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.
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.
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