The answer is not as clear cut as you might think. Both boards have their upsides and depend on your experience, style, budget and available transportation and storage.
Here are some of the benefits of both:
Inflatable Stand Up Paddleboard (ISUP) Benefits
Durability: ISUPs certainly have an advantage when it comes to bumps, scrapes, and other accidents likely to happen at some point in your adventures! While rigid SUPs can be easily damaged by even a minor collision with another board or object, most ISUPs are constructed with rugged military-grade PVC which can handle most bumps, dings, and scratches on obstacles like other boards, logs, rocks or other things that may be hiding under the water. In the rare case that your board is damaged or has a minor puncture, most boards come with repair patches.
Portability/Storage: An ISUP is a convenient choice if you are short on storage at home or plan on travelling with your board to and from the water or even on longer trips. ISUPs come rolled up in a bag or backpack about the size of a large duffel bag and can be easily stored in a closet or under a bed and fit in your trunk or be checked as luggage on your next flight. You can easily take your board along with you on planes, trains, automobiles, even your bike or on foot as they are much lighter than hard SUPs, weighing about 20-30 lbs.
Stability: The deck on an ISUP is generally less slippery than a hard board and has a soft traction pad on the top so you can keep your footing more easily. The weight capacity is generally higher so this adds to stability and makes it possible to bring your dog or a passenger along, too!
Comfort: Although both types of boards are comfortable and excellent for exercise, ISUPs are more gentle on your body. The softer deck is comfortable to stand on and allows for longer excursions before your feet get tired, and the benefits of the softer surface continue to your knees, hips, back and neck. The lighter board is easier to carry and will also reduce injury if you do happen to fall onto your board or collide with another person.
Price: There is no doubt about it, ISUPs are less expensive than hard SUPs. Both types vary greatly in price depending on brand, features, and style, however ISUPs are generally lower in cost to purchase and to repair if needed.
Hard Stand Up Paddleboard (SUP) Benefits
Maneuverability/Performance: Hard SUPs can be crafted with more precise design to provide maximum efficiency. They have a low profile, low drag, and low flex, allowing for a smoother ride and higher maneuverability and speed. That being said, in recent years there have been many improvements to the design of even basic ISUPs and the difference in efficiency and performance is minimal for the average recreational paddler.
No Setup Required: If you have the right storage and transportation situation for your hard SUP, it can be much more convenient to just take your board and hit the water. No pumping required!
Maintenance: Apart from unexpected damage to your board, hard SUPs are low maintenance. You can just store them in the garage or on a rack and leave them until next time you mount them on top of your car. Hard SUPs are more susceptible to damage from even small bumps, but serious damage to an ISUP can be more difficult to fix than a hard SUP and both would require a professional to repair.
Overall, unless you are an avid paddler looking for extremely high performance for activities like surfing or racing with your board, an inflatable SUP is a good way to go! Definitely consider an ISUP over a hard SUP if you:
- travel with your board
- paddle on white or fast-moving water
- paddle in locations difficult to reach by kayak or boat
- have limited storage space
- have limited transportation
- need stability for pilates, yoga, or other exercise on your board