Choosing A Suitable Inflatable Paddleboard

Posted: 3 January 2022


In making a decision about which iSUP is the right one for you, it is always good to begin with the end in mind.

Trying to envisage how you are most likely to use the board will help to narrow down your choice from the incredible range of inflatable boards available. There is amazing diversity in the market, from foil boards through to racers and white-water chasers making for incredible choice, but equally, a fair amount of confusion!

ASI Master Trainer and lifelong waterman, Glenn Eldridge, guides us through some of the finer details on picking the perfect iSUP.

Where To Begin?

Quality over quantity is an adage which certainly holds true when buying any board, but particularly so for an iSUP. The following is a short overview for the first-time paddler of what to be aware of when buying a new iSUP and the compromises that may need to be made if budgets don’t go quite as far as you would like.

Not all boards are created equal – over the ten years of running the Ocean Sports Centre, far too frequently I have seen people go for their first paddle on what is effectively a li-lo with both the nose and tail pointing in the air and feet underwater! If buying cheap is the difference between paddling and having fun on the water versus not going paddling, I would take the cheap option every time, however, I am not sure that everyone is aware of the issues related to buying a budget board.

Before I go into tech later on in the article, I would like to help provide a clearer picture of what type of board is most likely to suit you.

Board Types

If no particular type of paddling leaps ahead of the others for you, then a generic all round style board is for you. These type of boards have profile shapes that are longer with a rounded nose and tail. There are a large number of factors which make a board more or less stable including the conditions you are paddling in but, in general the flatter (less bottom rocker), wider (this includes how long the board is widest for) with rounded nose and tail with thick round rails (sides of the board) the more stable it will feel.

If paddling forward with a little more speed is your thing, then drawing in the plane shape will do the trick. Again, in very general terms, reducing the width of a board and narrowing the nose and tail can make the board faster, plus it has the added benefit of improving tracking of the board (its ability to go in a straight line).

How wide is wide and what is stable?

Firstly, stability is absolutely specific to the individual. This could be because they are taller or shorter, more or less confident, paddle on flatter water or simply have less coordination than the next person. Holding all of these factors equal then an all-round first-time board of the average height and weight of a person (83kg at 175cm and 70kg at161cm Male and Female respectively), should ideally be no less than ten feet and no more than twelve feet, thirty inches wide (no more than 32inches) with a wide nose and tail.

If paddling on flatter water is most likely, width could be reduced to 28 inches. If paddling on rougher open water, consider 32 inches.

Reduced width can make boards quicker, but it comes at the cost of stability. In terms of length, there is little to be gained by having a really long board. Anything above twelve feet merely makes it more difficult to control both on and off the water and gives little additional stability.  

It is also important to take a look at the widest point and how the board draws toward the tail (becomes narrower). If the wide point is just that, a single point and pulls in tightly toward the narrower tail this reduces overall stability which to some, improves manoeuvrability. The longer the widest point stays wide for you can be sure that the board you are looking at will have greater stability.

Surf shapes follow a similar principle, if you are looking to SUP surf for the first time we can scale things down a little. Length shouldn’t be any less than eight to nine feet and 26 inches wide. There are obviously loads of variations in board design which can improve stability and performance, however, this article is focused upon broader generalisations which will help the first time buyer.

If things are still a little confusing, the lighter and shorter a person is, the shorter and narrower a board can be paddled. Similarly, taller heavier people are better off leaning toward the upper end of these recommendations.

Now that we have a better idea regarding the type of board you are looking for we need to consider the materials your new iSUP will be made out of and how these not only impact upon your paddling experience but also safety out on the water.

Construction Quality

Once settled upon the type of board, in terms of iSUP it becomes easier to balance budget with quality of construction. Put simply, the lighter something is the more R&D is required to create it and the more exotic materials are needed to build it.

Near Hard Board Performance in Flat Water

Several leading brands are integrating cutting edge technology within their boards increasing rigidity of the board moving across choppy water. There have even been several high-profile athletes racing competitively at an international level against opponents riding hard boards.

One of the types of tech used in these boards that has also improved the overall safety of iSUP’s out on the water is ‘I’ beams or secondary chambers. This tech is now being integrated within leading manufacturers top end boards. Aside from improving overall performance of the board it also means that if there is rapid deflation in the outer chamber the inner chamber - the ‘I’ beam - remains intact and the board remains afloat and can still be paddled.

The next area of interest is to establish how the board has been joined. Most less expensive boards will use glued seams. Seams are where different parts of the board must be brought together. More seams equals more glue, and more glue equals poorly constructed boards which in turn is poor for the environment (greater use of solvents).

Better boards will use fewer seams and will heat weld seams, i.e., no glue. This is where two materials when joined are pressed and heated creating a mechanical bond as opposed to chemical, which essentially forms one material. The benefit aside to being more environmentally friendly, means that seams are less likely to experience catastrophic failure which sometimes occurs in temperature extremes.

Light Weight

As more material tech becomes available at an affordable price, iSUP’s are becoming increasingly lighter and are often lighter than lower end composite boards.

Where Are We?

As we can see, for the beginner seeking that first iSUP the options are vast. Thanks to ever-developing technology the iSUP has evolved into a board that can deliver whatever the paddler requires. A well-built board offers stability, security, and thanks to breakthroughs such as ‘I Beams’, improved safety. Yet, equally a quality iSUP can now prove a valid alternative for performance paddlers.

The iSUP limits as they say, are limitless.

Hopefully the above has offered some food for thought and some direction in your search for the perfect iSUP and we look forward to seeing you out on the water!