Inflatable boards have a lot of traction now, mostly because they’re a better option to an expensive epoxy board that explodes when it hits rocks. But the problem with them is that you cannot actually design a “real” shape. Look at kayaks – the intricacy of the hull and deck design. Because of the construction method, all you can adjust on an inflatable is the outline and to a degree, the rocker. This essentially means that, for all practical purposes, you’re learning to paddle on the SUP version of a squirt boat crossed with a door. Hardly ideal. But people see other paddlers on them (for the reason above), and assume this is the way to go. Its not. You’re far better off on a hard shell. Plastic makes the most sense, as any kayaker worth his salt will tell you after 30 years of plastic kayak success. It’s the strongest and cheapest. However, kevlar/AerialiteX construction boards offer all the advantages of plastic in performance, with decreased weight, and when built right, close to the strength of inflatable. They cost more, sure…
I’m in a unique position – Corran SUP is the ONLY manufacturer that produces all three – Inflatable, Kevlar and Plastic, so we have no vested interest in recommending one over the other. It’s all the same to us. Other people cannot do that – they only make one style and so have to push that. As the designer at Corran SUP who makes all three, I can tell you this in making your decision:
1) If you’re looking for the best mix of ease, a board that will help your WW kills progression, let you spend more time paddling your board rather than getting back onto it, resist all you can throw at it and be very affordable to buy, Plastic is where you want to go. The shapes like the Streetfighter are refined, designed to optimum, weigh no more than a kayak, and they will take as any kayaker knows years and years of abuse. The stiffer hull reduces you getting bucked around, the high sidewalls offer forgiveness… look at kayak designs, and which ones are easy (creek boats) and why… and apply that knowledge to SUP shapes. The concepts are the same in rivers whether you’re sitting, kneeling or standing.
2) Epoxy Kavlar/AerialiteX will have all the advantages of optimized shape, taken to another level. You can do some subtle things to shape that even plastic doesn’t allow, but its a small differance. The real key here is that you can make the board as light or heavy as you like. If you’re on a slalom coruse for example 99% of the time, then having a slalom shape makes sense, built as light as a slalom kayak. If you’re only surfing waves, and not running anything thats rock abusive, then an optimized surf shape like the Overthruster that we make (there are others too from other people). They cost more than plastic of course, and can;t take the abuse of plastic, but they are stiff and performance based. For the technical paddler, these are magic.
3)If your main issue is you have limited space to store or transport a board, or you’re doing some serious hiking into riverers, then inflatable is the way to go. This is where they shine. Even with the very best shapes (our combat is about as good as it gets in “recreating” a Streetfighter sype shape) they are a distant third to plastic and Kevlar in performance AND ease!!! Understand this – Inflatable shapes are the hardest to master – rapids you can do with one eye closed on a board like the Streetfighter take full concentration on any inflatable. But their advantage is storage and transport. They’re not cheap either, like Kevlar.
This is how you should choose…. where are you paddling (rocky rivers or deep ones)? What are your goals (progress, running harder and harder rivers, become a great surfer, or hike into remote places)? Is price a concern? Don;t just run out and get what Johnny is using – he’s probably only on what hes using because he doesn’t know any better either. Figure out what you’re doing, where, why and then choose accordingly.