Packable Boards for SUP & Surf

Before our son was born, my wife and I traveled a lot.  Every year.  Sometimes for a few weeks, sometimes for months on end.  Far flung places. Crappy hotels. Local buses.  And, we traveled light.  Backpack carry-ons only.  Checking baggage was for old people, suckers on Carnival cruises, and those generally unenlightened to the beauty of traveling light and with only one extra pair of underwear  (Okay, maybe that last bit was just me, but still…)

It was awesome.

Then our son was born. All of a sudden our baggage for a family visit  to Southern California looked like we were heading out to summit  Everest. Thank goodness my wife is a savant at packing because each journey involved a Tetris-like car-packing session.  

After we escaped the baby/toddler gear years,  I vowed we would travel light once again. So, for our first family trips out of the country, we went back to only carry-ons.  It worked – for the most part – but we realized our style of travel would have to adjust.  Where once we could enjoy doing nothing on some remote island for weeks, we now had to entertain a very energetic and easily bored son.  

We needed toys.

I quickly learned which toys not to bring – and unfortunately, they were mine. One year, I dragged my poor family to a remote fishing village in Mexico so I could surf. I won’t go into the details (“Let us never speak of it again”) but the big packing lesson for me? Never travel with a surfboard to a remote spot again.  An unbelievable drag.

For our trip to Vancouver Island this summer, I knew we needed to bring toys. I wanted us to be able to paddle or surf without relying on rentals. I also wanted to bring my son’s scooter to take advantage of all the skateparks on the island.   But remembering my surfboard experience, I knew everything had to fit into duffel bags.

Enter, inflatable boards and voila: There are two boards, one scooter and the rest of our stuff for two weeks on Vancouver Island in these bags!

1bags normal

Inflatable boards, if you get the right ones, feel almost like a “real” board once you have them inflated to 20psi. While there is a bit of a learning curve involved, surfing one is a complete blast.  It’s sort of ridiculous to be able to surf on a glorified pool toy but it puts a smile on my face every time.


On flat water, I find these inflatables are almost indistinguishable from hard boards. They are also a “must” for paddling on rivers where rocks and other submerged obstacles can damage a glassed board.   Inflatables are great to have for day/weekend trips from home too. Our car is a bit smaller so we put bikes/kayaks on the roof and deflated SUPs inside, leaving room for other necessities (like a very large cooler for beer…)

Good inflatable boards are not cheap, but they are worth it. They are built super tough. I saved some money by waiting for sales and getting lucky on eBay and Craigslist.  

Our Hobie Adventure is an aircraft carrier. It measures 10’8” x 32”. My wife, who had never paddled, got the hang of it in minutes on this board.

1hobie board

My son’s favorite is the 10’ Uli Lopez. Ulis are made in San Diego. Their quality is legendary and they have an almost evangelical following. Their customer service is second to none. If you want a board for flat water, rivers, and also to surf, an Uli is the way to go.

1uli board

I have also read great reviews of Red Paddle Co boards, but have never personally tried one.

Packing these toys for your next adventure is ridiculously easy.  An inflatable stand-up paddle board, three-piece paddle, and pump all pack into an extra large duffle bag comfortably, leaving room for wetsuits.    The scooter fit in one of the bags by removing the handlebars and wrapping everything with wetsuits for padding.  There was also room for extra shoes, games and a frisbee (a must-pack on all of our family trips. Not only is it fun on the beach at sunset, it can be used as a plate to cut up the perfect avocado or papaya, a plate for cheese, a spacer for a wobbly table, a sun shield for camera shots in the sun, and more!)

At the airport, we each checked a large duffle bag that came in just below the 50-pound weight limit.  Free.

But be sure all your duffel bags have wheels.  (I tweaked my back hauling one bag on my back, and one non-wheeled duffel on top of a wheeled duffel.  I guess 130 pounds in tow is too much. Who knew?!)

Now, this toy-packing approach presupposes you have a rental car.  I don’t know if I would attempt this if I were relying on public transport.  

We find that so much of packing strategy is balancing the comfort of moving and sitting still:  Lugging tons of stuff is a drag in transit, but awesome when you arrive at your destination.  On the other hand, traveling light is awesome in transit, but a drag when you arrive with only one change of clothes and an extremely bored/restless/pouty son and/or dad.  Pick your poison.

For me, my days of super light travel are over.  I will haul an inflatable board – or three – whenever, wherever we go. Oh, and a frisbee too. Of course.


by Paul Puntous, September 2015

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