SUP Safety with Inflatable Boards by Chris Koerner

SUP Safety with Inflatable boards / by Chris Koerner / PSUPA

This past summer SUP pioneer Dave Kalama wrote an article about using inflatable boards as a solution to the issues surrounding different board classes in SUP racing and the logistics of travelling to events around the world.  He made some very valid points about the improvement in materials and design and the efficiency of the latest inflatables.   One thing Dave didn’t mention was the safety factor with an inflatable SUP.  I’ve been involved with the development of inflatables since 2008, and use them in all of my SUP lessons & tours.  Around that time I raced one a few times just for fun, but after using better designs, materials, and manufacturing techniques the performance has improved to the point where I’ve been using them exclusively for surfing and racing for the past couple years. 

There’s no question the blunt force from this type of board is much easier on the body in just about any situation compared to a fiberglass/carbon/epoxy board.  Think about it – would you rather be hit by a volleyball or by a bowling ball?  Also, many injuries are fin-related and most inflatable SUPs come standard with pliable urethane fins permanently mounted.  Some companies offer fin boxes, giving you the option of using a soft rubber-edged fin (SurfCo Hawaii make Pro Teck fins in three different flex patterns).  Just last month I was surfing at my local spot and saw a rider on the wave in front of me bury the nose and his board shot up and came down right next to him.  When he came up he had a nice slash across his hip, but was able to make it to the beach on his own and fortunately a couple retired lifeguards were on hand with a full first aid kit.  I went home and made a list of friends & acquaintances I know personally who have suffered similar SUP-impact injuries from hard boards and in no time I had 25 names - from beginner/intermediate paddlers to world class competitors.  The interesting thing was the injuries were all self-inflicted; boards to the face; body while punching through a wave, fin cuts from being hit by the board.  Not all of these were surf related – some were flat-water injuries sustained while falling on the board or falling in the water and surfacing under a rail or fin.  

The inflatable SUP market has seen a huge growth since 2010, and today almost every company has one in their lineup.   You can buy one at Costco for a few hundred dollars, and today just about every major brand has a couple inflatables in their lineup – from all-around boards to race and whitewater-specific models.  On the high end you have companies like ULI Boards, 360 Go Anywhere (PSUPA member), Shaboomee (PSUPA member) who build inflatables and offers custom shapes & designs made in the USA.  Like anything I would suggest trying one before you buy, and if you’re using one for travel, I would recommend attaching the pump to the board at full inflation to see how easy it is to get a pump stroke in.  If a board isn’t inflated to at least 14 psi it’s probably going to have too much flex for an average adult, and the boards that can be inflated to 18-20 psi are going to feel closest to a hard board.

Chris Koerner is a PSUPA Advisor and has been a SUP paddler since 2003 and was the first SUP racer on the mainland US.  His background includes over 15 years as a lifeguard in the US and Australia, and provided ocean rescue training in the Caribbean.  

More Reading on Inflatable Safety from Stoke Magazine:

Safety Lasso for Inflatable SUPs

Inflatable SUPs – All the Rage but Sometimes Difficult to Get Back On

Any questions give me a holler: / 206.465.7167
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