Stand-up paddleboards marry the freedom of being out on the water with a muscle-burning workout. They work on any type of water — still lakes, rushing rivers and choppy oceans — which means you can take them anywhere. If you have the SUP bug, chances are it’s from paddling on a rented or borrowed hardboard. But, if you’re looking to buy your own, consider going inflatable — they’re cheaper and easier to store and carry, which means you’ll get more use out of them. Unless you plan on racing, an inflatable version will work just as well as a hardboard, or even better if you plan on using it for yoga.
The sweet spot with inflatables is a board that’s nimble enough to fit into a (reasonably comfortable) backpack, yet durable enough to stay together past your first tour. Your end goal (surfing, racing, just cruising) will determine rigidity, length, width and hull type, says Grant Nyquist, explorer and host for The Outbound Pursuit Series, an adult adventure camp. For example, you want a wide, medium-length, rigid board for yoga but a longer, narrower board for better speed and maneuverability when open-water touring.
Across the board, quality of construction matters: Single-layer construction with drop stitch is standard and cheaper, but it can warp or change the board shape over time. A double layer make-up is better but costlier and heavier. And, smallest isn’t always ideal, Nyquist points out, since that can also mean thinner, more fragile materials that won’t last.
Lastly, look at the warranty, especially if you plan to SUP rocky whitewater or surf near reefs, which can pop or tear your board.
Here are seven of the best inflatable SUPs to consider for summer 2019.
Best for Still Water Conditions: BodyGlove Performer 11′
This is the ideal budget board for flatwater touring. At 34-inches wide, this inflatable SUP is sturdy with plenty of room to cruise with a kid or canine on board. It features six lash points, so it’ll hold enough gear to last you for a full day on the water and the carrying handle is comfortable so you can lug the 24-pound board around. The fins are rubber, which means the tracking isn’t perfect, and they’re fixed to the board, so sloppy storage will risk warping the flimsy material. But we love the reinforced rubberized nose and triple-layer construction — great features for the longevity of the board. Plus, it’s sold at Costco (among other places), which is convenient and boasts a great return policy.
Best for Yoga SUPing: Peak 11′
This board’s got the looks and the brains. The 32 inch-wide deck is made from PVC and, inflated, it sits 6-inches high, so it rides like a rigid foam board. Along with a non-slip grip coating, this inflatable SUP is sturdy enough for yoga or folks who have trust issues with their balance. It’s quick to inflate and deflate, packs up easily and the carrying case is well-padded, making it more comfortable to the move its 18 pounds to water. The board has a rounded nose, which is good for choppy water but a drag on speed, and, with both front and back bungee storage, it can carry more gear than most for long days.
Best for Tackling Waves: Hala Fame
Once you get past the steep price tag, this board is a trustworthy iSUP for white water or overnight expeditions. For starters, the slow rocker design can flirt all day with waves and let you punch pockets, while the deck pad and raised stomp pad keep you steady to navigate lines. The swallowtail is great to minimize tipping and we love Hala’s patented retractable fin system, so when the shallows sneak up on you, there’s no worrying about the potential breakage of the fin underneath. It’s short (9’6″) and wide (36″); with a core of double-layer drop stitch and PVC, it’ll hold up through the roughest waters you want to run and surf. Bonus: It comes with a 3-year warranty (though you’ll have to buy a paddle separately).
Best for Compact Storage: Red Paddle Co. 9’6 Compact
Red Paddle Co. offers a whole line of great iSUPs for every activity, but we like The Compact if you’re willing to shell out to score a stress-free setup and fun day on the water. The biggest perk is it packs down to almost half the size of most other boards, making it ideal for small storage and long hauls (especially since the carrying case is legit comfortable — it even has lumbar support). The special weaving process that makes the packability possible doesn’t compromise on rigidity or stability once inflated. That being said, the board is under 10″ and can only hold around 200-pounds, so it’s really not an option for choppy water or bigger guys. But if you want a one-size-fits-all board to hike or travel with and just enjoy the water on, this is it.
Best for High Performance: Atoll 11′ Paddle Board
Aesthetically, this board is beautiful — we love the clean deck design and new rugged colorways. But the design of this iSUP is even more on point: Made from dual-layer PVC and with reinforced seams, the Atoll is about as close as you’ll get to a hard board when inflated. It’s sturdy, can support up to 300-pounds and will keep up with you season after season. The surfboard-like tri-fin design and carbon fiberglass paddle make your strokes strong and efficient on calm open water or lake explorations. Yet at just 19 pounds, it’s quite light and easy to transport inflated or packed into its heavy duty backpack.
Best for Long Day Trips and Excursions: iRocker Sport
Fast paddling and long tours call for a more hydrodynamic board. With four layers of PVC, the iRocker Sport is incredibly durable and rigid. But the narrow body and tail reduce drag so, while it’s not as stable as other models, it’ll cut through the water with ease and save your arms in the battle against the waves. There’s also a multi-use action mount at the front of the board to hold a GoPro, fishing rod or speakers and the package purchase comes with everything — pump, leash, removable fins, fiberglass paddle, repair kit and backpack.
Best for Surfing and SUP’ing: ISLE Airtech All Around Inflatable
With its round, rocker nose and solid construction, the Airtech is a great companion for rougher water and one of the best iSUPs for surfing. It sits six inches tall in the water, so it’ll glide easily and stay stable. The board is crafted from the standard, high-quality drop-stitch and PVC combo, but also features a brushed EVA traction pad on top so you won’t slip while cruising or tear up your legs once you drop to your knees. Packed down, the board weighs a nice 21-pounds and comes with everything you need to lug it and inflate it.
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