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Should I buy an inflatable or a rigid paddleboard?

The truth about inflatable paddleboard performance

If you want to race at a high level, and enter sprint and endurance events, or be on the podium for surf SUP comps, you’re almost certainly going to need a quiver of hard boards.

But for everyone else, an iSUP is ideal. 

Let us tell you more.

Despite recent advances in inflatable technology, every inflatable board made will still flex slightly in the most extreme conditions.  This is most obvious in cheaper mass produced boards made with lower quality drop stitch, single layer technology, or glued manually: These will definitely turn into bananas in the wrong conditions. But even the very best double skin, fusion skin boards (1) are a little susceptible to this, even if they have multiple chambers, and stiffening devices such as stringers or battens.

Therefore although some of the race iSUP boards are up there with glass fibre and carbon race boards in the speed stakes (and make sure you check out our new Carbon sport 14″ hard board, or our Go Race 14″ inflatable race board if you’re serious about going fast and getting great glide on an iSUP), they still can’t yet compete racing in swell or off the beach. 

So if you’re looking for an absolutely top performance surf SUP, then an inflatable is unlikely to be your first choice. You can’t have an iSUP custom made for a start, and many of the key variables, such as rocker line, rail shape, bottom profile cannot be fine tuned. Simply put, iSUP’s do not have the variety of bottom or rail shapes that a custom shaper delivers, and therefore you can not expect them to perform like one. So you won’t win surf comps on an inflatable, and you’re unlikely to win race events in difficult conditions.

But for most of us who want to get make our adventures, banish the boredom, get out of the gym, learn to surf SUP, race our friends, get close to nature or just simply have fun, you cannot beat an inflatable SUP.

Reclaim your freedom with an inflatable SUP board

(Q) Does this sound a familiar story? 

You want to hire a board for a peaceful sunset surf when on hols, but the surf shop shuts at 6pm. Taking a hardboard on a plane is expensive (it’s even more expensive when the handlers drop it and snap it in two) and you miss out on all the amazing sunrise and sunset paddles because you can only start paddling at 10am, and finish at 6pm?   Not exactly the liberating experience you craved for.

iSUP packages now are as light as 12kg and a dream to travel with. As long as you buy a package with a decent bag, then the board will arrive the other side unharmed.  For you to use when you want to. Whether that be with the crowds of rental SUPers in the middle of the day, or at either end of the day, on your own, in peace and solitude.  No more excess charges, no more dinged boards, and the ultimate in self SUP expression.

But be careful of some of the packages that come with cheap bags. You don’t want to be spending another £100 to keep your prize possession safe. Hell, while you’re at it, make sure you get a package like the very best brands, which come with a sturdy and comfortable rucksack with wheels.

So what are the advantages of an iSUP?

  • An inflatable board rolls up in a bag, making it easy to jump in a hire car or on a bus with your SUP and find those quiet spots
    away from the crowds. No need for roof racks and straps. Although you can leave your board inflated when you get to your destination and then strap it on the roof when you’re there – we do that a lot!
  • Paddleboards are long. Generally longer than 9″. And race boards can be 14 foot long. Not everyone has space in their house or garage (or is allowed more big toys) to store an epoxy or glass board, and if that’s you, an inflatable is just what you need.
  • Hard boards are much more likely to get damaged.  Whether that be through poor paddle stroke, the rough and tumble of family life, serious abuse in white water river SUP, or regular travel taking its toll.  As long as you buy a good quality iSUP with a high pressure rating (at least 20PSI), with a long guarantee, with twin layer technology, and a decent fibreglass/plastic paddle as a minimum, then your kit will last you for years without so much as a mark.  iSUP really are very robust: Although inflatables come with a repair kit, we don’t know of many customers who’ve needed to use one!
  • iSUP is a really accessible family friendly watersport.  As long as you follow simple safety rules (see our blog on paddleboarding with toddlers), then paddling with kids is great.  How so?
    • Try as they might, the kids can’t damage the board like they could an epoxy board If they fall, an inflatable causes less bruises than a hard board.
    • If the board hits them in the water at speed it doesn’t do the same damage that a hard board can d0
    • They can’t damage the rails of an inflatable as they learn to paddle.
    • An inflatable board has more buoyancy than a hard board, size for size. Beginner paddlers who want to paddle with passengers should start out on a good size board (at least 250l such as our 10’8 Go anywhere
    • Even the largest of paddlers can take passengers, whether that be kids, dogs or both. As your skill, balance and strength improves, you might want to move to a smaller board. But by then your kids are probably paddling the old board by themselves.
    • You can strap even strap a SUP seat to the front of our McConks boards if your little prince or princess ‘needs’ to travel in style.

The downsides 

Other than the performance not being as good as hard boards for the very top athletes, there are few downsides to an iSUP. That will be why they are the fastest growing watersports purchase in the world right now.  But there’s no hiding the fact that buying a SUP costs quite a lot of money. Even the cheapest lowest quality banana boards that only last a few weeks start at £275.

Most people don’t want to spend the £1000 plus that some of the brands charge for a decent quality iSUP. But you also don’t want to waste your money on a board and paddle that is so poor performance that you’ll need to upgrade within months. Or worse, one that bursts within weeks.

What makes a good inflatable SUP?

With so many brands making so many different types of boards, how can you tell what’s a good quality and affordable iSUP, and what’s just cheap? If you strip back all the marketing, the pretty pictures and flashy vids, then check out this article to see through all the marketing!

Find out why McConks came #1 SUP Brand in a survey of over 1200 paddlers

Reviews of our kit

About our 10’6 Go anywhere iSUP

“Fast, fun, fantastic value No more needs to be said. Top quality paddle, fast board in a straight line, speedy to turn, good fun”

 “The perfect allround iSUP. Tried this at a demo centre and loved it. This board has just the perfect volume and shape for me, a beginner with a few weeks of experience. Stability kept me dry until I and started messing about doing silly things. The manoeuvrability when in a surf stance means that this board is really responsive. It even seemed to carve on flat water when I had enough speed. Only 4 inches thick so you feel in much closer connection with the water. And surprisingly stiff given it’s thickness: No noticeable difference to Red Paddle in terms of stiffness (I currently own a 10’6 by the market leader). The board alone costs more than this package. And this is better. More stable yet also more fun, and better for development of skills. I will be ‘upgrading’ when budget allows!”

“I’m really pleased with my new McConks iSUP package. This is my first board so haven’t got a lot to compare it to but the quality of the board is great. It seems really well made and is easy to inflate. I finally got a chance to use my board at the weekend and I had a really fun time on our local lake. The board is really stable in the water and the paddle is easy to use. I was amazed at the speed I picked up and I didn’t fall in at all! I love the bag with this package, high quality and with wheels and backpack straps it would be really easy to travel with. I can’t wait to use my board again and would recommend this package to anyone, it’s great quality at a great price!”

About our 10’8 Go anywhere iSUP

“There’s something magic about this board. It’s pretty fast cruising, it’s pretty responsive in small surf, and it’s really stable. Really, really clever design, Great value package. The FG paddle is much better than the basic paddles I’ve had in other packages. Really light and good stiffness. And those real fins make such a difference compared to much more expensive competition. Great value and a delight to paddle” “Fantastic package Great quality board, had the whole family out on it, they all love it, can’t wait to go out again, love the carbon fibre paddle, board tracks very well.”

“I’ve been paddling on rental boards for a couple of years, and it’s really good to try a different brand from the usual. Really liked this board. Super stiff. No bounce or sag. The rocker line is good – next to no tail rocker, just enough nose rocker. The PVC seems really tough – it’s a bit like crocodile skin PVC: I believe McConks claim that you can drive a jeep over it and it won’t burst! Rides really well. Rides high on the water, glides well and true, and relatively easy to manoeuver for its size and compared to other boards of the same sze. Pintail made it fun for pivot turns when stood back, and real fins made an appreciable difference to the feel of the board. The bamboo/carbon paddle was a dream. Really light yet really powerful. And quick and easy to adjust. All in all, love this package. Really good quality stuff for the price. Surprisingly so in fact.”

About our carbon fibre

“The paddles arrived safely and have been tested on Friday! One was for myself and the other for my SUP instructor, feedback is great! We’re both are very pleased, great value! Happy to get a carbon paddle that packs small but still great performance.”

“Feels so good in my hands. So much lighter than the cheap alloy paddle that used to make my arms and shoulder ache, and it’s so pretty. I know it’s a little pathetic, but I really like the fact that it’s clearly a top quality paddle, yet looks so cool, and so different to all the others. That probably says more about me than the paddle 😉 “

“I have been using a Kialoa fixed carbon paddle that is great but at over £350 you would expect it to be. Purchased the McConks because I needed a 3 piece to take with me to the Maldives. It has arrived and it looks fantastic and feels fantastic in the hand. The profile does not look much different to the much more expensive Kialoa so I am expecting it will perform much the same. If it does, then the Kialoa may just end up collecting dust in the garage or put on eBay. The customer service from Andy is also first rate, initially was sent the wrong paddle by mistake (all carbon as opposed to bamboo/carbon) but on contacting him a replacement was sent out same day and he even trusted me to return the other, for which a pre paid label was provided. Now, that is great customer service by any standard. Cant wait to get the McConks wet”

(1) Adding additional layers doesn’t necessarily add rigidity. Typically, every layer of PVC is thinner than the two layers used in double skin boards. And adding another layer only really serves to increase the risk of their being manufacturing defects (mostly twists) in the board. Because the additional layers are not added at the raw material manufacturing stage, these additional layers can also add wrinkles and air bubbles.

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