Inflatable SUPs solve a lot of issues in that they don’t require a car rack, are great for folks living in apartments, commuting, traveling for business, or who don’t want to or can’t carry a heavy fiberglass or plastic board.  The better boards are almost as stiff as epoxy boards, equally as fast and offer a soft landing if you fall on the deck.

But getting on inflatable SUPs can be challenging.

Most inflatable paddle boards are 6″ thick.  If you’re in the water, this is like climbing on a dock.

While training a young SUP guide last week, he asked “how can you not climb on a SUP?” The answer is that not everyone has great flexibility, strength or may be fatigued or injured. Bulky life jackets and super thick and wide boards don’t help either.  With the skills below, you’ll learn how to climb on a sup easier, or find another board that is better suited for you.

Inflatables are Thick and Don’t Have Foil

The difference between an inflatable and a fiberglass/epoxy boards is the foil.  Foil is the shape or thickness of the board if seen from the side or profile view.

This hard board has foil - thin in the nose, thick in the middle, thin in the tail. Much easier for climbing on.

This hard hard board has foil – thin in the nose, thick in the middle, thin in the tail. Much easier for climbing on.

Notice hard boards are thin in the nose, thick in the standing area and thin in the tail.  This means if the standing area is too thick to climb over (some are 5″ thick), you can move to the side rear or tail which has less floatation and can be pushed down in the water easier to get your body on top.

Bigger or less flexible paddlers will find the tail area an easier way to get back on.  They’re they same thickness from nose to tail. Some inflatable tails have a slight rocker rising up thus making it even more difficult to climb on top of.

Get a Minimalist Life Jacket (PFD)

Always wear a life jacket on the water.  99% of paddling fatalities are from no life jacket.  A leash will keep the board from floating away after a fall.

But some lifejackets are bulky and can make it difficult to climb on your board. Look into kayak (not water ski) PFDs that not only give you more arm movement (no bulk under arms) but also not as thick on the front side.  Brands like NRS, Stohlquist and Kokatat have options.  Look at kayak stores or good SUP/surf shops or options. Try before you buy if you can.  The Mocke life jacket is very thin on front but still safe.  In Seattle where I’m based, look at NW Outdoor Center and the Kayak Academy for options.  5 Low Profile PFDs for SUPs

C02 waist belt PFDs are popular with racers but not good for beginners.  I know of two fatalities in the last 6 months (2020) where the waist belt wasn’t able to be inflated to help the paddler.  If you get one – learn how to use it on the water.  Note: With Covid-19 there is a C02 shortage, not sure if that will affect these PFDs.  Watch this video for learning how to use one then go try it yourself in shallow water.

Going on a river? Put your leash on your waist PFD straps instead of ankle in case of leg entrapment.

Tips for Climbing on an Inflatable SUP

Trouble getting on the side?  Move the the rear rail where the board is more narrow, then kick your feet hard to raise your body to the surface while simultaneously pulling yourself up on the deck.  Learn 7 ways to get on your SUP

Use the Stirrup System

The Stirrup System will help you get on the board when regular climbing on doesn’t work.  This could be done with your leash or another piece of webbing or strap stored on your board or PFD.  Attach to your tail D-Ring and let sink in water.  Set strap to your foot level. Put your foot in the loop, step up and on the board. Add a knotted rope from the handle to pull yourself on. Keep both on your board.


Still difficult to get on?

Get a 4-5″ thick inflatable board. Or get a fiberglass board with a foil which has a thinner tail – way easier to climb on.

Learn the Flip Rescue

Can’t get on your board? Instruct someone nearby to help.  Or help a friend or stranger get on their board with  flip rescue.

Practice to where you can do the flip rescue in 30 seconds with any body type.  During the pandemic, practice with masks, then take off after completed.

Related Links

My Inflatable SUP Basics Online Course

Flip Rescue in 30 Seconds

How to Put on a Waist C02 PFD

Check out my SUP 101 online course which has helpful videos dedicated to Inflatable SUPs

Inflatable SUP Electric Pump Review

Find Leaks in your iSUP

About Rob Casey – Named a pioneer in the SUP industry by Stand Up Journal, Rob is the author of “Stand Up Paddling Flat Water to Surf and Rivers” and “Kayaking Puget Sound and the San Juans, 60 Trips.” Rob owns SUP school Salmon Bay Paddle in Seattle. He also runs several paddling races throughout the year.


Salmon Bay Paddle SUP Tips

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This