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Inflatable Paddle Board Constructions:


Inflatable paddle boards come in a vast range of qualities and prices, so it’s important to know some details about how they differ with regard to the materials that the boards are made from and how they are constructed. The inflatable core of a paddle board is generally made with a single layer, fusion, or dual layer construction, while the rails are made with single or double rail bands, and in some cases and additional reinforcing strips for rigidity. Here’s a basic description of each construction:

 

Inflatable Core Layups


Single Layer (Drop Stitch Fabric + Plastic Coating)


Single layer drop stitch is what you’ll find in most boards below $700. The material is not very rigid inherently, so boards made this way are almost always 6 inches thick, even if that is not the optimal thickness for the performance of the board. Boards made with single layer construction have a bouncier feel and are more susceptible to puncture and leakage.

Fusion (Drop Stitch Fabric + Woven Fabric + Plastic Coating)


Entry level SUPs, such as the ones sold in quantity on Amazon and at Costco, are made with a single thin layer of plastic coated fabric on the top and bottom surfaces of the board, and usually two overlapping strips of material to connect the top and bottom sheets of fabric and hold the air in. More advanced SUP constructions have additional layering of materials that will keep you better protected from air leaks, withstand more intensive use, and result in a more rigid board that will perform better.

There aren’t many resources that go into board material and construction details in any depth, so reading this explanation of inflatable paddle board construction methods would be a good start to understanding the different material layer layups use in inflatable paddle boards of different qualities and price points. Beyond the integrity of the pressurized core of the board, there are many places where cheaper brands save on materials. For example, deck pads may look comparable in product photos, but they are made with varying foam densities, which affects how much cushioning they provide and how long they last. Handles may seem like an afterthought, but a carefully designed handle with a removable cushioned grip can make a big difference in comfort when you are carrying your board to the water. Similar tradeoffs between cost and quality affect every component of the board and its included accessories.

Fusion (Drop Stitch Fabric + Woven Fabric + Plastic Coating)


Entry level SUPs, such as the ones sold in quantity on Amazon and at Costco, are made with a single thin layer of plastic coated fabric on the top and bottom surfaces of the board, and usually two overlapping strips of material to connect the top and bottom sheets of fabric and hold the air in. More advanced SUP constructions have additional layering of materials that will keep you better protected from air leaks, withstand more intensive use, and result in a more rigid board that will perform better.

There aren’t many resources that go into board material and construction details in any depth, so reading this explanation of inflatable paddle board construction methods would be a good start to understanding the different material layer layups use in inflatable paddle boards of different qualities and price points. Beyond the integrity of the pressurized core of the board, there are many places where cheaper brands save on materials. For example, deck pads may look comparable in product photos, but they are made with varying foam densities, which affects how much cushioning they provide and how long they last. Handles may seem like an afterthought, but a carefully designed handle with a removable cushioned grip can make a big difference in comfort when you are carrying your board to the water. Similar tradeoffs between cost and quality affect every component of the board and its included accessories.

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Rail Layups


Single rail band with taped seams


A single band of PVC coated fabric along the sides of the board is the cheapest way to close off the containment layer, but the most vulnerable to puncture and leakage.

Dual rail bands


This is the most common rail configuration, but details on how it is implemented can make a significant difference in board strength. Boards with a larger gap between the edges of the drop stitch layers (less overlap with the inner rail band) are easier to build but have less structural integrity than boards where the drop stitch fabric layers fold farther over the sides leaving a narrowergap to close with the rail band.

Dual Rail Bands + Stiffening Layer


Adding an strip of stretch-resistant material to the rail can improve rigidity while providing an additional layer of puncture resistance. It is also an area where false marketing claims abound. Hint: Carbon fabric serves no mechanical function as a rail stiffening material. Carbon fiber must be impregnated in an epoxy resin to realize its potential strength, in which case it becomes extremely rigid and impossible to fold. Carbon fiberis great for stiffening paddles, but has no place on the rail of a SUP board.

Heat Welded Rail


As of 2019, some manufacturers are experimenting with bonding the rail layers using heat instead of adhesive layers. Doing so has potential to reduce manufacturing costs significantly, but the jury’s still out on whether boards constructed with this technique can match the dimensional integrity of boards bonded with more expensive adhesive based methods. Expect to see this technology introduced on lower cost boards first while manufacturers decide if it is good enough for higher end boards.

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FINAL NOTE


Most of the construction details described here are completely invisible to the paddle board buyer. As a result, some companies, particularly on the lower cost end of the market, are hyping their board constructions using misleading language to imply additional material layers that do not actually exist on their boards. For this reason, we advise caution in believing unsubstantiated marketing claims. To protect yourself, we recommend getting to know the brand you are buying so you can feel more confident in knowing your are getting the construction that is advertised