To make it a little easier for you, Vanhunks has put together some key factors to consider when buying your first inflatable SUP.
Buying your first inflatable SUP can be both an exhilarating and an intimidating event. Whether you’re a long time surfer, experienced paddler or just getting into the sport, choosing the right inflatable SUP can make or break your experience.
We certainly advise that renting an inflatable SUP a few times before purchasing is a great idea. This will allow you to try a few different sizes and to figure out where you are at skills wise. Once you have mastered the basics of a rental, you will be in a much better position to decide which inflatable SUP you want to buy.
First off lets cover the basics you will want to consider before making your purchase.
Inflatable SUP vs Hardboard
The first thing most people will ask when buying an inflatable SUP, is what is the difference between an inflatable SUP and a hardboard?
Hardboards are made from carbon fibre, fibreglass or polyurethane. They are hard, slightly heavier than the average inflatable SUP and generally more expensive too. They are more difficult to transport, as most require roof racks or a truck to transport. They can be faster through the water due to their stiffness, but this is something that is changing fast with the new generation of inflatable SUP. Hardboards will need a cover, especially when you are travelling, as they can be damaged.
Most inflatable SUP options are made from PVC and are very light. They are also easier to transport, due to the fact that you can deflate them and pack in a much smaller travel bag. They are easy to carry due to their weight and have excellent flotation. Most beginners prefer an inflatable SUP.
There are many factors to consider when choosing an inflatable SUP. What is your experience/skill level? What type of waves do you plan on surfing? What is more important to you: stability or performance?
After you ask yourself these questions, you can then choose a design that will help you achieve those goals. There are lots of different shapes within the inflatable SUP sub-genre, so it’s important to figure out what you want to do with your SUP, then figure out what board will get you there most efficiently.
Inflatable SUP Experience level
If you’re new to the sport and learning, or just want to have fun riding waves, stability is always going to be the biggest factor. A nice stable inflatable SUP will make all the little things much easier. If you are more advanced and wanting to progress, there are board designs that can work as a one board quiver, but most guys that are really into it will need one to three different boards to span a full range of conditions and styles of SUP.
Forget that 8’ board that looks wicked in the surf shop. If you are a first time buyer and weigh more than 100 lbs, that is way too small of a board for you. Remember this rule: The smaller the board, the less stable it is. You first board should be a good all-round board. You will have it for years, and it will be great for friends and family to use when you move onto other boards.
A good place to start is to figure out the dimensions of an inflatable SUP you’ve tried that felt good and was easy for you. Use that as a baseline of what you know you can paddle. This should give you an idea if the board was way too stable or not stable enough, then you can make judgments based off that.
Demo or renting is the best way to get an idea about what type of board you want and also as great way to gauge what size you can handle. A very common size inflatable SUP for an average 180lb male who is intermediate would look something like 10′ x 32″ x 220L (Like the Afro iSUP) and a very common size inflatable SUP for an average 125lb female would be 9’6″ x 31″ x 196L (Like the Impi iSUP).
10’ – 10’6” length boards are great for novice and intermediate riders up to 200 lbs. Boards this length tend to have a displacement of 170-190 liters, and will be very stable for people in this weight class. Heavier people can ride this board, but it will be less stable.
11’ – 11’6” length boards are great for novice and intermediate riders up to 220-230lbs. Boards this length tend to have a displacement of 205-225 liters, and will be very stable for people in this weight class. Heavier people can ride this board, but it will be less stable.
If you are a novice rider, and weigh more than 250 lbs, you don’t necessarily need a longer board; you just need one with more displacement. Look for one that is wider than the standard 32” width.
Single fins track straight and are generally used with a larger fin, so they tend to be more stable. They have a smooth, dependable feeling while turning but lack quick rail to rail manoeuvring and tend to have a governor on speed.
Three fins is the most common for wave riding. They blend the best combination of stability, speed, and performance. Quad fins are the fastest setup of them all and turn well —some of the better surfers don’t like them because a thruster feels so positive off the bottom of the wave.
Most inflatable SUP beginners should start with a large single fin setup for stability. Once you have become more proficient on your board, you can look to start experimenting with different fin setups.
Wave Riding vs Paddling
What will you be doing on your inflatable SUP?
If the answer is that you will just be casually paddling on flat water, you will be looking for a larger and more stable board. Something that is easy to paddle, very stable and you can even do SUP Yoga on. We highly recommend the Impi iSUP.
Wanting to hit the waves and surf? Then you need a smaller, less stable board, that will be better on the surf. It needs to be manoeuvrable and able to do sharp turns. You also need to be able to punch it through the surf zone to get out to the backline, so you don’t want a large inflatable SUP. We would recommend the Afro iSUP.
The last category is for more advanced paddlers, being SUP racing and downwind paddles. If you plan on racing you need a very specific type of inflatable SUP. This inflatable SUP needs to be long and narrow for speed, it will be more unstable at first, but as you get used to paddling it, this will get better. Your best bet if this is the kind of paddling you want to do, is the Spear iSUP.
Paddles for inflatable SUP
You can buy the best inflatable SUP out there, but without a good paddle you won’t get very far.
Getting a quality paddle that works well with your body and paddling style will make stand up paddle boarding a bunch more fun. Does that mean you have to buy a top-of-the-line paddle? Not necessarily. To choose the right inflatable SUP paddle for you, consider these factors:
Length: Getting the right size paddle is key to maintaining proper paddling form and efficiency.
Material: The materials used to construct a SUP paddle play a role in determining the weight and stiffness of the paddle. Generally, a lightweight paddle is preferred, but keep in mind that you usually pay more for less weight.
Blade size, shape and offset: The size, shape and offset of the paddle blade define how the blade moves through the water. You’ll choose a blade based on the type of paddling you do, your body type and personal preference. Usually, the larger you are, the bigger you’ll want your blade to be.
In just two hours of paddling most people will take a couple thousand strokes. Lifting a heavy paddle that many times can quickly tire you out, which is why most experienced paddlers will invest in the lightest paddle they can afford.
The material of your paddle will also determine how stiff it is. A stiff paddle is more efficient at transferring the power of your stroke.
The blade is the part of the paddle that you dip into the water when you’re taking a stroke. The size, shape and offset of the blade all affect how the paddle performs.
There’s no hard and fast rule for determining exactly what size paddle blade you need. Over time, you’ll probably develop a preference for a certain size blade based on the type of paddling you do and other factors, like your body type.
But, if you’re brand new to inflatable SUP, use this guideline: The larger you are, the larger your blade can be. This is because bigger paddlers typically have the strength to pull a larger blade through the water.
We have a full range of SUP Paddles, including Carbon paddles, in our store.
Inflatable SUP required equipment
Now, you are almost ready to hit the water with your inflatable SUP. But before you get started, there are a few extra pieces of equipment you will need.
PFD (Personal Flotation Device)
The U.S. Coast Guard classifies stand up paddle boards as vessels, so if you’re paddling outside a surf or swimming area, you have to have a PFD on board. Adults don’t have to wear the PFD (though we advise it), but children must. Check your state’s regulations for age requirements.
Safety whistle and light
The Coast Guard also requires that you carry a safety whistle to warn other boaters. If you expect to be out after sunset, be sure to have a light on board.
During the summer months on a warm body of water, most people choose to wear some combination of a swimsuit, board shorts, and a short- or long-sleeved rash guard for sun protection. For cool conditions where hypothermia is a concern, wear a wetsuit or dry suit.
Typically sold separately, a leash tethers your inflatable SUP to you, keeping it close by if you fall off. Your inflatable SUP is a large flotation device, so being attached to it can be important for your safety. There are leashes designed specifically for surf, flat water and rivers, be sure to purchase the correct one for your intended use.
Inflatable SUP is an outdoor activity and being protected from the sun’s harmful rays is important. Wear sunscreen, sunglasses (we recommend polarised lenses) and sun-protective clothing.
You definitely get what you pay for. For some people a cheap board is all they want/need and there is nothing wrong with that, but if you’re loving the sport and use your board often it’s worth the extra money to get nice equipment that will perform and last.
Only you can determine how much you can afford to pay. If you love paddle boarding and you are dying to get your own board, but your budget is limited, definitely get an inflatable SUP. If you need the best of the best, get a carbon fiber SUP.
It’s also extremely important that you consider your safety and the safety of others when out on the water. A leash and life jacket are always key items to have when you’re using an inflatable SUP, so make sure that with your new purchase you also invest in your safety.
Inflatable SUP is a cheap sport compared to others. After the initial purchase of a board and paddle there is no lift ticket, there is no monthly membership fee, and there are no greens fees.
Once you have figured out the right inflatable SUP for your needs, have made sure you have all the right gear, and have done a few lessons to learn the basics – it is time to hit the water and enjoy yourself!