Having purchased your brand new inflatable stand up paddle board it’s now time to show up and blow up (at the beach that is!). Unfurling your spangly steed and connecting the pump you begin to inflate. There are a couple of digits printed on the valve telling you what the board’s max PSI should be. Now then. Should you follow instruction and pump to recommended or back off slightly with not as much air rammed inside. Questions, questions…
Not all iSUPs are the same – this fact has been proven time and again. Although mostly manufactured from Dropstitch (two layers of PVC coupled together with internal microfibers) some boards aren’t worth the materials they’re bound together with. The lower quality of dropstitch and PVC used give a very different experience.
Even with the recommended air levels inside these cheaper SUPs will be nothing more than floating bananas. Without wanting to point fingers, anything you can buy for less than £400 for a 10′ plus board is extremely likely to fall in this category. As for performance? What’s that then? Standing on a sinking deck, with water flowing round your ankles, it’ll be any wonder if you make it back to shore afloat.
High quality SUPS (such as McConks) couldn’t be any more different. Even with the bare minimum PSI levels inside you’ll be able to float, paddle and manoeuvre atop the water. It’s all about rigidity. Generally the more air you push inside your ride (combined with good quality materials) the more efficient it becomes. Sometimes, however, there may be need to release the pressure (or increase it).
Generally your inflatable’s recommended PSI is for optimum paddling performance in recreational environments – flat water. But SUP is a versatile beast, able to take riders to all sorts of watery wonderlands. And in different paddle environments, you may need to tweak the ‘feel’ of your air board.
If you fancy a dabble with a paddle in waves, for instance, you will require additional rigidity. And yes, you can easily surf mellow swells with good quality, well manufactured inflatable stand up paddle boards. OK, you may not be ripping huge turns but catching liquid walls, gliding along with the occasional off the lip is certainly doable.
For anyone contemplating the above an extra bit of air pressure is a good thing. Even though recommended levels of PSI will be highlighted on the board a well manufactured iSUP will have been tested to much higher pressure than stated. In combination with top drawer materials it’s perfectly fine to shove another five (or so) PSI into the board. This will then give you a more responsive and livelier feeling sled, allowing your inflatable to cope when ‘dropping in’ and bottom turning.
River paddling is a different matter. When facing off against rapids, wave trains and moving white water reducing your board’s air pressure (slightly) will give paddlers a softer machine that’s more forgiving when sliding over undulating H2O. Too stiff a SUP can rebound against the rider when hitting a bump, knocking paddlers into the drink. A softer ride will therefore absorb some of this flotsam and help deliver a drier run.
So, we’ve said it before and we’ll say it again; not all inflatables are the same. The above tuning scenarios that can only be achieved with quality iSUPs. And even then paddlers need only tweak air pressure slightly. Too much, even in top quality boards, is not needed. Quality boards respond well to minor changes tuning. Poor quality boards don’t respond as well, and it can be dangerous to push them too far. Reduce the pressure even slightly in cheap boards, and you end up with a banana. Increase the pressure too much to stiffen it up, and it might go pop!