Stand-up paddleboard instructor, SUP racer and paddlesurfer Duncan Slater takes a look at the best inflatable paddleboard in various different styles
It might come as a surprise to discover that the vast majority of the stand-up paddleboard (SUP) market is inflatable. In fact, in most conditions good quality pump-up boards can perform every bit as well as their solid counterparts. As such, to a degree, the best inflatable paddleboard can be considered a synonym of best paddleboard.
If you’re not specifically looking for an inflatable paddleboard, be sure to check out our guide to the best paddleboards on the market.
An inflatable SUP (or iSUP) is the obvious choice for stowing aboard a boat or yacht – and here we look at eight of the best inflatable paddleboards for a whole range of different uses, from beginner-friendly all-rounders to specialised surf, race and even whitewater boards…
How much air pressure does an inflatable paddleboard need?
Air pressure is key. You really must find a board that recommends inflating to an absolute minimum 15psi of pressure – ideally 18psi or more.
The harder you can pump an inflatable, the more it feels and behaves like a solid board.
Cheaply constructed boards won’t paddle effectively as their build quality, seams and valves just won’t take the pressure to inflate hard enough.
Whereas if your warranty covers you for 20psi+, performance can be akin to a solid board.
What’s the difference?
So not all boards are created equal – but even beyond basic build quality and adequate air pressure, board design and dimensions have a huge impact on how an inflatable paddleboard performs and what conditions and/or specialism it best suits.
Basically, width provides stability yet also creates drag, while length makes a board directional yet harder to turn.
An all-round board might be c.11 feet long by 32 inches wide, a waveboard will be shorter and more rounded in planshape, whereas a tourer will be longer with more parallel rails, a raceboard longer still and very narrow for optimum speed.
Here we look at examples of some of the best inflatable paddleboards for various different specialisms…
What else will I need?
Of course, if your board’s inflatable you’re going to need a pump! Most iSUPs will come packaged with a manual high-pressure pump; generally you get what you pay for in terms of quality and hence ease of inflation.
All boards come complete with a fin too, which is essential to keep you tracking in a straight line.
Also essential, but this time for safety, is a quick-release leash to keep you attached to your SUP – whereas in most situations a buoyancy aid is entirely optional.
Finally, you will also need a paddle: most entry-level and all-round packages will include a basic adjustable paddle, but as some of the boards featured here are a little more specialised, they won’t necessarily come complete with one.
Best inflatable paddleboard
Red Paddle Co 11’0 Compact Inflatable Paddle Board
Best inflatable paddleboard for travel
Red Paddle were the pioneers of high-quality inflatable paddleboards and they remain the most innovative brand out there, with an extensive product range – in fact, all eight of the boards featured here could easily be Red designs, so no apologies that we’ve included three!
Red Paddle’s Compact packs down into the smallest backpack on the market: half the size of most inflatable paddleboard packages.
Yet folded into that space is a real do-it-all board with a truly top-end finish.
This 11′ x 32″ Compact is an ideal all-round size, while the 9’6″ x 30″ would be better for small surf and the 12′ x 32″ more suited to flat-water and touring.
Superb for stowage and transport, pricey yet super-high quality with a 5-year warranty.
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Gladiator Pro 10’6″
Best inflatable paddleboard on a budget
If you’re really just after a tender for your yacht or boat, or maybe an occasional beach toy or splashabout platform, then a basic 10’6″ x 32″ design would do the job perfectly well.
While nowhere near as all-round as the marketing might have you believe, this standard SUP design is fine for learning, playing about on and covering shorter distances.
Although this size of board is ubiquitous, the build quality varies massively between brands – so it’s often false economy to buy the cheapest thing you can find online.
But if price really matters to you, Gladiator offer the best constructed ‘budget’ range on the market: this 10’6″ Pro is double-skinned, good for 20psi of air pressure and comes with a 3-year warranty.
Red Paddle 13’2″ Voyager
While few go to the extremes of carrying much kit or overnighting from their paddleboards, arguably the most popular form of recreational paddling is ‘touring’: basically covering a route on flattish water.
For this purpose a relatively long board that’s not too wide is ideal – length for glide and enough width for comfort without sacrificing much speed.
Many manufacturers offer some form of touring board, but Red Paddle’s Voyager remains the inflatable market leader.
In recent years Red have cleverly built some vee into the hull, which combined with a twin-fin setup provides extra stability.
This 13’2″ x 30″ Voyager would suit experienced riders, the 12’6″ x 32″ is more all-round, while the new 12′ x 28″ is a perfect size for smaller paddlers looking for a pacey cruiser.
Starboard All Star Airline
Although the top-end SUP racing scene is almost exclusively solid, semi-carbon boards, a suitably rigidified inflatable can be surprisingly competitive – especially over longer distances and endurance courses when absolute top speed is less of a factor.
While several pedigree brands produce impressive inflatable raceboards, Starboard probably offer the widest range on the market right now.
This 14′ x 26″ All Star would be the best choice as an adaptable yet competitive racer: they also offer a super-charged 14′ x 24.5″ for lighter, more experienced racers, and a 14′ x 28″ for heavier, less experienced riders, plus a dedicated 14′ downwinder – and a pair of 12’6″s for the shorter race category.
Red Paddle Whip
Best inflatable paddleboard for surf
Solid boards reign supreme in the surf too – but again, suspend your disbelief and a well-designed inflatable can more than hold its own in the waves.
Of course it won’t carve rail-to-rail turns quite like a solid, but a pump-up will catch just as many waves, charge down-the-line brilliantly and turn perfectly well off the back foot.
For the vast majority of budding SUPsurfers, an inflatable is arguably a better choice as it’s more robust and less prone to injure you or anyone else in a wipe-out.
The best exponent of the genre is Red Paddle’s Whip; an 8’10” x 29″ single-fin round-tail with Red Paddle’s patented rail stiffening battens, which combined with its capacity to take 20psi+ of air pressure makes it super-rigid for that solid-board feel.
Freshwater Bay Compact Tourer
For flat to choppy water paddling, the ideal all-rounder is 11’+ and 30-32″ wide to provide the optimum mix of speed, stability and manoeuvrability.
This Freshwater Bay Compact Tourer is a brilliant example, at 11’5″ long and 32″ wide its glide is good yet with over 300L of volume even heavier riders will have no trouble with balance.
Build quality and finish is excellent for the price: double-skinned, drop-stitched and an impressive maximum air pressure of 30psi.
Hailing from the Isle of Wight and sold complete with paddle, pump and bag, this would be a great all-rounder to stow aboard a yacht as it will ably turn its hand to whatever conditions you might find from any harbour or mooring.
Decathlon ItiWit Tandem
Multi-person boards aren’t commonplace in paddleboarding, yet it is a lot of fun to paddle in company and a few manufacturers do produce quads and tandems.
The best value you’ll find is this Decathlon ItiWit at a penny under six-hundred quid – although be warned that doesn’t include a pump, leash or paddle, so do budget for those too unless you already have your own.
At 15′ x 35″ this is relatively short and wide for a tandem, so while it won’t be the fastest or most directional it will be stable and pretty manoeuvrable.
Well put together for the money and good for 17psi of air pressure, so robust and rigid enough to work nicely on the water.
Optimised for two-person paddling, although a board this big could take a small family at a push.
NRS Quiver 10.4
Whitewater river paddling really is a very specialised discipline indeed, more popular in North America and mainland Europe than the UK.
Inflatable boards rule in river-running for reasons of durability and safety, as they will inevitably spend time bouncing off boulders, rocks and riverbanks.
NRS have a 50-year history in whitewater kayaking and rafting, so are a safe bet if you’re ready to throw yourself downriver on a SUP.
This 10’4″ is a sturdy, voluminous, 35″ wide twin-fin design, boasting extra rocker for charging rapids, eddies and ferries.
Stable and responsive, it pumps to an impressive 20psi – complete with pressure release valve to avoid over-inflation – and comes with a 3-year warranty.
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