Since my introduction to standup paddleboarding, or SUP, a year ago I've become a hopeless addict. I imagine its like crack—you know, if crack was really good for you. For the past three months I've been using the Boardworks SHUBU inflatable 10-foot board on Western Montana rivers and lakes. SHUBU stands for show up, blow up which is both a bit cheesy and perfectly apt. Now that I've got it dialed, it only takes me about five minutes to inflate the board. I'm usually in the water about ten minutes after pulling up to a put-in spot, which is only a minute or two slower than if I had a hard board (and if I ever get uptight enough to worry about a minute or two, feel free to hit me upside the head with a paddle).
Performance-wise this thing rocks on river. Like all inflatables, it has the advantage of bouncing off obstacles rather than getting gouged by them. I haven't pinballed off too many boulders yet, but some serious river SUP-ers I know are always complaining about the dings their boards take. Not a problem with the SHUBU. It's respectable on flat water, too, and I've paddled out and back across mile-and-a-half wide lakes with no complaints. That said, a typical hard board will perform better—smoother, faster, better trackingon flatwater. The same is probably true for the river, though the difference is more subtle on moving water. If you get an inflatable board you're getting it because it's easy to transport and great for travel, not because i'ts the fastest, best-performing board out there. It rolls up to the size of a duffle bag and is easy to throw in the back of the car with your paddle, PFD, helmet, and whatnot.
It comes with a decent carry bag thats good for car transport, though I don't think it offers adequate protection for checking on airplanes. Attached backpack straps could be used to haul the deflated board for a few miles up a backcountry river or to a lake. (Boardworks doesn't list the board's weight, but I'd guess 30 pounds.) As backpacks go, it's soft and low-tech, so individual carrying tolerances will vary, but it's way easier than hauling a hard board, that's for sure.
The convenience factor goes up another notch with the four D-rings and attached criss-crossing bungee cord on the board's bow, which makes it easy and convenient to secure a dry bag, small farm animals, or whatever you like take on the river.
It comes with a pump, which is nice, but it's impossible to get the board firm enough for serious paddling without an additional, high-pressure K-Pump to top off the air pressure. Would be great if one pump could do the job. Pump engineers, this is your challenge. Once it's inflated properly, though, it's pretty darn stiff. Again, not quite as stiff as a hard board, but more convenient in a lot of ways. So there you go. Both pumps fit in the backpack with the deflated board, and you could easily hike up a river, pump up the board, and put the pack and pumps under the bungee for the return paddle.
The SHUBU comes in a variety of sizes and widths, but the standard 10-foot model is probably the most versatile. Shorter and wider ones will be more stable, but slower and less fun if you're trying to cover ground on flat water. It comes with a patch kit, but I haven't needed to use it, even after pegging a variety of rocks in low water. And the board shines in low water, thanks to the removable main fin, or skeg, in back. If the water is low (like Missoula-area rivers in late summer and fall) you can pop it off. I find I can easily move across foot-deep water without the skeg.
Like all serious SUPs, it's not cheap. The standard-width 10-foot model costs $900, which is at the lower end for a good board, and significantly less than many other inflatables.