Finally bit the bullet

One week ago today I made a decision to stop procrastinating and buy a better board.  Not just a better board but possible and arguably one of the finest inflatable boards on the market.  I spoke to the very helpful staff at New Forest Paddle Sport Company no settled upon the Starboard Astro Racer 12’6″ X 28″.  It is a serious bit of kit and was even more delighted that I got a deal that included a paddle bag, starboard coiled race leash and also a Starboard Bolt Hybrid Carbon race paddle.  

I have to say that this is serious stuff….I am now committed to training hard and ensuring that the investment will not be wasted.  I could not wit for work to be over on Friday evening, racing home to see my kids and racing out the door to pick up my new kit.  Sean at New Forest Paddle was spot on and did not open anything, handing me the Stanley knife as soon as I walked through the door and pointed me to the box in the corner of the room…It was Christmas, going through all the packing and revealing MY new board.  I was so excited, I think I hid it well, my instinct was to go YIPPEE and dance around the place, but I resisted the urge.  Once the board was unpacked came the next big task, measuring and cutting the paddle down to size.  I was left to do this myself and I am glad I was, it is akin to. Samurai forging his own sword or a Jedi making his own lightsaber.   A right of passage that, if possible and confident all paddlers should go through.  I careful wrapped electrical tape around the shaft, took the saw nod me my guidelines.  Then the job was done.  A spot of glue and the paddle was ready for the water.

I rushed to the waters edge at Keyhaven and pumped up the board, the glorious new board smell wafting on the summers evening.  It was every bit as good as I remembered it to be when I tested it a month ago.  The difference is this time the board is mine.  The board coupled with the phenomenal paddle was amazing.  Unfortunately, my balance was slightly off as I was coming down with a cold so was not at 100% and took a tumble into the drink.  Fortunately the water was warm and forgiving.  I enjoyed my paddle and enjoyed testing the paddle and the board and together they make a fantastic coupling.

The paddle!

Let me tell you about the Starboard bolt paddle.  It has an oval shaft, which is so very comfortable to grip, it has been designed in conjunction with Connor Baxter and carries his signature, it has a rough edge by the top of the handle which always for grip if performing his ‘choke down’ paddle stroke.  (There is a you tube video of Baxter being interviewed and he demonstrates this technique better that I can explain it https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Q7PG-0PrPoQ ). The bode is a composite of carbon fibre and foam and is amazingly light, I mean really light, it feels like your holding a fluffy cloud!  Despite it weighing less than a feather blowing on the breeze, it is possible to get quite sensational power through it.  Set a 10 degree angle the catch is phenomenal and it glides through the water with ease, delivering amazing control and thrust.  I have used 6 paddles in my time paddling, each one better than the last.  But this will quite frankly never be beaten.  It is sensational, it is feather light, responsive and a pure joy to use.

The board!

For me, space constraints require me to have an inflatable and I can’t imagine any other board being quite as good as this.  With a FCS fin box system it beats, hands down, the slide and clip of my old board and some other race boards out there.  It is light when inflated but has near the rigidity of a hardboard.  The dual stringers running down the centre provide strength.  The board itself when paddled is best paddled at speed , it likes to go fast, after last that is what it is designed to do.  But, it always is forgiving at low cruising speed.  When I toppled off, I was at a 80 degree angle to the water almost vertical before the board released its grip of me and drop me in the water.  People had time to mock, jest and offer advice before I eventually went in. 


The future’s bright!

I am still in training for the Bournemouth Pier to Pier as the original date was cancelled due to bad wether and now re-arranged for  August 7th.  Father that the training begins to use this board with the most appropriate gusto that it deserves.  I am planning on a winter training schedule and possibly some winter races with BaySup.  But I think my announcement on to the race scene will be Head of the Dart 2017.  That is my aim, that is my plan…..bring it on!

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SUP guide to buying a first board.

With some many companies and so much choice out there to buy a board is a disaster waiting to happen.  I bought my first board 8 months ago and I will be honest I had no idea what I was doing….I was clueless and now I am paying the price. It is a huge investment and a rewarding one, but get it wrong as I did is to risk throwing money down the toilet.  If I knew then what I know now I would have made a very different decision.

I got the SUP bug whilst on holiday and was determined to buy a board but my funds were limited.  So I shopped around, read widely about boards and found a company run out of a guy’s apartment who imports their own brand of boards. Great, I thought, low overheads give low prices and also it is supporting a local business and I am all for that.  I arrived with pockets bulging with cash ready to be impressed, I guess my inexperience and naivety led to me falling for the patter of the sales man, and guess what I was sold a dummy!

Buying a SUP is akin to buying a car….. The person selling it makes money if they convince you to part with yours, but like a car you need to try before you buy.  After all you wouldn’t buy a car without a test drive, one should never buy a board without testing it on the water.  This is lesson 1!  A bad board will dump you in the drink, no matter how accomplished a SUP rider you are, if the rocker is tippy or the design poor then it will be unstable and if that happens then no matter how good your balance is you wil never successfully ride that board.  

What makes a good board? Well, the best thing to look for is Research and Development, also have a look at the brands doing well in professional competition. Chances are they will have put a lot of time and effort into research.  As I write this the top brand on the circuit is Starboard, followed by Mistral.  It sounds like a cliche but the bigger brands spend a lot of time and resources making the best boards.  It is difficult to see how smaller home based brands can spend the time and money researching and developing good performing boards.  It is not possible they don’t have the research budget as a result they are bad boards.  

Let me tell you what is wrong with my board then maybe that will give an indication on what to look out for.

Rigidity:  one of the key things is how stiff the board is, many inflatable boards have an issue that they are not stiff enough.  In fact my board bounces around all over the place.  If a board is not stiff enough then it will be unbalanced and balance is everything when remaining upright.  

Tracking:  my board has 3 fins, a central large fin and 2 smaller ‘thruster fins’,  in a perfect world this gives stability and tracking, in reality the thrusters are made of such soft plastic that they curl and I paddle in circles.  It takes a lot of effort to keep the board tracking straight so constant adjustment is needed which takes all speed out the board.  This is a major design flaw but not one that is covered under the warranty.  

Shape:  ask yourself what you will be using the board for, flat water, surf, race, yoga?  There is a shape for every activity and the difference between them is vast.  I wanted an all rounder so had a rounded nose.  This is probably the best board for most.  But is the nose doesn’t have the right angle it does not cut through the after and tends to cut into the after and nose dives, meaning constant adjustment of stance, not ideal for the beginner.  

They are the key things to look out for.  I spent a great deal of time in the water because my board is imbalanced, the rocker is tippy and threw me off.  I have got the hang of my board though and as a result I can ride nearly anything because I have developed a great sense of what the board can do.  This is the positive of a bad board…..if you can handle a cheap bad board when you do upgrade and go for something better then you will be well practiced.  

So here are buying points:

  • Try before you buy
  • Don’t fall for sales technique
  • Try before you buy 
  • Research the board and company
  • Try, try, test and try
  • Cheaper is not better
  • Find what is suited to you and what you want to do with it
  • Try it on the water – that’s is where you will use it so try it!
  • Talk to more experienced boarders and what they use.
  • Don’t fall for sales as they want your money

I have had to learn the hard way and I did wrong and now I’m stuck with a poor board.  Don’t make the same mistake.

New Year, New Regime!

It has been some time since I have posted a blog.  In fact I have only blogged once before about my exploits on the water.  I have had A couple of health issues recently that I am under investigation for but when we heralded in the new year I heralded in a new me!  I let myself go a bit, put on a to of weight and also became a bit lethargic.  So a radical weight loss programme that includes a great deal more exercise. Part of the regiment is to get the board out every week, whatever the weather, and have a paddle for at least a couple of hours.  I have done so at my usual paddle spot in Christchurch, Dorset and it has been one of the oust dramatic, changeable and challenging paddles I have done.

I am still very much a novice and have so uch to learn, but the good news is I am getting to know my board and how it reacts I different types of water.  On Tuesday last week I caught a break in the weather and a forecast of light winds and lovely winter sun.  Signs were good, tide was on the turn and I pumped up and got on the water. What I had not accounted for was rain water run off.  The amount of rainfall we have had o the south coast has not been as severe as the poor folks in the North of England, not by a long shot, but the increase in volume of the Stour made low tide like high tide and the speed of the water was quite remarkable.  I tried to paddle up stream, but after 15 mins and getting about 500 metres I finally turned the board around and headed out to the bay behind Hengistbury Head.  It could not have been different, once away from the river mouth the water changed from a torrent of run off to a mirrored glass, it was perfectly still, no wind at all and the clouds and sun were perfectly reflected in the water.  Sometimes I can be philosophical and floating in such a perfect place of peace and tranquility brings in to sharp relief what is happening in ones life and in ones own world.  People often speak of getting back to nature and to realise that they are just a small speck in the world at large.  I did feel insignificant, just another of natures creatures enjoying some time alone.  Lost in ones thoughts. Relaxed I decided to return home.

The return journey was not pleasant, nature decided to show me that for every peaceful Monet one enjoys there is a stressful one just around the corner.  The tide should have been I o the turn and I should have had a relatively straight forward paddle through the river out hand back to the slipway. Yeah….right!  The rain run off into the river no the increase in water volume meant that a very strong current was still flowing against the tide making the approach in to Christchurch choppy and like paddling through treacle.  I battled hard against the torrent but it was exhausting, it was incredible the war of the water, just a little bit and how much it would effect the board and the paddler.  I had to get to the side of the river and beach just to get my breath back.  It was so difficult my inexperience showed in reading the river and underestimating my ability, especially after a month and a half lay off.  I waited about 5 minutes by the side of the river watching as the flotsam and jetsom whipped by out towards the sea. I tried not to get panicked and tried to find a route that I could walk the board back but there was too much in the way, reed beds and deep water.  I examined the river closely and saw that the reed bed on the opposite side of the river had a greatly reduced flow so I pointed the board across the river and tried to mount the board.  

Top tip: point the board into the current paddle across and angle the board slightly a let the current take you across.  Do not do what I did and point the board 90 degrees to the river bank into a strong flow and have it flip over.  I got a bit wet, but thankfully was wearing a winter wetsuit and didn’t get too cold. 

I managed to get myself back to the river bank and pointed the board into the flow and got to the other side. The water flow was greatly reduced and I made my way up river towards Christchurch.  Getting the last 200 metres was hard with the strong flow, but exhausted and 140 minutes after I set out I was back at the slipway and to my car.  I packed up the board and went home.  Once I had washed the board off, rinsed the wetsuit and got a cup of Tea (never underestimate the awesome restorative power of a good hot cup of Tea), I sat and reflected on the close call. It really was a near miss and a very valuable lesson to learn.  

Lessons learned: always be mindful of what the water is doing. Never assume what the river is doing as it might just do the opposite.  Never overestimate your ability, you could end up looking like a prick, and that could be the best case scenario.  The worst is you get into some serious life threatening situations beyond your ability to get out off.  I was a tyke bit scared and I have definitely learned my lesson.  But, I am not discouraged, I will just be a bit more mindful of the conditions and take greater care.  

So, what’s next well, the tide times are favourable to attempt a new SUP.  Keyhaven to Hurst castle, a paddle that demands a high tide as there are a lot of shallows and sand islands.  But, Hurst Point and the castle is a fantastic place, a true bastion of history and a delightful day out. It seeps history and catalogues the advancing warfare through the ages from the age of sail to steam, to modern naval power whilst also standing like a beacon of the importance the UK put in commanding and defending the oceans. I have, many times, walked the mile long shingle bank to the castle and I really want to take the board and approach from the water.  That is the plan for this week to come.  

  
Mayors Mead slipway, Christchurch, Dorset, UK.