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Inflatable vs rigid paddle: making the right choice


In recent years, the practice of stand up paddle has been democratized on all bodies of water. The emergence of inflatable SUP technology has also made the sport accessible to a wider audience, and it now accounts for the majority of the market. Today, we hear that inflatable paddles are as good as rigid products… but beyond the sales pitch, is this really the case? The AFS/Nahskwell editorial team puts its cards on the table to untangle the truth from the false!

Une personne chevauchant une planche de surf sur une vague

Inflatable paddles are more suitable for beginners

Beginners are often recommended an inflatable paddle, described as an easier way to discover the discipline. But what really makes a paddle easy to use?

First and foremost, it’s stability that beginners are looking for. To achieve this, the board needs to be wide, often more than 30 inches wide, but it also needs to have a suitable nose and a rather generous tail. Finally, it’s best if the board is relatively low to the water to avoid feeling tossed about like a “cork”. Indeed, the higher you are on the water, the less stable you are.

Outside, inflatable SUPs for beginners are often wide, but mostly thick, with more than 5 see 6 inches of thickness. Combined with the average stiffness of first-price paddles, it’s clear that rigid boards are in fact much easier to access, as they’re very stable and sound, while immediately offering better sensations.

It’s a good idea to take a look at what’s available on the market.

On the other hand, inflatable boards also require much more effort to paddle, so can discourage beginners, or even be less safe when it comes to riding up wind and current.

Inflatable SUPs perform just as well as rigid SUPs

It’s sometimes said that inflatable paddles are now just as good as rigid boards, but that’s not true! First of all, noble materials like fiberglass and carbon are much better in contact with water when it comes to gliding. Just try it and you’ll immediately realize the difference.

Moreover, it’s impossible to work on the hull of a PVC paddle stand! At best, you can play around with the rocker, but a composite board will be of a completely different level of design, right from the first-price beginner boards. It’s not for nothing that you don’t see inflatable SUPs in surfing or racing, only rigid ones.

Rigid paddles are more fragile than inflatables

It’s true that composite materials are less impact-resistant than PVC and dropstitch. We generally prefer to protect them with a cover during transport for these reasons.

On the other hand, they are more resistant to abrasion and don’t suffer from peeling skins, PVC’s loss of flexibility, aging glues and dropstitch filament breaks that inevitably end up happening with inflatables. They can also be repaired inexpensively, ad infinitum! A well-treated rigid composite paddle board will have a life span of many years, if not decades.

Rigid paddles are more expensive than inflatables

In absolute terms, this is generally true. Low-cost inflatable supers can be found for under 200 euros, with performance and longevity sometimes inversely proportional to the price advantage… On the other hand, for the same level of performance, rigid supers are often the same price, if not cheaper with the fall in prices in this sector. An inflatable race or surf paddle will tend to be excessively expensive compared to rigid, as the investment in R&D to compensate for materials and shape work will have to be much greater.

Finally, the lifespan of the inflatable makes the rigid the better choice over the long term when it comes to investment, especially as payment facilities make it possible to spread it out.

The inflatable stand-up paddle is more practical than the hard one

Bulky yes, but practical no. Sure, the inflatable paddle can be packed into a transportable bag or stowed in the trunk of the average car. You need a truck or roof racks for its tough competitor.

On the other hand, the inflatable requires much more set-up time: count on about ten minutes to inflate the board (or deflate it) and add the obligatory mounting and dismounting of the fins. But your rigid board is ready to go as soon as it’s out of its bag! All in all, that’s a good half-hour of handling time saved every session.


Inflatable SUPs are easier to maintain than rigid SUPs

Once again, the advantage goes to rigid paddles, contrary to popular belief. Apart from the occasional rinse and waxing, traditional boards require no special attention. They can be stored for many years in a garage – or even a garden for the less careful – and still perform like new. An inflatable paddle will require more constant care: checking for leaks at the junction of the skins on a regular basis before heading out to sea to avoid finding yourself in distress, tightening the inflation valves, deflating and folding compulsorily for winter storage in a dry place that’s neither too cold nor too hot…

Inflatable boards are as versatile as hard boards

When it comes to touring or medium distances, this is definitely the case. These practices, which require relatively simple hulls, pose no problem for most seriously built boards.

This is not the case for surfing and racing!

But that’s not the case for surfing and racing! For surfing, you need boards that are very well worked out in terms of rails and tail, with lots of stiffness. Unfortunately, inflatable stand-up boards don’t behave well on the wave after the first few foams. It quickly becomes very difficult to surf or do mixed surfing in these conditions. This aspect is also very noticeable at sea, with the chop: inflatable boards don’t handle chop as well as harder, more seaworthy boards.

For racing – or long-distance touring – inflatable SUP boards are unthinkable. Too unseaworthy, they can’t cut through the chop like their hard-bodied counterparts with bows and hulls that benefit from a lot of attention. Inflatable boards quickly become much more tiring and can’t keep up with the competition.

At the end of the day, prejudices die hard. If you’re looking for a board for beginners, it’s best to take the time to choose the right size and invest only once: you’ll get the most out of the wonderful discipline of stand-up paddling, and may even consider others. If you’re looking for performance, don’t hesitate to opt for a rigid model.

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