Inflatable SUP or inflatable paddle boards are gaining in popularity.  This newer design has its advantages.   In fact, durability and storage are the most common advantages of the inflatable SUP.    However, an inflatable SUP is not the correct choice for long distance paddlers or most racers.  Inflatable paddle boards do not offer the same glide that the conventional foam and fiberglass rigid ones offer.

Inflatable SUP History

The design concept for the inflatable SUP might have originated from an 1871 US Patent filed by Isaac Ferris.  In his kite patent, Ferris describes connectors between the two surfaces of an air-foil wing.  “It may be necessary to connect the two walls by one or more additional connections, to prevent the kite from assuming too round of a shape.” – Circa 1871 for Ferris.

Next, an experimental airplane, the Goodyear Inflatoplane,  was constructed using an inflatable I-Beam.  This was actually a sandwich of two rubber-type materials connected by a mesh of nylon threads.  Built in 1956, with the idea that it might be used by the military as a rescue plane, the Inflatoplane was never put into production.

Inflatable SUP Construction

After getting refined many times over, this concept is now refereed to as the drop stitch.  Most drop stitch inflatable SUP boards allow for maximum air pressure north of 15 P.S.I.  Therefore, many newcomers into the sport sometimes realize upon returning their rentals, that the equipment was, in fact, inflatable sup boards.

Drop Stitch
The tens of thousands of polyester threads create a super strong inflatable material.

Why go inflatable?

So, who prefers the inflatable SUP over the classic rigid varieties?  The paddlers who are looking for space saving storage.  A typical rigid board is difficult to store, because they tend to take up a lot of room.  Whereas, an inflatable SUP is the size of a large backpack or suitcase once deflated.

Also an inflatable stand up paddle board tends to be more durable than their rigid counterparts.  The fiberglass coating on a rigid is fragile.  A simple drop or contact with a rock might crack the shell and allow water to enter the foam core.  Repair can be costly for fiberglass finishes.  The inflatable paddle board is constructed similar to a commercial river raft.  The materials are abrasion and puncture resistant.

The only downside to an inflatable paddle board is for long distance paddlers.  A rigid board has better glide, therefore is better for racing and adventure paddlers.  The inflatable variety will still work, the energy spent to paddle the same distance will be greater due to more drag.


Inflatable paddle boards have quite the history.  Starting as a kite, then moving to a plane before lending design to water sports.  The characteristics of inflatable paddle boards have grown popularity due in part to increased durability and ease of storage.

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