Badfish 10'6" Flyweight ($1,199)
Inflatable SUPs have become increasingly popular over the past few years because they’re good for so many different kinds of paddling—lake, ocean, surf, whitewater—and are easy to transport, store, and use. But they’ve often lacked rigidity and thus sacrificed performance. Brands are finally addressing that issue. From more advanced materials to smarter fin placement, companies are making changes that translate to better inflatables. This year, none have done it better than Badfish. The Salida, Colorado, brand has strong river DNA, via its roots along the Arkansas River, and has long manufactured solid surf-inspired performance paddling boards. The brand hit paydirt with the Flyweight, which can truly do it all. The star is a new technology that reduces excess PVC along the drop stitching, which creates a lighter, more streamlined craft. Grandmas can easily get this svelte 30-inch board in the lake, while the younger set can use it for easy river running, racing, flatwater paddling, and more. We’d love a single fin box for a longer touring skeg (like Badfish’s new race-inspired 12'6" iShape), but the thruster setup works for shallows and mellow surfing with the smaller fins, giving it a versatile feel. It’s a sleek, all-around ride worthy of your hard-earned coin.
SIC Maui Tao Tour Air Glide 12'6" ($750)
SIC Maui has long been a stalwart of open-ocean SUP design, thanks to the brand’s background in downwind paddling (surfing wind swell with long boards). The Tao Tour Air Glide stays true to that origin while adding versatility. It offers top-notch downwind performance with rocker in the nose, so you can take advantage of wind bump on the lake. Meanwhile, a durable drop stitch and a system of PVC-reinforced rails and stringers lend a stiffness almost similar to a solid epoxy or polyurethane board. Still, that pronounced rocker, combined with a stable feel, 30-inch width, and plenty of tie-downs, means recreational paddlers can use it for touring, overnighting, fitness paddling, or surfing the occasional small swell. If you’re looking for a performance-oriented inflatable the whole family can still use, the Tao Tour Air Glide is it.
Red Paddle Co. 12'6" Voyager Twin Fin ($1,649)
When it comes to stable boards for touring, fishing, and flatwater paddling, the Voyager is one of the best. Like all of Red Paddle’s inflatables, it comes with two rail-stiffening rods that you insert before blowing it up, which increase rigidity. This year it gets even better. Designers swapped in a new V-shaped hull that displaces water and helps the board track much better than its predecessors, lending a sleek, speedy, canoe-like feel. A new twin-fin setup, which includes two large fins, improves glide and adds another layer of stability for the uninitiated. At 32 inches, the Voyager was the widest board in our test. This translates to plenty of cargo space, with bungee tie-downs to lock in your gear. It’s a perfect rig for overnighting, lake-island hopping, or even the occasional booze cruise.