-time buyers to purchase a SUP that has the proper volume for their weight.
When it comes to a paddle board’s function, length plays a major factor.
Shorter boards are more agile and less stable. In paddle boarding, boards under 10’ long are usually designed for surfing. On the opposite end of the spectrum are open ocean boards designed for downwind paddling. Long and narrow, these paddle boards are designed to ride from the top of one swell to another. These boards can be more then 14’ long!
All around paddle boards come in between these two extremes. They range from 10’-11’.6” in length.
Touring, racing and open will be longer than an All Around styles. These boards are designed to slice through the water like a knife and move with speed at ease. They are great at going in a straight line, but are not as maneuverable as a shorter SUP.
Yes, longer paddle boards are better if you want to travel in a straight line, and slice through the water with greater speed and less effort.
Rather than asking if longer paddle boards are better, a first-time paddle board buyer would be better served to ask if the paddle board is the proper volume for their weight. Once buyers start matching boards to their weights, the length takes care of itself. All that’s left is to decide what style of board to get. Buying a paddle board that is designed for your activities and matched to your weight will surely be a satisfying purchase.
ARE INFLATABLE PADDLE BOARDS WORTH IT?
There is no doubt that inflatable paddle boards have taken the marketplace by storm, but are they worth it? As a rigid paddle board manufacturer, the automatic answer is a firm NO. However, that would be too easy. Instead, let’s analyze inflatable paddle boards and try to answer the question.
Inflatable paddle boards can range in price from a couple of hundred dollars for a no-name brand, to over two thousand dollars for the top brands’ best models. Determining why the great variance in price is an article in itself and is best left for another day. However, like rigid boards, technology, materials and craftmanship have significant roles in a product’s price.
ADVANTAGES OF INFLATABLE PADDLE BOARDS
COST. Inflatable paddle boards can be purchased very cheaply. For as little as two hundred dollars with free shipping, you can be a proud owner of an inflatable SUP.
EASY ENTRY INTO THE SPORT. Because inflatables are so cheap, a new buyer can take up paddle boarding without much of an investment. For buyers unsure if they’ll like the sport long term, the cost effectiveness of cheap inflatable paddle boards can be attractive.
EASY TO STORE. Inflatables come rolled in a backpack sized bag. They are easy to store and can be kept in a closet when not in use.
EASY TO TRANSPORT. Because inflatables are stored in backpacks, they are easy to transport. From the trunk of a car to an airline, you can take your inflatable paddle board almost anywhere with relative ease.
DISADVANTAGES OF INFLATABLE PADDLE BOARDS
LACK STIFFNESS. All inflatable paddle boards strive to be as stiff and rigid as hard paddle boards. Rigidity assists in rider balance. More importantly, it helps to transfer the rider’s energy into speed and stroke efficiency.
POOR PERFORMANCE. Inflatables don’t perform as well in the water as rigid paddle boards. Being less stiff, more energy is required by the paddler on an inflatable to travel the same distance at the same speed. The bottom of the paddle board needs to be considered as well. Cheap inflatables tend to have a flat bottom and poor performance. Rigid boards, and top end inflatables have concave or double concave bottoms for improved speed, agility and glide.
PRONE TO PUNCTURE. Let’s face it. Inflatable paddle boards are prone to puncture. That’s why so many of them come with puncture repair kits. Rigid paddle boards are not sold with repair kits. Enough said!
LESS CONVENIENT. While inflatable paddle boards are easier to store and transport than rigid boards, they are also less convenient to use.
Before inflatable SUP owners can start their paddle, they have to do the following:
At the end of the day, not only does the inflatable SUP owner have more tasks to do to pack up compared to the rigid SUP owner, the inflatable owner also has to wait for their board to completely dry before repacking it. Otherwise, mold and mildew will grow.
LONGEVITY. Because of how inflatable are made and what they are made from, they simply do not have the lifespan of a rigid board. Glued and stitched together like fabric, inflatable boards just aren’t built as strongly as rigid boards.
CAN YOU TRUST IT? To be water safe, it is always important to think of worst-case scenarios and be prepared.
For experienced paddle boarders, it is common to paddle far way from shore. Unlike beginners who may stay a couple of hundred feet from shore, experienced paddle boarders often paddle as far as a couple of kilometers or a mile off shore. If for some reason an inflatable paddle board starts to lose air, it may sink before reaching shore leaving the paddler to swim to land. Rigid paddle boards could snap in half and still provide flotation assistance to the paddler.
SO… ARE INFLATABLE PADDLE BOARDS WORTH IT?
Inflatable paddle boards are less expensive than rigid boards. However, the intrinsic nature of their design means that all except the best inflatables perform worse than a rigid paddle board and are less capable in more dynamic water conditions. This is trading performance for price.
Inflatable product longevity is inferior compared to rigid boards. A rigid board may last decades with proper care. No inflatable will last that long.
After looking at the advantages and disadvantages of inflatable paddle boards, it becomes clear that inflatables are only worth it for people who are more interested in price over performance. If you’re unsure if this sport is for you, then an inflatable may be a good choice for your first board. However, if you want to enjoy paddle boarding for all it has to offer, then it is better to spend more money and invest in a quality hard board. Better performance will lead to more fun.
HOW DO I CHOOSE A SUP SIZE?
The question “how do I choose a SUP size” is typical of first time SUP buyers. Paddle boards come in many different shapes and sizes. From as short as seven feet, they can range as long as 21 feet and everything in between. For a first-time buyer, the plethora of options can be confusing. Make the wrong choice and you can end up with a board you hate. Make the right choice, and you will be loving your SUP for years.
To best answer the subject question, it is important to first understand how paddle boards are sized.
HOW ARE SUPS SIZED?
Almost every company will advertise the dimensions of a paddle board. A SUP’s length, width and thickness are measured in inches or centimeters. An example is 10’6” (L) x 32”(W) x 4.5” (T).
Typically, longer paddle boards have more volume and can carry heavier riders while maintaining stability. However, like most things, there are exceptions to this rule. As a result, a paddle board’s dimensions are not the best way to choose a SUP.
Volume is the best variable in determining SUP size. Volume is measured in liters. A board’s volume tells you how much water the board displaces when it’s placed in the water. The higher the volume, the more weight a board can support before it will submerge.
Higher volume paddle boards offer greater stability then lower volume ones. First time buyers may be tempted to purchase a paddle board with more volume than they need because of the initial stability provided. While the extra size is appreciated in the first few months, after the rider gains experience, the extra volume which was initially loved becomes a hindrance, as it’s needlessly pushed through the water.
SIZE VARIES ON ACTIVITY
Manufacturers create different paddle board sizes to do more than match rider weights. Paddle boards have different sizes depending on the activity they are designed to do. Surf style boards are much shorter then touring and racing SUPs. The need to be short and agile, while a touring board is several feet longer, making it easier to travel in a straight line. A racing board will be even longer so it can easily slice through the water.
If you plan on doing any particular type of activity, get a board to match your goals. Once you choose a style category, you then just have to match a board’s volume to your weight and you will have a good fit.
YOUR BODYWEIGHT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT FACTOR
Your weight will be a primary factor for the size of paddle board you need.
The ratio of bodyweight to board volume largely determines a paddle board’s stability. As a rider’s body weight approaches the board’s maximum rider weight, the less stable the SUP will be. The less a person weighs, the smaller the volume required to maintain an equal level of stability.
Your skill level also needs to be considered when choosing a SUP size. If you have several hours of experience paddling under your belt, you may feel very comfortable on a paddle board with less volume and less stability. As paddlers gain experience, their balance improves, and their need to maximize the volume/weight ratio is not as important.
Select a board’s volume with the idea that your skill set will rapidly improve. What offers prefect stability today, might feel like an overly cumbersome yacht in a year or two.
HOW DO I CHOOSE A SUP SIZE?
Now that the thinking behind SUP sizes have been explained, lets get to the steps to make a great selection.
By gathering the suggested information, you’ll have a better idea as to the style of boards that will work best for your goals. A good quality paddle board will last for years. Making the right size decision will help to keep you loving it for just as long.
WHAT IS THE MOST STABLE TYPE OF PADDLE BOARD?
What is the most stable type of paddle board? This is a common question for many first-time paddle board shoppers. Rather then supplying a simple answer, lets first looks at the issues that factor into the answer.
A paddle board’s stability is based upon three aspects of its basic shape; Length, Width and Volume. The longer and wider the paddle board, the more stable it will be.
A paddle board’s volume is directly connected to the size of the board. Volume is measured in Liters and it signifies how much water is displaced by the board when it enters the water. Generally, the bigger the paddle board, the more volume it will have.
There are four main types or styles of paddle board: All Around, Wave/Surf, Touring and Race.
All Around paddle boards are aptly named. They are shaped to be good at all types of SUP activities but don’t excel at any one style. By their nature, they are designed with stability in mind.
Wave paddle boards are stable as well, but become less stable as they get smaller and narrower. However, larger wave boards are quite stable and should be considered if there is a possibility to catch some waves in your future.
A specialized design. Touring boards may be 2-4 inches narrower then than an All-Around type of SUP, making the board feel less stable to beginner riders. There is simply less room for your feet to get comfortable. On the plus side of the equation, Touring boards are longer than All Around styles. The additional length adds volume which greatly increases board stability.
Racing paddle boards are very narrow and are a specialized board. If board stability is a factor in your purchase decision, don’t think about a racing board.
INFLATABLE VS. HARD
Another major factor that affects a paddle board’s stability is rigidity. Rigidity can be described as stiffness. A concrete sidewalk is very stiff and rigid. A mattress isn’t.
Hard paddle boards are more rigid than inflatables and offer better stability.
As a first-time buyer, paddle board stability is an important aspect of the decision-making process. However, it shouldn’t be the primary factory. The level of stability you need as a new rider is not the same level of stability you’ll need two years, or even two months down the road. As you gain experience, your balance will improve and your need for extra stability will decrease.
Some first-time paddle board buyers will purchase a board larger than they need just because it feels more stable during the test drive at the shop. As they gain experience and balance, these boards often start to feel too large. What was once a nice big stable board becomes a tug boat. Having to needlessly push extra weight and volume through the water gets tiring after a while.
Rather than purchasing a SUP that is too large for you just for better stability, select a board that is the proper size. Paddle board manufacturers create boards of different volumes to enable a better match between rider weight and the board’s function. A properly sized paddle board will not only provide you with the stability you need now, it won’t feel too big in the future as your skills improve.
Now that the issues have been examined, what is the most stable type of paddle board?
Assuming the questioner is a first-time paddle board buyer with limited experience, the answer is an ALL-AROUND HARD paddle board.
All Around boards have the most stable board shape and are designed to do everything pretty good. Combine this stable shape with the rigidity that a hard board provides and you have a winner!
What Material is Best for Paddle Boards?
What is the best material to make paddle boards? As a manufacturer specializing in bamboo paddle boards, it is pretty easy to write about the glories of bamboo. However, there is enough self-serving pap online. Instead, lets dig into the subject and do an analysis.
Before we begin, it is important to note that there are two main types of paddle boards; inflatable and rigid paddle boards. While prices of inflatables can vary from $300 - $1500, they are all made from essentially the same material – polypropylene. Rigid paddle boards can be made many different ways and from many different materials, and can vary in price from $300 - $4000. As a result, we will concentrate on the best materials for rigid paddle boards.
Creating a “Best” ranking means that criteria have to evaluated. Materials will be ranked upon the following:
Strength to weight ratio refers to the paddle board’s weight compared to its strength. Board strength is measured by stiffness and product durability. The lighter and stiffer a board, the easier it will be to paddle through the water.
BEST – CARBON FIBER
There is no doubt about it, carbon fiber is the absolute best material for paddle boards.
Carbon fiber is made from crystalline carbon filaments roughly 100 times smaller than a human hair. The carbon atoms form together in a tight, chain-like bond allowing the fiber to be exceptionally strong all on its own. When combined together with other carbon fibers, the material becomes even stronger.
It has an incredible strength to weight ratio. Carbon fiber boards are very strong and stiff and incredibly light. The downside is that they are very expensive. A carbon fiber paddle board may cost 50-100% more then the next best material – bamboo.
BETTER – BAMBOO
Bamboo has the highest strength to weight ratio of any natural fiber. It is superior to graphite which is a precursor to carbon fiber. In structural engineering tests, bamboo has shown to be stronger than some steel alloys.
In a composite environment like a Wappa paddle board, bamboo is a good substitute for fiberglass because it's stronger and lighter. Using a layer of bamboo in a paddle board can reduce the boards weight by as much as 15% while doubling the layer’s strength.
Bamboo offers a great value. Lighter and stronger than traditional fiberglass boards but not nearly as expensive (or light) as a carbon fiber paddle board.
GOOD – FIBERGLASS
For decades, all surf boards and paddle boards were built with fiberglass. Fiberglass boards are produced using multiple layers of fiberglass and epoxy around a foam core. The more layers of fiber glass, the stronger and stiffer the board. Unfortunately, a board becomes heavier with every layer, so most boards have between 2-4 layers. Bamboo paddle boards are a variation of fiberglass boards.
Fiberglass paddle boards range in quality. Cheap boards can be as little as $500 while the best ones are $1500+. They can be heavy or light. Not as light as either carbon fiber or bamboo, but still easy to carry under one arm. Generally, the lighter the fiberglass board, the more expensive it will be.
The downside of fiberglass boards is that delamination may occur if the board is poorly made or if the air vent is clogged from salt or debris preventing the board from breathing. Fortunately, proper maintenance and storage eliminates this risk. Rinsing your board at the end of the day and storing it away from direct sun are best practices.
MEH – PVC
Strong and durable, a paddle board made from PVC can appear almost indestructible. Made from the same material that is used for kayaks, a PVC board can hit a rock and probably bounce away undamaged. Some brands even demonstrate toughness by hitting their boards with a hammer.
PVC boards are created by injecting foam into the board mould. The other material types layer material around the foam core. Because of the injection manufacturing process, PVC boards are less expensive than carbon fiber, bamboo or fiberglass boards. It takes less time and labour to produce PVC paddle board.
While very strong, PVC boards can also be very heavy. Some PVC boards may weigh as much as 60 lbs. Compared to a same size fiberglass board weighing 25 lbs, and the trade off on the strength to weight ratio quickly becomes apparent.
POOR – FOAM
While all hard boards have a foam core, some paddle boards are essentially foam core with a spray coating to add grip and prevent water absorption in the foam. These are the cheapest rigid paddle boards available and may be available for a few hundred dollars.
These boards may appear to be a good bargain, but they are weak and may not last more then a season. They damage easily, and should be avoided at all costs. Frankly, if you want to spend that little, buy an inflatable SUP. It would be a better investment.
When shopping for a paddle board, most people the best board they can get for the least amount of money. If that type of thinking is something you can agree with, then your best option is a bamboo paddle board. A good quality bamboo SUP costs about the same as a good quality fiberglass board. It will just have a better strength to with ratio. If you will be paddling in a rugged environment such as rocky rivers with low water levels, a PVC board may be your best option. Now if money is no object, and you need the best of the best, then there is no question, your choice should be a carbon fiber unit.
The Wappa Blog
Written by Wappa's founder Layne Pennell, the blog's aim is to educate and share his love of stand up paddle boarding with anyone interested in SUP.
board performance explained
board care & maintenance
SUP for women
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