Advice From the Hammock No. 4

I’m 12 miles into my paddle down the Ipswich River, and I’m waist deep in the river, slapping puddy on the gaping hole in the nose of my board, which is dry docked on a fallen tree in the middle of the river. I can’t be mad at the board manufacturer. When most companies design boards, they’re picturing sandy beaches and deep, crystal clear blue water. They’re not picturing narrow rivers with fallen trees, submerged logs, and rocky sections. So after bouncing for twelve miles off every rock, log, and tree in the river, rather than being surprised to find a hole in the board, I should be surprised to find only one hole in my board.

After two years of heavy damage from paddling 20+ miles down the Ipswich River as part of the Ipswich River Watershed Association Paddle-A-Thon, I decided the third year had to be done on an inflatable board from NRS. And in June of this year, I paddled the NRS Escape down 22 miles of the Ipswich, and had barely a scratch in the PVC fabric of the board.

I get asked all the time what I think of inflatable boards. When I tell people I love them, there’s a hint of skepticism in their reaction. It seems to stem from a few myths surrounding inflatable boards, so I thought I’d outline them below and explain what you really can expect from an inflatable.

Myth # 1- Inflatable boards are cheaper than rigid boards.

This one is usually the biggest bummer to people when they find out the truth. While you can certainly find inflatable boards for less money than hard boards, my thought is that if you’re relying on something filled with air to keep you afloat, you want to make sure you have a good quality one. When you stand on the board, you want it to feel as close to a rigid board as possible. What you don’t want, is to step on the board and have it fold up like a taco on you. Quality inflatables can run you $1,000 or more, but they have more stiffness and perform closer to a hard board in terms of speed and efficiency, and they have the durability to last you all the years of paddling you could hope for.

Myth # 2- Inflatable boards are lighter than rigid boards

While inflatables may come in a few pounds under an average hard board, they’re not necessarily light enough for that to be the main reason for wanting one (there are plenty of other advantages). Even though they’re filled with air, they also have thousands of drop-stitch “threads” running from the top deck to the bottom that stretch tight when inflated, so they’re not quite the helium filled boards that some people picture.

Myth # 3- I have to worry about puncturing my inflatable

A good inflatable board is super rugged. They’re made of a military grade PVC, similar to that used on white water rafts, which are routinely hurled down class 5 rivers, bouncing off rocks the whole way. For us, this is one of the biggest advantages to inflatables. As part of our rental fleet, our NRS inflatables get plenty of abuse, wear, and tear, and they continue to perform strong.

Myth # 4- Inflatable boards are more/less stable than rigid boards

This is actually a little complicated. Inflatables are thicker than most rigid boards, meaning they have a higher volume than a rigid board of the same length and width. As such, they can support a higher weight capacity, which translates into a greater feeling of stability. However, because even the best inflatables have some inherent flex, that stability can feel a little tricky when you first hop on. However, as with any type of board, if you hop on the right size board for your size and experience level, you’ll have no trouble standing up and having a blast!

Myth # 5- Inflatable boards aren’t “real” paddle boards

This one’s pretty easy. Check out this video of Spencer Lacy huckin’ waterfalls or flat spinning on a standing wave on a raging river and the myth of “real” will go away pretty quickly.

So what’s our go-to inflatable?

We’ve tried a bunch, and have come to rely on NRS boards for providing top quality boards that are affordable, efficient, and most importantly, fun. Whether taking the Escape down 20+ miles of log strewn river, or stomping the kick tail of the Thrive to spin pivot turns, we continue to love our NRS boards, and think they’re some of the best in the business. If you haven’t paddled an inflatable but are curious, next time you rent from us, ask to use one of the inflatables. You may find you love it!


Aaron Mearns