I have been seeing various inflatable SUP for sale. I am hesitant about inflatable in general. What do I need to look for to insure it is durable?
There are a few brands that have been around for several years now that make fair decent inflatable SUPs, but honestly I hear complaints about these not lasting more than a year. Unless you absolutely need an inflatable for travel, I would buy a hard board from a reputable shop, or used if you can find one made by an established manufacturer. There are a very large number of very poorly made SUPs out there now trying to fill the demand. Read reviews from established companies on SUP webpages that have been around for several years. Check out videos on youtube that show experienced paddlers using the boards. Most junk sellers will have a female model standing on the board in flat water looking cheerful.
The NRS inflatable is really good but it costs to match the quality.
Basically you want to do 2 things when you get an inflatable:
Buy the most expensive you can possibly afford. Price is a rough indicator of quality and more expensive is always stronger, better, stiffer, faster and longer lasting even though it’s not immediately apparent. Once you go past polyethylene paddling devices (Boats, kayaks, canoes) all will be fragile to the point where the manufacturers use phrases like “Need to handle , treat and protect from scraping or impacts as you would a baby’s head”, when you pay more the durability, stiffness and performance is better but not to the point where they can take much abuse. If they can (like P&H durable layup or some white water inflatables), prepare yourself for an overweight boat with very thick hull that acts as armor. And it will never be as durable as rotomolded.
If I didn’t already mention it, BE CAREFUL. But this goes with all non polyethylene paddling vehicles. Rotomolded is as closed to indestructible as possible. Everything else is relatively fragile. So you will have to basically make sure that your device doesn’t come into contact with anything except water and if it does you do so by putting it down very gently on the ground looking to avoid rocks, maybe trying to do it on soft, thin, fine sand or grass, not scraping it etc. Practice getting on it with the boat/device already on the water and never, ever launch it or beach it or let it rub against the bottom or the beach. That said there are some white water inflatables that are made thick (and HEAVY!) that will withstand some abuse.
Remember, boats can be lightweight, cheap, or durable; you can only pick two and even then with some constraints. Specifically, as the weight for a certain size boat goes down, durability follows suit downwards as well. If you go for the “more durable” layup, it will always cost more and be heavier.
Then again lighter boats are much easier to handle with care. It’s a lot easier to be watchful with how you carry, lift and place down a boat or board that weighs ~30lbs than one that weights double that.
I have two Red paddle company SUPs. They are awesome. Most people I show them to are shocked to find out that they are inflatable.