The difference in performance, durability, and ultimately paddle boarding fun is most varied in the inflatable board segment. The difference in price from low-end department store boards to the more reputable brands is large. And so too is the difference in quality. But the reality is that for the most part, the differences can't be easily seen.
How can you cut through the marketing and know what you're getting? Luckily, some differences are easily spotted once you know what you're looking for, so let's run through them.
ENTRY LEVEL SUP
Entry-level boards will typically sell for $250-400. With these boards, you're looking for a lack of information more than specifics. Meaning that the actual material and construction descriptions will be quite generic and not really tell you anything. Something like "advanced" Vinyl Drop-stitch. But what you will be getting is a single layer PVC board, and here is how to tell.
Lower pressures are the giveaway!
In general, you can expect the pressure rating to be around 12-15PSI.
Lower pressures have an enormous impact on the board's stiffness and tracking in the water. But even if you could pump them up to higher pressures, the single-layer boards don't perform well due to the amount of flex you get with them.
What you should also expect at the budget end of options is poorer-quality accessories, especially the pump. The pumps are poor quality and often struggle to get the boards up to pressure without enormous effort.
Note: This budget board/pump combo is why you will hear many complaints about inflatable boards.
Lastly, you will find the warranty short and quite limited.
MID LEVEL SUP
Mid-level boards have several improvements for which you can expect to pay somewhere between $600 and $1,000.
You can now expect a Double Layer board, which should be MSL or some other fused layering technology (no glue). This will be specified, as the material itself is more expensive, durable, and high performing. These boards will be ~30% stiffer than an equivalent single-layer board. Board pressures in this category should be higher; this is partly because of the material and partly because of the detailed construction methods. But you can expect to see boards rated in the 16-18 PSI range.
At this level you can expect better accessories, in particular, you should be looking for a high-quality pump. This is crucial because there is little point in having a higher pressure board if it's too much work getting it pumped up! In most instances, you're looking for a double-action pump that is rated to 25PSI or more.
One thing to lookout for at this price point is generic plastic center fins. They tend to be poor quality and break easily. Worse still, they can be hard to find spares for. Most boards at this mid-level will use a US Fin box or high-quality branded systems such as GRI or Bravo.
Side Note: For some reason, it has become customary for paddle boards to have three fins: one center and two side fins. But side fins only work when turning a board on its rail, as you do when on a wave. For straight, flatwater paddling, a single large fin is the best choice.
Fins are the topic of an entirely different post, but be aware that low and mid level boards (sometimes) have fin combinations that don't have any performance benefits.
Boards in this category are easy to spot. They will often look like they have been made with care and attention and will come with high-quality accessories top to bottom. Even the bag they come in will be much higher quality and long-lasting.
You can expect to pay upwards of $1,000 here.
The material now will be, at least MSL or other double layer fusion technology with a stringer system for added performance. You can also expect more advanced rail constructions that allow for even higher pressure again with 18-20 PSI normal at this level.
The most advance drop-stitch material available now is Woven drop-stitch. This material is different in the way that the vinyl reinforcing threads run through the PVC. The woven pattern is similar to how carbon fiber is woven together versus the traditional knitted style threads. The result is a material that is stiffer while also being lighter. Brands using this material include Starboard, Fanatic, Naish.... and Honu :)
Beyond advanced materials and construction methods, you can also expect more extended warranties. Warranties that cover not just the board, but all the accessories as well. In general, you can expect the brands to stand behind the quality of their products and to get many seasons of paddling enjoyment without drama.
|ENTRY LEVEL||MID LEVEL||HIGH END|
• Single layer vinyl
• Double layer construction
• Double layer fusion material
Hopefully, you now understand the main differences between the low, mid and high-end paddle boards and how this contributes to the price... No it isn't just branding :)
While we would never go so far as to say that low-cost boards don't have their place, but... we really dislike how quickly these can end up in landfill. Our advice would be to aim for a mid-level board, even for your first paddle board. Not only will it last longer, but it will also perform better, which will make the paddle boarding experience far more enjoyable. Lastly; and to answer an obvious question: Are high-end stand-up paddle boards worth the money? We would say yes. Like just about anything in life, you get what you pay for. High-end boards perform better, for longer and are backed with the best after-sales support. And if you do decide you no longer want it, there will be lots of people wanting to buy it from you second hand.