The Ultimate Inflatable SUP Buying Guide 2023

The Ultimate Inflatable SUP Buying Guide 2023

What is a SUP?

SUP is an acronym for Stand-up Paddle Boarding and is a great way to get on the water and stay fit, it is important to know when buying a SUP to know what sort of thing to look for. 


There are many types of stand-up paddle board you can buy; hard, inflatable, beginner or race board. For the best time on the water, it is important to buy the board that suits you and your ability.


Types of board

When investing in a board it is key to buy a board that suits your needs, skill and budget. The market has been flooded with cheap, low-quality boards which can make finding a suitable board much harder.

The first decision to make is whether you need an inflatable or a hard board (composite boards usually made of foam, wood or carbon), each have their own benefits and downfalls.


STX Freeride 10’6 inflatable

Starboard Wedge surf hardboard

Inflatable Paddleboard Package - Poole Harbour Watersports

Hard Paddleboard - Poole Harbour Watersports



Benefits and downfalls


  • Inflatable paddle boards can be store almost anywhere due to their compactness when deflated and packed away, whereas a hardboard can take up a lot of room and need a roof rack/van to be transported.


  • Generally Inflatable boards are cheaper than hardboards due to slightly different construction techniques and performance goals.


  • Although hard boards may seem like the more durable option, with new technology and high-quality boards, inflatables are becoming more robust to dings and knocks where a hard board would suffer. Inflatables are more susceptible to punctures; however, these are relatively rare and can be repaired easily.


  • Performance is where hard boards shine, they tend to outperform the inflatables due to weight savings, rigidity and the rocker ability, however with developing technology the inflatables performance is slowly catching up.


  • One of the major benefits of hard boards, alongside performance, is the speed on to the water as you don’t need to pump the board when arrive at the beach or river. A hard board you can pull off the roof rack/out of a van and get straight on to the water, where an inflatable you may have to pump up if you deflate each time.


SUP shapes and sizes

Once you decided whether you are more suited to hard or inflatable boards, the next thing to decide is what type of board you need, the main types are listed below:


  • All around 10’ – 12’– one of the best beginner/intermediate boards, a versatile board that allows you to go anywhere and do anything. All round shape is a rounded nose and tail.
  • Touring boards 11’ – 14’ – slightly longer, narrow and faster boards more focused to flatwater areas, better for long distance.
  • Racing 12’6” – 14” – Long, narrow boards, much faster typically cutting through the water more efficiently.
  • Surfing 7” – 10’5” – Boards specifically designed to surf waves, more unstable and shorter but great for surfing.
  • WindSUP 9” – 12” – A hybrid SUP designed to put and windsurf sail on top in order to sail in slightly windier conditions.

Starboard All-star Race board

Race Paddleboard - Poole Harbour Watersports

What size do I need?

Choosing the correct size SUP can be stressful with all the options out there. The size is important, as if the board does not suit your ability, the board may be unstable and sluggish, limiting your fun on the water.

SUP’s have 4 factors to consider when purchasing a board...



Beginners tend to need larger volumes as generally boards with less volume are more unstable so more suited to advanced riders.

  • Inflatable – 220 – 280 litre
  • Hard board – 170 – 190 litre

It's also important to consider who you will have on the boards as if you want more than one person, e.g., with a child or a pet. This will change the characteristics of the board you will need. You can see weight guidance for each board on our website.


This is important as if a board is too long the board will be very difficult to turn or if it is too small it may be unstable and not track in a straight line as well.

  • Ideal beginner/intermediate size is anywhere between 10’6 - 11’2, as this is an ideal in-between of speed and stability.
  • Boards under 10’ are more suited to wave riding and are more agile and also suited more to children for under 13
  • Touring and race boards can be 11’2 - 14’, these are usually faster and stay straight for longer but slightly more unstable/harder to ride.


Width plays a vital part in stability on your board, if you have the incorrect size, you may not be able to ride the board comfortably.

  • Most inflatable and hard boards are within the 30-34"range, some more advanced models are outside this range such as race boards or megalodon (a large board for multiple riders)
  • Beginners are most suited to 32-34" range, where the board is stable and easier to ride
  • Once confident in your ability, more advanced riders progress to the 28 – 32” range for the intermediate to advanced range


In todays flooded market, a lot of cheap boards don’t have the thickness to be stable, the ideal/most common inflatable is around 6” thick, any less than 5” will be too thin and you may struggle. Hard boards are usually 4-5" thick as have different compositions and so are stable with less depth.


Fins are vital to having stability and speed on the water

  • Stability - larger fins will keep you straighter in the water, but will offer more drag so more advanced riders
  • Manoeuvrability – Smaller fins offer quicker turning for riders; these tend to suit surfers who value agility rather than straight line ability.
  • Composition – Cheap fins are usually made out of plastic; however, upgrades can be made from glass or carbon to make them stiffer/lighter



For more construction tips, see our blog on construction types ' Why is Inflatable SUP Construction so Important '


SUP accessories

When you are on the water there are many accessories that can be great for having fun.


Dry bag

  • A dry bag keeps all your stuff dry so you can take valuables/picnics out on the water, this allows you to go out on longer adventures and stop at different spots. These come in different sizes to suit your needs. Hard and inflatable boards have bungee tie downs on the top of the board to keep these secure on your ride.
  • Look at our selection of Dry Bags.


Wetsuit/warm weather wear

  • Warm weather is vital for staying warm and having a nice time on the water, a wetsuit would allow you to go out in colder climates and if you fall in it won’t matter as much.
  • Rash vests can offer protection against wind and spray off the water also protecting you against the sun.
  • Take a look at our wetsuit range.


Life preserver/ lifejacket

  • A life jacket or preserver can keep you afloat if you fall off and cannot get back to your board or you have an issue on the water, there is a range of options for these as seen on our website. Buoyancy aids also provide warmth and can also aid getting you back onto the board with something to grab.
  • Browse our Buoyancy Aids.


  • A leash comes with every board but you can change these for different models (longer, shorter, elasticated or straight). A leash helps you stay attached to your board if you fall off.



  • When you buy a paddle board, most come as a package with a standard alloy paddle, you can upgrade these to better models.
  • These are the most common upgrade for a SUP package; lighter, stiffer models are more efficient and can be more comfortable to use, they can also last longer.
  • There are many options for paddles such as different composites, sizes and number of pieces.
  • Take a look at our blog on ‘How to Choose the Right Paddle’.


We hope you have found this helpful, if you have any other questions about purchasing a SUP, please don’t hesitate to call 01202 700503, email or even pop into our shop at Sandbanks.

Nonetheless, take a look at our SUP selection here to browse our stock!

We can also provide packages prices on equipment! Just ask!


By Jamie Haycock

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