GUIDE TO INFLATABLE STAND UP PADDLE BOARDS

Stand up paddle boarding in America was transformed by the invention of the inflatable paddle board. Before then the sport had mostly been the preserve of big wave riders who used hardboards as a means of propelling themselves on to waves. These hard boards were based on designs from other sports like surfing, windsurfing and kayaking and used a variety of constructions, mostly based around a foam core encased by laminates of fiber glass, carbon or even wood. These boards proved effective for use in the waves as well as for racing, but they were large and fragile which made them impractical and hard to transport or store. Whilst these hardboards still have a place in the elite/professional side of SUP boards, the performance margin has been virtually eliminated by innovations in materials and improved designs at the premium end of the inflatable paddle board market.

So, if you’re looking to paddleboard on Lake Michigan or catch a few waves in California an iSUP might just be the right choice for you!

The development of inflatable paddle boards, which Red Paddle Co were at the forefront of in 2008, was responsible for SUPs being adopted by beginners and professionals alike, all across America. This new breed of board was easier to transport and store, allowing access to new waterways and offering far greater durability than their harder counterparts. Today, the growth in popularity of stand up paddling boarding shows no signs of slowing down and this combined with the continual innovation and development from companies like Red Paddle Co has helped make inflatable paddle boards hugely popular in the US.

THE EXPANDING INFLATABLE MARKET

If you’re reading this guide, the chances are you’re either looking to buy your first board or upgrading from an existing one. Well, you’ve come to the right place! The purpose of this guide is to explore the exciting, although sometimes a little confusing, world of inflatable paddle boards, debunk some myths, and give you a clear understanding of the technology involved in the inflatable SUP boards. 

A quick Google of “inflatable paddle boards” reveals a mass of different boards in all different sizes, styles and colors. And of course, price. How can seemingly identical boards, save perhaps for wildly different color schemes, all of which claim to offer a great paddling experience (with words like “stability”, “durability”, “performance” thrown in for good measure), have such different prices? Is there really that much difference between them? In short, yes! The different options available will have a massive impact on your paddle boarding experience. Let’s take a closer look at what actually goes into making an inflatable paddle board, and why so many Americans are opting to go inflatable.

DESIGNING THE BEST INFLATABLE PADDLE BOARD

Put simply, the big differences in price across the market today are due in large part to the construction processes and materials used in the creation of a board. And these differences are not purely for reasons of performance. The quality and durability of construction are, of course, vital when you consider the importance of safety of the paddler when out on the water. So what are these differences?

DROP STITCH PADDLE BOARDS

When inflatable boards first came on to the scene, a technique was adopted called “Drop Stitch”.  Essentially, this refers to the material which forms the top and bottom skin of the board which is connected by threads. This gives the board its shape and structure.

Drop stitch comes in various forms and, generally speaking, cheaper boards (although also some so-called “premium” boards) use this to create something known as a ‘single layer’ or ‘fusion’ board. These have a very thin PVC coating which is similar thickness to a deflated balloon, and which is stretched over the woven drop stitch material to make it airtight. The resulting board is often bendy, unreliable and does not give you anything like the same paddle boarding experience you would get from a traditional hard board. You can easily check if a board is made using this technique, just check the maximum PSI of the board, if it’s 15 psi or less, then it probably is a single layer board. This isn’t because they work better at that pressure, but because they aren’t designed to last under pressure. Inflate it to more than that and you’re going to have problems down the line. As a guide, a minimum of 15psi should be used to give good performance but ideally your paddle board should be able to be inflated up to 18-22psi to deliver a truly awesome experience.

You might see “double layer” drop stitch boards which involve the doubling up (surprise!) of the PVC layer to reinforce the board and make it stiffer. Whilst it did achieve this, the boards became heavier and more susceptible to cosmetic blemishes. Some manufacturers try to avoid these blemishes by adding strips (sometimes called stringers) around the edge of the board, rather than double coating the whole board.

Whether the board is single or double layered, drop stitch boards don’t provide the stiffness and quality required to produce an inflatable paddle board that will give you an authentic and enjoyable paddling experience. These boards are essentially little more than beach “toys” and this is reflected in their price. However, whilst cheap to buy, the lack of durability ultimately means your investment is probably going to be wasted. Repairing these boards when they fail can be both uneconomical and potentially dangerous if the structure of the board has been compromised.

 

INTRODUCING MSL

As pioneers of the inflatable paddle board, Red Paddle Co developed a technology known as Monocoque Structural Laminate, or MSL, to produce the stiffest, most durable and highest performance iSUP yet, whilst at the same time saving weight by removing unnecessary layers of adhesive. This technology uses layer of horizontal multidirectional polyester threads that are sandwiched between 2 layers of reinforced PVC. This is then machine laminated to a super-reinforced drop stitch, that provides a high-tensile rigid core, to deliver unrivaled stiffness and a premium finish. Features such as heat-treated seams and quad-layer rail tape complete the design and help provide an airtight, waterproof seal.

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PADDLEBOARD CONSTRUCTION

The material is only half the story though, as how the board is put together is just as important and varies hugely between manufacturers. We’ve spent years of meticulous research and development to refine and finesse the construction process we use to deliver a super consistent shape and product. We call this process TEC AIR. We constantly scrutinize every step of the manufacturing and production process to maximize board reliability and performance. Whether it’s how the rocker curve is applied, or the process used to bond the layers together, we’ve continually updated the process to ensure our inflatable paddle boards deliver unrivaled quality.

TYPES OF INFLATABLE PADDLE BOARD

So the material and construction of an iSUPs is vital in terms of its quality, durability, stiffness and performance. Now let’s take a look at the different types of board available in the US today:

By far the most common and popular type of board in the USA. Versatile and easy to use, All-Round SUPs are perfect for beginners and more experienced paddlers alike. These boards are generally between 9 and 11ft long and are designed to offer all round performance in a wide range of conditions. All-Round Boards are great for family holidays, they pack down small and can be used at the beach, on lakes or cruising along rivers. So, if you’re heading out to explore the San Juan islands or paddleboard the Colorado River , an inflatable paddle board is the way to go!

Touring boards are designed to be used for longer trips, and can be loaded up with gear, such as camping equipment. Their longer waterline makes them great high-speed cruisers whilst runner fins improve tracking and reduce lateral drift in side-winds. Perfect for the more experienced paddler or those looking to take their paddling to the next level.

The largest of these types of inflatable paddle boards can carry up to 8 people, so they need to be super stiff, wide and stable for all the family to enjoy. At the smaller end of the category, tandem paddleboards enable two paddlers to share the work whilst the added length provides plenty of room for passengers, picnics, camping kit and more.  

Racing on an inflatable paddle board is a lot of fun! To compete you’ll need a specialist board that’s long (12ft+), narrow and super-stiff. There are two main divisions in SUP racing, the 12’6” and 14’ classes so first you need to decide which one you want to enter. Then get yourself a super stiff board to make sure you get the most out of every paddle stroke. The Red Paddle Co Elite range utilizes patented proprietary stiffening systems such as the Rocker Stiffening System (RSS) and Forward Flex Control (FFC) to minimize flex and delivered unrivaled stiffness. They are much narrower than the touring and all-round SUPS to reduce drag and surface resistance allowing you to cut through the water more efficiently and deliver maximum speed.

Being able to paddle on to a wave makes them a lot easier to catch! And these boards are designed to do just that. They need to be super-stiff and extremely durable and are shorter than all-round boards. Their narrower tails increase manoeuvrability in the waves whilst they must be no thicker than 3.9 inches to provide the rider with a lower centre of gravity making the board more responsive and stable.

The best boards for Yoga are wide, stable and ideally have a full-length deck pad to maximize space for paddle board yoga. They are often slightly thicker than an all-round board to provide increased stiffness for more complex movements, and to keep you high and dry when practicing those all-important yoga moves. To give you complete freedom the carry handles should be placed on the edges/rails of the board, but the paddling experience should be the same as a large all-round inflatable board so be sure to check how it paddles too.

Smaller and lighter than other inflatable paddle boards, Kids SUPs are designed to be easy to carry and maneuver in the water. Reliability and performance are just as important on these boards as any other, plus as your child grows in both experience and size the resale value may be a key consideration to ensure you get more bang for your buck. 

 

White-Water stand-up paddle boards have high sides and exaggerated, progressive rockers to allow them to break in and out of the water. They need to have bulletproof construction as they’re likely to bump into their fair share of rocks! To navigate a foaming river these boards have to not only be super durable but also light and nimble to aid maneuverability, so are often wide at their mid-section with a drawn in tail. Extra-grippy deck pad and cargo systems, whilst shorter, flexible fins are crucial to ensure you can ride out any rough stuff!

 

Combining paddle boarding with windsurfing, these inflatable SUPs give you the option to switch between the two, depending on the conditions. These boards come complete with a mast foot to connect the board and sail and often include numerous center fin solutions. If you’re an avid windsurfer looking to make the most of your SUP when the breeze is up, then a removable daggerboard offers the best performance and upwind tracking.

ESSENTIAL ACCESSORIES

PUMP IT UP - TITAN PUMP

When it comes to inflatable paddle boards, the most important accessory is your pump! Let’s be honest, you’re not going to get very far without one. As with the boards themselves, there are differences to be aware of here too, in terms of the quality and efficiency of the pumps available on the market today.

Most pumps are single chamber, with widths varying between manufacturers. A lot of boards at the lower end of the market supply pumps that have a wide chamber. These are easy to use but do not allow the board to be pumped to a high pressure. Most premium brands provide a thinner chamber pump with their boards as this allows you to get higher pressure into your board more easily, but it does take longer to inflate the board. Red Paddle Co innovated a completely new pumping experience with the Titan Pump which combines the best of both worlds, thanks to its two chambers. The thinner chamber allows air to be pushed out at over 60mph, whilst the larger chamber is used when the going gets tough, allowing you to reach a higher pressure in half the time – and more importantly by using half the energy!

IT'S IN THE BAG

Another key accessory is of course the bag used to carry your SUP. The backpacks supplied with boards come in all shapes and sizes, not to mention quality. A good quality one should have wide, padded shoulder straps to disperse and spread the weight when being carried and a waist strap to allow paddlers to bear the load through their hips rather than back and shoulders. As the bags are required to withstand any adventure and the weight of their contents, they require super strong, double-bonded nylon seams, continuous coiled zips and robust coated material to ensure they don’t let you down. Integrated wheels are also a huge benefit when traveling, and a robust internal structure to ensure the straps are an integral part of the bag is vital to ensure they do not come away from the bag. As with the boards and pump, it’s worth researching the type of bag an inflatable paddle board is supplied with before making that all important purchasing decision. 

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