Stand up paddleboarding took bodies of water by storm around 2008, starting out with rigid epoxy and fiberglass construction. Since then, the sport has seen a huge increase in a more convenient and cost-efficient version of its equipment: inflatable SUPs. In general, inflatable stand up paddleboards are light, foldable when deflated and can easily be loaded in the trunk of a sedan without having to load a hard board onto a roof rack. Isle has been a prominent name in the watersports space for almost two decades now, and its newest innovation might just change the way inflatable paddle boards and kayaks are made in the future.
There are tons of these air-filled paddle boards on the market, and it is very difficult to differentiate what sets each one apart outside of shape and size. They all seem to have a "double-layer sidewall with drop-stitch construction" while using very similar building methods. Sometimes it even feels like the price you pay is for the best marketing or the coolest graphics. This issue prompts Isle’s newest release: the Pro Series Collection. This line of SUPs is an attempt to separate itself from the rest of the pack with new tech that improves the rigidity and versatility of the inflatable board and create a new category called "Inflatable Hardboards."
I had a few weeks to put the 10’ 6” Pioneer Pro to the test and get a feel for how it performs on the water. The Pro Series has a couple of material innovations that I was especially attentive to. This includes what Isle has dubbed PowerFuse technology, which is essentially a welding technique that joins the top and bottom of the board in conjunction with a rail that runs up and down its outer edges. Isle also uses a patented composite material called InfinityFiber to further increase performance, making the board 2-3 times more rigid than other inflatables on the market.
Isle Pioneer PRO: What We Think
Overall, I found the Pioneer Pro to be notably more durable and tote an impressive rigidity that I haven't found in other SUPs on the market. These features allow for a very stable experience, which allows for plenty of versatility in activities, such as yoga and fishing. It was expertly designed with a lot of forethought that clearly came into play. The downside is that the board is quite expensive, and with solid materials, you get a heavier product that can feel a bit sluggish to move around, both in and out of the water. With that being said, there is no doubt that the product allows for a fun day out on the water, and feels well-built enough to allow for years of enjoyment.
Isle Pioneer PRO: Testing Notes
Rigid and Durable
This is supposed to be the big selling point involving the newest tech, and I honestly was pretty impressed. When I unboxed the board, I initially got nervous — on first appearances, it seemed like any other inflatable I had used in the past. But once I finished pumping it up, I was surprised by how firm the top felt before I had even launched into the water. This rigidity is especially noticeable in the PowerFuse rails. This innovation was explained to me like a slap bracelet that you might have played with growing up, or maybe your kids have one at the bottom of their toy box. When the bracelet is flexed, it is rigid and firm, but when you bend it, it rolls up neatly. The firmer construction aims to avoid what Isle calls the 'taco effect', which is common amongst other inflatable paddle boards. This issue refers to a slight bend in the board when you stand on it, affecting stability and efficiency while paddling. (Imagine a taco shell: you get it.) When shopping for a paddleboard and considering a hard top versus an inflatable board, this slight flex is a common drawback that is often mentioned.
While the PowerRails allow the board to roll up compactly, the downside is that you are always fighting against the rails, so they don’t spring back open. Setting up is more of a workout than I have experienced with other inflatable SUPs, and you should lay out the storage strap that wraps before you start, so you can easily wrangle it before you have to start over. The upside to this rodeo is that once it is rolled up, it is super easy to neatly slide it into the storage duffle.
Everything that comes along with the board feels sturdy. I would not anticipate any of the pieces or parts to break anytime soon. I was inflating the board in a gravel parking lot, and I had no fears of puncturing or scraping up the surfaces. The storage bag is also super tough, and it feels like it can be roughed up a bit, which is crucial if I am constantly bringing it to and from my car in different outdoor environments. Nothing is more frustrating than dealing with a stuck zipper or a wobbly wheel, but I had no qualms here. All the zippers, wheels and handles are robust and function as they should.
Everything about the board is strong, but with this strength comes added weight. The board weighs in at 24 pounds, which is on the heavier side of inflatable boards of this size. It is still easy enough to haul from the car to the water, but by nature, the shape of a paddle board makes that weight somewhat awkward to carry. I ended up weighing the whole bag with the paddles, kayak seat and manual pump included, and it came out to just under 40 pounds. The bag does have wheels, which is definitely nifty, but expect a slight "heave-ho" into your trunk. There are other inflatables out there that are marketed to be able to hike up to a more remote location to paddle, but after testing, I wouldn't recommend the Pioneer Pro for that kind of activity.
On-board Customization and Thoughtful Engineering
Isle was shooting for the stars by thinking of all the use cases that can be attributed to this board. In addition to the brand’s signature paddle holder and comfortable EVA traction pad, the brand integrated Isle Link Technology. This is its patented system of loops that allow for a variety of attachments, such as kayak seats, bungees and coolers. These loops line the entire board, allowing you to choose exactly how you would like your setup to be. You can strap down your fishing gear, a picnic lunch (this is what I opted for), or completely clear the surface for yoga. This system replaces the typical D-ring and fixed bungee setup that is the standard for most inflatable SUPs.
In addition to this unique attachment system, you will find a mount on the nose of the board that uses M6 threading so that you can attach a GoPro or fishing rod holder. Lastly, the fin box was designed to be easily rolled up, which is normally a pain point I've experienced with standard fin boxes.
In an attempt to make this board even more versatile, Isle optimized its design to also be used as a kayak. If you are familiar with Isle's Switch, it has a very similar setup. I tested the board with the seat and convertible paddle. The seat was comfortable, but you are definitely high up on the water, which changed my stroke a bit. It was almost like I needed a longer paddle than normal, but I will say that the seat and backrest were secure and comfortable. They are also inflatable: it only takes about 10 seconds of pumping to achieve the correct PSI.
Pricey for an Entry Level Board
While I want to emphasize that the PRO series is suitable for all skill levels, not just pros, the price may not be quite as inviting. I was testing the 10”6’, which has an MSRP of $995. This cost only includes the wheelie duffel backpack, fin, leash and a dry bag. Everything else is an additional cost. This can be nice if you already have paddling gear, and it would feel like a waste to have another pump and paddle, but overall, that price tag can add up to over $1000 very easily. This is a bit daunting if you are just getting into the sport and are unsure how often you will get out on the water. In order to add Isle’s Hybrid 4 Piece SUP-Kayak Paddle, which I used, you are looking at an additional $125. If you need a pump, it will cost you around $65 for the manual version or $145 for the brand’s electric one. The pro tip here is that most paddleboards have the same Halkey-Roberts (HR) valve, so you can find very similar pumps for about half the price on Amazon.