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Inflatable vs Hard Paddle Boards: Which is better?

A woman on an inflatable paddle board. A man on an epoxy paddle board.
Image courtesy of Isle

This seems to be the great debate these days in the paddleboarding world. Do you go for the hard paddle board that’s been around a lot longer? Or do you purchase its newer cousin, the inflatable paddle board?

There’s pros and cons to each, as with any choice, so we’ll try to break it down for you the best we can. In the end, it’s up to you based on your desired body of water to paddle on, how much storage space you have, your cash flow, etc.

Hard Paddle Boards

Let’s start with hard paddle boards. These boards are often called original, traditional or fiberglass paddle boards.

What are hard paddle boards made of?

Hard paddle boards are usually made from a hard, but lightweight material, like an EPS foam core wrapped with fiberglass and epoxy. They come in a variety of shapes, lengths, and thicknesses. They can support a wider range of heights and weights compared to inflatable paddle boards.

When is a hard paddle board better to use?

The first thing to think about is where you’re trying to paddle and how long/far. If your paddleboarding destination is a calm, serene lake – you could go with either option. If you’re going to paddle out in the ocean, you probably want a hard paddle board to stand up to the waves.

Even on the calmest lake, a hard paddle board will perform slightly better. When it comes to water that is choppy, like in the ocean, the hard paddle board will perform noticeably better. But surfing is really the only time a hard board is far more superior than an inflatable one.

If you plan to do any surfing, you should rule out an inflatable off the bat. It is possible to surf with an inflatable board, but the performance will be far inferior.

Hard paddle boards sit lower in the water and are usually thinner, so they tend to have a smoother ride, go faster, and go farther easier. If you’re looking to stay out on the water almost all day and go long distances, you’ll want to choose a hard paddle board over an inflatable one. If you are just looking to go out and paddle for a few hours for fun on a lake, the inflatable is totally fine.

Another good thing about hard paddle boards is they feel more stable than inflatable paddle boards. Since they are firmer and ride lower in the water, there’s more support from under the board and the board itself. This can help with people who don’t have the best balance.

Hard paddle boards have been around longer so companies have had a lot of time to work on shapes, weights, thicknesses, etc. This means that there’s a lot more variety when it comes to hard paddle boards. So you’re able to customize the board, in a way, based on your height, weight, skill-level, etc.

If you’re a person who’s on the heavier side, a hard paddle board might be better for you. The material they’re made of makes them more stable and less prone to bending inwards under heavier weights.

Another good thing about hard paddle boards is that they’re ready to go when you are. You don’t have to spend 10-15 minutes inflating them. You can save your energy for staying out on the water and paddleboarding longer.

Issues of an epoxy paddle board

The negatives of hard paddleboards are as follows:

  • Need a lot of storage space: if you don’t have a large balcony or extra garage space, it can be hard to find a place to store your paddle board. They don’t fold up, so you need a rack or space in your apartment, say behind the couch, to store them when not in use.

  • Harder to transport: if you live far from the ocean or a lake, you’ll need a truck or a car that can handle a paddle board strapped to the top. It can also be tough if you live on an upper floor of an apartment building. Carrying a large board in elevators or in tight corridors can be difficult and frustrating. Once you park, it can even be difficult to carry your board to the water as well. Of course, our SUP-Now Strap makes it all easier.
SUP-now's enhanced paddle board strap that helps you carry your paddle board and your paddle.

Inflatable paddle boards

Inflatable paddle boards are newer to the SUP game, but they’re a great alternative to a fiberglass board and they have come a long way in the past few years. They’re made from a mix of hardened rubber, PVC and polymer. They usually come with a manual pump, paddle, and carrying case (which also doubles as a storage bag).

What situations are better for inflatable paddle boards?

Inflatable paddle boards are great for people who don’t have the space for hard paddle boards. They fold up into their bag, which can then be stored on balconies, in closets, or kept in the trunk of your car.

They’re easily transportable as well. You don’t need to pump them up before you get in the car to drive to the ocean or lake you’re going to paddle on. Any car can handle an inflatable paddle board. Deflating and folding them up also makes it a lot easier to carry them from upper floors in apartment buildings. Just strap the bag on your back and make your way down.

Inflatable paddle boards tend to be lighter, so carrying them can be a lot easier than hard paddle boards.

The negatives of inflatable paddle boards

The cons of inflatable paddle boards are below:

  • Some assembly required: inflatable paddleboards need to be blown up every time you want to get out on the water (unless you have storage space to keep them inflated). Sometimes blowing them up can take 10+ minutes, which means that an impromptu paddle can be sort of annoying.

  • Less variety and fewer options: since inflatable paddle boards are newer and require different engineering, there’s not as many choices out there. You can’t easily customize it to your height and weight like solid paddle boards.

  • Less stable: inflatable paddle boards sit higher on the surface of the water, so they can feel less stable since they don’t have as much support from the water. A lot more falls into the water can happen because of this.

  • Lower weight capacity: inflatable paddle boards have definitely evolved since they were first introduced, but they still have lower max weight capacities than hard paddle boards. It’s possible that when a heavier person is on an inflatable board, it can start to “taco”, which means the sides start to turn up and engulf the paddler (that’s not a taco Tuesday we want to be part of). However, with recent technology this does happen less often.

Inflatable paddle boards can be slightly cheaper than hard paddle boards, but there are options in both categories that are inexpensive and budget-friendly.

To wrap things up…

If you are an average paddle boarder, who won’t be paddleboarding in the ocean often (or at least not surfing), and you don’t mind blowing up a paddle board each time, an inflatable board is perfectly suitable for you. If you are are a hard core paddleboarder or plan to mostly use your board on the ocean, a traditional board might be the better way to go.

Three people, each on a paddle board, on a lake at sunset. Two are on an inflatable paddle board, the other is on an epoxy paddle board.

Keep an eye out for another post we’ll do on the best inflatable and hard paddle boards out there. If you’re looking to make a purchase before we get to that post though, you can’t go wrong with Tower Paddleboards. They were one of the first to enter the space, have quality products and good customer service.

So before you make a decision on what paddle board to buy, use this list as a guide to figuring out what you want from your paddle board and which option checks off the most boxes.

Happy shopping, see you out on the water!

Some of our posts may contain affiliate links, meaning as an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases (thanks for the beer!). There is no extra cost to you.

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