The Best Inflatable SUP For Rivers

Posted on October 4, 2019 by Doug Robichaud

Paddle Boarding Rivers

Inflatable stand up paddle boards are hands down the best type of paddle boards for rivers and streams. But finding the best inflatable SUP for rivers is a challenging task for a beginner. The right inflatable paddleboard will feature super-durable construction and increased stability compared to rigid boards that make them ideal for handling a river’s rough and unexpected environment. From protruding rocks to speedy whitewater rapids, the right inflatable SUPs can take on the most extreme river conditions unscathed.

Below, we’ll explore the features that make inflatable SUPs so great for paddling on rivers. The guide also covers the best inflatable SUPs to ride whitewater rapids, the best all-around inflatable SUPs for rivers, as well as the best fin setups for each.

the best inflatable SUPs for rivers
@landon_ecker studying his line in Colorado on the ISLE Sportsman iSUP

Why Inflatable SUPs Are The Best For Rivers

Unlike any rigid stand up paddle board on the market today, inflatable SUPs are by far the most durable and stable. They are the most durable SUPs because they are constructed using high-quality, military-grade PVC and drop stitch that makes them virtually indestructible. When pumped up to a sweet spot of around 15PSI, these boards have a surprisingly firm deck and carry a substantial amount of weight. Unlike epoxy SUPs or fiberglass boards that could shatter when crashing into a rock, inflatable stand up paddle boards are super difficult to damage. This is why they are the obvious SUP choice for rivers.

Since they inflate, these paddle boards are the most stable because of their thickness, meaning they rise higher up on the water than any epoxy SUPs. This height advantage creates a more stable board that’s especially helpful in choppy river conditions. Rivers are full of surprises, so it’s important to have a stand up paddleboard that is easy for you to balance on.

A Guide To Choosing The Best Inflatable SUP For Rivers

Of all the places you can go stand up paddle boarding, rivers provide the most diverse range of opportunities and challenges. Therefore, there are specific inflatable paddle board shapes and fin setups that will prosper in certain conditions. For instance, there are inflatable SUPs that work best to surf whitewater rapids, while others can manage all types of water conditions. So, in a nutshell, there are two main categories of inflatable SUPs for rivers: whitewater SUPs and all-around SUPs.

the best inflatable SUP for rivers (3)

The Best Inflatable SUP For Whitewater Rapids

If you’re interested in paddle boarding downstream on fast-paced rivers with whitewater rapids, you need an inflatable SUP board with specific dimensions. The best inflatable SUPs for whitewater paddling have a wider template (usually around 32-34 inches) and are relatively shorter (10’6” to 11'0''). Furthermore, the best whitewater inflatable SUPs must have a pointed nose for cutting through chop and rapids. You’ll also want to look for a board with a durable deck pad to offer as much traction as possible. A perfect example of a great whitewater inflatable SUP is the 11’ ISLE Explorer. 

These specific inflatable SUP dimensions make for a great whitewater board because their extra width offers a more stable ride and maneuverability when paddling down rapids. Also, the shorter length makes it easy to surf around protruding elements in the rapids like rocks or tree branches. Trust me, a leash won’t prevent a fall, so you will need a super stable SUP to avoid falling into the rapids. 

Keep in mind, a wider and shorter SUP has its limitations for other types of paddle boarding. For instance, a whitewater-specific inflatable SUP will not paddle as well in flat water spots like lakes and bays. In these calmer bodies of water, whitewater-specific inflatable SUPs will paddle slower and will be less responsive than their counterparts. Ultimately, there are some pros and cons of owning a whitewater inflatable stand up paddle board.

the best inflatable SUP for rivers

The Best All Around Inflatable SUP For Rivers

Since most rivers have a variety of conditions, it can be limiting to only own a whitewater-specific paddle board. In a single river adventure, you are likely to paddle rough waters, gentle waters, and everything in-between. There are also instances where you will come across parts of a river that are just as calm as a lake at sunrise. For these reasons, many paddle boarders choose an inflatable SUP board that is well-suited for a variety of conditions. These SUPs are referred to as all-around inflatable SUPs

All-around inflatable SUPs give you the versatility to perform in all bodies of water. From lakes to the ocean, these inflatable paddle boards work amazingly anywhere you choose to take them. All-around inflatable SUPs are 10’6” to 11’6” in length and 31-32 inches wide. If you plan to paddle board on rivers more frequently than any other bodies of water, you should get a SUP with a pointed nose. However, a round nose will suffice in many water conditions.

the best inflatable SUP for rivers

The Best Fin Setups For Rivers

It's not only important to have a pump in order to inflate your board, but you need to select the right fins. When river paddle boarding, selecting the best fin setup makes all the difference in how your SUP will perform. If your inflatable SUP has the wrong fin setup, it might not work well in a river regardless if it fits the dimensions discussed above.  

The best fin setup for paddle boarding on rivers is a removable, big center fin with two non-removable side bite fins. Lucky for you, all ISLE Inflatable Paddle Boards have this fin setup. This fin setup is the best for rivers because it offers the most control, maneuverability, and stability in varied conditions. Remember that functionality is key when paddle boarding rivers. In addition, this fin setup gives you the option to remove your center fin if you’re paddling in shallow rivers.

Wrapping Up

Rivers are hands down the most thrilling body of water to stand up paddle board whether you’re a beginner or a pro. From taking on whitewater rapids to enjoying the current of a gentle downstream paddle, rivers offer some of the most fun and challenging terrain. Inflatable SUPs are the best type of paddle board for rivers because their thickness makes them durable and stable enough to handle the dangerous elements of rivers.

the best inflatable paddle board


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