Best Inflatable Paddle Board: How To Choose The Right SUP Without Losing Your Mind

Paddle Boarding’s versatility is one of the reasons why SUPs are so popular. Want to go for a relaxing ride on the water? No problem. Grab your all-around SUP board, and go.

If you’d rather go fast on the water or rides some waves, there are boards just for racing and surfing. In fact, there are SUP boards designed for several specific activities, and they come in inflatables.

Inflatable stand-up paddle boards, or iSUP, are great for beginners and kids, but they work well for all skill levels. They’re also convenient because you don’t need much space to store them and being inflatable, they’re easy to travel with.

Even with their many great qualities, it’s not always easy to pick a board. There are quite a few on the market, which can overwhelm anyone. We don’t want that to happen to you, so we’re prepared a guide with each board types and how to choose the right SUP for you. Plus, our best inflatable paddle board choices in each category.

Inflatable SUP Types

Choosing the right inflatable paddle board is relative to the type of board you want. Below we go over what type of board is good for who and which board scores top marks under that category. Let’s being.

All-Around

As its name suggests, the all-around inflatable SUP is a good general purpose board. Its design includes a flatter bottom and round nose, which makes it suitable for flat water, surfing and yoga. All around boards have some variation in design, such as those that have channels on the bottom to help with tracking.

Consider the tail when choosing an all-around. Pintail shapes give you more speed and maneuverability, which could come in handy when surfing. Square shaped tails give you more stability. If you’re using the board for flatwater rides, a longer board is a good option. All arounds range from nine-feet-six inches to 11 feet six inches long.

The Good

  • Ideal for new paddlers
  • Good board for kids and dogs
  • Stable and versatile enough for most water conditions
  • Useful for multiple types of paddling

The Bad

  • Less agility than some other boards
  • Slower than some other boards

The Best Boards

  • Hala Carbon Hoss Inflatable SUP Board: High performing, roomy and family friendly. Great for a few hours or a few days on the water.
  • Slingshot Crossbreed 11 Inflatable SUP: User friendly. Works as well for relaxing trips or backcountry adventures.

Surfing

Surf’s up, so you’d best get your SUP ready. The board you want comes in a variety of sizes, typically between seven and 12 feet long. Planing hulls are common for surf stand-up boards, but you’ll find the curve of the board’s tip varies quite a bit. For smoother more stable rides, look for a narrow tail and wide nose. Smaller boards do better with quick maneuvers and aggressive turns.

These boards tend to be slower to paddle. All skill levels can give these boards a try. Larger paddlers may want a board with chined or stepped-down rails. Something experience surfers may not like about these boards is they don’t allow for duck diving. For non-surfers, duck diving is diving underneath an oncoming wave as you’re paddling out.

The Good

  • Good for all skill levels
  • Great for more advanced surfers
  • Some boards give smooth, stable rides

The Bad

  • No duck diving
  • Slow paddling

The Best Boards

  • Red Paddle Co Whip 8’10’ Inflatable SUP: Lightweight. Durable. Strong. Perfect for waves of all types around the world.
  • Sea Eagle Hybrid 9’6″ SUP Inflatable: Perfect for beginning and experienced surfers. Has a special pocket so you won’t lose your paddle.

Touring

Touring SUP boards are a cross between all-arounds and race boards. They are long and narrow, which makes them usable for long distances as well as races. The narrowness of the front end lets you cut through choppy water fairly easily. Also expect fast and straight tracking, which skilled paddlers will enjoy.

Length wise, these boards usually fall between 10 feet six inches and 12 feet six inches. If you look, you can find a few 14 foot boards. Touring SUPs have higher volume than all arounds. They’re easy to paddle, which could help improve paddling technique for beginners. One drawback to touring boards is that they tend to be less stable than other SUP types.

The Good

  • Good for all skill levels
  • Great for races and long distances

The Bad

  • Less stability than other boards
  • Touring boards are often longer, which could make them heavier

The Best Boards

  • Red Paddle Co Voyager Tandem Inflatable SUP: Plenty of room for storage and people. This board seats three.
  • Jimmy Styks Mutt Inflatable SUP: Durable enough for family fun, and it comes with a paddle.

Racing

Racing boards look sharp, literally. Their distinctive shape is pointed, and these boards are long, usually going up to 14 feet, sometimes even longer. Extra-long boards, which are nicknamed “unlimited” are for long races on the open ocean or from one island to another.

Race inflatables need speed, straighter tracking and the ability to slice through choppy water. That’s why they have a displacement hull and piercing bow. Paddlers get more distance per stroke than with other board types, and this board allows them to glide longer.

The Good

  • Fast
  • More distance per stroke
  • Easy glider

The Bad

  • Longer boards tend to take more time to inflate or deflate
  • Not the best board for beginners

The Best Boards

  • NRS Escape Inflatable SUP: Efficient, durable and great for racing and other paddling activities.
  • Sea Eagle NeedleNose 126 Racer Inflatable SUP: Lightweight, fast, sleek and high performing. Great with quick turns.

Yoga

Yoga requires incredible balance on dry land, but you’ve discovered the growing-in-popularity trend of SUP yoga and find the thought of posing over water enticing. No problem, as long as you have the right board.

While they are a very small part of the paddle board market, yoga-specific boards are available. Lengths vary, and they are wider, going up to around 40 inches. While that isn’t as wide as the space you could have in a yoga studio, it’s plenty of room for posing on water. Yoga boards also have a higher volume, which helps improve stability, and some include a mat. That’s definitely a plus because you’ll need a surface with a little grip, or you could slip.

The Good

  • Designed specifically for yoga
  • Crafted to be more stable
  • Plenty of room to pose

The Bad

  • Limited options for yoga-specific boards
  • May need to get your own mat

The Best Boards

  • Red Paddle Co. Activ 10’8″Inflatable SUP: Designed for yoga as well as Pilates. Wide and thick for stability. Has a non-slip deck pad.
  • Advanced Elements Lotus YSUP Inflatable: Perfectly crafted for stability and balance. Light and compact and includes a traction pad.

Fishing

Standing up while fishing is normal, but doing it on a paddle board might sound a little careless or risky. There’s no reason to be overly concerned about that. Fishing SUPs are incredibly stable, and some have side extenders to make it ever more stable. Beginners should still make an effort to stay balanced while they learn to handle the board.

Compared to fishing kayaks, there is often more range of movement on a fishing SUP. You’ll also get plenty of storage space for tackle gear, and some boards include rod holders. More experienced paddlers might not like the slower pace of these boards, and they tend to be less agile.

The Good

  • Can be a less expensive than a boat or kayak
  • High volume keeps SUP high on the water and keeps the paddler dry

The Bad

  • Slower than other SUPs
  • Less agile than some other boards

The Best Boards

  • Sea Eagle FishSUP 126: Inflates quickly. Option to stand or sit. Has a non-slip deck pad.
  • Aquaglide Blackfoot Angler iSUP 11: Fast and simple set up. Easy paddling. Abundant tie downs and mounts.

Beginner

Finding inflatable paddle boards for beginners is not a problem, but don’t look for a beginner board type. Instead, look at the types we’ve covered, and match that to the type of paddling activity you think you’ll like. All around boards are a great option because they allow you to do multiple paddling activities, which could help you decide what you like doing more. If you’re already set on the type of board you want, choose one for a new paddler. Just make sure to follow the advice in our buying guide, which is listed below.

The Best Boards

  • Boardworks SHUBU Solr Inflatable Stand Up Paddle Board: Lightweight. Very stable. Best for beginners and short distances. Includes a paddle.
  • Surftech Alta Air-Travel Inflatable Stand Up Paddle Board: Compact, durable and an easy board for novice paddles.

When Board Types Overlap

Versatility is a good thing with inflatable stand up paddle boards, but it can also confuse new paddlers. Let’s say you decide your first board will be for SUP yoga or surfing or another paddling type, but when you look at the choices, you can’t find one specifically designed for your activity of choice. The good news is that if you keep looking, you will most likely find a manufacturer offering the exact board you want. Even better news is that you don’t need to waste time doing that.

Inflatables that perform double duty on the water can work in your favor. As a beginner, you’re learning and exploring and trying to find the type of paddling you like best. Many paddlers like more than one type, and that could happen to you. If you get an all-arounder or one that performs more than one paddling type, you don’t need separate iSUPs. Spending less money is a good thing, right?

The key to getting what you want and need is to know how to buy an inflatable. Just going into an outdoor store or shopping online could be a mistake, if you lack the knowledge to make a wise choice. With that in mind, we’ve prepared a quick buying guide that shows what factors to consider so that you get the right SUP for you.

Buying Guide

With so many board options, buying an iSUP could frustrate you, especially if you’re new to paddleboarding. You’ve crossed one hurdle by choosing an inflatable over a solid, but that’s just the beginning. There are quite a few more things to consider. Fortunately, we’ve done a little research to give you some guidelines that could make choosing the right board a little easier.

Hull

Do the words planing and displacement mean anything to you? They are SUP hull options. While a few SUPs have a hybrid planing-displacement hull, most boards have one or the other type.

Planing

Flat and wide like a surfboard, this hull design keeps the SUP on the water’s surface. Boards with this shape are better on choppy water, and they have great maneuverability. Planing hull boards are better for surfing, whitewater, yoga and leisure paddling. To get an idea of how this hull works, imagine driving a car and putting your arm out the window. Hold your hand parallel to the ground. The wind lifts your hand up, and you feel some resistance, which how the planing hull SUP reacts to water.

Displacement

Displacement hull SUPs minimize drag. They have a pointed nose and a V-shape like a boat hull. The nose design lets the board slice the water and push it to the sides of the craft, which improves efficiency, makes the ride smoother and requires less effort to paddle. You’ll be able to go longer distances at a faster speed because this hull design is for better aerodynamics. Displacement hulls are less maneuverable than planing hull SUPS, and are better suited for fitness, touring and racing. Displacement hulls also increase stability for larger riders. Going back to the car driving example mentioned above, if you hold your arm out of the car window with your hand turned at a right angle, you cut through the wind. This is what happens with a displacement hull iSUP.

Length

Board length helps determine how it handles on the water, and that’s something you need to consider when deciding what type of paddling activity you’re planning. With a shorter board, there’s a bit of right to left swinging with forward strokes, and that makes the SUP easy to maneuver. However, you will need more strokes to get where you’re going when you’re on a short board. Longer boards have straighter tracking and go faster than shorter boards, but the longer the board, the more space and skill you’ll need to make quick turns.

Pick an iSUP under 10 feet long for surfing, or if you’re looking for a kid friendly board. Medium length boards, between 10 and 12 feet long, are common sizes for all-around and yoga SUPs. Long boards are over 12 feet long, and they’re great for touring, long distance paddling and speed.

Width

Board width impacts how it handles. They range from 25 inches to 36 inches. Wider boards are more stable but are also slower. One that is too wide for the paddler could be hard to handle, so it’s important to consider your body type when buying a SUP. Also consider your skill level and the type of paddling you plan to do.

Body Type

Using your body type to pick a board width is about maintaining balance on the water, so choose wisely. If you’re a bigger person, pick a wider board, and if you’re small, go with a narrower board. Once you’re on the water, you won’t struggle to stay upright if your board is too big for your small frame to handle. The same goes for a larger person on a board that’s too narrow. When the board is not the right fit, you’ll might also have to put more work into paddling.

Paddling Type

What’s your goal on the water? Surfing? Yoga? Touring? Get a narrow board for surfing and going fast. For a long trip, you’ll probably need extra space for a cooler or other gear, so a wider board is the better choice. Wide is also good for yoga because it gives you space and provides more stability, which you’ll want while doing a side plank, crescent lunge and other poses.

Skill Level

With no or limited experience in stand up paddling, you’ll want a wider board. Once your skill level advances, you should have no trouble controlling a narrower and faster board.

Thickness

Thickness of an iSUP affects its volume and weight capacity. A thicker board has a great volume, and the more volume it has, the more it can hold. You need to consider how thickness will affect the type of paddling you plan to do.

Volume & Weight Capacity

Regardless of how many different SUP sizes are on the market, you need to find one that works for your size. That’s where volume and weight capacity come into play. Determined by the board’s length, width and thickness, the volume and weight capacity of a board impacts how well it moves through water and how stable you feel while it’s moving. Both volume and weight capacity are listed on each SUP. Here’s what they mean.

Volume

SUP volume, measured in liters, indicates the board’s ability to float with the added weight of a paddler and their gear. The higher the board’s volume, the more weight it supports.

Weight

Weight capacity, counted in pounds, indicates how much total weight the board supports. This includes you and all supplies or gear. If you go over the allowed weight capacity, your board rides lower and could be more difficult to paddle. Here’s a little advice about weight: use your current weight. That might sound odd, but paddle board is great exercise, and many people lose weight after they start paddling. For some people, there is the temptation to use the weight they expect to be after paddling for a while. Don’t do that. As already stated, going over the weight limit makes the board ride low and hard to paddle. Get an iSUP based on what you weight at the time of purchase.

Hull Requirements

Here’s how it relates to the type of hull on your SUP. If you have a planing hull, you’ll do fine as long as you stay at or below the board’s stated weight capacity. Expect the board to perform as it should. Displacement hull SUPs aren’t as forgiving. Because of their design, there’s no wiggle room for volume and weight capacity fluctuation. Put too much weight on a displacement board, and it sinks too low in the water, drags and moves slower. Making the board too light is also a problem. Don’t put enough weight on it, and the displacement hull SUP won’t sink far enough into the water, it will feel heavy and be a challenge to control.

Fins

Small iSUP fins make maneuvering easier, while larger ones help with straighter tracking and offer more stability. Most SUPs have a single fin, which is good for tracking and limited drag. Single fin SUPs are good for paddling on flatwater. Also good on flatwater are thrusters, which are a three fin setup that helps you track straighter. All three of these fins are the same size, but if you choose a two-plus-one fin setup, your board gets a larger fin in the center with a smaller fin on both sides. Two-plus-one fins are common on surfing SUPs. Inflatable SUP fins are different than solid epoxy boards in that they are either a flexible rubber or a semi-rigid fin that is detachable.

Bottom Line

Stand up paddling has been around in some form for thousands of years, but it is the modern incarnation that has you intrigued. You’ve seen others do it, maybe even friends or family who keep trying to get you on a board and in the water. So, you’ve decided stand-up paddle boarding is worth a try, but you’re not quite sure where or how to start. Well, you already started by deciding to join the ranks of those who love this versatile aquatic activity.

Now that you know how to choose a board, getting the best inflatable paddle board for you should be an easier decision. There is one factor we haven’t mentioned, and that’s price. On the low end, you can get a board for a few hundred dollars, but on the higher end, you’ll spend several thousand dollars.

Something else to consider are the extras, which cost extra. This includes things you need, like a paddle, and things you might want, such as rod holders for a fishing inflatable. Some SUPs do come with paddles and other accessories, so check what’s offered before you make a final purchase.

As much as one can recommend one iSUP vs another, if the budget doesn’t fit it shouldn’t stop you from getting aboard and continuing with the sport. Beginner SUPs are usually less expensive and good place to start.