Should You Buy A Cheap Inflatable Stand Up Paddle Board? (2023)
It’s a question asked often: is a cheap iSUP worth it?
A cheap inflatable SUP board CAN be worth buying as it can serve the purpose and allow you to enjoy the hobby as a beginner IF you chose the right seller and the right iSUP board in accordance to your needs and possibilities. There are some really good budget iSUP boards out there.
By “cheap” I’m referring to paddle boards costing up to around $300. Usually they’re all sold in a package consisting of the iSUP board itself and either all or some of the following: paddle, leash, backpack, pump, repair kit and/or a manual. Note that usually those additional items are of relatively low quality.
Things To Watch Out For When Buying A Cheap iSUP
Almost ALL the boards you come across are made in Asia (as of 2013, 98% of them). There are only 2 exceptions I know of: Tower Paddle Boards and then Red Paddle Co who make their own stuff in a private facility along with patented construction technology. Everyone else, as far as I’m aware, get theirs from mostly China. But that doesn’t mean they’re all bad. It all comes down to quality control.
As such, it’s a double-edged sword buying a cheap inflatable stand up paddle board without knowing some things beforehand.
Obviously, things like the design, size and the board’s features in relation to your needs and possibilities play a huge role (SUP Buying Guide), but the most important thing to watch out for when going cheap is how a brand has enforced their quality control and are they themselves confident in the product they’re selling (accountability).
Granted, we can’t inspect the on-site manufacturing processes in China, so the next best thing is to carefully inspect the brand selling them. Are they legit or a copycat churn-and-burn sham?
Pay attention to:
- company’s website,
- customer service,
(my goal would be to look for red flags)
Check if there’s a website for the brand, the longer history it has the better. Whenever I do my research about anything, that’s the first thing I check. If there is no site, that can mean that it’s just a new brand, so they start small, or it’s one of those shady ones that (intentionally or unintentionally) vanish by simply switching the brand/logo if customers start complaining.
Imagine the relief if there was a site, but what if it was a low effort one? In today’s world, any1 can put up a site. It can cost as little as $50 a year to have somewhat decent looking website running.
It takes more effort to fill that website with believable content though, so I’d simply look around to see how sophisticated its functions and thorough/believable the content on its various pages are. I’d click on things, look for names, images, and so forth. Having a person’s face on the site means they’ve got balls and take responsibility by having their identity tied to the brand. Nowadays you can make up identities along with a profile picture, so I’d double check if the person is real. And if it comes to it, I’d rather trust an anonymous person than a fake person. I mean, if they’re willing to go that far to deceive you…
#2 customer service
Check for warranty and customer support. Reputable brands have warranties ranging from 1 to 5 years, cheaper ones tend to have none or up to 2 years. Do they claim to have one, and if so is there any indication that some1 has actually used it (by going through comments, etc). It’s relatively easy to put up fake comments, so when in doubt you may want to ask a simple question to confirm if they’re at least active. If a site looks legit, but is actually fake wherein negative comments are flat out removed, then that can make any1’s blood boil and you can often find complaints off-site on forums and such where people would be able to release their vents.
This is a problem that often plagues budget iSUPs. How much information is there about the product? Like really. Apart from knowing its size, it can be very useful to know a lot more things about the board, such as its weight, weight capacity, volume, features, construction & materials, optimal and maximum air pressure (PSI), to whom and for what water conditions it is best suitable for, and how it performs overall.
And then there are ones that have a long description, but it reads like a sales nightmare: deluxe edition best military grade highest quality top of the class unrivalled this and that jargon… If only you knew how things really were past such deceptive misleading descriptions. No doubt they’ll make you feel good about choosing, but please don’t let yourself be fooled by something like that. More often than not, cheaper iSUPs use probably the most basic materials available, or if higher quality, then sparsely, otherwise it wouldn’t be so cheap (check this article on what is PVC in order to find out more what the iSUPs are made of).
#4 construction & design
This is often followed by lack of proper documentation which gives away that probably not too many resources were allocated to testing, refining and polishing the craft as much as possible, and was instead just launched in a cost-effective manner designed to stay afloat and perform just enough to pass consumer tolerance levels. The seller might have bought a bunch of boards in bulk and just put them up for sale to get rid of them without really giving a damn as to how good or bad they are, their money is already invested and now they need a return…
As long as the cheap inflatable SUP board has no obvious red flags surrounding it, has a warranty of sorts, functionality-wise serves the purpose for you, and had customer support to help in case of defects etc, I’d take it if I was a beginner in need of an iSUP, no problem.
How To Tell If I’ve Found The Right Cheap iSUP?
There are risks involved when buying a cheap iSUP, no doubt, but when you’ve found one that’s got a warranty of sorts (mainly in case of potential defects rendering the iSUP unusable) and no obvious red flags surrounding it (you being the first buyer, customers complaining, brand un-traceable, shady documentation, etc), the risk is minimized and the iSUP CAN serve the purpose just fine.
Minimizing The Risks
The budget iSUP (around $300) should have:
- warranty & customer support √
- sufficient documentation √
- trustworthy seller √
Warranty & customer support
Perhaps it’s a little too much to ask for a warranty and customer support with a cheap iSUP, but there has to be something to protect the buyer from an outright scam or “accidents” which do happen from time to time.
The more you know about the board, the better, but more often than not, only the most basic of specifications are pointed out (size and weight capacity). There’s mainly 2 reasons for that: (1) from marketing perspective, it’s wiser to not mention the negative aspects so as to not confuse a beginner to research that stuff, or (2) it’s just not tested nor refined accordingly to a point where specs matter and is kind of made to stay afloat only…
Since the companies behind some of the cheap iSUPs are often untraceable (for various possible reasons), one can’t expect them to care for the users of their products, so instead you ought to turn to the actual retailer/seller in case of problems. It might be annoying, but you might want to make yourself accustomed to their policies to determine your chances of overcoming possible problems that may come with cheap iSUPS. If there’s a brand providing cheap iSUP experiences with exceptional customer support, it would be one of these here (links to a separate post on this site in a new tab).
You’ve found an iSUP that has a warranty of sorts, is sufficiently documented and the seller seems trustworthy?
Awesome! BUT how to make sure it’s the right fit?
Is It Right For You?
Although almost all of the budget iSUPs are all-around, they still tend to vary in length, thickness, width, volume, weight and weight capacity, design, etc – it can be overwhelming to orient in. However, it’s actually really simple to find your place among them – you don’t need a 100% fit. In the case of ALL-AROUNDs, just a couple of generalized pointers:
The narrower the board, the faster it is (racing, surfing, touring).
The longer the board, the more speed it can build up (racing, touring).
The wider the board, the more stable it is (all-around, fishing, fitness).
The shorter the board, the better maneuverability you get (whitewater, surfing).
11′ long iSUP for larger/taller (>5’11 tall) paddlers;
10′ long iSUP for smaller/shorter (<5’11 tall) paddlers.
Learn more: SUP buying guide (link opens in a new tab).
Does It Serve The Purpose?
I can think of a few uses for a budget iSUP:
- you don’t want to/can’t spend the money on a quality iSUP package ($500-$1000+);
- you’re not going to use it often (couple of times a year for very short periods of time);
- you’re not the only one using it (iSUPs need to be cared for, some people don’t bother with that…);
- you’re not sure what to look for as a total beginner and want to try it out first (in the case where you had no options for renting/borrowing one).
Get an overivew:
SUP buying guide post
(link opens in a new tab)
Pros And Cons Of A Cheap iSUP
Chances are you’re not paddling in a warzone, so a “bombproof” iSUP would be an overkill, don’t you think?
lower optimal PSI.
Low cost – low quality
The low cost, in itself, is good, of course, but that’s brought about by the low quality of the materials, poor design + no added value (customer support, warranty, etc). As long as you don’t expect too much of the board, the lower price of the iSUP can be considered a positive as it serves the purpose.
Lightweight – poor design
The weight of a budget iSUP is usually around 16-26 pounds, which as you can imagine is lightweight indeed. It often correlates to the low cost of the board/package as it means LESS & LOWER QUALITY materials were used to patch one together in a cost-effective manner. But lower quality materials may not feel convenient nor allow the board to perform well. For some contextual comparison, some higher quality iSUPs use quality mixtures of materials to achieve even lighter weights yet maintain extreme durability, but they also try not to go too light as then the board would be too susceptible to wind.
Beginner friendly – lower optimal PSI
It’s mainly the price that makes it beginner friendly. The potentially poor design and overall off-feel of the board might not be beginner friendly at all… But if it’s a decent cheaper one then you might not be able to tell the difference because you lack any sort of comparison point. And since boards take less resources to make the smaller they are, hence cheaper, it’s only really “beginner friendly” in the case of SMALLER PADDLERS. For bigger paddlers, a cheap iSUP can pose lots of problems (stability, rigidity, etc issues). Usually 15 PSI is the recommended maximum air pressure for the budget iSUPs (some quality boards can handle more than 20 PSI), and although you can pump it beyond that, it may not be healthy for the longevity of the board.
I’ve already mentioned that budget iSUPs are NOT of best quality. That means it will likely only have 1 generic layer of PVC (skim through the following post where I touch on what PVC is – link opens in a new tab) and other relatively generic construction elements which can become loose or damaged more easily, so taking care of a cheap low quality iSUP is even more important than it is in case of a higher quality iSUP that can better deal with some rough handling in comparison.
Would you like to know what and why would happen to an iSUP if you did NOT take care of it enough? I’ve covered that and more in the following post: how to take care of an iSUP (link opens in a new tab).
To sum up what’s in the post: it’s really easy to take care of an iSUP (low-maintenance), but try not to confuse “easy” with “not doing it at all” (the importance of cleaning, proper handling and storing).
A cheap inflatable SUP board CAN serve the purpose and allow you to enjoy the hobby as a beginner IF you chose the right seller and the right iSUP board in accordance to your needs and possibilities.
Usually cheap iSUPs are of low quality and poorly documented, but that means there’s potential for frustration when it arrived defective or ended up not meeting your needs, which is why it was important to check on a few things beforehand. There’s are solid options even among the cheapest of iSUPs!
(links open in a new tab)
The TOP 13 Best Inflatable Stand Up Paddle Boards in 2023 | post | sunsetpaddler
Best Cheap Inflatable Stand Up Paddle Boards in 2023 | post | sunsetpaddler
Exploring Inflatable SUP Accessories & Their Uses | post | sunsetpaddler
Pink Inflatable Stand Up Paddle Boards in 2023 | post | sunsetpaddler
Magnificent stand up paddle board Stickers | post | sunsetpaddler
How much do inflatable SUP boards cost? | post | sunsetpaddler
Is a cheap inflatable SUP worth it? | post | sunsetpaddler
How to choose a SUP paddle? | post | sunsetpaddler
iSUP care & maintenance | post | sunsetpaddler
SUP buying guide | post | sunsetpaddler
SUP boards list | post | sunsetpaddler
What is PVC? | post | sunsetpaddler
SUP safety | post | sunsetpaddler