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Picking the Best Inflatable SUP For You: What's The Difference Between All Those Different Constructions?

Stand up paddle boarding is an excellent way to enjoy our waterways. It's a great workout, and it's easy for beginners to catch on fast! But standing up on one of those boards is still a balancing act.

If you're not sure which inflatable SUP you should be picking out for yourself or a member of your tribe, we've got you covered. Choosing the right model and construction type is crucial so that you can pick the board that will work best with your body type, usage habits, and skill level. Here are some things to consider when deciding which inflatable SUP to buy for your next adventure.

What's the difference between all those different board constructions?

You’ll have seen a number of different construction types across the internet on the search for your paddleboard and it can be a bit of a mine field! There are two main things to look for, the dropstitch construction and rail construction.

 

Dropstitch Construction

There are 3 main types:

1. Single Layer Dropstitch -These boards consist of a single layer of PVC dropstitch. Typically, this type of board is the most affordable option to get into SUPing, however most top brands now offer very durable single skin boards at a more budget friendly price point. (But watch out for the PSI, this is important – we’ll get onto this!) 

It’s worth noting, that these boards will have a much lower max rider weight, but will be much, much lighter. You have to compromise somewhere!

2.Double Layer (glued) Dropstitch - This second type has two layers of PVC, with one extra layer glued on top of a single layer dropstitch. This extra layer adds rigidity (and in turn stability) and durability to the board, however due to the glue and added PVC layer, it makes the board much heavier than a single skin board.

3. Double Layer Fused Dropstitch -The third type of construction is the crème de la crème of dropstitch. Fusion dropstitch provides the rigidness without the glue. Two layers of PVC are “fused” together with heat during material production rather than later down the assembly line. This construction does come at a premium but gives you the peace of mind when it comes to durability and stability/rigidness. All our OG boards are made of this type of construction.


Though there are 3 main types, there is one last type worth mentioning – fabric! Where you see Woven Dropstitch mentioned, this refers to where the internal yarns meet top and bottom of your board. For a long time, knitted dropstitch has been the standard for inflatable paddleboards, but woven has less flex, less internal yarns which makes is stronger AND lighter. 

 

Rail Construction

The rail construction is paramount to the longevity of the board’s life and the adventures you take it on. If this is overlooked and isn’t strong enough, your board will leak at the seams and potentially pop (literally). The rail material connects the top and bottom dropstitch layers together and simply put, keeps the air in the board. It not only keeps air in, but it also adds to the board’s rigidity, durability and allows for higher air pressures.

Imagine there are 2 layers, if you cut the second layer only, air won’t escape. Therefore, the more layers you have, the more protection against punctures? Technically yes, but 10 rail layers would definitely be overkill! There is a very fine balance between weight and rigidness, with every brand choosing its own material thickness, layer amounts and construction type depending on their required weight to rigidness ratio.

Single layer rails are used mainly on cheaper boards. These are extremely lightweight but not very durable and you could face punctures easily. Not ideal (or safe) for a floatation device!

Double layer rails are the most common and the best ratio of weight and rigidness. We opt for this at Sea Lion to ensure our SUPs are ready for all your voyages. 


EXTRA - Stringers

Stringers are an added strip(s) of material that adds to the boards’ rigidness. You find stringers in boats, hard SUPs, surf boards… the list goes on. Stringers appear on single skin boards mainly, as double skin boards do not require the added stiffness, nor need the additional weight. A stringer can add rigidness but if the max PSI is only 12 PSI, it has little effect. 

Air pressure is one of the most important aspects of an inflatable paddleboard. Read on! 

Air Pressure - max PSI

Air pressure and the combination of construction is the key to how rigid your board is when inflated. Imagine a lilo… those brightly coloured floating sunbeds you lie on in a pool with a margarita… and now imagine standing on one. You'd probably fall off pretty quickly and not due to the margaritas! Inflatable paddleboards commonly range from 12 PSI to 25 PSI. 

Most single layer boards normally have a max of 12-15 PSI (high quality brands with single skin SUPs can reach 18 PSI) and good quality double layer boards have a max of 25 PSI. Our OG range of boards has 25 max PSI, making them extremely rigid! 

The higher the pressure, the harder and more rigid the board will be under your feet. This should prevent spilt margaritas and regular tumbles off the board! It’s important to pay attention to the PSI as a board pumped up to its max of 15 PSI will differ drastically in performance compared to a board pumped to 20 PSI with a double layer construction.

Now, that’s the internal stuff sorted. Onto the exterior!

Rocker Shape

When choosing a paddle board, you must not only consider the width and shape of the board but also think about rocker. Rockers are the curves on both ends of your SUP. Nose rocker is at the front end, while tail rockers are at the back end. Makes sense! 

It’s important not to confuse this with bowing which occurs when there isn't enough rigidity or sub-par construction that leads to this deformity in boards. This can be found as an intended characteristic of more high-performance paddle boards for performance enhancement, which is typically desired by white-water river paddlers.

 

Board Size and Weight Limit

One of the most important things to consider when buying an inflatable SUP is the max rider weight. Most boards are rated for a user’s weight in kilograms, rather than someone's weight in pounds. You can calculate this easily by taking your weight in lbs and dividing it by 2.2. For example, if you weigh 190 lbs, you'd take 190 lbs and divide it by 2.2 to get about 87 kg.

Convert your weight:
Kg to lbs - Kg x 2.2
Lbs to kg - lbs % 2.2

To ensure you choose a brilliant product ideal for your next journey, it’s important to understand the weight limitations and board size. The weight limitation comes down to the construction, volume (litres) of the board and your experience. The larger the volume, the more weight capacity the board can take, but the more experienced you are, the less volume you need for stability. A single skin board with the same volume as a double skin board would have a lower weight capacity though. Still unsure? Head back up to the construction types.

Make sure to check the max rider weight before purchasing. If you’re a complete beginner, 110kg/242lbs, you’d find it quite difficult to balance on a 10ft6 x 30” x 4.5” board with a volume of 176 litres and would want a higher volume board.

Choosing the board for you is very subjective. It’s up to you and the experience you have or the experience you’d like to get to. Here are some very simple volume calculations to work out what board is best suited for your weight.

Complete Beginner / Balance Challenged - kg x 2.2-3 = Approx Volume (L)
Novice to Intermediate - kg x 1.8-2.2 = Approx Volume (L)
Advanced - kg x 1.3-1.8 = Approx Volume (L)

 

Key take aways

Better construction = higher pressure = more rigidness = more stability = more fun
The bigger the board = more volume = higher rider weight

Another thing to think about is what type of usage are you planning on getting out of your board? If you're only going to be using it around the pool or for short trips downriver, then a recreational board might do just fine for you; however, if you plan on riding long distances, such as big river trips or open waterways, then a longer touring board might better suit your needs.


What are your usage habits and skill?

The amount of time you'll be spending on the board each month will determine which construction type and board style is best for you.

If you're a beginner who only goes out for recreational purposes, a little bit of fun in the surf or the SUP is for multiple members of the family, then an Otago might work for you.

If you are a beginner looking to grow with your board, develop your skills and go on longer trips, then the Rapoka is an awesome board to take on your adventures. 

If you're a SUPing regular and plan to be using the board often for longer journeys with more gear, a touring board like our Rapoka or Tasman would be ideal for making those memories!


We realise that with brilliant product and an adventure attitude comes the responsibility to ensure all members of the Sea Lion tribe are clued up the kit they have, the features that aid their safety and the set up for a safe paddle. If you’re still not sure which SUP is for you, we’d love to hear from you. Get in touch!