Which inflatable SUP to choose?
The choice of your inflatable stand up paddle board (i-SUP) depends on the practice you will do with it. Depending on whether you ride waves or participate in races, the paddle board you choose will not be the same at all. If, like most people, you want to practice i-SUP in your free time to relax, this will also be another board you will need.
Many people turn to the inflatable i-SUP for the obvious advantages of its small size when deflated. Although this advantage is valid for all models, there are some concepts and key points to know in order to choose the right inflatable stand up paddle board.
The dimensions of a board are determined by the 4 criteria of length, width, thickness and hardness of the board. These 4 criteria give the overall volume of a board, which is a good indicator for choosing one (the bigger the board, the easier and more stable it will be).
This is a very important parameter because the length directly affects the maneuverability of your board. The shorter the board, the easier it will be to use, maneuverable and responsive to the slightest strokes of the paddles. Otherwise, the longer the board, the faster, more comfortable but difficult to maneuver it will be.
12'6" or more: For hiking or participating in races
Between 9'5" and 12": For a family off-road board
Between 8'' and 9'5": For an off-road board designed for little riders
Between 9" and 10": For living water
In the Stand up Paddle market, the most common board width is 30" or 76cm. This width is found in most brands. There are wider widths which make the board more stable for sizes over 100kg. The narrower the the board, the more efficient the water penetration (faster) and the wider the board the more stable it will be, but be warned, for an equivalent width an inflatable SUP will often be less stable than a rigid SUP!
Experts paddle boards between 23" and 27" wide
XS riders should paddle boards 28" to 29" max to have good paddling motion
A standard jig (M-L) is normally quite stable on a 32" board under so called conventional conditions.
An XL jig should be able to fish a 35" board
There are larger widths which make the board more stable for sizes over 100kg
The thickness of an i-SUP board is important for both inflatable and rigid boards. There are 3 thicknesses of inflatable stand up paddle boards on the market today: 10cm (4"), 12cm (4'8') and 15cm (6").
The thicker a board is, the stiffer it becomes at equivalent pressure
The thicker a board is, the more wind it has
The thicker a board, the more volume it has (for the same width and length) and the longer it will take to inflate
i-SUP boards with a thickness of 10cm are sufficient for beginner and intermediate levels for sizes under 85kg
For sizes over 90 kg, a thickness of 15 cm is strongly recommended
This variable is only of interest on an inflatable Stand Up Paddle. The hardness of a board is related to several parameters such as the shape of the board, the quality of the fabric, the construction, the number of layers and the density of the drop stitch filaments ect ...
Hardness being linked to various parameters, it is difficult to qualify and unfortunately the brands and manufacturers do not provide sufficient information to qualify. The important thing to remember is that the "harder" the board, the more stable and efficient it will be.
You can't get close to the hardness of a board without discussing methods of building an i-SUP, but first…
What is Drop Stitch?
Inflatable SUPs are built using Drop Stitch technology, this is the heart of the inflatable board.
This technology consists of assembling two PVC membranes between which we weave thousands of regularly spaced polyester threads (unfortunately for us consumers, the brands never communicate on the density of the filaments). This mesh between the 2 membranes (also called a 'skin' or 'layer') helps hold the air in keeping the SUP's flat shape despite the pressure, without this mesh your board would look like a big ball.
The Drop Stitch allows your board to have the right shape, i.e. the right shape. A quality Drop Stitch will therefore have a tighter mesh, made up of more threads between the two skins, the board will accept more pressure, and we will therefore be able to inflate it excessively without risking tearing it.
In concrete terms, a normal Drop Stitch inflates to 15 PSI (12 in the worst case), while a quality Drop Stitch will accept pressure up to 25 PSI (you still need to be able to reach this pressure). A quality drop stitch will warp less because the construction has more threads, the air will be distributed more evenly. A board with a poor quality drop stitch will have blemishes, dings and at worst.
In short, the Drop Stitch is the polystyrene core of the rigid board. But like a stiff board whose foam core isn't the bulk of the construction, the Drop Stitch alone doesn't define the quality of an i-SUP, its surroundings matter too.
to. Single Layer/single skin (1 layer)
The Simple Skin production consists in using the Drop Stitch when leaving the factory: 2 layers of PVC between which the threads are intertwined.
Since there are different grades of Drop Stitch, there are different grades of single skin boards. Some constructions are correct while others are mediocre, such as the 1st price cards found in supermarkets.
Today, the vast majority of boards sold are Single Skins as they are suitable for occasional Stand Up Paddle use.
Pros: Lightweight and inexpensive
Disadvantages: risk of porosity, very fragile (frequent leaks, layer that punctures more easily), soft and inefficient layer
If you choose a Single Skin i-SUP for economic reasons, Valwix advises you to choose at least a paddle of more than 3m and 15cm thick.
b. Double Layer (double layer)
This is a one layer board that is inflated and onto which we glue a second unstretched layer over the first skin that is stretched. This non-stretch second skin plays a role of impermeability, resistance and rigidity.
This construction is much more reliable, the two PVC membranes and the glue guarantee a perfectly sealed structure. The only problem is that gluing a second ply to a first membrane adds significant weight to the board.
Advantages: less risk of porosity, more solid, more rigid.
Cons: Heavier, medium finish with bubbles and creases, more expensive (this build requires more materials and a lot of manpower).
This is a single skin board which is inflated and onto which another strip of PVC is glued to the sides or in the middle of the board. This extra strip of skin is called a "stringer".
Advantages: light, medium price, a little less risk of porosity, recommended for light riders
Disadvantages: quite fragile board, always soft and inefficient (some brands compensate for the lack of stiffness with thicker, unsightly and awkward drop points)
The Fusion construction is a recent innovation that has only been available on the market since 2016.
Available for the first time exclusively on Red Paddle and Fanatic, this innovation has spread since 2017 to other high-end brands. Fusion technology revolutionizes the construction of i-SUPs, the 2nd layer of PVC is fused during production with the first skin not inflated.
This fusion of the two layers takes place using a large oven (the two layers are therefore not glued and thus the weight of the glue is saved), it ends up stabilizing everything with epoxy threads that are inserted between the two skins.
The 2nd skin, thus fused to the production on the 1st, is as taut as the 1st during inflation. So there are two taut skins instead of just one, and this offers a dramatic gain in stiffness and torsional strength.
Advantages: clean and constant finish (more folds, more bubbles), much lighter boards thanks to the abandonment of the glue (about 20% lighter), much stiffer boards (thanks to the tension of the 2 skins), stiffer than a Double Skin board, all the threads between the two skins stretch during inflation (because they are on the periphery and surround the boards, they stiffen the board even more and offer incredible resistance to torsion)
Disadvantages: its high price
There are also 2 new types of unique innovations unique to the Red Paddle and Staboard boards. Their goal is to optimize the stiffness of their boards as well as their speed.
The FFC (Forfarwd Flex Control) system is a patented innovation that stiffens the front of the board using a compression spacer. The FFC removes the flex that can occur during the ride and further increases the overall speed of the board.
The RSS system (Rocker Stiffening System) consists of two stiffening slats that slide into the side pockets of the boards. On Elite boards, RSS is combined with the FFC system to ensure stiffness during planing.
Airline technology is Starboard's most important advance in regulating rocker lines and deflection (a unique system for this brand!). This efficient and lightweight technology has the potential to change the future of inflatable stand up paddle boards. The free flowing aramid cord locks into a board shape when inflated creating a solid and reliable hull feel. The patented aerial technology uses a predefined floating cable. It is attached to the nose, goes under the bottom and ends at the fin box. The default cable is slightly shorter than the card. Therefore, when the paper is inflated, it is put under tension and significantly stiffens the paper.