A Guide to Inflatable SUP 2018

When the Red Paddle Co inflatable SUPs (iSUPs) first started to come into the market in volume, I wrote a short article on how the boards in their range differed & who they might be suitable for.  Since then eight years have passed and the market in iSUPs has exploded over with a whole host of inflatable sup's available for different markets.  

The majority of our SUP sales in the shop are of iSUPs and we are not just selling them as an entry level or family product.  The technology and design of iSUPs has moved almost as fast as the sport has expanded.  The inflatable boards are now finding favour with racers, adventure tourers, fishermen, and yoga addicts for their easy of use, portability and durability, not to mention the lower price point!

A number of the latest generation of iSUPs have a windsurf attachment point and actually work as functional, if not exactly fast, windsurf boards aka WindSUPs.  Making an inflatable that truly perfoms in the waves is also becoming closer to a reality as designs progress.  Where iSUPs do have a natural advantage over hard boards is in the durability against impacts and this is now being fully exploited with the emergence of white water paddling, sup teaching and crazy new team sports such as "SUP polo" check out our Facebook page for the latest 24-7 SUP Polo news.


Against this new background of mass market appeal and emerging specialist boards, which setup is right for you?  

Firstly, I'm going to preface this with a bit of a truism, 'You get what you pay for', mostly...   There are a lot of boards on the market that look the part, but somehow cost under £400 or less for a complete package.  The difference between what these boards will offer and one from an established brand like Red Paddle or Fanatic can be substantial.  The biggest 'tell' if you like will be the recommended maximum PSI to inflate the board to.  If its only around 12 to 15psi the board will NEVER be stiff enough for a user much over 50kg.  A good iSUP should let you pump 15-25psi in there to make it super solid underfoot.  If it's bowing in the middle when you're paddling, it's not hard enough to work properly.

So you go looking at the main SUP brands and you're faced with a dozen different models from each brand, how do you pick out the right shape for you?  Well firstly you wont go far wrong walking into any bricks and mortar SUP retailer.  Talk about what you want to do with the board and they will give you the benefit of their experience and hopefully offer you boards to demo and try out.  

This requires a little faith in the salesperson you deal with and it's always daunting to walk into a specialist retailer without doing your own research first.  I'm one of those shop staff you might run into down here, so I'll give you a brief idea of the questions I might try to answer when I'm helping find the right setup for a customer.

1 - Size of paddler?  If you're 90KG+ it automatically rules out some of the smaller, thinner boards or lighter single skin constructions. Conversly small paddlers dont need a huge double skinned heavy board they cant carry easily.  You have to be able to stand on your SUP board and paddle without bowing it, but you also need to be able to carry it comfortably.

2 - What do you want to do with it?  

Surfing: Smaller (9'-10'6) but stiffest board possible.  Look for stiffening battens and a high psi rating.  Choose a board thats big enough to let you catch the waves you want.  I would consider Fanatic Fly Air Premium or Red Paddle Co Whip 8'10 if the paddler was fairly able already or quite a small person.  Maybe a bigger paddler around 65 to 90 kilo could use the 2018 Red Paddle Co 10'6 Ride or a Naish Mana for better float and stability.


Paddling 10+ miles and racing: Waterline length is key here, minimum is an 11' touring or racing shape, ideal 12'6 or 14'.  The longer and narrower you go the faster your board will be.  The trade off is more weight as you get bigger and less stability as you go narrower.  The race boards are usually 6" thick for maximum stiffness, this additional thickness combined with their higher volumes means that an average weight paddler can choose a single skin construction without sacrificing much performance.  They may also have additional stiffening battens or rods. This helps to keep the weight & the cost down but maximises the stiffness of the board.  Lots of great board options in this category, Red Paddle Sport is good for bigger guys with excellent stiffness and loads of stability.  Naish make the N1SCO which is a one design race board that you can use in their (inter)national race series. Fanatic have an Ray Air Touring  and JP offer the Cruisair 12'6  in a couple of constructions.  Red Paddle make a series of iSUP raceboards for adults and kids if you are serious about your racing.

Carrying gear: Deck eyelets for bungee and nets, minimum 30" or but ideally 32" gives more width for loaded stability.  You don't want to tip your camping gear in the water at the start of a trip!  Dry bags and smart load distribution are essential.  Most of the new Red Paddle Co. boards have deck bungees for 2018 both front and rear.  The Red Paddle Co Voyager has the most capacity with them placed fore and aft.  Put the things you need regularly on the water closest to the middle of the board so they are easy to get.


Fishing from it: Maximum width and volume for stability, deck eyelets for gear and storage, but go careful with those fish hooks, you don't want to go jabbing one into your inflatable board. 

Family use: Big enough to be stable with possible multiple passengers, towing eyelets are useful to tether it or tow it.  Unbreakable fins and tough double skin construction make me think immediately of Red Paddle Co. Ride Windsup 10'7. This also has a windsurf insert which will expand it's range of use.  The Fanatic Fly Air in the larger sizes will also be great for this.  They have a US box fin which can be upgraded to help windsurfing performance.


River runs: If fast flowing then one of the specific white water boards Red Paddle Co Wild 9'6.  Inexpensive paddles with nylon blades are good.  If you want a SUP polo board without going to the extreme of ordering a new twin tip, these offer a good alternative - stable, stiff, manouverable.


3 - Expected conditions? Flat water, chop, small waves?  The more challenging the expected conditions for use, the wider and more stable the board will need to be.  This sort of ties up with my next thought...

4 - Prior experience?  An experienced paddler will have much better balance and be more comfortable on a narrower board in more challenging conditions.  If you plan to paddle regularly I might suggest a board that you are more likely to grow into than one you will grow out of.  If you only paddle occasionally, I'd err towards something more accessible that will make your SUP adventures immediately successful. 

5 - Budget?  Some brands do just work out more expensive than others.  Starboard and Fanatic offer different constructions of the same basic board shape, so they can offer it at different price points.  Buying a board together with a paddle and leash and anything else you might need will always work out better value than separate purchases of the same items. 

6 - Opinion?  As staff of 24-7 Boardsports we all have our favourite boards and favouite brands and we might not always agree with each other on which is best but generally we will come down on very similar packages and solutions for you.  At the end of the day it comes down to personal choice, after all it's your hard-earned...  Take advice, read up, come over & demo a bunch of boards, join us on a Solent SUPers club run.  As a shop our mission is to get you on the water having fun and that means we want you on the right kit for you.  

Aloha - see you out there.