Inflatable paddle boards…the good, the bad, and the ugly…Part 1

The world of inflatable paddleboards is growing at an alarming rate.  The reason it is alarming is that there are a lot of subpar ones out there.  The good news is that there are also some good ones out there.  Part 1 here will point out some of the pluses and minuses of inflatables in general.  Part 2 will focus on Red Paddle Co, a company that we (and many others) feel is in its own class in the inflatables market.

For the past couple of years whenever we heard someone talk about inflatable standup paddleboards (iSUPs) we have recoiled in horror.

We have had experience with subpar inflatables.   And we cannot, in good conscience, sell those to people. I hesitate even using the word “board” in reference to these, because they feel more like a series of pool noodles strapped together than anything resembling a board.   This year we have been hearing a lot of buzz about a new breed of iSUPs that is vastly improved and moving forward with better technology, shapes, and increased performance.

There are many reasons why inflatables are a good idea

  • Storage-they roll up into a duffel bag sized bag so they can be stored almost anywhere.  You have an apartment?  No problem.  Tiny, weird house…not to worry.  iSUPs will fit in a corner, closet, basement, trunk…pretty much anywhere.
  • Transport-they roll up into a duffel bag sized bag so they can be transported almost anywhere too.  Do you detect a trend?  Some also have backpack straps and wheels for easy maneuvering to and from your destination.
  • Travel-closely tied to transport, you can check them like a bag on a plane.  That way when you get to your destination you will have your own board with you.  You will not need to worry about it being broken in half in transit, and you will save yourself rental fees and hassles at your destination.  And you will save yourself hundreds of dollars taking a chance shipping an epoxy board.
  • They are nearly indestructible.  Inflatables are not subject to the normal dings, cracks, and scratches that epoxy boards are.  They can take a beating and come back for more.   It takes a LOT to damage an inflatable sup.
  • You can paddle them anywhere.  You want to run rapids?  No worries about your board.  You want to paddle in the lake? Knock it out. If surfing is your bag, go for it!
  • They are a great way to get to your boat if it is moored, and they are great options for keeping on a boat.  You do not have to worry about them getting damaged or damaging your boat in any way.
  • They pump up in a few minutes and deflate in less time than it would take to tie down an epoxy board on your car.
  • Should you spring a leak, repairs are very easy and quite reliable
  • There are many choices of sizes, shapes and purposes out there


That’s the good

Here’s some of the not so good

  • Many have inferior construction and still fit all of our old pool noodle notions about inflatables
  • Many of these boards are add-ons to full epoxy lineups and they are offered more to round out the line and get in on the growing demand for iSUPs than to provide a quality product that people will actually enjoy using.  They do not want to compete with their main lineup so they pop out inflatables from the same factory everyone else is using, with the same methods and the same shortcomings.
  • Many do not inflate enough to become rigid
  • Low quality bags use stitching that can actually disintegrate with repeated contact with salt water.
  • You will not mistake your inflatable board for an epoxy board.  There are still differences, but how vast these differences are is largely determined by your choice of iSUP.


As with many other things in life, you get what you pay for.  You are better off paying more for a board such as the ones by Red Paddle Co that will hold up under you, than to get a great “deal” on what is basically a raft that will buckle under your weight as soon as you stand on it, will be half underwater, and will generally be unpleasant to paddle around.  These do not track or glide well, and you can feel every little ripple of water under you and you bounce jauntily along.

We rode a number of inflatables at the Surf Expo demos and can attest that Red boards are in a class of their own.  There are a number of technical features that make this so.  That’s why we feel they deserve a post of their own.  Look for Part 2 of inflatable paddleboards coming soon.

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