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Inflatables – The Boater’s SUP

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You see them everywhere, on the beach enjoying the waves, on the bays and backwaters and even on the rivers flowing into the ocean—it seems just about anywhere there is water there are Stand Up Paddle Boards.

Once you get on one of these boards and try it for yourself it’s easy to understand why it has become the fastest growing watersport in the world. However, for cruisers, boaters, live-aboards or charter operations stand-up paddle boarding (SUPing) can seem impractical because of the bulk and size of these giant surfboard-looking contraptions. But there is an answer, and it comes in the form of the inflatable SUP.

A recent visit to Surf Expo, the leading SUP industry show held in Orlando, Florida, revealed that one of the fastest growing segments within the exploding SUP industry is boards of the inflatable variety. Almost every SUP manufacturer at the show had at least one inflatable board available and many had whole lines of boards ranging from small surf SUPs all the way up to speedy race boards that prove themselves as winners at races worldwide.

Speaking with exhibitors it was evident that SUPing has been gaining in popularity and has proven to be a great way for people to get on the water and enjoy all it has to offer. The downside for many, though, is the sheer bulk and size of these boards. Granted they are lighter and easier to handle than most other kinds of craft such as kayaks but they are long, bulky and many are made of composite materials that can damage easily and must be stored and cared for properly. This becomes a problem for boat owners who would like to carry a board on their vessel. While there are high quality racks available for traditional boards and even purpose built vessels designed to transport multiple boards, storage can be a problem. Even for those living in apartments or houses, storing a traditional board can be difficult.

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All these issues are eliminated with the use of an inflatable board.When not in use these boards can be deflated, rolled up and stored in a compartment, closet or locker. Almost all inflatables offered today come complete with a storage bag of some sort. Some are simple mesh storage bags while others are backpack-style duffel bags. Red Paddle Co’s top luggage grade bags are designed and built for world travel and can be checked as regular luggage, all while taking a beating from baggage handlers. Along with the bag most inflatables will come with a hand pump and inflating and deflating these boards takes only a few minutes. Using an electric pump on board connected to a twelve-volt source (handy if you have more than one board to inflate) can speed up the whole process.

One of the primary complaints of some users of inflatable boards was lack of rigidity and a mushy feeling when paddling. They did not feel like a regular hard board. Being less rigid meant they were slower and harder to control. With some boards the more air you pumped in the harder and more rigid the board became but when you reached a certain point it would just start to balloon out rather than stiffen up. Some manufacturers have addressed this issue and have developed some amazingly rigid boards. One way they have accomplished this is by adding vertical strands that connect the lower and upper portions of the board. These strands pull the two layers together, when the board is inflated, and help reduce the movement of one layer opposite the other, tying the layers together within the air chamber.There are some boards today that are surprisingly rigid and can take the weight of two people while suspended without bowing. This is thanks in part to high thread counts between layers such as the new line of boards by Sevylor that span the range from surfers to race boards.

Red Paddle Co., a company that only manufactures inflatables, has some of the most refined and stiffest inflatable boards on the market. It can make this claim thanks to not just a high thread count holding layers together but by manufacturing its boards with multiple layers of PVC, laminating them together in special molds that allows them to laminate with a slight rocker, just as some composite boards have. Add to this a triple layered rail and its RSS or Rocker Stiffening System comprised of stiffening battens that are inserted into pockets on the rails and you have an inflatable kayak with the physical characteristics of a composite board including rocker and board thickness along with the stiffness and handling of a hard board. Because of the unique design and manufacturing process John Hibbard, the co-founder of Red Paddle, says his customers have “an authentic non-compromised paddling experience.” He points out that by choosing the right inflatable you can not only keep up with your friends on hard composite boards but can even out accelerate them. The models of inflatable race boards are as light—or lighter than—much more expensive high-tech composite boards and because they fold up in their travel bags you can sail or fly to your next SUP race and actually be a contender.

No matter if you are inflating a board to paddle ashore for groceries, taking an evening paddle around the marina, morning exercise, or entering races across the globe, a little research and the right inflatable board can get you SUPing wherever, whenever.


Glenn Hayes is a freelance photographer and writer living in West Central Florida. His work covers commercial, editorial and fine art work:www.HayesStudios.com

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Glenn Hayes
Glenn Hayeshttp://www.HayesStudios.com
Glenn Hayes is a writer and photographer based out of west central Florida and has marine industry background spanning almost a quarter century. He can be reached through his web site www.HayesStudios.

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