Whether to go with a hard SUP or an inflatable SUP is one of the first decisions to make when looking to buy a new standup paddle-board. Other than shape, size and a few other factors, when considering a new purchase it’s important to make sure the board is light enough for you to manage and provides ample floatation (volume) for your weight.
Hard SUPs generally deliver better performance and responsiveness than inflatable SUPs, particularly in surf and downwind.
Many hard boards have an air vent installed on the deck, used to prevent de-lamination of the epoxy resin from the EPS foam blank. Other finish layups, like plastic, are available and usually cheaper, but don’t necessarily provide the same level of performance.
iSUPs (inflatables) come equipped with a valve that the operator attaches to a pump and uses to inflate the board, normally to around 15 psi. ISUPs can become surprisingly rigid once inflated, and some even come equipped with carbon strips or rods that run along the rails or stringer from nose to tail to increase stiffness. Many iSUPs, especially boards geared for river paddling, come with flexible, built-in fins, but some come with fin boxes for replaceable fin options. Inflatable SUPs are commonly a bit lighter than most solid boards because they are composed mostly of air and plastic.
iSUPs are generally much more durable than hard boards and can handle a fairly rough beating in and around rocks.