Hard Paddle Boards vs. Inflatable Paddle Boards: Which Is Best for You?

Maui Paddleboard Scene

Stand-up paddle boarding is truly becoming a worldwide water-sport phenomenon. More and more innovations and advancements are being made every day. New materials, new manufacturing methods and new designs make it more difficult to decide which board may be the right one for you. Choosing between an inflatable and a hardboard is probably the first question to cross your mind. We are here to make that decision easier.

Both inflatable paddle boards and hardboards offer their own distinct advantages and disadvantages. They both have great features. Your choice will depend on the factors that are important to you. Performance, transportability, stability and convenience are only a few, and it is easy to be buried by all the choices. Here are the good, the bad and the ugly points of each board.

Hard Paddle Boards

Hardboards — The Good

  • Hardboards offer better performance than inflatables. Compared to similar sized inflatables, they tend to go faster, glide better and carry more momentum. You will get more distance per stroke out of a hardboard. This is important on long paddle adventures and extremely important if you want to race your board.
  • Hardboards have more stability than inflatables when you paddle. An inflatable board has a flat planing hull from nose to tail and side to side. They are great if you don’t want to go anywhere fast. A hardboard has a tapered hull from nose to tail. This feature allows them to track straight and glide through the water. Some have displacement hulls that cut through the waves, a good feature in choppy or rough water. They are much more maneuverable, which is a big advantage if you want to try stand-up paddle surfing.
  • Hard paddle boards do not need to be inflated and deflated, and inflated again, and deflated again…and again…and again...and again. Also, no pumps required to keep track of when you’re out paddling.

Hardboards — The Bad

  • Hardboards are hard to transport. They will not fit inside a car, and they stick out several feet beyond a pickup truck bed. You will need a rooftop carrier to bring them to and from the beach. Airlines will charge extra fees to transport a hardboard, and we all see the great care baggage handlers take (#3 below). If you’re renting a car, you will need a roof rack at another additional fee.
  • Hardboards are hard to store. Typical boards are 10 to 12 feet long. They take up a lot of room, whether it’s in your garage, basement or storage shed. Storing one under a bed is out of the question. If you live in a building with an elevator, be prepared to take the stairs, as the board will not fit inside it.
  • Hardboards are prone to damage. Any drop, drag or impact will ding the fiberglass. It can be repaired, about a 10 on the DIY scale; but it must be repaired properly so that water will not enter and delaminate the fiberglass skin from the core. Rocky beaches and bottoms are not its friend; nor are river rocks or even other hardboards.
  • Paddle boarding and boating go hand in hand; however, hardboards take up acres of valuable deck space. Maybe not acres, but unless you’re on a super yacht, they are always in the way.

Hardboards — The Ugly

  • Hardboards are made with an extruded polystyrene core, commonly called Styrofoam or EPS. The core is skinned over with fiberglass and epoxy. These materials individually are very hard to recycle and, when combined together, are impossible to recycle. The dust from shaping the cores and sanding the fiberglass, as well as the fumes from the epoxy, are all toxic and bad for the environment. Except for the few creative people who make benches and chairs from surfboards and paddle boards, almost every hardboard will find its way into a landfill some day. Thank you to these folks for their efforts.

Inflatable Paddle Boards

Inflatables — The Good

  • Inflatable paddle boards are easy to store and transport—in fact, it’s their best feature. They roll up into a large suitcase-sized bag. They fit in a car’s trunk and in most closets in your home. They can be checked as luggage on most airlines. Elevators are not a problem.
  • Inflatable paddle boards are more durable than hardboards when impacted by blunt objects such as rounded rocks. However, a sharp object can puncture or slice them.
  • Inflatables will feel more stable for beginners. This is due to having a thicker hull than a comparably sized hardboard. The inflatable has more volume and therefore supports more weight—a nice feeling when you first stand on it. Once you’re under way, the stability is compromised by the difficulty steering and the more effort required to go paddling.

Inflatables — The Bad

  • Inflating it. You will need a pump. And a plug if you have an electric pump. Most inflatables need to be pumped to 12 to 15 PSI. It will take a solid ten minutes of vigorous pumping to properly inflate a paddle board. Because of this hassle, more than half of inflatable paddle boarders do not deflate their boards after use. But this kind of negates their best feature, the ease of transport and storage. And long periods of keeping it inflated have a weakening effect on the seams, which is magnified if it’s left in the sunlight.
  • Inflatables flex more, especially when improperly inflated. This causes performance issues, makes it harder to paddle and drags down your momentum. You will have a wobbly feeling underfoot.
  • Every inflatable comes with a patch kit for a reason. Blunt objects are not a problem, but anything sharp or pointed (such as seashells) may puncture it. Repairs, especially in a seam, can be difficult to fix. Dragging the board along a beach with sharp rocks or shells could cause a problem.
  • Inflatable boards stand higher on the water, and even a light wind can have a significant effect on paddling. Against the wind, making headway is much harder on an inflatable than on a hardboard.
  • They are easy to store…but, if you don’t dry them before rolling them, you will have the smell of a season’s-end high-school hockey goalie’s pads on your hands.

Inflatables — The Ugly

  • Inflatables are made from polyvinyl chloride, or PVC. This flexible material is not recyclable and is known as the most toxic plastic on the planet. It emits toxic gas or VOCs from its manufacturing process, throughout its use, to its eventual end in a landfill. It’s a cradle-to-grave problem. Did you ever notice the smell from any inflatable pool float?

Ultimately, whether you buy a hardboard or an inflatable depends on the type of activities you want to do on the water. Inflatables would be for someone looking more for recreational or floating paddling. Beginners lean towards inflatables but soon outgrow the limitations. Someone looking for functional performance would lean towards a hardboard. Also keep in mind the transportation and storage. Each board has its advantages and disadvantages, benefits and compromises; you just have to figure which is the right one for you. Whichever you choose, we encourage you to become a paddle boarder for the great exercise, outdoor air and enjoyment at all ages.

Our Solution: The Best of Both Boards

Hardboard or inflatable? Our answer: neither. Our Easy Eddy board is a three-piece modular hard paddle board that combines the best of both options: performance and convenience, with all the benefits and none of the hassle. Easy Eddy boards paddle like a stable hardboard and assemble in less than a minute. They're easy to store. They're easy to transport. And because we manufacture each board ourselves, they have a variety of unique features, like a waterproof storage hatch for your keys, phone and dry shirt and a bottle holder so you can stay hydrated while you cruise. Our boards are made of virtually indestructible polyethylene, the same material used for white-water kayaks and impervious to any type of impact. Patch kits are not included with purchase simply because they will never be needed. Our paddle boards will give you years and years of paddling enjoyment, and unlike boards made of toxic PVC and fiberglass, they’re sustainable and recyclable. With no need for costly roof racks and cumbersome pumps, Easy Eddy boards quickly disassemble and fit in the trunks and backseats of most cars and store easily in closets and under beds. That means you can spend your time where it matters most: on the water.