Why Choose an Inflatable SUP Over a Fiberglass Board?

15 Oct 2021

When a would-be paddle boarder first proclaims to anyone, "I think I'm going to buy a SUP,” you could bet the next question is nearly always...


"That's great! Are you going for a hardboard or an inflatable?"


For the purpose of this post, we are going to point out some of the reasons why we at Honu decided to focus solely on inflatable boards, after making fiberglass boards (hardboards) for more than 15 years! That's right, up until the 2020/21 season, Honu was known for their affordable hardboard SUP’s. But this post isn't about us, it's about the boards. So read on if you would like to get a better understanding about why you might choose an inflatable board.


A man and woman arriving at a secluded beach spot



1. Transportability and Storage

Because you can deflate them and pack them away in a matter of minutes, inflatable boards are easy to store in your garage or even the bedroom closet. They are also much easier to carry when you go camping, traveling, or walking down to the beach.


The exciting opportunity this presents isn't always apparent to the beginner. But as you gain confidence and a sense of adventure with your board, it starts to become clear. With many people living in highly populated areas, the beaches and river spots are very busy, meaning you are always fighting for a little water to call your own. With an inflatable board, you can easily pack it in the boot of your car and drive to a secluded location.


And what about those spots that are even harder to get to? Like the ones you need to hike down to via a long or steep trail. These spots are virtually impossible to get to with a hardboard, but completely doable when your board can be deflated and packed into a backpack. Thirty minutes or so of walking, and you can find yourself in some spectacular spot that will often be nearly deserted. With an inflatable, you get to enjoy your own private SUP session in total tranquility.


For those of you who aren’t looking to paddle for fun, but instead dive into the competitive world of SUP racing, an inflatable can also be your best friend—especially when you’re planning to travel to different countries. Like if flying to Hawaii to join a classic race event is something you’ve always dreamed of doing, inflatable boards are something you might want to think about. It’s something you can easily travel with to any far-flung exotic place you might dream about.


A test to find out what kind of paddleboarder you are


2. Durability

Folks are often surprised to learn that inflatable boards are more durable. They don't get dinged or scratched when you pack them in your car or drop them accidentally when you're juggling the board, beach gear, your phone, and the kids.


And if ever they do get a tear, they are very easy and cheap to repair. Most boards come with a patch kit, and repairs are quite easy. In fact, most people will feel confident to carry out repairs after watching a how-to video on YouTube. Five minutes of instructions, some basic tools, and about 30 minutes is all that is needed.


3. Injury

Often overlooked but worth mentioning is that you are less likely to injure yourself with an inflatable board. If you happen to lose your balance and end up falling, hitting hard onto an inflatable is nothing much to worry about because of its ball-like quality. This is not the case with a hardboard, which can hurt big-time when you end up hitting hard onto its solid fiberglass surface. Anyone who has cracked their elbow on a fiberglass board will know what we're talking about.


A woman doing yoga on a stand up paddleboard


When considering these pros, you may already be convinced about getting an inflatable. But some of you may be thinking, “But I have heard inflatable boards are poor performers—not very stiff and are really just toys.” If that’s what’s in your head right now, you’re not alone. Many people do believe that choosing a fiberglass board (hardboard) is the way to go if performance is your most important consideration… but this isn't absolutely correct. Yes, for low-cost budget inflatable boards, performance is poor. But with high-quality inflatables from a reputable brand, performance can be just as good—if not better—than a hardboard.


It's also worth mentioning that the comparison between hardboards and inflatable boards is often skewed, from a quality perspective. That is, the comparison between the two boards is often made with a relatively high-cost, high-quality hardboard and a low-cost, entry-level inflatable. This is not an apples-for-apples comparison.


This above point is important because of the performance difference you get between low-cost budget inflatable boards and higher-quality ones. The effect of materials, construction, and pressures result in a vast difference in your experience on the water. The technology that goes into inflatable boards has also greatly improved in recent times. Many people are surprised by how stiff inflatables can feel after they are inflated. Basically, it’s the technology behind the board that differentiates high-end inflatables from those you might get on eBay or Amazon.


A man inflating an inflatable stand up paddleboard



1. Woven Drop Stitch

Woven Drop Stitch is the next evolution of inflatable paddleboard materials. The woven element is made of polyester threads that run through the vinyl in a criss-cross pattern, similar to carbon fiber. This reinforcing technology produces a substrate with higher resistance to stretch and bend. With this increase in strength comes a reduction in plastic that results in the material being >20% lighter. You end up with a paddleboard that is stronger, more lightweight, and ultimately has better performance.


And so what does that really mean beyond the technical mumbo-jumbo? It means the boards are light and stiff. This is, in part, why we are able to make 4.7” boards in place of the normal 6” board thickness. I.e. Closer to the thickness of a hardboard.


2. Multi-Layer Fusion

Fusing the outer layer of vinyl to the inner space cloth layer happens during the material manufacturing process and creates an inseparable bond between the layers of material. A combination of heat and pressure is used together with a bonding agent to create a double thickness vinyl material that is stronger, stiffer, and more lightweight than standard double-layer construction. This technology, combined with the X-woven material, is the most advanced inflatable paddleboard construction available.


The design construction of the HONU stand up paddleboard


3. Stacked Stringers

Both the Performance and Carbon-X construction methods adopt the stacked-stringer design feature. The stringers that run nose to tail further improve board rigidity, such that performance is on par with most high-end fiberglass boards. For Honu’s BONDI [link to product], this translates to responsive turns and a rigid feel when riding through the waves. For Honu’s SORRENTO [link to product], it produces straight-line speed and stability.


4. Triple Bonded Rails

The rail, or edge, of an inflatable board is made by joining the top and bottom sheets of the board. This is done with strips of reinforced PVC-coated materials in an air-tight manner. All boards are made up of 1 or 2 rail layers. But at Honu, we have 3. The Triple Bonded Rails allow the board to be inflated to 20 PSI. The combination of this high pressure, reinforced rails, and 4.7” thickness produces a stable inflatable board with hardboard-like performance. This third layer is what increases the stiffness of the rails in our boards. It is one of the elements that gives our boards leading performance while being among the lightest available.


With the combination of our material choice and construction methods, Honu boards measure as being among the stiffest available while being 20% lighter than most high-end boards out there.


A beautiful beach view with a man and woman hitting the waters to go standup paddleboarding


Now that we’ve touched on the materials and construction behind Honu’s high-quality boards and also talked about the three qualities that make inflatables stand out, let’s talk about another reason why you might choose an inflatable board over a hardboard. This time, in the context of different water environments.



1. White Water/Rapids

Earlier, we were talking about the durability of inflatable boards. An inflatable’s durability is what makes them better-performing than hardboards when in white water and rapids. Why? Because they don’t break when they make impact with rocks. The ball-like quality of inflatables is what keeps them from breaking. They somehow bounce off the rocks. This is what makes them generally better-suited than hardboards in rough, rocky environments.


2. Flat Water

When paddling in flat water like open oceans and lakes, the performance of a high-quality inflatable can be just as good as hardboards. But what sets an inflatable board apart is that you can load up your board with more stuff. Why? Because they have more volume and so can carry more weight than hardboards.


So if you want to take your kid or fur baby with you for a long leisure paddle or if you’re planning to go on a multi-day tour where you might need to pack up more things, inflatables are the way to go. Or maybe you’ve always dreamt of having a picnic with family and friends in some secret spot that can only be accessed via water? Since inflatable boards can carry more weight, this means you can pack up more snacks and other necessities you might need for that perfect picnic get-together.


For all-around and river-specific uses, inflatable boards are known to have an edge in performance over hardboards.


A man stand up paddleboarding during sunset



An inflatable paddleboard is ideal for those of you who want a board that’s easy to transport and move around, especially to get to those secluded locations where you can enjoy your very own private SUP session. It’s also perfect for those who have limited storage space, since it can easily be deflated, packed away, and stored in your garage or even the bedroom closet. Besides this, inflatables are generally more versatile and durable than hardboards, which makes them great for those who want try out different SUP activities in a variety of water settings.


We believe that inflatable paddleboards are a great choice for all but the most elite paddlers out there. But, confusion in the market comes from the sheer volume of low-cost, low-quality options that skew much of the information you'll find. Our advice is to avoid the lower-quality boards found on many of the usual shopping networks. You’ll outgrow these boards quickly, and they are likely to wear out quickly and end up in landfills far too soon. If you are really driven by your budget, look for a high-quality board being sold second-hand. You'll get a quality product at a great price, and help reduce waste and pollution at the same time. Win-win!


A man and woman enjoying their time on their stand up paddleboards