Inflatable paddleboards…the good, the bad, & the ugly…Part 1 1/2

This is supposed to be part 2 of a 2 part series on inflatable paddleboards, where we focus specifically on Red Paddle Co.  But in speaking with Scott and Andrew from Red, it turns out there’s more to it that than I can cover in two posts…so let’s go for three!  We’ll call this post 1 ½.

inflatable paddleboards

Red Paddle Co has been around since 2008.  Their sole focus has always been on inflatable standup paddleboards (iSUPs).  That, right there, is one of the biggest factors that makes them stand out in their field.  All of their efforts are focused on making iSUPs, and they are committed to making the best ones out there.  As opposed to other companies that add low quality inflatables to their lines because people love the convenience of them, Red is focused on the principle that “Riding an inflatable should not be a sacrifice”.

inflatable paddleboards

Part 1 addressed some general pluses and minuses of inflatables in general.  Part 1 ½ will focus on some of the marks of quality vs not so much.  And Part 2 will be a little more of an insider view of Red Paddle Co from a chat I had with Andrew and Scott who work for Red.

Some of the features that set apart excellent inflatable paddle boards are (insert Red Paddle Co in any of the spots where we talk about “quality” boards and features)

1) High density drop stitch fabric– drop stitch fabric is what gives the board thickness and the ability to hold air pressure.  High density, as the name implies, has a larger number of fibers making a stronger, more durable product.  For every point on the board where they can use drop stitch fabric, they do to ensure uniform thickness throughout.  Because of the extra fibers, it is much more durable and can handle increased pressure much better without the fear of over-inflation causing failure.

inflatable paddleboards

Linear drop stitch fabric is the alternative and it consists of many fewer fibers and creates a sausage type effect in the board when inflated.  It is much less durable and can fibers can tear if overinflated.


2) Rails…The rails give the board durability and they keep the air in the board.  Most inexpensive boards use single wall rails.  They consist of one big piece of tape wrapped around the board, one piece of tape on the top of the rail and one piece on the bottom of the rail.  In all you end up with lots of seams in one area.  Seams are weak points, and having a single wall with all of those seams creates a lot of potential failure points.

Red features a double PVC layer and quadruple rails.  This insures that the board can be inflated to pressure while retaining its shape and it means that in order to damage the board, you need to work through 4 layers, rather than just one.

inflatable paddleboards

3) Pressure –more specifically, the ability to take pressure.  Many inexpensive boards are designed to take 12-14 psi.  High quality boards can take 18-20 psi (or more).  There is an appreciable difference between 12 and 20 psi in a board.  It is the difference between a pool noodle raft, and a paddleboard that actually feels like a paddleboard.

To be able to take 18-20 psi (or more)…all of those other factors need to be present…you need the increased strength in the shell, and you need the reinforcements that will make sure that you board keeps its shape.

4) Rocker– Rocker is a very important feature in paddleboards in general.  Rocker is what will keep your nose above water, literally.  It will affect your ride and glide greatly and will contribute to the overall performance (or lack thereof) of a board.  Too little rocker and you will nosedive into any chop or waves you face (unless you are on a displacement board, but we’re not talking about those right now).  Too much rocker and you will lose glide and push through the water making you work harder than necessary.  Inexpensive boards cut the top dropstitch fabric shorter than the bottom one and when assembled the shorter top cloth pulls the bottom cloth up, producing an unnatural upturning of the nose that looks like the curl at the front of an elf’s shoe.  That’s one quick way to spot a subpar inflatable.

(note the upturned nose on the board on the right.  Just sayin’…)

inflatable paddleboards

Quality inflatables laminate the rocker right into the board so it will perform true to how rocker in a board should perform.  This is a more involved and more expensive process and the result is well worth it.


5)Stiffening or batten systems-most boards don’t feature these.

inflatable paddleboards
A handful have some method of stiffening up the rails, and Red Paddle Co has a patent on theirs.  Their RSS (Rocker Stiffening System) can increase stiffness by 40% and that makes a tremendous difference.  It is a batten strip that slides into a pocket along the rails of the board.  You insert it when the board is partially inflated. In surf, without a batten adding to that stiffness, the nose of the board can get suctioned to the water, pulling the nose down, resulting in you pearling (your nose getting buried) and you getting bucked off.  The laminated rocker mentioned above coupled with these battens, will keep you high and dry, riding waves much more true to how a paddleboard should.

6) Bags…many inflatables have bags as an afterthought.  They are round duffles with drawstrings that you have to fight to get the board into.

Well thought out bags unzip all around so you can lay the board right in it, have tuck away backpack straps, useful wheels,  and other features like double stitching, and interior straps to make sure you load doesn’t shift.

inflatable paddleboards


Seeing the various companies’ inflatables lined up on the beach at the Surf Expo Demo Day, some of these quality differences were immediately apparent.  But those you couldn’t see, you could certainly feel when you rode them.  We started at Red Paddle Co and got a feel for those boards.  After trying a bunch of other boards, we returned to Red to do a fresh comparison and it was clear that their attention to construction, quality and detail translates directly to the rider experience so riding their inflatables are not a sacrifice.

Tags: inflatable sup, inflatable paddle boards, inflatable sups, inflatable paddleboards, choosing an inflatable paddleboard, buying an inflatable paddleboard, red paddle co, inflatable stand up paddle boards

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