Before the paddleboard on a lake

Photo: Beth Skwarecki

We talked about it the joys of being on the water, and explored the world of inflatable kayaks (a great option for kids or casual boating, but not the serious kayaker). Now is the time to test the watercraft that is fast becoming the most popular at my local lake: the inflatable paddleboard.

Stand-up paddleboards (also called SUPs) look a bit like surfboards. That’s pretty much it. You stand up and propel yourself forward with an extended canoe paddle. Despite the name, you can sit or kneel on it if you wish.

Inflatable paddleboards are just as sturdy as normal ones.

The most shocking thing about an inflatable paddleboard is that it works. I never thought about buying an inflatable until I heard from a friend who had tried one. We were on the lake at the time, renting regular (non-inflatable) boards from the same place that rents kayaks. She told me that the dinghy she tried was just as stiff and stable as the one we were on. Hm.

A few years later, and prices finally dropped into the low hundreds; Paddleboards, like kayaks, are expensive, and you can easily spend over $ 1,000 on a top of the range of both. But where inflatable kayaks are cheap and thin, inflatable paddleboards aren’t both. Got the cheapest board I could find, and it was around $ 200 in a paddle and hand pump package.

The catch is how you inflate it

The reason inflatable paddleboards are so much more stable than inflatable kayaks is because they inflate at a much higher pressure.

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When I inflate the kayak, as soon as it feels firm, I’m ready to go. A few minutes of work with the hand pump is all it takes to get there, and I even had my 5 year old blow it up myself.

My paddleboard, on the other hand, came with a pump with a pressure gauge. You should fill it to a minimum of 10 PSI, with a sweet spot around 12 and a warning not to go over 15. (Your paddleboard may vary, but these are typical numbers.) The board felt firm at 0.5 PSI. In other words, a SUP needs about twenty times as much air as a similar sized kayak.

Doing this with a hand pump is one hell of a workout. It took about ten minutes, and the next day every muscle in my upper body was sore. (And I’m a person who lifts weights regularly, so good luck to the rest of you.) Once the drain valve was set incorrectly, resulting in a few seconds of pssssssshhhhht when I took the pump off. I was back at about 0.5 and had to start over.

electric pump for inflating a paddleboard

Photo: Beth Skwarecki

Why you need an electric pump for your paddleboard

No problem, I thought, I’ll get an air mattress pump from the store. So I did it, and I put it on, and I just … sat there. For a while. And googled “Paddleboard Electric Pump” to see what actually to use.

It turns out that a proper paddleboard pump can:

  1. inflate with high pressure (air mattress pumps won’t cut it)
  2. Inflate at least one paddleboard in a reasonable amount of time
  3. Shut down when it reaches a certain PSI (so you don’t pop your paddleboard if you are distracted)

It turns out that a pump that meets these requirements is not cheap. Anything under $ 100 had really sketchy reviews. I went for a $ 150 pump that did all of the above plus a battery so it wouldn’t have to be plugged into your car’s outlet while it was pumping.

The good pump takes 6 minutes to inflate my board to 10 PSI and 2.5 minutes to deflate it. (Yes, as a bonus, the pump can suck all the air out of the board when you’re done.) It’s convenient and means I can use the board more often and have more fun doing it. I’m just pissed off that my $ 200 paddleboard turned out to be a $ 350 investment.

What it’s like to take a paddleboard on the water

Okay, now for the fun part! I love the simplicity of a paddleboard compared to a canoe or kayak: you just drop it into the water, flop on it, and you’re good to go.

I wear flip flops to go down to the water, then I take them off and tuck them under the bungee at the front of the boat. You want to be barefoot so your feet can get on the board and keep your balance (although I’ve seen people wear water shoes if that’s what you prefer.)

Mine has a leash so the board stays connected to my ankle even if I capsize. And not to be a pessimist, but: you will likely capsize. There’s a reason paddleboarders usually wear swimsuits.

I also wear a Belt-shaped PFD (it inflates when you pull on a string) instead of a normal life jacket. I never had to inflate it as I can swim. If I fall in, I’ll just climb back on the board.

Paddling is a little trickier than kayaking, and it took me a few trips to get the hang of it. If you do it right, you won’t have to switch sides every few moves; You steer simply by changing your paddle stroke. Here is a video demonstration:

Once you get the hang of it, paddling is pretty straightforward and you can enjoy your time out on the lake. I tend to my kayak when I want to move and I take out the paddleboard when I’m more in the mood to chill out. You can lie down on a paddleboard in the middle of the lake to sunbathe or meditate, or whatever name you want to give the lying around doing nothing (throw a fishing rod if you want to be sure you aren’t drifting away ).

Paddleboard yoga is also very much. I wouldn’t recommend it for the first time though; Just getting up is enough as a balance challenge if you are not used to it.