I have been paddling for the better part of a decade and initially, hardboards were the only option. Then, inflatable paddle boards were introduced, opening up an entirely new realm of paddling possibilities. However, they could never quite hit the same marks on performance as a traditional fiberglass SUP, though they’ve gotten closer and closer over the past few years.
ISLE just debuted their brand-new Pro series of inflatable paddle boards, a step above their regular inflatables in terms of stability and build-quality. The Pro series consists of the 12 and 14-foot Explorer Pro and the 9’6”, 10’6”, and 11’6” Pioneer Pro. With these offerings, ISLE aims to further blur the lines between inflatables and hardboards, thanks to new materials and constructions that they say produces “the most rigid inflatables on the planet.” With such lofty goals, we had to get our hands on one to see what they are made of.
What’s the Difference Between an Inflatable and a Hardboard?
Hardboards are simply hard stand up paddle boards. They require no prep or teardown time and tend to have better glide and speed over inflatables. On the flipside, they are more difficult to store and transport due to their size.
Inflatables, on the other hand, are standup paddle boards that are made of PVC and drop stitch material and are inflated with air. They pack down small, often into a bag or backpack, making storage a non-issue. While they’re easy to store and transport, inflatables typically aren’t as rigid as their hardboard counterparts, and as a result, don’t offer the same level of performance.
Inflatable Hardboard Technology
Advertised as the “most rigid inflatables on the market,” the ISLE Pro series offers the convenience of an inflatable coupled with the performance of a hardboard. The inflatable hardboards utilize InfinityFiber, a patented ISLE technology that allows their inflatable hardboards to be 200-300 percent more rigid than traditional inflatables. The Pro boards also utilize PowerFuse technology, a mechanically fused rail structure in the outer board circumference that decreases potential air leakage, improves maneuverability, and prolongs the board’s lifespan.
I recently got my hands on the Explore Pro 14’ and was excited to test out the new technology for myself. Over the course of my career, I’ve written for various standup paddle magazines and have had opportunity to test out countless models and types of paddle boards. I’m quick to acknowledge the convenience of inflatables but outside of traveling, I tend to stick with hardboards for my personal paddling because they perform better. When I heard of ISLE’s new inflatable hardboard technology, it piqued my interest as a best-of-both-worlds option.
The Explorer Pro is a hybrid SUP/kayak that can be used for one or two people. In addition to the inflatable hardboard technology, the board features a touring shape, the patent pending ISLE-LINK system that allows you to attach seats and accessories (like kayak seats), and a “Click-and-Go” screwless fin. Accessories included in the package are a 9’ foot leash and a wheeled backpack (pump and paddles sold separately).
The Water Test
Out of the box, the Explorer Pro requires similar set-up to an inflatable. Once you get it inflated to the recommended PSI, you have the option to attach the kayak seat or paddle it as a traditional SUP. I mixed and matched and really enjoyed having the option to do both with one board. I like the idea behind the screwless fin, but I’d highly recommend watching ISLE’s installation video—I didn’t and promptly lost my fin.
To test this board, I decided to paddle to a small island off the coast of Oahu. It was an open ocean paddle and conditions were windy and choppy, so it was a great opportunity to see if the board was up to snuff. On the water, the board performs well. It tracks well, doesn’t cave in while standing like some inflatables, and provides plenty of stability. I wouldn’t say it’s equivalent to a hardboard, but as far as inflatables go it’s definitely one of the most rigid options I’ve seen.
If you’ve ever had the chance to use one of the Red Paddle Co. boards with their Rocker Stiffening System (RSS) Battens, it felt similar to that. It also featured similar technology to the Bluefin Cruise Carbon 12′ SUP, which incorporates carbon fiber side rails and dual inflation chambers to improve stiffness. I don’t know if ISLE’s Pro series are the most rigid inflatables on the market (stay tuned for a side-by-side comparison), but they’re definitely one of the top contenders.
When it comes time to tear down, the Explorer Pro was a little more difficult to pack up other inflatables. Due to its stiffness, it took more effort to roll it up and it’s heavier to transport than other iSUPs. Luckily, the included bag has wheels, which was incredibly helpful for lugging it around. All in all, I was impressed with the design of the ISLE Explorer Pro — it truly is the perfect blend between an inflatable and a hardboard.Check Explorer Pro Price on ISLE Check Pioneer Pro Price on ISLE
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