Don’t have room for a regular stand-up paddleboard? Try an inflatable

For easy storage and transport, iSUPS are the way to go


I feel a little like Huck Finn as I slice through the blue-green ribbon of Barton Creek upstream of Austin, water dripping from my straw hat and a pair of foot-long catfish gazing up at me from the crystalline depths.

But unlike Huck, who poled his cumbersome log raft down the Mighty Mississippi, I’m gliding along aboard an inflatable stand-up paddleboard, or iSUP.

Talk about convenient. The whole kit — backpack, inflatable board and pump — weighs about 30 pounds. But more than the light weight, it’s the compact size that makes the Paddle Anywhere Kit, or PAK, appealing to city dwellers.

In reality, most folks aren’t hauling inflatable SUPs into the backcountry. They are, though, stashing them in closets, carrying them on elevators, checking them onto airplanes and tossing them in the back seats of their cars. Inflatables are easier to stow and transport than the rigid boards that turn Lady Bird Lake into a six-lane highway on summer days.

We’re paddling at the Barton Creek Habitat Preserve, a 4,084-acre piece of property in southwest Travis County set aside by the Nature Conservancy for wildlife habitat and water quality preservation. The site, home to the endangered golden-cheeked warbler and other species, opens several times a year for volunteer events and guided hikes. (Check nature.org/texas to learn more.)

RELATED: WHAT IS PAM LEBLANC’S PERFECT DAY OF FITNESS?

Austin-based SUP ATX, one of the country’s biggest SUP manufacturers, makes and sells the inflatable board that I’m using. It sells for $785. A paddle — a traditional one, or one that breaks down and can be stuffed into the pack — will set you back another $125 to $500.

It took our small group less than 10 minutes to unload the portable boards — folded up like deflated beach toys inside their packs — attach the pumps and fully blow them up. It’s easier to inflate a stand-up paddleboard, it turns out, than it is to pump up a bike tire. And when it’s filled, the board looks and feels remarkably like a traditional board.

“It feels extremely rigid. You can hardly tell it’s inflatable,” says Dale Rogers, vice president of SUP ATX. “The biggest difference is the flexibility and glide you get from a traditional board versus the inflatable.”

The classic test? Put the nose of an inflatable board on the edge of one table and the tail on another. It’ll support even 6-foot 4-inch former professional swimmers like Rogers and my paddling buddy today, 6-foot-8.5-inch Chris Kemp, without buckling or flexing.

Stand-up paddle boarding first became popular in beach towns; paddlers used them in the ocean, feeling the rhythm of the waves and looking down into the water from above. Eventually, the sport spread inland, to places like Austin, where paddleboards now outnumber kayaks and canoes on Lady Bird Lake on hot days.

“The Austin market is one of the best markets in the country. Well over 1,000 boards are sold directly in Austin in a year,” Rogers says.

SUP ATX, formed in early 2009, started by manufacturing and selling one or two types of boards. Today it makes nearly 20 different models, including ocean-faring boards, touring boards, race boards and boards specifically designed for yoga.

“In a canoe or kayak, you’re sitting there and that’s really all you can do. When you’re standing up, your perspective of what you can see down the lake and into the water changes,” Rogers says. “You can sit on (a paddleboard), lay on it and sunbathe, you can do a workout or yoga — it gives you so much diversity.”

RELATED: HOW TO GET A ROWING WORKOUT WITHOUT THE WATER

Inflatables, or iSUPS, first hit the market about 5 years ago. Technology has improved since then. Early models featured snap-in fins. Now a traditional fin box allows users to change out the fin depending on conditions.

The 10.5-foot PAK model I’m testing tracks well, but don’t expect to win any races with it. (Who wants to race out here anyway?) When you quit paddling, it drops lower in the water and slows quickly instead of continuing to glide.

“Even though it feels totally rigid, it still has a little bit of give, which is nice for durability and smashing into rocks,” Rogers tells me.

The board comes with a patch kit, in case you’re shot with an arrow or get washed down a razor-blade-lined waterfall. If that happens, it’ll deflate pretty quickly on the water, but you can fix it later, Rogers says. (You may have bigger problems, though.)

He straps a waterproof box onto the board, and I drop my car keys and cellphone into it. I wade into the water, climb aboard, squat on my knees a few minutes to steady myself, then stand up. It’s smooth and quiet, and nobody else is around but a bevy of turtles perched on a half-submerged log.

I like the peaceful, nature-focused aspect of paddleboarding. Rogers, a former competitive swimmer, likes the competitive part, too.

“For most people in Austin, it’s a social thing. You go to a friend’s and hang out and paddle a bit and jump in the water,” Rogers says. “But I like doing workouts or racing, too.”

I think Huck Finn might like it, too.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Lifestyle

New veterinary office’s viewing window takes mystery out of treatment
New veterinary office’s viewing window takes mystery out of treatment

You take your dog or cat to the vet. The technician needs to draw some blood, clip some nails, check a temperature. Your animal is then taken to the mysterious back. Your pet is returned to you minutes later. What just happened? You’ll never really know. Or your dog needs a good dental cleaning or a minor surgery. That all happens out of view...
Why are many kids not getting diagnosed with autism before age 2? New study has some answers
Why are many kids not getting diagnosed with autism before age 2? New study has some answers

Monday, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a study done in Norway that might shed some light into why many kids are given a false-negative diagnosis for autism at 18 months. Dylan Flint, 7, and Liesa Randel get their boarding passes for the Wings for All flight for children with autism to practice going through...
That hotel pool could make you sick this summer, CDC study finds
That hotel pool could make you sick this summer, CDC study finds

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released this bit of information last week: 1 in 3 waterborne disease outbreaks traced happen in hotel pools or hot tubs. There have been about 500 waterborne disease outbreaks from 2000 to 2014. In addition to hotel pools and hot tubs, water parks have also been to blame. Diseases include...
Aimovig: New migraine prevention drug approved by FDA
Aimovig: New migraine prevention drug approved by FDA

If you suffer from chronic migraines, relief is here. According to The Associated Press, the Food and Drug Administration last week approved Aimovig, a monthly shot that aims to reduce migraines. The drug, developed by Amgen Inc. and Novartis AG, is "injected monthly just under the skin using a pen-like device," the AP reported. Its...
Today’s horoscopes - Sunday, May 20

ARIES (March 21-April 19). You depend on others for many of your needs, but you don’t necessarily stop and wonder what goes into producing the results. Today changes that, as you’ll find out exactly what you’re buying, how it’s made and more. TAURUS (April 20-May 20). Control your destiny by consciously taking responsibility...
More Stories