The inflatable SUP boards, also known as iSUPs (inflatable stand-up paddleboards), are now by far the most popular and have largely outstripped the variants made of solid materials (hardboards or solid boards) thanks to improved manufacturing techniques.
If you wanted a board with high rigidity and good running characteristics in the early days, there was practically no way around a hardboard. The first inflatable models only achieved little stability and were considered better air mattresses in the scene.
But those times are long gone. Thanks to many innovations in the choice of materials and manufacturing technology, a high-quality iSUP nowadays achieves top values in terms of stiffness, buoyancy and resilience, which can certainly be compared to a hardboard.
Above all, the partially multi-layer structure of the outer shell made of stable PVC layers and the modern construction of the core ("drop stitch"), in which many polyester threads are very closely interwoven inside the board, have improved the properties of the inflatable SUP boards immensely.
Furthermore, the main advantage of the iSUPs is of course that you can transport them without any problems and only get them ready to go on the water.
Building the SUP board is therefore always the first, sweaty step before fun. The best thing to do is treat pumping as a welcome warm-up and follow the instructions below... you'll have no trouble filling your SUP board in the future!
Inflate iSUP in 7 steps
1. Unroll the SUP board
The first thing you have to do is get your SUP board out of your bag or backpack and roll it out flat on the ground with as few wrinkles as possible.
It is best to make sure now that there are no pointed or sharp objects (stones, shells, shards, etc.) under the board. The valve must of course point upwards and be easily accessible.
Most boards have the valve at the rear, but there are also models with a valve at the tip of the board (nose) or on the side. Models with 2 valves (2 separate air chambers) are also widespread, I will go into more detail about the special features of this variant later.
2. Open the valve cap and position the valve pin correctly
Next, you need to open the valve's protective cap by turning it counterclockwise until it comes off easily. The cap is usually attached with a small piece of string so you can't lose it. Now you have a clear view of the actual valve.
The absolute standard for SUP valves is the so-called HR valve (HR stands for Halkey Roberts). These high-pressure valves are equipped with a thread (for the adapter on the hose of the pump) and a valve pin with a spring underneath.
The valve pin is particularly important because the position of this pin determines whether the valve is open or closed:
When the pin is all the way up, the valve is closed. To open it you have to push the pin inwards and turn it clockwise very slightly in this position to fix it, the valve is then fully open and the air can escape unhindered.
If you then want to close the valve again, you have to press the pin lightly again and now turn it counterclockwise, the pin then jumps up again and the valve is tight.
To inflate your board, the valve must be closed (valve pin up) so that no air escapes during the pumping process and later when removing the pump hose. Take a look at the two valve positions on your board before you inflate it so that you understand how the valve pin works.
Attention very important: The pressure conditions on SUP boards are really very high, so if you press the valve pin when the pump is fully inflated, the air will shoot around your ears with a lot of power. Therefore always keep your face (especially your eyes) far enough away from the valve and make sure that there are no loose objects in the vicinity of the valve...safety first applies here too!
3. Connect the pump hose to the pump
Now you have to connect the high-pressure hose to your pump via the thread. There are simple air pumps with only one connection, but there are also models with 2 connections.
If there are 2, then you have to pay attention to their labeling, because one connection is for inflating the board (usually labeled Inflate, Inf or In), the other is for pumping out the air (labeled Deflate, Def or Out).
Logically, you have to screw the pump hose to the inflation connection to inflate the board!
4. Tighten the pump hose onto the valve
In the next step you have to connect the valve adapter of the hose to the valve of the SUP board. You can do this by attaching the adapter to the valve and turning it clockwise with very little pressure.
You will then feel that the adapter sinks into the valve, literally snaps into place and the hose can no longer be pulled off the valve.
The mechanism of the valve adapter is also called a bayonet lock. The connection is very tight and the valve is securely closed with a small rubber seal during the pumping process.
5. Inflate the SUP board
Now comes the most important part...actually inflating your board. If you have connected everything correctly, then your warm-up training begins now!
The desired value for most SUP boards is 15 PSI, which corresponds to approx. 1 bar. However, some boards (e.g. the Bluefin Cruise) also tolerate a significantly higher pressure. In order to get the best performance from your board, you should always aim for the maximum value.
The manufacturer's specifications must always be taken into account when setting the pressure. You can usually find these in the border of the valve or in the operating instructions for your SUP board. Always pay close attention to the pressure display (manometer) of your pump, especially towards the end!
If your pump model is a switchable double-stroke air pump, then it is best to start in double-stroke mode as well. In this mode, you pump air into the board both when you pull up and when you push down, allowing you to create more volume in less time.
If the back pressure keeps increasing after a while, you can switch the pump to single-stroke mode with a dial or screw.
With this you only pump air into your board when you press down on the handle, but this also reduces the resistance and saves your strength.
As a rule, with most boards there will be a reasonable limit for the transition to single stroke operation from about 8 PSI, but that also depends entirely on your individual strength. In principle, if you can do it, you can stay in double stroke mode the whole time.
Basically, you should make sure that the air pump is on a solid surface and that you fix the base with both feet.
Try to work less with your arms and more with the weight of your upper body, especially on the press-down. If you keep your back fairly straight, you will achieve an ergonomically correct position and save a lot of energy.
6. Unscrew the pump hose from the valve
Done! The most strenuous part is now behind you, you are well warmed up and the anticipation of the water is increasing!
When you have reached the final pressure, you can now turn the valve adapter counter-clockwise and remove it from the valve.
Don't be alarmed, some air escapes when you turn it off until the valve pin jumps up and the valve is completely sealed. However, the hissing noise should only be heard for a very short time!
7. Close valve cap
Congratulations, your board is now ready and the SUP fun can begin. Now just quickly screw the protective cap clockwise onto the valve and off you go!
Inflate SUP board with two air chambers
The procedure for SUP boards with 2 separate air chambers and thus 2 valves is basically the same. However, you have to pay attention to the correct order when inflating.
On 90% of these boards, the inner air chamber is inflated first so that it can unfold without counter-pressure from the outer chamber!
As always, there are exceptions (e.g. the Lidl Mistral), to be on the safe side on this point, you have to take a look at the operating instructions for your SUP board. There you will find precise information from the manufacturer regarding the order.
Once that's settled, simply follow the detailed steps above for each air chamber:
- Unroll the SUP board
- Remove the valve cap and position the valve pin correctly
- Connect the pump hose to the pump
- Screw the pump hose onto the valve
- Inflate the SUP board
- Unscrew the pump hose from the valve
- Close the valve cap
- SUP board valve - 3 important tips
1. The correct valve position
One of the most common mistakes when inflating SUP boards is incorrect valve position.
To ensure that no air can escape during and after the pumping process, the valve pin already described must be at the top. Only then is the valve closed and the SUP board ready to be inflated.
The valve pin can be pushed down and fixed with a small clockwise turn, the valve is then open. To close the valve, push the pin back down slightly and turn it counter-clockwise, the valve pin will then pop up and seal everything completely!
Practice adjusting the valve position a few times on a deflated board so you get the hang of it and don't make this "popular" inflation mistake.
2. Tighten the valve
With many SUP boards, a valve key is already included in the scope of delivery, if not, you can get it in specialist shops for a small amount of money. With a valve wrench you can check the SUP valve from time to time for tightness, tighten it or even replace it completely if necessary.
Attention very important: Never work with the key on the valve when the board is inflated. If you make a mistake or the valve is damaged, the thing, fueled by 15 PSI, whistles around your ears... and then it says "Good night Marie"!
Therefore, deflate the board completely by fully opening the valve. Then place the board or the part with the valve on a flat and firm surface. Then remove the valve cap.
Now you can press the valve key with its "teeth" onto the valve in such a way that it engages properly in the recesses provided. Then push the key down firmly while turning the handle clockwise until the valve is properly seated. But don't overdo it so you don't overtighten the thread, because "after tight comes...off"!
3. Use a towel
There are different valve pins depending on the manufacturer, some are round and fairly smooth, while others are square and sharp-edged. In order not to hurt yourself, you can simply use a towel or rag etc. when adjusting the pen and protect your fingers.
Air escapes when inflating the SUP board - 3 common causes
1. The pump hose is not tight
The high-pressure hose of your air pump has to be really tight on the valve before inflation so that the adapter seals completely.
As already described, you have to turn the connection clockwise until it goes no further. The hose then sits firmly on the valve and nothing should wobble or feel loose.
In the event that your SUP air pump and your board are from different manufacturers, the pump sometimes comes with additional sealing rings of different thicknesses. If the problem persists despite the valve being firmly connected, you can sometimes solve the problem by using a different gasket.
Unfortunately, it can very rarely happen that the pump and board valve are not completely compatible, but fortunately this is almost never the case and you should first consider the other reasons mentioned.
2. Valve position is wrong
If air escapes from the valve during or after pumping, you should first check the position of the valve pin. To inflate the board, the pin must be up and the underlying spring relatively relaxed. This position tells you that the valve is closed!
If the pin is down and the spring is under tension, then the valve is open. Then push the pin down slightly and turn it slightly counterclockwise so it pops up and securely seals the valve.
3. Valve leaking
If air is still escaping despite the correct attachment of the hose and after checking the valve position, you must first check that the valve is firmly seated using a valve wrench or, in the worst case, even replace the entire defective valve.
You can easily recognize a loose valve by the fact that the air escapes on the side of the valve at the border. If you press the valve under water, you can see exactly where it is "bubbling".
If the valve has just become loose, then you must first deflate it, otherwise there is a serious risk of injury! You can then use the valve key to tighten the valve as described above (under SUP board valve – 3 important tips).
If there is still air escaping at the side of the border or directly from the valve and none of the other reasons mentioned are present, then unfortunately you have to replace the entire valve:
For this you also have to let all the air out of the board so that the valve doesn't fly in your face. Then place the part of the board with the valve on a firm and level surface. If you now apply the valve key correctly, you can unscrew the entire valve counterclockwise.
Get a suitable replacement valve (HR valve) from a specialist shop and screw it clockwise into the board with the valve key until it is firmly seated. Your board should then be completely tight again and ready to go!
Inflate the SUP board electrically - is it worth it?
The luxury variant of the SUP air pumps are the electrically operated models. These little helpers certainly belong in the category of premium accessories and are almost never included in the scope of delivery of a complete SUP set. Of course, they make it much easier for you to inflate, but depending on the design, they also cost a lot.
There are 2 types of electric SUP air pumps. On the one hand, the models that require a direct power connection with 220 V (socket) or 12 V (car battery or cigarette lighter) and, on the other hand, the variants with an additional integrated battery, with which you are completely independent of the mains power supply.
All copies work in principle in the same way:
- Connect the pump hose to the valve on the SUP board
- turn on the pump
- set the desired pressure
- Start the pumping process and wait until the desired pressure has been reached
- Remove pump hose
- Switch off the pump or at least let it cool down (depending on the model) if you want to inflate another SUP board
Which pump is best for inflating the SUP board?
Unfortunately, there is no such thing as the best pump. There are only differently powerful SUP air pumps. What matters is what you expect from your pump.
So that you can answer this question for yourself, I will give you an overview of the available models here:
Single stroke air pump (also called single or single stroke air pump):
This variant is the simplest version of all SUP pumps. Single stroke means that you only pump air into the board when you push down on the grip. Accordingly, you need the most time with these copies. On the other hand, they are very cheap and offer little resistance when inflated.
Double stroke air pump:
Such pumps fill your board with air both when you pull it up and when you push it down. In most cases, they are even switchable, so that you can switch to single-stroke operation when the back pressure increases and save your strength a little. Double stroke models are now the most common and are included with many SUP sets.
Triple action air pump:
The triple action pumps from the upper price range are usually equipped with 2 pistons, so that you basically pump twice the amount of air into your board with each pass.
They also have 3 operating modes (double stroke with 2 pistons, single stroke with 2 pistons and single stroke with only one piston). By selecting the mode, you can select the appropriate setting for each pump phase.
The triple action air pumps are sometimes included in the scope of delivery for SUP boards from the premium range. However, if you are interested in such a model, you will have to spend a little more money than for the simpler versions.
Electric air pumps:
The luxury version of the SUP air pumps are the electric versions. Here you have the choice between models with or without a battery.
The application is of course by far the most convenient.
But the pumping time is usually a little longer, they are sometimes quite loud and much more expensive to buy.
Since your safety is very important to me, I would like to conclude by pointing out that you should always pay attention to your safety first when working on the valve of the SUP board. The pressure conditions on modern SUP boards should not be underestimated:
Please keep your face and loose objects away from the valve at all times when deflating...the air escapes suddenly and with high pressure!
Please never work on the valve with the valve wrench when the board is inflated. Always deflate completely before applying the key. If you make a mistake, the valve is defective or brittle, otherwise it will fly towards you at enormous speed!
And now...Have fun on the water!