Inflatable SUP board buyers often disappointed by Big-Box SUP Brands
Are Cheap inflatable SUP boards from Costco® really a good deal?
(updated April 2018)
Cheap inflatable SUP boards are available from most Big Box stores these days. But are they really a good deal? Flimsy boards & poor quality pumps often disappoint low end inflatable paddleboard buyers. Is there a better solution to price vs quality? Here are some pro's and con's of the Big Box Inflatable SUP.
It seems that every week i hear from someone who's unhappy with the inflatable SUP they bought from one of the big chains. Some will say the budget-big-box inflatable SUP is flimsy, slow and difficult to paddle. Others will complain that the air-pump is difficult to operate and can't reach the recommended pressure.
What really bothers me is that many of those people are now convinced that ALL inflatable SUP boards will be like this - and that's just not true. The advertising messages trumpeted how tough and rigid these boards would be. Did they lie? Maybe they just didn't tell the whole truth.
Big Box Brands that claim 15 psi is 'high pressure' are giving Inflatable SUP boards a bad name.
The SUP industry doesn't have a standard for the term 'high pressure'. But almost every inflatable paddleboard brand inflates to 15 psi today. Advertising language that describes 15 psi as 'high pressure' or 'super-rigid' may not be legally misleading, but again, it doesn't tell the whole story. For lightweight (120 lbs) paddlers on calm flat water, on a well-built board, 15 psi may provide a decent ride. Put a heavier paddler on that same board, or go out in a bit of chop, and it's a different story. I worry that people who paddle a mushy iSUP will think that ALL inflatable boards are like that.
Low-pressure Inflatable SUP boards work well in some situations
It all depends on your expectations. Think of a low-pressure inflatable SUP (15 psi and under) as a movable raft instead of a paddle board and you'll be happy with the product. They work really well as a floating dock the kids can swim out to. They work well for smaller kids to have 'balance-battles' on. You can even paddle out to the middle of the pond and relax or sunbathe on them. Lighter kids (under 100lbs) likely won't notice the flex in the board as they paddle them around the lake.
The only problem is that they're a huge disappointment if you're an adult that wants to paddle any distance or SUP paddle with any speed or efficiency.
Why High-Pressure Super Stiff Inflatable SUP Boards perform better
Similar to a bicycle tire, when you pump your board up to 25 psi, (pounds per square inch) it's going to be stiffer and therefore easier to paddle than if you pump it up to 15 psi. It will flex less so there's less drag. It will glide better, go faster and surf better (picture on left). It will provide a more stable surface so it's easier to balance for heavier paddlers. But the vast majority of inflatable SUP boards are only rated to a max of 15 psi!
High Pressure Inflatable SUP boards are also stronger, more durable and last longer
High pressure inflatable SUP boards have to be built with more structural material inside to hold the shape, and more layers of material on the outside seams to prevent any air leakage. The result is an inflatable SUP board that can really take a pounding. In this video Red Paddle Co inflatable boards get thrown off a building, run over by a van and crashed on the rocks in the surf. I don't recommend trying that but they certainly make the point. They're so much more durable than any low pressure inflatable SUP.
You DON'T always get what you pay for!
Discount store brands are cheap. So you might be ok if they don't work that well. But what about the 'big names' in SUP? Can you spend a bit more and get a big improvement in quality? For the most part, no.
To show the difference between brands, prices ( in USD) and inflation pressure levels, here's a chart from Inflatable Stand-Up Paddleboard World. Worth a look!
There are some quality rigid-fiberglass SUP board builders that have been making great products for years. Naish, Starboard, and a dozen others come to mind. But without exception, their inflatable SUP lines suffer from mediocrity. And they still charge a premium price for them! (note: Starboard and Uli brands are closing the gap with some models at 18 & 20 psi respectively!)
There is one brand, Red Paddle Co, that's been making max - 25 psi high-pressure inflatable SUP boards since 2008. (A couple of other brands have emerged over the past few years.)
The Red Paddle Co RSS Stiffening System
Red Paddle Co makes a variety of inflatable SUP boards in different shapes and sizes. When a model doesn't meet their standards for stiffness, they incorporate a rail stiffening design into the board using an integrated pocket with a 'batten' in it. It's one more reason that the Red Paddle boards are stiffer.
To demonstrate the difference in flex at different air pressure levels, with and without the RSS system, here's a graphic article from Julian Kidd at Green Water Sports.
Full disclosure on our bias for High Pressure SUP Boards vs Low Pressure
I've paddled nearly 50 different models of inflatable paddleboards in the last 8 years and prefer a board that rides more like a fiberglass board but packs up in a case for travel or storage. Right now there's only one brand that does that. They're Red Paddle Co. Here's an independent video review from SUP Boarder Mag which checked out the Red Paddle 11'0" Sport. Be sure to check it at 3:30 for the 'deflection test'. They claim it is the stiffest board they have ever tested!
But there are other inflatable SUP boards that are well made, durable and cheaper. They're just not as rigid, so they don't perform as well in choppy water or surf. One example is Tahoe SUP - the Alpine Explorer at 20 psi.
We sell both brands and both have been reputable companies with good warranty track records. We want our customers to be happy with their SUP boards for years to come, so it's important to not over-promise on the performance side. Get the board that fits your needs, get it for a great price and enjoy your time on the water!
Best performing high-pressure inflatable SUP board - Red Paddle Co.
Red Paddle Co inflatable SUP boards don't have the brand awareness of Coke or Re/Max - but most people in the SUP world believe they're the best built inflatable SUP boards in the world! Not only that, but their "Ride 10'6" model is currently the best-selling inflatable SUP in the world!
Sure, the extra material, and better materials, make the boards costlier to build. But you get a much stiffer board that you can surf, ride in white water, win races with, or just enjoy at a family cottage. And you should expect to get many years of no-compromise paddling from your Red Paddle inflatable SUP.
Red Paddle inflatable SUP boards come with a wonderful backpack/roller-luggage style bag that holds everything - the board, bag, Titan pump and paddle. And it's a 'real' backpack that you can wear for hours on a hike (picture glacial lake in the mountains) on your bike, even the bus or subway.
All Red Paddle iSUPS come with the dual chamber Titan Pump. The dual chamber system means that you can get fast high-volume pumping at low pressure. When it get hard to pump, just switch over to the single smaller chamber for high pressure pumping that lets you reach the higher psi you want.
Demo a Red Paddle Inflatable Paddleboard at Beach Toyz in Toronto, Canada. You can demo the most popular models and do your own comparison at our Beach Toyz store in Toronto, Canada.
For a closer look at the Red Paddle Co lineup for 2018, shop our Beach Toyz online store
Free shipping to most parts of Canada for new Red Paddle Co boards!
Read our blog post: Buyers Guide to USED INFLATABLE PADDLEBOARDS
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